So a lot of these conferences exist on an annual basis where they’re looking for a speaker, and I think this is true, not just for those interested in the youth or college market, but any type of market that a lot of these conferences and events you don’t come, you’ll have to convince them to have a conference. They’re planning on having their conference, whether you’re involved or not, and you don’t have to convince them to have a speaker. They’re already planning on having a speaker. You’re just showing them why, why you are a good fit.
Welcome to Steal the Show with Michael Port. This is Michael. Today’s guest is Grant Baldwin. He’s the founder of the speaker lab, a training company that helps public speakers learn how to find and book speaking gigs. Through his popular podcast, the speaker lab and flagship coaching program booked and paid to speak, he has coached and worked with thousands of speakers as a keynote speaker. Grant has delivered nearly 1000 presentations to over 500,000 people in 47 States and has keynoted events for audiences as large as 13,000 Grant has also been featured in national media including Forbes, inc entrepreneur and Huffington post, his new book, the successful speaker, five steps for booking gigs, getting paid and building your platform is out now.
And stay tuned after the podcast for our latest alumni update. In this episode we’ll hear from an HBS graduate who overcame her wicked stagefright to become a paid keynote speaker, my friend Grant, how are you? I am doing quite well, mr port, how are you?
I’m, I’m better now that I’m talking to you so I’m just here to serve well. So speaking of service, let’s go back to Bible college for a minute here because you went to Bible college and you became a youth pastor in a local church, but you quit when you had what you call a quarter life crisis. I think you were, your wife was pregnant with your first daughter, so during the following months you realize you wanted to become a speaker. So what drove that decision? And how did you get started? And I asked because a lot of people that we serve are in that transitional period where they’re either thinking about making that change or they’ve decided to do it, but they haven’t fully executed yet. They’re still in that. Okay, I’m working on it phase. And your situation must have been fraught with a lot of big questions because your focus was spiritual, was, was religious. And so of course, you know, that’s a, a lot of, very often the things we’re doing in our life are very much connected to our identity. And then if we leave that, what does it say and how do people respond to it? Our family, our friends mentors, et cetera.
Yeah, yeah. Actually, while I was in college I worked for a guy who was a full time speaker and kind of got to help a little bit on the back end with a travel and logistics and contracts and that sort of thing. So that was one of my first like taste to see like, okay, this is a thing. Like, I think a lot of times we don’t realize that professional speakers is a, as an actual profession, it’s something that you can do. It’s a lot of, it’s a thing that a lot of people actually make a living from. So kind of got me, gave me a little sense of what was, what was possible. So then as a youth pastor, one of the big benefits from that was a gave me a lot of at-bats. It gave me a lot of reps that gave me a lot of opportunities to speak.
And as you well know, one of the best ways to get better as a speaker is that you speak the way you get better as a writer is that you’re right. And so it naturally gave me a lot of opportunities on a weekly basis to try new material and to try new content and to try things. And it was one of those things that I, I quickly felt like I really liked this. You know, there are, there are parts of the gig that as a youth pass parts. I like parts I didn’t like. But the thing I really enjoyed was, was speaking and I wanted to do more of that. And so again speaking a lot, primarily with, with high school and college students, but then from time to time I would fill in on the weekend and in big church, so to speak, and it’d be, you know, 500 or 700 adults in there and it would go well.
And again, it was just one of those things I felt like I was good at. I knew there was some potential there I wanted to do more of, but I had no idea what to do from there. So when ever you mentioned my wife was pregnant with our first child and I left that role, it was just kind of trying to figure out, okay, what do I want to do now? What do I want it to be when I grow up? And the thing I really kept coming back to was speaking. And so I felt like this, and this is something that we’ve found to be the case with a lot of students that we work with. And my guess is that you’ve, you’ve seen similar is that I felt like I had the potential, but I needed the plan. I had the potential, but I needed the plan.
Meaning I knew I was decent as, as the speaker. I wasn’t the world’s best speaker by any means, but I knew there was something there. I wanted to do more speaking, but I just, I had no idea what to do from there. How do you find gigs? How much do you charge? Who hires speakers? Like how does this mysterious world work? And so from there just started stalking as many speakers as possible and picking their brains and just doing anything I possibly could to figure out how does, how do you find gigs and who hires speakers and how, again, how does, how does this mysterious black box of the speaking world work? And so from there, I went from, from zero gigs to the point where I was doing a 60 or 70 gigs a year. And I think that it’s important to note, like I started at zero, you started a zero. Like everybody starts from zero. There’s no speaker who just magically all of a sudden has a ton of gigs out of the gate. Like everyone starts with zero gigs and then their first gig and then their second gig. And so from there we just, we paid really close attention to the, the business side of speaking. How do you consistently find and book gigs. And thankfully we were able to, to have a, a decent career from, from that.
Well, I want to dig deeper into that. First I want to talk a little bit more about the college market because it’s something that we get a lot of questions about and we actually haven’t had a guest on the show who specifically focuses on the college market now. It’s not what, not your focus now, but it’s where you started and you know a lot about it. So what do you think is different about speaking on the college circuit versus the corporate circuit? Both from a practical perspective? And also from a financial perspective.
Yeah. Yeah. So there, there’s some definitely pros and cons with the, with the college market. When, when people say, I want to speak to colleges and universities that’s a good starting point. But there are, it’s kind of like saying I want to speak to corporations within that there’s a lot of subsets and sub categories of groups that hire speakers. So you think about like some major state school, some state university that may have, you know, 30, 35, 40,000 students. There is no one opportunity where it’s like, I’m going to go speak to all of those students. But within that, there are lots of opportunities where you may speak to sub subgroups. So for example, I did a lot of work with orientation, freshman orientation, so they would have all of their, their students that are coming in, in August or September or also sometimes in the, in the winter I would do some, some sessions for schools where schools are students would be coming in in January for like the, the working towards the spring semester.
