100 Cups of Coffee: How A Coffee Date Turned Jagneet Singh Into A TED Speaker

@turbangentleman Jagneet in the middle being awesome with the delegates (and his dad on the end?).

@turbangentleman Jagneet in the middle being awesome with the delegates (and his dad on the end?).

Let me tell you: Jagneet Singh’s was the Talk at TEDxUW which had us clinging on to every. single. word. Jagneet is a motivational speaker, speech advisor for political candidates, runs a marketing company, and is just 25 years old. Talk about hustle.

Since I’m incapable of doing his Talk justice with a summary (skip to 2:46 and just let it hit you), I can only say it was equal parts relatable, hilarious, thought-provoking and urgent. Urgent because Jagneet demonstrated – and this is one of my favourite soundbites – that the biggest waste in the world is that of human potential. “It’s the reason graveyards are the richest place on earth,” he says.

Mic. Drop.

So, after his performance, I did what any other blogger would do when she wants to invite someone on her blog: I got Jagneet’s number from his mom.

But back to Jagneet. What made him memorable, and you had to have stuck around until after everyone filed out of the auditorium for dinner to catch this, was how down to earth he is. He’s the reason I wrote about how inclusive TEDxUW was in my previous post because, on my way out, I noticed Jagneet engaging in a thoughtful heart-to-heart with Stanley, a young TEDxUW delegate. Stanley was asking Jag how to relate to people, as well as a few other things that we all struggle with, and Jag just immersed himself in honest conversation with the kid. And when I popped in to quickly say I’d drop him a line later, Jagneet pulled me in and asked what I thought about the things the two of them were discussing. Those are the moments when you see a person’s character.

Later Jagneet and I set up a call, to chat about the magic that was and led up to TEDxUW. I asked him how it felt to be a Ted speaker, he told me about it… This post is about the man I got to know post-conference. Enjoy.

DI: What led up to you speaking at Ted?

JS: As I mentioned in my Ted Talk, I went on a backpacking trip after graduating from UWaterloo. And at the Sistine Chapel, when I heard a woman behind me say “honey, I can die peacefully now that I’ve seen this” to her husband, I had an epiphany. I wondered what it would be that I did to cause a reaction like that in a stranger.

At this point I had never voluntarily picked up a book in my life, but when I got back I started to absorb everything. I read books, listened to podcasts, and did everything I could to learn. Because I wanted to be a motivational speaker.

Then I started a blog [now known as Just Doing It’s website, which is Jagneet’s extremely successful marketing company]. And my friends gave me really good advice, they said “hey Jag, why don’t you, before launching your blog, backlog about ten posts so you can have them for if you get sick and can’t write one in time for your schedule?” So that’s what I did.

DI: What did you write about?

JS: I gravitated towards life hacks that I used every day. For example, one was about how to motivate yourself to get up in the morning. I wanted to become more successful than my dad [Ed. Note: I took this more figuratively than literally]. And to do that I had to wake up earlier in the morning than he did, so I could accomplish more. What I did to make sure I woke up early was take all my toiletries – the ones I usually use in the morning – and scatter them all over the bathroom the night before. Make a huge mess. I knew if my dad would wake up to such disorder in the bathroom he would be really upset, so when my alarm rang early in the morning I knew I had to get out of bed to put all the things back, and use them and make the bathroom clean before my dad woke up.

DI: Then what?

JS: In January of 2014 the #WhatCanIDoForYou movement happened. This is in the Ted Talk but my friends and I posted a Facebook status which read “What can I do for you? #ImSerious” and over a few months it really gained traction. People not in my immediate network started talking about how ‘there’s this guy who will do anything you ask him to do!” (which I was really doing) and the movement really spread. I was finding creative ways to add value to peoples’ lives. Funny story, actually, I was at a party around that time and a guy who wasn’t on social media (and therefore didn’t know who I was) started telling people about some dude who went around the city doing anything people asked him to do, not knowing it was me, at which point all of my friends started laughing and pointing to me. The movement really snowballed.

DI: You mentioned you coach political candidates?

JS: Yeah, I’m still in disbelief. In around March of that year I got a call that went something like this:

“Hi, is this Jagneet?”

“Uh… Yeah?”

“Are you the #WhatCanIDoForYou guy?”

“Uh… Yeah?”

“I’ll be in Toronto at an event and I wanted to know if you would like to come and speak there.”

[To which our protagonist audaciously replied, “I’ll have to check my calendar but it should be possible.”]

And I went and I spoke and the first guy, he was running for councillor or something, approached me and asked if I could share some tips. So I put together a curriculum for him – now I have a home office with a whiteboard and a whole plan for this – and eventually others wanted to learn it too. My entire curriculum is based on the power of a story.

Once there was a guy running for one office or another who came for a lesson, and at the end of it, he asked me “You have no experience, how is it that you’re younger and yet you’re the one coaching me?”

