TEDxSalinas – Michelle Serna

In Organizing by Mark Sylvester

The Hack: Always say, “Yes I can.”


This episode features Michelle Serna, the organizer of TEDxSalinas. Her passion for her hometown is evident in how she’s approached TEDxSalinas. She gave her first TEDx talk at 16, her second at 17 and executive produced her first TEDx at 18. Slacker.

On June 9th she graduated from high school and left the ceremony early to catch a plane to TEDxDonauinsel in Austria, where she spoke. She decided to stay for a month, solo and attended 2 TEDx events (Greece and London) based on people she met. I love her wanderlust spirit. You will too.

Michelle is in love with her hometown and thinks that there’s a significant opportunity to feature TEDx talks about agriculture. She told me that Salinas grows a lot of the world’s food, and 30% of the world’s lettuce. Maybe her TEDx will provide 50% of the world’s ideas about agriculture.

I happened to be in the right place at the right timeMichelle Serna, Organizer

The Lightning Round

  • Tell us a bit about your background and your TEDx origin story.

    Tell us a bit about your background and your TEDx origin story.When she was 16, she spoke at TEDxSanFrancisco, where she still maintains a great relationship with their Executive Producer. She’s been watching TED talks since grammar school. The Monterey area, the original home of TED, adopted TED talks in their education system very early.

  • How many TEDx events have you worked with or produced?

    TEDxSalinas was over just a couple months before we had this conversation and she’s still basking in the glow. She’s been to TEDxSanFrancisco, a TEDx in Greece and one in London.

  • What makes your TEDx unique?

    It’s 100% agriculture focused. Michelle feels that there’s no platform for ideas from the ag community and sees this as an opportunity. This TEDx event is 100% run by students.

  • What’s your Superpower?

    Organizing. In Michelle’s words, she’s assertive. When I talked to her, I would say this is spot-on. She’s very certain.

  • What was the biggest surprise while working on your event?

    She thinks that it’s interesting that so many people have been impacted by TED talks, but very few know the TED story. She does because she grew up with it. This is surprising to her.

  • Every event has its challenges, what was the biggest dragon you had to overcome?

    Having her AV sponsors (the money that funded the crew) pull out two weeks before the event. Twelve hours before the event she found a sponsor who underwrote the entire AV budget. What was the secret to an 18-year-old asking for thousands of dollars from someone she didn’t know? She says, “Aim for authenticity.” That worked. The sponsor said to her, “I like you kid.”

  • What’s one piece of advice you have for veteran organizers? For first-timers?

    Have fun with it. Aim for authenticity. And don’t forget Time Management. Don’t wait until the last minute. Start as soon as you get your license approved.

  • Looking forward to your next event, what excites you the most?

    She’s going big. 2,400 people. The theme is From Silicon to Salinas: Connecting the two valleys – Agriculture to Technology. She’s looking forward to developing her role as a Speaker Coach, and now that she’s in college, is hoping that turns into a career that will fuel her TED addiction.

  • What’s a TEDx event that you’d like to attend?


  • The show is called Hacking the Red Circle, so what's your best hack?

    Always step into a room with the most positive energy you can imagine. Then, always say, “Yes I can.” Then, stick to your word.

Featured Episodes

see all episodes

Do you like the show? Want more?

We're excited that you're enjoying the podcast. If you'd like to learn more about upcoming shows, read insights that Mark gleans from the interviews and have a voice in how the show grows, then please sign up. He saves the really good stuff for these blasts.



We're all in this together.