So there’s a lot of opportunities there to speak to students. Other opportunities would be like with fraternities and sororities, I did some stuff in that space. There’s also student activities where maybe they are having a, a speaker come in for on a specific topic or some type of speaker series that they may be having. Other things may be a financial aid or, or like financial I’m trying to think of the word. Their financial, financial, financial affairs. Yeah, something to that effect where basically it’s not necessarily teaching students about scholarships and that sort of thing. But it’s more about your personal finances. And so I had been hired by a couple of those those offices within colleges. And then you might have like student government maybe something. And so all that to say like there are a bunch of opera, there’s a bunch of opportunities that exist within the big umbrella of colleges. Now, one of the nice things, especially with something like a freshman orientation is once you got in good with, with a school, they would have you back year after year after year because there’s always a new audience.
I see. This is one of the, that’s one of the big differences between the youth market and the corporate market. Do you know if, if you give a speech at, you know, freshman orientation, well, you can come back next year because they’ve got a new crop of freshmen now. I’m sure there’s a couple who who, you know, got a held back and had to do freshman year again. But they definitely needed your speech again, if they couldn’t make it through the first year into the second year. But when you go to speak in an organization, yeah, they might bring you back you know, they might bring you back in a slightly different capacity, but generally they’re not bringing you back to do the same keynote at the same, the following year.
Correct? Correct. Yeah. And so it really would depend on the context. So for example, there may be, like with freshman orientation, there’s always a new audience every single year. And so they typically, if you, again, if you if you do a good job and they want to continue working with you year after year, it was just like clockwork that you could continue to do, to do that gig to work with that school. Whereas there may be other opportunities with that with that school. So for example, let’s take the fraternities and sororities. You may come in and do a great job, but a lot of those same students may be at the same thing the next year. So to that point, like you said, just like corporations or other typical conferences, they may still want to wait. You may do a great job, but they may still want to wait, you know, two, three, four, five years before they bring you back to allow to allow some of the audience to turn over, but also allowed some other voices and speakers to come in and speak.
So so freshman orientation can, can be good for that because you have those potentially repeating events. The other potential challenge though with freshman orientation is it is it’s very clustered, meaning that you’re going to have pretty much all schools across the country have their freshman orientation within about a one month period. It’s going to be all the possible events are right there, which means like for that period and in August August or September you can be slammed just school, school, school, school, school, school, school. But if either a, you don’t pick up as many schools as you would like, it can, it can put a damper on the rest of your year. And two, you just realize that like that little stretch there, you are going to be slammed. You are going to be gone constantly. If, again, if that’s the model. Now again, I, I did some freshman orientations. It wasn’t a huge piece of what we did. And so I would do some here and there, but I knew, I know some speakers that were mutual friends with that would do, you know, like they knew for like a 30 day stretch. They weren’t going home. It was just school, school, school, school, school, because that’s just, it was very compact in that one period of time.
Sure. And then you can go home for a month or two and just chill and then get back out on the road if you want. So now I know, I mean, I imagine people are thinking, you know, wondering at this point like, well how do you get into these schools and is it worth it? Because when you hear like sorority fraternity, you think, how, how do they pay? Like, you know, so how do those two things work?
Yeah. So schools have significant budgets. You just have to be, you have to do some digging to figure out again, what, what, what, what it is that you talk about and what it is the program that you deliver, where it’s going to be the best possible fit. Because a groups like freshman orientation and or fraternities and sororities or student activities, they naturally have some built in budget, but there’s also going to be some some schools where a lot of kind of extracurricular activity type groups. If you do a search for student groups on campus, some, some schools have hundreds of groups and that they may be anything from, you know, a handful of students to a whole bunch of students. And some of them do get some funding from the school that they can use to bring in speakers. So it certainly varies
Someone that someone
Recently said something similar to me about like, how, how do these schools pay for, you know, for for speakers in a way that makes it worth it for the speakers. And I said, have you seen how much these schools cost? I mean, these, these universities are the wealthiest institutions in the country and they’ve got, you know, billion dollar endowments. And these kids are, you know, at some of these schools are paying, you know, $40,000 you know, all money that’s borrowed the, you know, they’re going to be saddled with all this debt coming out. But nonetheless, these schools are you know, the, a lot of the buildings on campuses are very, very nice. Yes. And they, they didn’t just get there magically. So someone paid for it. That’s exactly right. That’s excited. A friend in college who the gym was named after him, that’s, we’d come in and I remember one day he forgot his his ID for the gym and he’s like, does that count?
Like right there, you know, he wasn’t being a jerk about it, but he’s like, actually my name right there. Yeah. So so so what about so what are the general fee ranges on the college or the youth circuit? Yeah, and the, and the youth world college is going to be a touch higher than the youth typically, but a four for high school conferences, it’s usually going to be anywhere from, you know, two to 5,000. Give or take a is not going to be uncommon at all with college. It’s going to be in that range. Sometimes a touch higher depending on the school, depending on also the, some of the name recognition that you bring to the school. So if you if you are able to draw a crowd, there’s also some, some side of, of like in the corporate world or any type of, of speaking opportunity that the more butts and seats you can put, the more value that you’re going to bring and the more you can potentially charge. So, and some of those cases that may be in the, you know, the five to 10,000 range, but usually, you know, around the $5,000, give or take a little bit, again, depending on the school, depending on the topic, depending on the, the conference as a good kind of a ballpark there.
