My Life

About My TED Talk That Almost Didn’t Happen and Now Has 2 Million Views

Last week (April 5, 2018), my TED talk Getting Comfortable with Being Uncomfortable crossed the 2 million view mark! It’s been watched, all over the world, 2 million times! It’s been transcribed to 18 different languages. In 15 years of writing, 8 years of speaking, it’s my most consumed thing. I’ve never had ONE THING I’ve done watched or read that many times before so this is huge! Every day since the talk was posted (on December 1, 2017), I get a message or tweet from someone saying what the talk meant to them and it has been such a learning experience for me to stand in my own power even when it scares me. It’s something I preach but it’s especially relevant considering that I almost didn’t give this talk.

Lemme tell y’all why. 2017 was a whirlwind! On the heels of my book I’m Judging You: The Do-Better Manual dropping in September 2016, I found myself on the road a lot of the last year doing speaking engagements and book signings. By the end of the year, I had been on 114 flights and a lot of things were a blur because I was always on to the next.

Back in like July 2017, I was invited to speak at TEDWomen, happening November 1-3, by curator Pat Mitchell (legendary journalist and correspondent). I wanted to say YES so bad because I’ve wanted to do an official TED talk for a while! I’d done 2 TEDx talks before, though. The difference is that a TEDx talk is an independently organized one, where people license the TED name to use in their locale to put together a day of these spotlight talks, TED style. THIS was an invite to do a real talk on the official TED stage. But I was already booked on November 1-3 to MC and keynote a different conference (the 3% Conference), happening in a different city. So I hit a *wall slide* and declined. These are champagne problems, I’m aware. Still.

In the fall of last year, I was a headliner on the Together Tour, which was a 10-city engagement with Glennon Doyle, Abby Wambach and Jennifer Rudolph Walsh. From September to end of October, we got on historic stages twice a week, in front of 3,000 people to talk about how we use storytelling to live our lives out loud. In the middle of the tour, we find out they wanna have a Together panel to kick off TEDWomen and I hit the *wall slide* again when I had to say I couldn’t make that, because: booked and busy. I legit was like:

damb damb florida

So then 2 weeks before November 1, I get my 3% Conference schedule, and it turned out that the only thing happening on November 1 was an optional VIP party. I was like “Wait. Maybe I can just drop by TEDWomen in New Orleans for a day to cheer on my friends and then head to New York.” I could at least go to cheer on my friends who were speaking. So I hit them up and let her know I’d like to just have a day pass to the conference for 1 day. Upon hearing that I could make it for that day, they were like “Why don’t you come speak?” And I was like “WAIT WHAT?!?” Pat Mitchell wanted me to take the stage while I was there.

And this is where I panicked and did the thing I tell other people not to do: let fear dictate their decision making.

Here’s the thing: TED is really picky about speakers and preparation. People get coaches, talks are vetted and when you take that stage, you have been prepped extensively for it. Those talks don’t soar for no reason. There is a lot of work put behind them! So, here I am, 2 weeks before a TED event, being asked to take the stage. I was in my head like WHAT ABOUT MY COACHES? I DON’T EVEN HAVE A TALK YET. OMG TWO WEEKS IS NOTHING.

I did not want to take that stage and bomb. I was not gon embarrass myself. Who do I think I am, to just be jumping in last minute? NAWL. So I decided that I was gonna decline (again) and just tell Pat I’ll be in the audience cheering. I wrote out a three paragraph email expressing my regret about how I just wish I could make it work, but I could not. I was tired, after a really full fall of city hopping for the Together Tour and I did not want to bring less than 100% to their stage. The email was sitting in my drafts 10 days before. It was a Sunday night. But before I hit send, I decided to call my girl Eunique Jones Gibson.

Me: Sis. They asked me to do a TED talk and it’s in like a week and a half and I think I’ll decline because I’m not ready. Everyone else has had months to practice, and coaches and here I am sliding in the 11th hour.

Eunique: You ain’t everybody.

Me: Well shit.

Eunique: You’ve been on a stage twice a week for the last 6 weeks. You’ve been speaking professionally for almost a decade. Everything you’ve done up until now has been your coach. Everything has prepared you for this. You’re ready.

