Whoa, what’s this? A bonus episode? Huh? Wha?

That’s right. Welcome to the very first episode of Steal the Show: Michael’s Soapbox, our brand new bonus episode series. On this episode, Michael takes on one of the biggest questions that most aspiring speakers grapple with early in their careers: “What if what I’ve done in the past isn’t good enough to get me speaking gigs now?”

The answer? It doesn’t matter what you did before. Drawing on inspiring real world examples and the research he did writing The Referable Speaker, Michael breaks down what meeting planners look for in a speaker—and how YOU can get the gig, even if you don’t think you’re “qualified.”

How You Can Steal The Show

  • Think like a meeting planner by learning the four categories that meeting planners pull from when booking speakers for their event.
  • Take inspiration from other speakers who’ve built successful careers, despite their personal backgrounds.
  • Understand what a professional speaker needs to do for their audience, regardless of the speakers’ resume.

Stay tuned for future bonus episodes of Steal the Show: Michael’s Soapbox, as well as your regularly scheduled Steal the Show content.

Listen to more episodes of Steal the Show from this season and previous ones at https://stealtheshow.com/podcast/

Learn more about Michael’s public speaking training company, Heroic Public Speaking, at https://heroicpublicspeaking.com/

In this episode…

Book & Podcast mentions:

Other episodes of Steal the Show featuring people mentioned in this episode:


INTRO (00:02):

Meeting planners don’t hire credible speakers. They hire transformational speakers. A meeting planner hires you to change the way their audience feels, thinks, and acts.

Michael Port (00:17):

Welcome to Steal the Show with Michael Port. This is Michael. I got some new equipment, so I’m testing it out with a short episode, but an important one. Very often, people who are new to speaking folks who wanna be professional speakers, are anxious that what they’ve done in the past is not important enough to get them speaking gigs now. And that’s a fair concerned because it seems like many of the people who are on the keynote stages have done something of note prior to becoming a speaker. At least some of the keynoters, you know, maybe they ran a big company or maybe they were an athlete or an actor. You know, in The Referable Speaker, Andrew, and illustrated how meeting planners book their anchor speakers. And they have four different buckets from which they pull.

Michael Port (01:10):

The first bucket is filled with athletes, actors, and astronauts. Athletes, actors, and astronauts. But not actors that are, you know, waiting tables while they’re trying to get a couple commercials or guest spot on a TV show. No, no, no. We’re talking about Will Smith type of actors. The kind of folks you pay $500,000 to just to show up and have a 40 minute conversation. Then they get on their private plane and they go home.

Michael Port (01:34):

The second bucket of speakers that the meeting planners select from when they book their anchor speakers is what we call A-list Alternates. A-list Alternates are people whose names you might not immediately recognize, but when you hear the next four to six words after their name, you say, oh yeah, no, of course I know that person. I’d love to hear them. So for example, if you heard the name, Yancy Strickler, that may not ring a bell immediately, but if I said, well, Yancy is the founder of Kickstarter, you’d say, oh yeah know, of course I know who that is. Right now you’re nodding your head going yeah, yeah, okay, I know what Kickstarter is. I mean, the founder of Kickstarter, I’d be interested in hearing them speak.

Michael Port (02:10):

The third bucket of speakers that meeting planners often pull from for their anchor keynote spots is the Industry Icon bucket. You know, the CEO of Domino’s Pizza or somebody who is very well known in their industry, some sort of icon. But the CEO of Domino’s Pizza is not gonna be particularly relevant at a conference for health and wellness, but at a fast food conference, most people are gonna know who that person is and they’re going to hear from them because they may be an Industry Icon. Now it might be a little bit disconcerting because you feel like, well I might not fit in any of those three buckets. So what am I to do? Well, that’s where the fourth bucket comes in.

Michael Port (02:53):

The fourth bucket is filled with Surprise and Delight speakers. These are speakers who the audience doesn’t necessarily know of. They might not have done something in the past that is known or extraordinary by typical measures, but they can deliver a transformational keynote session at the conference. Their session is more entertaining than the speakers from the other buckets. It often is more insightful. So it changes not only the way people feel, but the way they think and then ultimately what they do. So everybody’s really excited to get the picture with the celebrity, but they go home talking about the work that the Surprise and Delight speaker did at the conference. And when a meeting planner finds a Surprise and Delight speaker that they love, they book them regularly. You may book 15 gigs in one year through one meeting planner because they know you are a reliable Surprise and Delight speaker.

Michael Port (03:59):

Now a Surprise and Delight speaker doesn’t have to have some sort of big famous past because what the audience actually cares about most is what you do in that moment when you are on stage. Is the product, meaning your speech, a transformational experience, for the people in the room? That’s what they care about. They’re not evaluating your past. They’re evaluating the moment that exists on stage at that conference. So what you did doesn’t really matter. People really only care about what you are doing now. And I wanna give you some examples because I think this may shine some light on the importance of recognizing that if you put in the work now and you produce something that is best in class, that cannot be denied, well, then you’re gonna work.

Michael Port (04:50):

For example, when Elon Musk started Tesla, was he a car mechanic? Did he know anything about actually building cars? Did he spend his whole life tinkering with cars? No. Was Sara Blakely, a panty hose designer before she started Spanks? The answer is no. Was Michael Jordan, a baseball player before he played professional baseball? No. And as it turns out, he couldn’t do it. So sometimes, sometimes trying something new doesn’t work for a variety of reason, but often it does. And in Jordan’s case, his body was trained for basketball and it would just take too many years to retrain his body for an entirely different sport. But those who do succeed do so because they are able to learn a new skill and quickly adapt physically, intellectually, and emotionally to their new world. And that’s your job. Your job is to turn into a professional speaker. Even if you don’t care about getting paid on the front end. Even if you’re just looking for a business on the back end or brand awareness for your company. Are you able to produce something that is at a level that anyone would look at and say, wow, that’s a professional?