So how did you get your first gigs in that market when you were starting and what would you do differently now?
Yeah. so one of my first, the first paid gig that I did in the, in the youth Margaret for high school students was a a state conference in Missouri where I was living at the time. And it was, it was primarily through email and reaching out. So a lot of these conferences exist on an annual basis where they’re looking for our speaker. And I think this is true, not just for those interested in the youth or college market, but any type of market that a lot of these conferences and events, you don’t, you don’t have to convince them to have a conference. They’re planning on having their conference, whether you’re involved or not. And you don’t have to convince them to have a speaker. They’re already planning on having a speaker. You’re just showing them why, why you are a good fit.
And so so for, for, for me, what I started doing was spending some time just kind of researching and figuring out what are some of these types of conferences, what are some of these types of events? So there are like in the, the the education in the youth market, there are conferences like student council and FFA and four H and FPLA and DECA and FCC LA and a lot of these different like student leadership groups that have a lot of state conferences on an annual basis, on a state by state basis as well. So if you found something like student council and they have let’s say one state conference per year, well there’s 49 other States that are most likely going to be having those conferences and going to be having speakers that would come in. And so I did a lot of those, which were great conferences.
There were a lot of fun. There are thousands of students that come to those. There are some of the biggest conferences that I’ve been a part of. Several conferences, especially like in the FFA world that were 8,000, 10,000, 12,000 students. I mean, there’s significantly really good size events. Yeah. For real. And, and and so what I started doing was emailing a couple of those potential clients and just saying, Hey, I know that your event is, is happening you know, in a couple months or whatever it may be. And trying to just start some conversations there. And one of the things I found is once I would get in with one state conference, I could try to leverage that into some other ones. So for example, that first one I did a, it was Missouri four H conference and was able to use it.
It went well. And then I was able to get some testimonials that I was able to send to other four H events, the other 49 States. And I was able to book several other things out of that. And then in addition, each time I would go to a state. So, for example, if I do something in, you know, in Missouri, a Missouri four H while I also know that there’s Missouri again, student council or FPLA or deck or some of these other type of programs that I could, if I could connect with the event planners there or if they could come see me, I knew oftentimes they could book me. Because the reality is, is, and again, this is an exclusive and in the education space, but across the board, the reality is, is that whenever a group or an organization is hiring you, they are taking a significant risk.
They are putting you up on stage and, and you are representing that company or that brand or that school or that organization. And so anything that you, you do or say can be held against you. And so you have to be really, really aware of that. So whenever you, whenever I knew that whenever I would go speak at let’s say Missouri four H and it went really well and I have a testimonial from from that, that event planner. I also know that those event planners all talk amongst themselves because just because I spoke in Missouri, it doesn’t rule me out from speaking at the other 49 States. And so they’re all comparing notes on a regular basis. So if one of them says, we just had grant come in and speak and he was awesome, you guys should consider him for your state conferences.
Well that immediately lowers the risk for all of those other States, those that, okay, if he spoke there and he knows that world and he did good there, then he’d be a good fit for us. And so it starts to open some additional doors that you can kind of leverage from one end to the other because again, they all talk to each other. And so they, they communicate and share notes and pass notes and, and so it can be really effective from that standpoint to, once you get done with one, it can start to spread a little bit from there.
Well, that’s one of the things that’s nice about that particular market is because it’s relatively insular in a, in a way you know, you have the same people often working in that space and they might, you know, move from conference to conference or university of university and they are, they all know each other. You know, you and your messages can spread much more quickly. It seems then in some other markets. So that’s, you know, look, we know that you know that referrals are the most important element to booking more gigs, right? So if you have, if you deliver a great speech that you know, that people want more of, and you pick up stateside leads right there that produce more gigs, you know, and then over time you’re gonna be rewarded through the power of compounding gigs.
But if you’re, you know, if you’re on the corporate world and you’re trying to pick up lots of gigs and you’re jumping around from one industry to the next, it just gets harder to produce as many referrals as quickly. So I liked that you know, that, that there’s so many people who can spread your messages for you in that particular market. So I have a question about about the emailing that you did at the beginning because you know, you know, just sometimes reaching out, emailing people cold, it’s not often that effective. It can be a little bit off-putting sometimes to, to, to, to some folks just get lots of unsolicited email. And I’m wondering if on the college circuit, is it a little different or the way that the, the meeting planners or the decision makers who were involved in these events or are they a little bit more open and accessible then meeting planners might be, or decision makers inside of very, very large organizations on the corporate side. What’s your opinion on that?
No, I don’t think that none of them are excited to get our emails. I’m anxiously looking forward to popping champagne. Oh, like, Oh yes, another speaker emailed me. It’s not about that. Nobody’s thrilled about that. And again, I don’t think that’s exclusive to any particular market. Like as humans, none of us are really looking forward to getting some form of pitch email. And I think the difference becomes, and what you do with that email, so a mistake that a lot of speakers make is they send some, you know, 98 paragraph email about, here’s my life story, here’s why I’m so awesome. Here’s all the links to anything I’ve ever done. Here’s why you should hire me. Nobody’s going to read that. Nobody’s going to respond to that. If you and I got that email, we’re going to delete that. So what I would try to do is the goal was sending that initial email is to start a conversation and to get them to reply.
