Tim Washer. Keynote Speaker + Event Emcee


Public Speaking
Improv Rule #37:  There’s Order in Chaos

Improv Rule #37: There’s Order in Chaos

I first met Seth Godin when Ann Handley and I presented him with the prestigious “Marketing Lifetime Achievement Award,” which was widely considered the most important moment in marketing history following the invention of the Four Ps. I can’t find a photo of it, but here’s the previous year’s winner, David Meerman Scott, immediately before he received the coveted trophy, a 1987 Hoover vacuum cleaner.

For the last two months, I’ve been simply giddy about speaking at Digital Summit Denver right before Seth takes the stage. I’ve been in awe of him ever since I read his stance on nonsense:

we embrace ridiculous as the sign that maybe, just maybe, we’re being generous, daring, creative and silly. You know, remarkable.

Ridiculous isn’t safe. If you do something ridiculous and you fail, people get to say, “you idiot, of course you failed, what you were doing was ridiculous.” Which is precisely why it’s so rare. Not because we are unable to imagine being ridiculous, but because we’re afraid to be.

Seth Godin

I reached out to my dear friend Carlos Hidalgo in Colorado Springs to see if by chance he would be in Denver today for client meetings or maybe to pick up his wife at the airport returning from Uganda. “Yes” to both, so we scheduled dinner tonight.

I also scheduled a South Platte River video shoot during lunch today with my ASP buddy Kara Carpenter, who builds Cottonwood Creek footbridges in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. And yes, she planned to wear this outfit once we confirmed the Cheesecake Factory’s policy on wielding hatchets.

Around 9 PM last night, what was on track to be the best Tuesday of the fiscal quarter went off the rails. Childcare arrangements fell through — the joys of divorced life — and I was tempted to fall back into that “could really one more trainwreck occur in my life?” hole of depression.

I sent out a flurry of texts to see if I could line up a sitter for my kids while trying to maintain the illusion that I was calm about it.

Last year my 11-year-old asked me what would happen if I was going to travel and the sitter canceled. I felt the anxiety underneath his question. I assured him I would just cancel my trip, stay home with him, and we’d shoot a funny video with a stuffed sloth, go out to eat, and play some Xbox. And suddenly I was facing the possibility that I might actually have to cancel a speaking gig.

I’ve been an emotional mess the last week, so it was a horrible time to be facing this immense discouragement of losing the opportunity to share the stage with Seth Godin. But somehow, through no strength of my own, I made a simple decision. I’d go out for a walk, pray about all of this, and if I didn’t have a sitter confirmed with absolute certainty by 9:45 PM, I’d cancel the trip to the Rockies.

There’s Order in Chaos

The principle in long-form improv, “There’s order in chaos,” allows for the ensemble to have a sense of peace that surpasses understanding. Even when the troupe is in the ninth scene of The Harold and can’t possibly see how this mess of characters and storylines will connect to create something beautiful, they know to simply get out of their head, relax, and trust that it will. Because it always does.

The principle likely dates back to circa 55 A.D. While the Apostle Paul performed at a few open-mics in Antioch, the bible doesn’t say anything about him studying improv. But “Order in Chaos” feels awfully similar to Romans 8:28.

The Apostle Paul stifles hecklers

On my walk, I was comforted with this wonderful sense of peace about staying home with my kids. So, when I returned, checked my replies and learned I didn’t have the childcare coverage that I needed, it was easy to take the next steps.

But peace can be quickly disrupted, and it typically happens when talking to an airline representative. When the Delta Airlines rep asked the reason for the flight cancellation, my voice cracked under the weight of my powerlessness in the situation, and I had to stop talking. Vanessa waited through the silence, then gently stepped in. “I know it’s hard to talk about something so personal to a complete stranger.” Her grace and empathy was the rope I needed to start climbing out again. She helped me cancel my reservation without any scars.

I texted Carlos and asked if we could make a minor tweak to dinner plans. Instead of breaking bread together, would he step in to cover my speaking spot? No problem.


I’ll reschedule lunch and a hike with Molly Hatchet, and hopefully, get to visit with my marketing hero Seth another time. Indeed, all things have worked together for good, except I got crushed playing Madden.

HuffPost:  Top Business Speakers to See in 2018

HuffPost: Top Business Speakers to See in 2018

Keynote Speakers

I’ve finally earned recognition as a subject matter expert in nonsense.

HuffPost published its list of Top Business Speakers To Hire And See In 2018.   If there’s one thing we can be certain of this year, the current global economic environment will drive the need for more laughter, especially at marketing conferences and corporate events.  Lucky number seven.

On the list is my buddy Andrew Davis who holds a top 20 spot on Meetings & Conventions Magazine‘s List of Favorite Speakers, ranking just below President Bill Clinton and Anderson Cooper (*recount pending).  And CEO of Marketing Insider Group Michael Brenner, who was named a top CMO Influencer by Forbes Magazine.

It’s going to be a fun year for comedy and marketing.

HuffPo logo

Mitch Joel: Humanizing the Brand

Mitch Joel: Humanizing the Brand

What makes an interview interesting is when the guest feels comfortable enough to let his guard down and be vulnerable.  Mitch Joel has a special gift for enabling this moments.  On his podcast Six Pixels of Separation, we set out to talk about how big brands can use storytelling and humor to humanize, and found ourselves in a much deeper discussion about surviving failure.

I shared a bit about my work on IBM’s Smarter Planet campaign and at Cisco, and also explored the challenges faced by a creative person working as a full time employee at a large corporation.

Listen to the podcast on this link or in iTunes, SPOS #396

Improv Rules for the Conference Call – #INBOUND13

I studied improv under Amy Poehler at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater for two  years before she joined SNL.  While she’s the most brilliant improviser I’ve ever witnessed, she’s also one of the best teachers I’ve ever had, following only Ms. Reed, my sophomore Latin teacher in the stack rankings.   She has the gift of encouragement, and when you’re learning to perform The Harold — a long form improv format where a troupe perform a 30 minute show based on a single audience suggestion — encouragement is needed.

Some of the most terrifying moments in my life occurred in my early days of improv.  After learning a few simple principles, I began to feel comfortable stepping out on stage in front of a full audience with nothing but trust for my team and an empty mind, ready to discover the show.  I reluctantly began to understand what Del Close meant when he preached, “Follow the Fear.”

In the world of corporate communication and content marketing, it’s fear that keeps us from our best.  Fear to be different, fear of not getting promoted, fear of failure.  When I’ve applied the rules I learned in my corporate life, it’s lead to my biggest successes.   I’ll talk about three of these rules at #INBOUND13, Wednesday 12 noon, at the Hynes Convention Center in Boston.  Swing by if you’re in town.  I’ll post the video when it’s live.



9 Steps for Writing an Audience-Flattering TED Talk

The TED-O-Matic, by Bruce Feirstein, in Vanity Fair.


Last year The Onion debuted its TED satire.

If the TED-O-Matic doesn’t give you the help you need, try Nick Morgan’s article, How to Prepare a 20 -Minute TED-like Talk, and Nancy Duarte’s TEDx speech: The Secret Structure of Great Talks.  Her analysis of speeches from Dr. Martin Luther King and Steve Jobs  are compelling.