7 min 39 sec

College Student Pitches 300 TEDx Events, Becomes Semi-Pro Speaker

A full-time marketing director and MBA student writes to every single TEDx events in hopes of getting his first gig. He now earns $30,000 year on the side, speaking at events around the world.
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What It's About

A student dominates the speaking field, earning free trips and a world record in TEDx talk appearances.

Business Model
Skills Required
Public Speaking & Communication
Profit Potential

Words of Wisdom

After presenting at almost 1,200 events around the world, Simon has learned a thing or two. His advice? Any unique experience or memory with a lesson can be turned into an even greater story. Once you’ve got that, the next step is to find a place to share it.

Once you’ve found your event, take anything that comes your way. Your first speaking gigs might be for free—and that’s ok. The most important thing is building confidence in yourself, and in your ability to engage an audience.

Fun Fact

While Simon is a fantastic TEDx speaker, he is perhaps best known as the founder of the world's first and only all-Asian American dance-rock band, The Slants, who won their case in the United States Supreme Court (SCOTUS) against the U.S. government in a landmark legal battle to expand First Amendment rights for minorities. Read more about it, here!

Notes from Chris

Episode 425
Simon Tam is a big proponent of the adage: “go big or go home.” And, as an almost full-time traveler, he rarely has to go home. This marketing director has turned his public speaking side hustle into an “evenings and weekends” job that also allows him to travel the world for free. He credits his side hustle with helping him find the freedom to travel, create valuable memories, and meet interesting people along the way.

So how does this work? Simon has always loved watching Ted Talks. Every episode he watched gave him inspiration to apply to his career and life in general. Simon wanted to be up on stage, too. He knew he had a story to tell, especially with his unique perspective as a person of color in Oregon. He just didn’t know how, or where, to start sharing it.

Simon knew it was unlikely for him to be selected for a main TED Talk without any previous speaking experience, so the website’s self-nomination form was not his answer. Instead, he contacted every independent TEDx event in the world—more than 300. They were smaller than the main events, and he thought if he asked enough of them, one of them would say yes.

Most of those ignored his emails. Many events turned him down… but one event said yes. That was all Simon needed to gain momentum. He sent more than 200 follow-up emails and was able to book two more events that year.

With experience under his belt, he used this tactic again the next year and got himself on the roster for 4 more events. Now, he’s made 12 TEDx appearances as both a speaker and host.

The publicity from each Ted appearance helped accelerate Simon’s side hustle. His videos started to spread, and he began to be asked to lead corporate trainings, offer keynote speeches, and sit on panels. With all of these new experiences, he keeps a Google Drive folder full of ideas for his next talk.

Simon is able to earn an extra $30,000 a year in speaking-generated income. Because he presents at events and conferences around the world, he also gets free trips in addition to that income.

With the freedom to travel the world for free, and earn income while doing it, Simon’s side hustle puts him in the perfect position to capitalize on both. That’s something to talk about.

Check out one of Simon's TEDx talks below:


  • SimonTam.org: Learn more about Simon and check out some of his TEDx talks on his website!

Inspiration is good; inspiration combined with action is better. Now get back to work!

Yours in the revolution,


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Quote of the Day
"My first paid speaking opportunity offered a modest honorarium of $200. I used it to buy a "speaking kit" that I still have today. It includes adapters for hooking up to projectors, a nice wireless powerpoint remote, a book about public speaking, and travel briefcase to carry everything in."
—Simon Tam #SideHustleSchool

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Chris Guillebeau