So if you just, even if you just send an email and just, Hey, I’m a great speaker. Here’s what I talk about. Here’s what I’d be good for your event. If you need a speaker, let me know. Like there’s nothing to respond to the, you’re just kind of like leave it open ended there and they’re never going to respond to you. There’s no reason for them to respond to you and they’re not going to think of you whenever it comes time to hire a speaker. So what I always try to do is I try to keep them an email really, really short. I try to customize it and tweak it to them because again, we, again, we all get a bunch of emails and so we can tell the difference between an email that was sent specifically to us versus one that was sent to us and hundreds or if not thousands of other people’s.
So I would never recommend the spray and pray approach or just, you know, find a bunch of, of emails or find a, buy a database or whatever and just copy and paste and hope it works out. Like that’s not going to work out because people are too smart for that and it’s a waste of everyone’s time. So if you’re going to send some emails, then you better be really strategic about those. Cause what I want to try to do is I want to try to find some type of personal connection that I can, that I can acknowledge. So if I’m reaching out to a school and you know, let’s say st Louis, I can say, Hey, Oh actually I’m a, I grew up in Missouri, I’m a a big st Louis Cardinals fan. I was at 2011 a world series game seven when, when we won it all.
And I’m looking for some type of in with them to make some type of connection. I did a little research and I saw that, Oh they have three daughters. Oh that’s cool. I have three daughters, you know, or something to that effect where I’m looking for some type of personal connection. Because as you know, as our mutual friend Bob Burg says, people do business with people they know, like, and trust. And so the goal is again, to make that personal connection, to then get them to reply. So whenever I ask them some type of question, the goal is to again, make it as simple question that’s easy for them to respond to. So a lot of times I’ll ask a question I saw that you were working on this event and you know, your, your fall leadership conference in October. And again, I’m referencing something specific.
I’m not just saying Hey if you ever have a, an event where you hire speakers, you know, hopefully you think I may type thing, but I’m going to, I’m going to look up, I’m going to do some specific research to figure out what’s the actual event that I’m inquiring about. So if I say I, I saw that you are planning your fall conference in October. I was curious when you’ll start reviewing speakers for that event, right? So that’s a simple thing for them to reply to. It could be a one word thing. And you gotta recognize like some of them aren’t going to apply, a decent number of them aren’t going to apply. Some of them will say we actually just hired our speakers last week. Or some of them are going to say, you know, we don’t start reviewing speakers for another couple of months.
That’s fine. I’m just looking for some type of reply because then I can base my followup on that. So if they say for example, we just hired our speakers last week. Awesome. Do you mind me asking when you’ll start reviewing speakers for the following year? Yup. We’ll start reviewing speakers, you know at nine months from now. Cool. Do you mind if I follow up with you then? Because here’s what’s happening. One is that you’ve got your foot in the door at this point. They don’t think that you’re going to reply. If they say, yeah, sure, follow up with us in two months or nine months, they think there is zero chance you’re going to reply because most speakers don’t. But having some type of of systematic approach that then you know, okay, in nine months I have a system where I’m going to then follow up with them and I’m going to reply to the original email conversation we had and I’m going to say, Hey, last time we talked you, you mentioned to that you’re going to start reviewing speakers.
Now. I was just circling back to, to continue that conversation because what’s happened at this point is you ask them nine months before or two months before or whatever, if you could follow up and then you did what you were said you were going to do, which most speakers don’t do, most speakers are like, all right, well in nine months, again, I hope you think of me, but when you say that you’re going to follow up and then you actually follow up. It’s giving them a little taste of this. It’s what it’s like to work with me. I’m going to do a great job for you on stage, but I’m also going to be really, really good to work with off stage. I have my act together. I know what I’m doing and I’m going to make your life simple versus a speaker that says I’ll follow up with you in several months and then never follows up with them. So it’s a really simple low bar that any speaker can do to again, give people the sense of this is what it’s like to work with you. That gives you an advantage over other speakers. It has nothing to do with how you do onstage, but it has has to do with what it’s like to work with you, which is a really, really big deal to event planners.
Yeah. Nobody wants to work with a diva. It just a is completely unpleasant.
Right. And and the diva, like there’s certainly like there are the divas who would say like, I need this European imported water and I need a jar of red Skittles and I need those type of things. But there’s a lot of speakers that are not necessarily the divas, but they’re just a pain in the butt to work with. Like they’re sloppy. They things they said that they were going to be at soundcheck at at 8:00 AM they didn’t show up till eight 15 come stumbling in. Like it’s no big deal that they, the event planner asked for, you know, they sent an email asking for something and they had the asset planner had the email a couple of times to follow up to get the answer. Like, people don’t want to work with that speaker, even if you’re amazing on stage, but if you’re a pain in the butt to work with, then people don’t want to work with you. But if you’re a, if you’re solid on stage and you’re amazing to work with, like again, that’s the type of speaker that a lot of organizations and groups want to work with.
What do you think makes a great speaker on the college circuit? What do you think the, the X factor is there?
I don’t think it’s dramatically different from any other market. I think that that having solid content is important. I think humor works really, really well for engaging an audience, again, in any, any type of capacity. So I think also just being up to speed on what’s relevant or what’s working in that world. So any type of, you know, again, case studies or examples or cultural references that you’re up to speed on those types of things matter. But again, I think that what works in a, in a college market or in a youth conference is not dramatically different than what’s going to work in a a corporate market. The other thing I would, I would, I’ve noticed is that with some of those audiences, they are, they can be difficult audiences because if they don’t want to be there or they’re not interested in you or you’re bombing or not doing a good job, they’re not afraid to show it. And not in a way of like, I’m going to boo you or heckle you or anything along those lines, but they’re real quick to go to their device or go to a phone or to tune out. And so you, it forces you to be on your game and to make sure that you really do a great job delivering from stage.