Me: Whoa.

Eunique: And if they didn’t think you could do it, they wouldn’t have asked you. You are doing it.

Me: Gahtdamb. Drag me, then! My edges. Here, just take them.

Eunique: Aight get off my phone and go prepare for your TED talk. Kill it. *hangs up*

wig snatch

How she did me

Bruh, she got me SO TOGETHER. I went in my email and deleted the draft I was going to send Pat. The next day, I wrote my 10-minute speech in an hour and sent it to the TED team and I was expecting them to be like “Luvvie, what is this trash? No nevermind.” And I woulda been fine because I was looking for any reason to chicken out. But they loved it! They told me I needed to be in New Orleans 2 days before the conference so I can practice my talk. I was like “well here’s the part where they kick me out, which is fine.” I couldn’t be in NOLA til the morning of November 1 (first day of conference) because I was getting an award in Chicago. Again, Champagne problems. So they were like “Ah. Well let’s do video rehearsal then.”

Every time I thought they’d be like “this ain’t gon work” they’d find a work around to another one of my (valid) excuses.

Oh and the conference was starting at 6pm on November 1. I had to be in NYC for 3% Conference before the night was over because that kicked off at 8am on November 2. There was only ONE flight out of New Orleans to NYC that evening, and it was at 8pm. So they made ME the opening speaker at TEDWomen. I was going on first, after the intro.

I MEAN. Talk about votes of confidence.

The night before the talk, I’m at home rehearsing my talk to an audience of 1: CRJ. He’s like “This is pretty good but I think it’s missing something.” So I sit down at my computer and read it over and over again, and start changing things. Before I know it, I’ve changed half of the talk, because I wanted it to be the best it possibly can. At this point, it’s like 11pm. My flight out was at 9am. And the new version of this talk was one that infused more of my story. It was better. Much better. And over the next 2 hours, I memorized it, re-rehearsed it more times and prayed to God that I would get on stage and not fail.

I land in NOLA and I run to the conference center. I had sent the new NEW version of my talk to the team so they had the updates. I had time to rehearse ONCE on the stage, and then I had to run to get makeup. Remember that Together Tour panel I declined? Well they had me on it afterall, and that was for the pre-event, at 4pm. I got dressed, did that for an hour, and was all butterflies on the inside. I kept going through my talk in my head, because I wasn’t using any prompts besides the slides that would run behind me. There was no confidence monitor or teleprompter that would help me. I decided to do this talk from memory.

I don’t get too nervous when I’m about to give talks but for this? I WAS NERVOUS AF. This was a big moment. And I was going to be the first speaker! The one thing I wanted to guarantee was that, at least, I’d look good. So my yellow blazer, with black blouse and black jeans, paired with hand-beaded Italian slippers were my version of a security blanket. Even if I sucked, I wanted folks to be like “but she looked GOODER DINNAMUG.” I had my signature red lip, and some cute jewelry on. Let’s do it!

At 6pm, Pat Michell takes the stage and introduces Deborah Cox, who was opening with a song and a New Orleans kids choir behind her. They wrapped in 15 minutes, and I’m taking deep breaths and saying silent prayers and going through my talking points on my iPad. I’m miced already. And then it’s quickly time for my talk. Pat announces me and I walk on the stage, unto the red circle and see the audience. In the front row are my Together sisters: Jennifer and Latham Thomas. Seeing them gave me some instant soothing. Before I could say the first word, my mic pack falls off my belt.

Luvvie Ajayi TEDWomen Talk

Luvvie Ajayi speaks at TEDWomen 2017 — Bridges, November 1-3, 2017, Orpheum Theatre, New Orleans, Louisiana. Photo: Stacie McChesney / TED

HA! Way to start. So I gotta stand on the stage in front of these people as mic guy comes out to adjust it. Oddly enough, this calmed me A LOT because: hey. Shit happens. I took the opportunity to be all “HEY YALL!! How you doing?” It worked some nerves off.

