The business of speaking

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A 3-star Michelin restaurant never worries about competition from a local diner or a fast food joint, so why are 10 000 USD speakers worrying about competition from 1000-2000 USD speakers?

The last couple of days I have been mentoring two 10 000 USD speakers as part of my “inner theme speaker mentoring program”.

When I say “10 000 USD speakers” I mean that is their fee for one speech, and though I would never define a speaker based on his or her fee alone, I choose to talk about these speakers in those terms in this post (instead of, for example, mentioning the themes they speak on) as to not reveal their identities.

Both of the 10 000 USD speakers that I mentored mentioned that the reason they were not getting as many speeches at they wanted at the moment was that they were seeing competition from cheaper speakers.

I think this mindset is very dangerous.

A 3-star Michelin restaurant is, in a way, in competition with a local diner or a fast food joint, but it is more relevant to say that the 3-star Michelin restaurant is in completion with OTHER 3-star Michelin restaurants.

And I think it is the same with people who book speakers. If you are organising a top notch global conference and are looking to book speakers for your event the fact that a speaker is charging 10 000 USD or 1 000 USD is not going to be the deciding factor for which speaker you book.

The deciding factor will be: “Will this speaker deliver a world class speaker experience?”

And if the answer is “Yes!” then the fee is not a problem.

But if you, as a 10 000 USD speaker, start to compare yourself with 1 – 2000 USD speakers, you are going to start to doubt yourself, you will begin to compare yourself with the wrong competitors and you will be pulling yourself down – instead of pushing yourself forward.

(This is of course only true for the speakers who really ARE 10 000 USD speakers (i.e. has actually consistently charged that much to happy clients), not speakers who “think of themselves as 10 000 USD speakers” ….)

In this blog post I am, of course, using the “10 000 USD speaker” just as an example, it doesn’t matter if your speaker fee is 1000, 5000, 10 000 or 50 000 USD, my point is that as a speaker you should benchmark with other speakers who charge the same as you  – or who charge more than you.

It’s about taking pride in what you have achieved as a speaker and about aspiring to always grow to become a even more sought after speaker.

And yes, there can sometimes be downward pressure from speakers offering to speak for a lower fee, but it is my experience (and I have been doing this for more than 20 years) that the reason a speaker looses a potential speaking gig is very seldom because “another speaker offered a lower price”.

It’s because the speaker was not perceived as being of high enough standard. (Which you could argue is just a different side of the same coin, but I think the lessons drawn are totally different.)

Very few 3-star Michelin restaurants loose customers because other restaurants in town are cheaper. They loose customers because the perceived value is not there and clients go to other 3-star Michelin restaurants instead.

So if you see your bookings start to go down as a speaker, do not blame the competition or price pressure from cheaper speakers. Blame yourself and ask yourself: “How can I upgrade myself to a 3-star Michelin Speaker again?”

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It seems like every speaker I speak to wants to know how to get to speak at the big stages.

And I understand why, speaking at the big stages is thrilling, spreading your message to big crowds is rewarding.

A couple of weeks back I wrote a blog post about how I spoke at the world’s largest leadership conference, The Global Leadership Conference, with a live audience of 10,000 people and a total of 400,000 watching at remote locations all over the world.

So how do you get to speak at the big stages? The answer is simple: treat every speaking opportunity you get as a big stage. Even when you are speaking at the very small stages.

Yesterday I was in the beautiful little town of Victoria on Vancouver Island on the West coast of Canada. I was there to deliver a speech for the local EO chapter as part of a EO your across 5 Canadian cities that I am doing this week.

The other chapters have been bigger crowds, but Victoria is small and just about 18-20 people had gathered in a conference room at one of the towns hotels.

It would be easy to look like a speech for 20 people as a less important speech, but I never look at speeches for small groups like that. I always look at a speech as an opportunity to do my very best

After my speech two people came up and told me that they would contact the EO chapter in Edmonton and suggest that they bring me in (Edmonton is the largest EO chapter in Canada), and one guest who was visiting from Belgium came up and told me that he would contact the Belgian chapter about putting together a European EO tour for me.