Yeah. You know, it definitely for a lot of folks, just the thought of having an audience of 21 year olds is anxiety provoking. Sure, sure. You know, it just seems much more intense. I, I gave a speech to a, not a speech, but I gave a little talk to Jake’s class when he was in the sixth grade. Yeah. It was the sixth grade. And I did a little dead poet’s society thing, stood on the desk, you know, did my best entertain them. And when I got home, I said, Jake, so what’d you think? How’d it go? He goes, dad. I said, what? Oh, what? He said, no dad, nobody talked. I said, yeah, no, everybody’s very, very well behaved. He goes, no, dad, that’s not normal. I said, what do you mean? Like the kids, they misbehave in class, they talk to each other, et cetera.
When the teacher’s there, he said, yeah, all the time. He said, nobody fooled around. Yeah. I said that they were just scared of me. That’s all. I just don’t look, I look and I just, I just look scary. That’s what it was. But I was so surprised cause they were just so delightful, you know? And and you know, sometimes when I, when I go to the, the teacher, you know, like back to school nights and they all give presentations to the parents. I, I, I worry a little bit because I’m not sure that the teachers are really spending much time learning how to keep their attention. Right. And you know, it’s a, it’s a separate, you know, bit of a, of an aside issue. But I would love the people who are going in and working on the college circuit to go in and work with the teachers, you know, so that they can keep the kids more engaged.
And so they can have some more fun. But nonetheless, so you’ve got, you’ve got a new book out and in fact it is just out and it’s called the successful speaker. Five steps for booking gigs, getting paid and building your platform. And I was very happy to blurb it, so I don’t know where the blurb is, but I got an advanced copy. I think it’s great. I’m really proud of you. And one of the things that you address in the book is a, is about establishing yourself as an in demand expert. So what’s your perspective on what speakers can do toward becoming somebody who is in demand?
Right, right. So in that section we talk about a two key marketing assets that every speaker needs you, you have to have a website and you have to have a demo video and you use these one to give you like, I guess some more context on those. The, the website, like in this and age, obviously if you, if you don’t have a website, you don’t exist. And so people won’t take you seriously if you, if you were talking to a potential event planner and they said, Hey, you know, we’d love to look at your site or our committee wants to review it. And you said, well, you know, I don’t have it on, I’m working on it or I’ll get it back to you. Like again, it’s just, it’s hard for people to take you seriously. So you really want to have a site and you want to make sure that it looks sharp, it looks professional.
And then on the demo video side of it, a lot of events and especially a lot of event planners, they’re not willing to to hire you, let alone pay you if they don’t see a video. So think of a way to think about it is like a movie trailer. So you and I probably wouldn’t go see a movie unless we had seen the trailer. I don’t need to see the full movie, but I just need to see like two or three minutes of it just to get us a sense of, is this the type of thing that I want to see? Is this the type of thing that I want to invest my time in? Maybe it’s a phenomenal movie. It’s just not the type of movie that I’m looking for. And the same thing is true for speakers. You may be a phenomenal speaker, you’d may just not be what it is that an event planner is looking for.
So like we touched on earlier, you have to remember that that event planners and organizers are in the risk mitigation business. And so if they’re going to put you on stage, they need to be really, really confident that you’re going to deliver that you’re going to do a good job. And so that’s where they really want to see that demo video to get a sense of, okay, if we put you up on stage, how are you going to represent us? How is it that you interact with an audience? How is it that you speak to an audience? How is it that you deliver from stage? Is this what we’re looking for? Because again, maybe you’re a phenomenal speaker, you’re just not what that event is looking for. So those are two tools that you, that any speaker needs to really like plant their flag in the ground to establish themselves as, Hey, I am, here’s what I speak on. Here’s how I speak to the audience. Here’s how I interact with the audience, here’s the expertise that I deliver to that audience and here’s how I could be a good fit for your event. You have to have those two things in place if you want to be hired. And especially if you want to be paid as a speaker.
So what was, when you were reading this book, what was the, the biggest challenge for you and the thing that you feel, you know most proud of? From a, you know, from a education perspective, teaching perspective or writing perspective? And what and, and which part of the book was actually the easiest for you? Because I think I asked this question because as an author, I know that the things that often present the biggest challenges in the books that we’re writing are usually the most important parts of the book because they require the you know, the most thought and, and consideration. And the things that are the easiest are the things that we connect with the most initially or maybe just have the most experience with. And so those are also very important for readers. So w what was it for you?
Yeah, so in the book we, we, you mentioned we use this five step process, this five step framework that makes the acronym speak, S, P, E a, K I think the most important part. And so if speakers get the book and they read just one section, I would highly recommend that you read the ass, which is select problem to solve. I think this is where speakers have the biggest challenge. And if you get this part right, then everything else becomes much simpler. This is the foundational piece. If you get that cornerstone correct, then again, the rest of the house goes up much smoother and simpler. So the challenge w with speakers is we just enjoy speaking. Speaking is a lot of fun. Being on stage is a rush. It’s a, it’s a fulfilling opportunity. It’s amazing chance to make a difference and make an impact.