And then I started my talk. In 10 minutes, I dropped over 1,700 words, challenging people to be truthtellers committed to doing and saying what was difficult because that is necessary for us to move forward. I used myself as the example, of how my life changed when I decided to stop being lead by fear, and I used the idea of being a domino, because the first one to fall inspires others to do the same.

10 minutes and 54 seconds straight through. No stops. The TED talk I gave is the one you saw. There was no editing magic. I never paused because I forgot a line. It was like it poured out of me like it was supposed to.

I said my last sentence: “So it is our job, it is our obligation, it is our duty to speak truth to power. To be the domino, not just when it’s difficult — especially when it’s difficult. Thank you.”

I immediately ran off the stage because I did not forget that I had a plane to catch. The stage manager turns me around before I get completely off the stage and says “I need you to go back out there and see the standing ovation you’re getting right now.” And I walk back and see people on their feet cheering for me.

Luvvie TEDWomen Standing Ovation

TEDWomen 2017 — Bridges, November 1-3, 2017, Orpheum Theatre, New Orleans, Louisiana. Photo: Stacie McChesney / TED

I was overwhelmed in the best way. I coulda cried but I ain’t have time! I took a bow and ran right back off the stage. I hand over the mic.

Pat grabs me, gives me a hug and tells me I rocked it. She says “Thank you for this.” I thank her for having me and run out. It’s around 6:35pm. My luggage is already waiting in the car as I jump in. I’m at the airport by 7pm and my flight to NYC took off on time, at 8pm.

I was geeked, y’all. GEEKED. I knew I killed it. I was on the flight, too tired to process, asleep. But I knew I had done something to be proud of.

A week or 2 later, I get an email saying they would like to feature my talk on TED.com’s homepage on December 1. I coulda fallen off my chair. And surely, on that day, Getting Comfortable with Being Uncomfortable was front and center on the TED homepage.

Within a month, the talk had received 1 million views. And now 4 months in, it’s at 2 million plus. Most importantly, the messages I’ve been getting from all over the world from people who let me know how it spurred them to take an action they were afraid to stick with me.

Oh and as if this hasn’t already been long enough. Lemme tell yall about how I did my TED talk while rocking $60,000 in jewelry and I didn’t even know.

TED talk Luvvie

The weekend before the talk, I was staying with my friend, Priti, in NYC. I was exhausted (cuz I was on the tail end of doing 18 cities in 6 weeks) so I basically spent the entire weekend in various stages of napping. Towards the end of it, I casually mentioned that I was giving a TED talk that Wednesday.

Priti: What are you gonna wear?

Me: Iunno. A blazer of some sort. Probably yellow so it pops.

Priti: No, what jewelry will you wear?

Me: My usual. Gold chain and my hoops or some studs.

Priti: Oh. No. You gotta look like a million bucks on that stage. Lemme see what I got.

Priti happens to be a jeweler. So she pulls out a bag and is like “I got the perfect things for you to wear.” She brings out these black studs, stacked rings, a necklace and a bracelet. I was like “P, this is a lot. You know I’m simple.” She tells me “nah. Trust me. These will glisten and you gotta step your game up on that stage.”

So I wear the jewels and didn’t ask what they really were cuz I was afraid to know. I do my talk and KILL. I especially know I’m also fly. If nothing else, I was gon be fly.

The day after my talk, I go back to NYC and I’m like “Girl come get these.” Cuz I didn’t wanna lose them or hold on to them longer than necessary. I finally ask “So what is all this jewelry worth?” Well, the earrings were 2.5 karat (each) black diamonds surrounded with pavé diamonds. The ring I was wearing were 4 stacked unto each other, surrounded by diamonds. The bracelet and the necklace, which you can’t see in this picture were grey diamonds.

Me: BISH YOU HAD ME WALKING AROUND WITH $60,000 WORTH OF DIAMONDS FOR 4 DAYS LIKE I GOT SENSE????

P: This is why I didn’t tell you when I handed them to you. I knew you’d freak out.

YOU DAMB RIGHT I WOULD. I CANNOT BE TRUSTED LIKE THIS.