Three out of 20 guests coming up after the speech and telling me they will actively sell me to bigger conferences…. 15% of an audience coming up to say they want to refer me to new clients. A perfect example of what happens when a speaker sees every speaking opportunity as a change to give 100% and to spread his (or her) message to an audience, and how – if you do that – the audience will help you get to bigger audiences.

So never walk into a small talk and think about it as a small talk, but as a great opportunity to speak.

 

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Picture of the Swan hotel where the speech was held.

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If you want to get the really big keynote bookings you have to understand that these bookings more or less only go to three kinds of speakers:

a) The famous person. (to give some star quality to the event and draw a crowd)
b) The Industry Expert (to give credibility to the event)
c) The really, really good speaker. (to inspire and awe the audience)

If you are not a) Famous or b) THE Industry expert you HAVE to understand that the path to getting the big keynote bookings is that you have to be a really, really good speaker.

Or to say it another way: If you are not yet getting those big, keynote speeches (and you want to) you have to work on either a) becoming famous, b) becoming known as a global industry expert – or c) make sure you develop yourself to be a really, really good speaker.

Let me give you two recent examples from two big conferences where I was one of the speakers to show that this is how it works:

1) OpenText.

Early July: Toronto, Canada, OpenText Global customer conference. 5000 in the audience.

Three days,
Three keynote speakers.

Day one: Wayne Gretzky – “The Great One” Say not more. (Famous)
Day two: Me. (Unknown and not industry expert.)
Day three: Michele Romanow – serial IT-entreprenur from Canada who sits on Dragon’s Den and is the youngest Dragon ever. (Industry Expert)

(From the program:)

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2) Global Leadership Summit

Early August: Chicago, Global Leadership Summit, 10 000 live and 390 000 (!) people in 128 countries on video link.

First Speaker: Bill Hybels – Founder of Willow Creek and Global Leadership Summit (Industry Expert)
Second Speaker: Sheryl Sandberg – COO Facebook (Famous and Industry Expert)
Third Speaker: Marcus Lemonis – Billionaire and host of TV-show “The Profit”. (Famous and Industry Expert)
Fourth Speaker: Me (not an industry expert and not famous)
Fifth Speaker: Bryan Stevenson – New York Times #1 Bestseller and 3 million+ views on TED.com (famous)

As you can see, the other speakers are in category a) and/or b) (and sometimes a), b) and c)…)

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But I am not famous. (I have, for example, about 6000 Twitter followers (which is nothing) and I am not a “house hold name”. (When I was introduced to the gold sponsors of the Global Leadership Summit on the evening before the Summit not 1 out of the 100+ people in the audience raised their hand when the moderator asked how many knew about me …

And I am not an industry expert on either leadership or IT by any stretch of the imagination.

That means that the ONLY reason I got selected to speak at these two big conferences was because the organisers thought that my qualities as a SPEAKER qualified me (and that my qualities as a speaker MADE UP for the fact that I am not famous or an industry expert. And also that my qualities as a speaker made me get the speaking slot over other good speakers who are famous and/or industry experts (there are, of course, no shortage of those, so they have to think my qualities as a speaker are so good that they put me on the stage even if they know that no-one in the audience will know who I am before I go up.)

And let me be very clear: I (!) do not think I belong in the category of “great speakers” either … But it doesn’t matter what you think of yourself as a speaker – what matters is what the people booking speakers think – and they apparently put me in the “C-category” of great speakers.

(I am also totally ok, with the fact that no-one knows who I am when I go up as I only care about the audience knowing who I am AFTER I am done with my speech.)

Both these two conferences are perfect examples of how the speakers got selected to stand on the main stage as main keynote speakers.

And both of these conferences could literally have chosen any speaker in the world.

So to summarise: To get the big keynotes you have to be: famous, be a global thought leader/authority on the subject – or you have to be good. Really good.
If you ask me c) is the easiest way to get those bookings. But it means you have to commit yourself 100% to developing yourself to becoming the very best speaker that you could possibly be.

Are you doing that?