Because of that, we want to speak to as many people as possible. So we are not biased in any way. I just want to speak to humans. But from a business perspective, if you just try to speak, if you say, who do I speak to? I speak to people, my message is for everyone. Or if someone were to ask you, what do you speak about? And they say, what do you, what do you want me to speak about? I can speak about anything. I can speak about motivation and leadership and parenting and marriage and change and culture and teamwork. And no, you can’t, right? So the more specific, the more narrow, the more clear you can be, the better. So one of the things that we talk about is that you want to be positioned as the steakhouse and not the buffet, the steakhouse, or not the buffet.
And what we mean by that is that Michael, if you and I were going to go grab lunch, we were looking for a good steak. Like we could go to a buffet where steak is one of a hundred different things that they offer. And they’re all mediocre. Or we could go to a state council where they do one thing, but they do that one thing really, really well. So they don’t do tacos. They don’t do pizza. They don’t do Liz, Anya, they do steak. And that’s it. And so because of that, they, they not only attract and repel the right kind of people, but they also can charge a premium because they specialize in one thing versus trying to be all things for all people. And that’s a mistake again, a lot of speakers make is, is we feel like, well, the more topics I can speak about or the more potential audiences I can speak to, the more opportunities that I will have.
But the opposite is actually the case. That the more specific, the more narrow, the more focus. It’s counterintuitive, but the more narrow and initial that you are, the easier it becomes to actually find gigs versus trying to be all things for all people. So I think that’s the most important piece. That again, if you get that part right, that building your, your career as a professional speaker, whether you want to do a few gigs a year or a hundred gigs a year, you get that part right and you’re clear on what you’re going after and who you’re targeting. Then the rest of the steps become much simpler. So let’s keep going with the with, with speak. What’s the, what’s the, so the the, the assets elector problem to solve. The P is prepare your talk so you’re clear on, all right, I know who I’m speaking to.
I know what the problem is. The P is then I know what the solution is that I’m bringing to the table. So this is where we dig into preparing your talk. We referenced a steal the show several times, which again, if people haven’t picked that up, I’m sure they have, but they need to make sure they read that. We also talk about the differences between like keynotes and workshops and seminars and different types of talks. You know, like just not all talks are created equal. So we dig into that there the E is establish yourself as the expert, which again is where we talk about the the website, the demo video, the a is acquire paid speaking gigs, which we dig into what are the systems and processes that you can follow to actually book gigs just because you have a website just because you have a demo video, like your mom is thrilled, she’s going to tell all of her friends but nobody else cares.
So you have to have, you have to have a strategy at that point to begin putting the ball in motion as speaking as very much a momentum business that as you say, the more you speak, the more you speak. So if you can start that ball in motion, it can be a little bit easier to maintain it, but you’ve got to do something. Just having a website and video isn’t enough. And then the last part of the of the process is K know when to scale, know when to scale. And what we mean by that is a lot of people who are interested in speaking are also interested in probably writing a book or doing a course or doing coaching or doing consulting or doing a podcast or doing a blog. And the reality is is you can do all the things, but you can’t do all the things at once.
Like something’s going to come first, something’s going to come last. So you have to be really, really intentional about what’s the end result that you’re going for. What makes the most sense in your business for what it is that you’re trying to trying to accomplish. Because again, you don’t want you as an entrepreneur, as a speaker, you get to design the rules to the game for what makes sense for you. Again, there, there are speakers that we know that do a hundred gigs a year and that’s the goal. That’s what they want to do as speaking as, you know, 90 95% of their business and the revenue and other speakers who would say, I love speaking, but I have some other projects that I’ve got my hands in. And so speaking is 20% of their business. And it’s not that one is better or worse than the other. It’s just figuring out and determining what makes sense for you and how is it that you want to scale the business beyond the stage and beyond just speaking. So, yeah, that’s the, the big picture framework of the speaker success roadmap we walked through in the book.
Well, I love that you said, you know, you can do everything just not at the same time. It’s sort of like you can afford anything, just not at the same time. Right. I mean, you know, within reason of course. But I think that when I look back on, you know, my almost 20 years in this business now, the biggest mistakes that I’ve made were generally a result of trying to do everything. Yeah. Just trying to do too many things because a, you know, I’m always hungry, you know, like I’m a maximizer, so I was wanting to do more and the best and, you know, I, I see an opportunity, I just want to jump on it. And you know, even if even if you’re able to do all those things well, and I would say, you know, I w I would argue that most of the things that I’ve been off, you know, I’ve been able to, you know, chew pretty well, but it’s not always pleasant.
And you know, I mean, it can be exhausting mentally, physically, emotionally and you are generally not going to be as effective when you are you know, distracted by too many different things. Right. It’s just too cognitively taxing. You know, the, the, the older I get and I’ve turned, I turned 50 this year, which is, yeah, well, you know, as ball guys, we look younger. I’m sticking with that, but well, I are white now if I grow up, well, not fully white, but like if I grow a beard, you know, the middle part’s white. It’s a, I’m getting up there, but yeah,
It indicates wisdom, Sage wisdom.
Sage wisdom. Yeah. Well, you know, I think that the thing that I’ve learned is just try to keep it simple. You know, that nothing gets better because it gets more complicated. Yeah. And in this business, because so much of it is so much of it depends on your energy and your time, that every choice you make is an exchange of your life energy. Yeah. And so if you’re trying to build a big speaking career and speak a hundred times and you’re trying to do online courses and you’re trying to do your own workshops and events and you’re trying to do consulting and you’re trying to write a book and you’re trying to all of this at once, I’m just tired even thinking about it. And so some of us need to work harder than others to constrain ourselves. And and you know, there’s a, there’s a wonderful book called the goal.
