What is the biggest perk with being a professional keynote speaker that most speakers miss?
I would say that it is our opportunity to get paid to do research.
Let me give you an example.
BMW is one of the world’s most successful companies.
A global brand ranked the 11th most valuable brand in the world (!) (And the highest ranked car brand).
A privately owned company that just this months celebrated 100 years of being in the forefront of innovation in a notoriously competitive industry.
An industry that is now getting ready to be transformed with huge disruptions such as electric engines, self driving technology and the “digitalisation” of personal transportation and where BWM are world leaders in all of those three areas.
On March 17 top managers at BMW Engine production (both petrol, disel and electric) had a global conference where people have been flying in from all their engine factories around the world to the BMW factory in Steyr, Austria.
In its Steyr factory (their largest) BMW makes more than 1 million engines per year (which turns out to be one new engine every 15 seconds…), and, as you might know, BMW started as an engine company producing engines for airplanes before they ventured into motorcycles and later cars. Engines are and always have been, the core, soul and DNA of BMW for 100 years.
But this conference tomorrow is not about the history. It is about the future. And the engines of cars (with new electric engines etc) is suddenly a very dynamic and fast changing industry.
As I hope I have been able to explain in the text below: It is hard to find a more interesting conference to speak at right now than for the global managers of Engine production and development at one of the leading companies in the rapidly transforming automotive industry.
And the only external speaker they had invited was me.
(And I am proud to say that I think it went down well. A few hours after my speech I got an email that said: “We had enormously good response to the forum. Would it be possible to order 170 books through you?”)
But back to the subject of this post. Because no matter how interesting it was to be the only external person at the conference today the highlight for me was not the conference today but the dinner last night.
You see the global head of BMW Engine, Ilka Horstmeier, decided to gift me with an almost one hour one-on-one meeting in the bar.
Now think about this: All her global managers have flown in from around the world, but she decides to take one hour of that evening to talk to me instead of them.
Of course she wanted to brief me for the speech the next day (but I had already gotten an extensive brief on phone a few weeks earlier.)
Instead most of our conversation were about broader things than just the theme of my speech.
Mrs Horstmeier is a very smart and curious woman (you do not become head of Engine at a company like BMW if you are not…)
She asked me questions about my job as a speaker, why I do it, how I do it and so on.
I asked her about her challenges and highs.
During our conversation I was able to get insights from her on what a big company like BMW is actually struggling with at the moment. And what they are working on right now. I also got interesting stories and examples that I might be able to use in my speeches.
When we were done I had actually gotten verification that one subject that I was thinking of starting to research as a potential new theme for a keynote was indeed something that BMW very much would find valuable to know more about.
These one-on-one-sessions with top managers of global companies are the number one thing I value the highest as a speaker.
And yet I over and over speak to speakers who are amazed that I do these sit downs. Because they do not.
They see their role to be at the conference to deliver content – not to collect content. Think they are there to teach (which they are), but do not also see that they could be there to learn.
There is no better way to learn about the business of business than to sit down and talk to the top global leaders in the world.
As a global keynote speaker you have that change to do that.
Take that chance.
And when you get that one-on-one -time: Do not see it as a way to sell your services or try to get new business. Don’t sell. Listen. Ask questions, interview them and learn.
It is not a sales meeting – it’s a research and mentoring session. And you are the mentee.
(The picture in this post is from the very picturesque Austrian restaurant where we had our meeting.)