So yeah. I was fancy AF for that talk. When I watch the video and I turn my head in certain angles, the black diamonds sparkle and I’m like “THANK YOU, P!” And also, I’m blessed to have friends who trust me even when I don’t trust myself. Those who make sure I’m extra good when I just wanna be basic.

This talk. This thing I did. In it, I talk about being more conscious of not letting fear lead my decisions, but sometimes I need my own reminder. I let fear of not being ready almost keep me from doing this very thing. Even doing the talk was being my own domino because I thought I wasn’t ready. I was proving my own point, even in the process of getting to that stage. It wasn’t that I wasn’t fearless, it’s that I did it anyway. And when we are honoring our gifts, we have to stand in them.

I let impostor syndrome trick me into thinking I didn’t belong on that stage. I stood there and was exactly who I am and realized that I’m always getting the reminder that my journey is unfolding exactly as it should. I see the prints of a higher power because I keep finding myself in rooms and stages with giants, and I still have the nerve to stand out. And the times where I wanna question myself, these moments can serve to remind me I belong in any room I end up. Thank God.

And above all, I learned the importance of having friends who see you better than you see yourself. Friends like Eunique and Priti, who affirmed me in the moments when I questioned myself.

So yeah, this was a blessing in more ways than one. I am so grateful for it.

Thank you to Pat Mitchelle and the TED team for the belief in my work and for allowing me the chance to re-learn my own words with the opportunity.

Watch the talk below:


Have you bought my NYTimes-bestselling debut book I’M JUDGING YOU: The Do-Better Manual? Haven’t ordered it yet? Now’s your chance. You’ll love it. Amazon. Barnes & Nobles. iBooks. Audible (I narrated the audiobook myself). Kobo. Books-A-Million.

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8 Comments

  1. Ayanna
    April 9, 2018 at 2:56 pm

    Wow. As always, your message was right on time & EXACTLY what I needed. Thanks, Luvvie for your continued honesty, candor, and overall realness 💜

  2. notconvincedgranny
    April 9, 2018 at 4:22 pm

    I’m sorry to tell you dear, but in truth and tone you outshone any rocks you were rocking. #sorrynotsorry

  3. Nancy
    April 10, 2018 at 6:35 am

    I have followed you for maybe a year or so after reading that article you wrote on how target sucks you in and you never remember what to get when you’re there and walk away broke. Anyway, I just wanted to tell you that I fell in love with how honest you are. You speak your mind and encourage all at once. You’re funny but you’re not about taking or giving any bullshit. You’re respected and you’re proud of who you are. I am proud of who you are as a woman and all your accomplishments! This article brought tears to my eyes because I could relate so much to it, but also see how great it is to see how many women empower other women and help them push through. No jealousy, just encourament.

    Thank you for all that you do!

  4. Tia
    April 10, 2018 at 6:56 am

    That was so good. The backstory made it even more interesting to watch. I probably would have never paid that much attention to the earrings but I was waiting to see the jewels the moment you stepped on stage! It was inspiring, motivational and right on point. Thank you for being YOU! You give others the courage to stand in the truth of their own being! Thank you much! Great talk.

  5. 1chiq
    April 10, 2018 at 9:00 pm

    Congrats dear! You deserve all of the kudos!

  6. April 10, 2018 at 11:50 pm

    That was inspiring especially for someone on her own journey of writing and speaking too find out the nerves and impostor syndrome I get aren’t just mine. Thank you

  7. PP
    April 13, 2018 at 7:23 am

    Luvvie, I have been reading your blog for years. This particularly post had me teary and all goose-bumpy. I’m claiming you as my cousin because this really feels like a family achievement.

    Keep having the dzamn nerve!

  8. April 23, 2018 at 2:51 pm

    My best friend has been talking about you for months. She recently shared the link to your TED talk. A week passed before I clicked on the link; blame familiarity. I eventually watched it today, and I am blown away.

    You are so refreshingly yourself, it BLOWS ME AWAY. And it is so inspiring. It’s been a fight for years of self censorship in my writing and it ends today!

    May the Lord bless you for sharing of yourself so freely and relentlessly! You are AMAZING!