I don’t mean you may have read it but it’s about, it’s not a typical, it’s not a book that most people in our world would’ve read. It’s it’s about really focuses on manufacturing organizations. But in that book, the author presents the theory of constraints and and if you set up a, a process for constraining yourself so that you’re focused on your goals and and the, and the way you spend your time is in alignment with those, it just makes it a lot easier. I mean, it sounds, you know, kind of obvious when you say it, but most most sensible things do sound obvious. And you know, one of the things that happens for me it was when I learned a new thing, I sort of thought myself on the head and I say, how, how did I not get that before? I mean, how did I not, did I not see? It’s so simple, but sometimes it takes a little while to get there. So, you know, hopefully you know, the readers of your book and the listeners of this podcast and the people that we serve, you know, together you know, hopefully they’ll say, you know what, sometimes enough is enough. And one thing at a time is just fine.
Yeah, yeah. One of the most difficult things is a, not just as a speaker, but as an entrepreneur, as learning to say no even the good opportunities because there, there are no shortage of opportunities, no shortage of things that let’s say you and I as an example, like we do similar things for speakers. We both work with teach trained speakers and different ways. And there are things in both of our businesses right now that we could do that would move the needle. Absolutely. But it doesn’t necessarily mean that we should do them or it’s the right thing. So for example, I know that you do a lot of live in person stuff. We don’t do as much live in person stuff. It’s not that one’s better or worse than the other. There are certainly pros and cons both ways, but we have to, we both have to decide like what makes sense for us and what it is that we’re, you know, we want to accomplish.
And again, there’s no, there’s no right or wrong way to go about it. You, like we were talking about earlier, you’re like, you get to define the rules of the game of what makes sense for you. But because of that, then you have to be able to say no even to good things there. I can come up with a dozen things that we could be doing that would impact revenue, that would income impact, but I also have to say like, sure, we could do those things, but what’s the trade off? What’s the compromise? What’s the if we’re going to do that, then what is the other thing that we’re going to be giving up instead? And so being really, really focused, being really, really simple and streamlined as made, I think for, I can say just for me personally, I know and our business has made a massive difference by not trying to do all things for all people, but by really focusing and saying, we do this for this person. And that’s basically it. There’s lot of things we could do, but by focusing it makes it much, much simpler. And I think our results have have come because of that.
Yeah, I agree completely. I really respect you for that. I think that you know, it’s one of the things that I think it, it seems like that gets easier over time because certainly if you have a fair amount of demand for the thing that you know, you want to focus on, you know, seems to people on the outside that it gets easier to say no to other things. But you know, earlier on when there isn’t a lot of demand, you, you kind of try to throw everything, you know at the problem that you can and hopefully, you know, something will stick and you may not really know what the answer is. So even, you know, even maybe three, two years ago, you know, there are things that we were doing in the business that I feel like we were just kind of holding on to because they were part of the sort of historical nature of the business.
And then I’d got to the point where I said, [inaudible], Nope, no, we’re not. We’re not doing it anymore. And it just really remarkable how much easier things get when you make really strong choices. And, and that’s what a performer does. You know, when, when you, you know, the great performers on the stage are often the ones who make the strongest, clearest, most intentional choices in their work. Because if you’re not making really strong, clear, intentional choices, you know, the audience is not exactly sure what to make of your, or what your perspective is. The, the market is not exactly sure what to make you view or what your perspective is. And and that kind of clarity is really, really important. So I love to hear that that’s what you’re doing with your business. And and I imagine you know, you’re preaching that same thing to your students at the same time.
Yeah. Like we were talking about with the, you know, selecting a problem. Again, the more it’s just counterintuitive, but the more narrow, the more clear, the more focused you are, the, the easier it is to see those results. Because like, you know, you and I primarily work with speakers and the, the reality is, is that a lot of people who are listening, a lot of people who, you know, will read both of our books. A lot of people that follow what we do are interested in speaking, but they’re also interested in all those other things. They’re also interested in podcasting and coaching and consulting and writing a book and all these things. And, and you and I have experienced with a lot of these things, you and I could certainly do some type of training program on publishing or on writing or on building a business or on entrepreneurship or on fill in the blank.
Like we have some experience with that. We have some experience on podcasting, we know a thing or two about that. And so we could make the case. So like, yeah, we should, we have a bunch of people asking about podcasting. We should teach our speakers how to do podcasting. But we also both recognize that anything that we are saying yes to, then we’re also saying no to something else. And so by saying, no, no, no, like we’re drawing a line. We’re making that decision to say, no, we do this and we only do this and that’s it. There’s all these other things we could do. That’s great. There’s nothing wrong with those things, but we do this for this one particular person and we help them in this one particular way. And again, by doing that, it actually makes the business simpler and it makes decision process up. But so for example just yesterday I got an email, a, an inquiry about a speaking gig in China and a few years ago grant would have been like, yeah, let’s do that. Let’s figure out that it was just an easy no, like it just makes things really easy to say yes and no to when you’re clear on this is what we’re doing and this is why we’re doing it and this is where we’re going.
And I know for folks that, you know, are a little bit newer to the you know, to this world, it, it, it seems, it seems hard to imagine saying no because, you know, the, if the opportunities aren’t coming fast and furious, but one of the things that’s tricky about being in speaking is that you, the gigs that you’re booking are often far off in the future. And, and it’s very, very important to be able to to, to forecast not, I don’t mean just financially, although that’s important too, but to forecast what you, what, how you’d like to be spending your time and who you’d like to be spending that time with into the future. And that’s not so easy to do, but very often what happens is, you know, you’ll take a gig and then, and even though now, you know, the lead time is much shorter than it was 15 years ago, 15 years ago, you might book a gig 18 months out.