And I remember a conversation I once had with a friend who I have great respect for who asked me what I wanted to do. I told him I wanted to be a motivational speaker and he stopped me and he said “No. You don’t just want to be one, because the day you realize that you are you will become one.” And that’s something I think about a lot, about how if you want to become something you have to act like you already are whatever it is. It’s all about mindset and just filling in the blanks you’re missing.

DI: How were you exposed to TEDxUW’s organizers?

JS: After I did a successful #WhatCanIdoForYou style event at UWaterloo (we had a good amount of people ask us to do things like walk them to class, just to see if they could test us), Trishala added me on LinkedIn. And I’m notorious for not scrolling through my news feed, so the only thing I see on social media is the top of the front page because that’s what pops up when I log in. And there it was, Trishala (TEDxUW’s Co-Chair) had posted about TEDxUW. My heart jumped. I knew an organizer of a Ted event.

You know how when you have a crush you get nervous and lose all of your game? Ted to me was like that hot girl you shouldn’t ask out because there’s no chance in hell you’ll get her to go on a date with you. But I messaged Trishala and it was the most awkward interaction ever. The subject of the message was “Want to hear a funny joke?” and the content was “I don’t actually have a joke but do you want to go for coffee?”

She got back to me but we went back and forth for about a year, a year and a half, without being able to set up a meeting time. At that point I was working as a UWaterloo recruiter, talking to two to three hundred high school kids and selling them on applying to UW. And this past April Trishala messaged me saying she’d been keeping a close eye on me. She asked me if I knew that TEDxUW was coming up in November and said she thought I’d make a terrific speaker.

I said get the hell out of here. She asked me. She had to run it by the rest of the TEDxUW organizing team since I didn’t have the credentials of a Chief Innovation Officer for Deloitte or CEO for Nature’s Path, so I went through the same filtration process as any other person applying to speak at TEDxUW did. I wasn’t handpicked.

When Trishala finally hinted to me that I should start preparing possible speech topics I was sitting in a client’s office. I took the person who was closest to me and gave her the biggest hug I’ve given anyone in my life. Swiped her right off her feet and gave her such a huge hug.

DI: What is it like two seconds before you start your talk?

JS: The part that most people don’t know is that I’ve been dreaming about this for years. And when you have a dream you tend to visualize it, so I’ve had alternating pictures of different Ted stages on my phone’s lock screen for a long time as motivation. Like asking myself “what’s my stage going to look like?”

And I’m never nervous when I speak because I’ve done it in front of thousands of people. I feed off of energy. The more people, the more energy I can tap into and collectively we take it and rise with it. But the second I saw the TEDxUW stage on rehearsal day my heart literally skipped a beat. I thought, “Wow, that’s my stage.” And I looked at my phone screen, then to the stage, then to my phone, and back again. Stage, screen, stage, screen.

Even compared to the world class stages of official Ted events, I knew this was the perfect stage for me. There was nothing better I could have asked for. And rehearsals had run behind, so I had to wait the whole day to practice my speech the day before the event. So I sat there in the stands watching all the Ted speakers and thinking this is easy I know my stuff. It will be a walk in the park, because this is my dream.

Then they said Jag you’re up next. Cool.

I used to get nervous as a kid speaking, and walking up the stage all the nerves came back. It was complete shock. I was taking in everything around me and not starting my actual speech, so I had to be told to get on with it. I took about five minutes to say the first minute of my talk. My mind was on the stage, not my speech. But when I got on with it, I could tell it wasn’t what people expected from me; the first standing ovation I received was at the dress rehearsals. So going into the official event I felt like I had already given my first Ted Talk. It wasn’t about the audience, it was about the person I became at the dress rehearsal. I was seeing myself become who I imagined I would be. I thought, I can really do anything.

After rehearsals I couldn’t stop smiling, hugging everyone. I gave my first Ted Talk, I gave my first Ted Talk. This is not how it’s supposed to be, I’m the youngest guy here. I’m a kid who loves telling stories and who puts up Facebook statuses and sends people LinkedIn messages. I was mesmerized and in a trance, to the point where I couldn’t look over my notes all night.

Going into the Talk I was singing Hotline Bling, between the speaker room to the green room. I took a walkie talkie that all the volunteers had and started being a clown over their network. They were all dying. So going into the Ted Talk on the day of, there was not a thing going through my head. There was nothing left to be shocked about.

Let me make it short: they say when you want to find the meaning of life – and I don’t know who says this or whether I just made it up – but if you want to find what makes you happy and fulfills you, look for the moments in life when you aren’t talking, thinking, planning, scheming. Look for the moments when your heart is singing. I’m still pinching myself to wake up from this dream.

DI: Jag, what is success to you?

JS: Success is breaking in the shoes of who I am.


Photography by @jmonga – Jaspreet your photography is phenomenal here.

That’s it folks – another pseudo-coffee down, a ton more to go. I hope you learned something!


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