Now the data that, that that we have is shows us that it’s about five and a half months between a lead. And and gig itself. My coauthor on the book a referrable speech that I’m writing, Andrew Davis has been tracking that since 2014 and 5.6 is actually the, is, is the average length of time, which is much shorter than it used to be, but it’s still five and a half months. So it could be eight months or 12 months on the, on the outside of that. And so you might book a gig today cause you’re feeling a little bit desperate even though you’ve got a gut feeling, it’s not the right thing for you. Either they’re not really paying enough so it might not be worth it financially and the audience isn’t highly qualified to pick up referral gigs from it.
Or it’s just not an audience that you feel like you know is right for you. Or they’re asking you to do something that’s not really in your wheelhouse that you focus on. And you might have that kind of instinct or the desire to say yes. And then you get there you know, you’re a couple of weeks out, you know 12, 12 months from now and you start resenting the fact that you took the gig, right? And if you’re resenting the work that you have, that’s a pretty tough place to be in. And I’ve been there and you feel often ashamed of yourself because it feels wrong to resent an opportunity that you’ve been given, even if it’s not a, you know a big payday. It’s still something you said yes to. And then you resenting the people that you then asked you to do it, which is just wrong. It’s wrongheaded and so you feel guilty about it and you don’t want to be in that place. So, you know, step back, think about it. If you have a gut feeling that it’s not right, then you go, Nope, not gonna do it. I’m gonna, I’m gonna, I’m gonna have the courage to say no.
But again, that goes back to once you’re really, really clear on what your goals are with speaking and what it is that you want to, once you’ve established like some of those hard boundaries of what it is that you’re trying to accomplish. So for example, I was just talking to a speaker friend who said they don’t want to be gone on the weekends to miss their kid stuff. So they say they hardly ever do anything, any events on Mondays because it requires them to leave on Sunday and they never do any gigs on, on Saturdays because they just don’t want to be gone from there, from their kids. So when an event comes in and it’s on you know, we’ve got this Saturday morning event that’s across the country. It’s, it’s just an easy decision for them. There’s no hemming and hawing because they have to, they’ve determined, here’s what the rules of the game look like for me. Here’s how this makes sense. And for another speaker, they may be like, I’d love a gig on a Saturday morning. That’s great. But again, it’s not that one’s better or worse than the other, it’s just you have to be really, really clear on what it is that you want to determine or what you want to accomplish and, and what the goals are for you and your business.
Yeah, 100%. Grant, obviously the book is going to be anywhere books are sold so people can go pick it up right now on Amazon or Barnes noble, I imagine, et cetera. But can they find email@example.com? Is that the primary place?
Yeah, the best place is to go to the speaker lab.com. The speaker lab.com info on the book. Is that the speaker lab.com/book and that, yeah. Like you said, it’ll be on a, on Amazon, Barnes, noble, Books-A-Million, wherever books are sold, wherever your local bookstore is you should be, you should be able to find a, this successful there. That’s fantastic. Thank you so much for the work you do and thank you for being just a good human being and thank you for being on. Steal the show today. I appreciate it. Michael. I I so appreciate you and Amy all the work that you do. I know that we’ve had a lot of conversations offline to have a nothing but respect for you guys and appreciate the work you do for speakers everywhere.
Thank you so much. At the end of each episode of steal the show, we feature a heroic public speaking alumni who is saving the world one speech at a time this week we’re profiling Carol Mahoney, who transformed from a speaker with, in her words, wicked stage fright to a confident keynoter with a little help from HBS for years, Carol lost sleep and her appetite before her speaking events. On the day of the gig, she’d even hide in the bathroom trying to calm herself down. All that emotional energy didn’t pay off either because she wasn’t getting referrals after her speeches. Then in 2017, HBS graduate, Lori Richardson invited her to attend HBS live and for a little while everything got worse. That’s because now she knew what she hadn’t known. Content development and a rehearsal process. So on the train from HBS live back to Boston where she presented inbound, Carol attempted to write out her script and rehearse even talking to herself right there on Amtrak.
She knew that when it came to her speeches, everything had to change. So she signed up for grad even though she had no idea how she was going to pay for it. But a week later she picked up three new clients that would cover the cost, yet she’d soon found out that her training was priceless. Carol says she’s the type to face her fears by diving in. So she did. She worked hard to face the imposter syndrome that popped up during grad and embraced her fears and flubs going through what she calls an ego detox and man did it pay off. She says grad made her a better speaker and a better sales coach. She stopped having stage fright and started having fun because now she has a proven process she could follow for every speech that she gives. She performed again at inbound and this time she slept well the night before she rehearsed did a tech check and made friends with the Avi crew.
During the event she had fun and after the event, the attendees rated her a five out of five on the evaluation forms and she even picked up new clients and this spring she’ll perform her first paid keynote speech and she plans to rehearse even while she’s on vacation talking to herself on the boardwalk in Florida. Now, Carol says that the new HBS students should take the pressure off themselves to get every dollars worth out of every moment of training because the ROI comes even after you graduate. After a few months of practicing your new process, it becomes second nature and your speeches get better. So if you’re like Carol, you’ll even sleep better. Thanks for listening to steal the show. I’m your host Michael port. We record our episodes at heroic public speaking HQ. Thanks for listening and learning how to be a performer in your spotlight moments. Make sure to reach out to us on Instagram and Facebook at heroic public speaking and leave us a review on iTunes if you like the show. Until next time, keep thinking big about who you are and how you see the world. Bye for now.