Michael Port (06:01):

So you think what you’ve done in your previous career is most important, but it’s not. What you’re doing now in your current career is what’s most important. Let me give you some examples from people in the industry that you may be familiar with. James Clear, he wrote a book called Atomic Habits, which is a number one New York Times Bestseller. He sold over 5 million copies of that book. And in fact, he was on the New York times bestseller list for an entire year, may still be on the list. But here’s the thing, he had no academic or professional experience in habits before he started his blog, which he did after college. He was actually a failed app builder. The app that James had spent $5,500 on building got only a few downloads and made an entirety of $19 in revenue.

Michael Port (06:53):

In his website and his bio he promotes his prowes as a man who can lift heavy things. You know, he does a lot of body building. I’m not giving James a hard time. James has done incredible work. Now, people care about what he’s doing now, but he actually doesn’t have any bonafides. From what I can tell, I’ve looked all over the internet in habits except what he learns through his study now. And that’s really, really important. And I could go on. Joey Coleman. He just published a book called, Never Lose an Employee Again. He hasn’t had a job in decades and he wasn’t in human resources. He didn’t run big teams. He was a lawyer. He worked for the CIA for a bit. And I think then he worked at a small firm for a bit, maybe a family firm, but I’m not sure. Joey’s an incredible speaker. People love him because of what he does now on the stage. His book is great because of what he does now.

Michael Port (07:43):

He has designed a system that ensures people don’t lose as many employees as they regularly do. And it’s great. It works but it’s what he’s doing now. Eric Wall, another speaker does over a hundred gigs, a year, 40 grand, a speech. He became a graffiti artist to become a speaker. He wasn’t a famous graffiti artist, at least from what I can tell, long before he was a speaker. And that’s fine, that’s great. He developed this skill that he could use in his speaking. And it makes his speeches remarkable. People comment on it. Mike Michalowicz, good friend, and AJ Harper, of course, who is our head writing coach and a dear friend also. They wrote Profit First, which is a book that challenges the status quo in small business accounting and it offers a new approach.

New Speaker (08:28):

Now AJ is a professional writer with no accounting experience. Mike is an entrepreneur who found that the way most businesses do their accounting is flawed. So he rebuilt the system using a new proprietary method, his. But he’s not an accountant and it didn’t matter. Nobody cares. The book has over 5,000 reviews on Amazon and it’s a fantastic book. Dan Pink, another example, he wrote a big book about sales called To Sell is Human. Uh, I don’t think he was ever in sales. He was a writer in the White House, a speech writer. Then he wrote a book called Free Agent Nation just by traveling around the world and talking to free agents, writing about their experience. And then he’s written a few other books. So he studies that particular topic writes a book about it speaks about it. Michael Gerber. He didn’t run a small business, scale it to high heaven. He was a jazz saxophone player before he wrote The E Myth.

Michael Port (09:19):

I was at his house, in fact, when someone asked him, Michael, you know, how’d you come up with The E Myth? He said, oh, I made it up. Literally. He said, I made it up. And it’s great. Marie Forleo. My understanding is she never owned any kind of substantial business before she started teaching people about how to build a business. In fact, I think she was a fitness instructor and she has built an amazing career. People absolutely love her because of what she’s doing now. Matt Church, one of Australia’s best speakers, an amazing human being, incredibly talented, was also an aerobics instructor before he came one of the most respected speaker in Australia and was recognized by his induction into the Australian Speakers Association Hall of Fame.

New Speaker (10:03):

Here’s another one Lewis Howes, no experience in greatness before he started the School of Greatness, at least from my perspective. He was an arena football player with virtually no long term prospects in the sport. Meaning he didn’t have the kind of, that you would need to jump from that sport over to the NFL. Most likely. Could be wrong, but it didn’t happen. So he got hurt and he couldn’t play anymore. Or maybe he could have come back, but just didn’t think it was worth it because his prospects were limited. I don’t know. But my point is he wasn’t Tom Brady. So he started teaching people how to network on LinkedIn, because he figured it out. He was an early adopter. Then he started selling webinar courses teaching people how to sell webinar courses. Then he started a podcast interviewing people who did great things. Wrote a book about it, likely with a ghost writer. A lot of folks do. I don’t know for sure. I’m just guessing. But then he became great because he was the founder of the School of Greatness.

Michael Port (10:57):

So people care about what you’re doing now, not what you did before. Chris Guillebeau, another example, uh, quote from his website still in his early thirties, Chris is on the verge of completing a tour of every country on earth. He’s already visited more than 175 nations, and yet he’s never held a real job or earned a regular paycheck. Rather he has a special genius for turning ideas into income and he uses what he earns both to support his life of adventure and to give back. Quote again, in preparing to write this book, Chris identified 1500 individuals who have built businesses earning $50,000 or more from a modest investment in many cases, a hundred dollars or less. And from that group he’s chosen to focus on 50 of the most intriguing case studies. Nearly all case studies, people with no special skills, discovered aspects of their personal passions that could be et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

Michael Port (11:46):

You see my point, he’s not writing about his past experience doing this. He’s writing about other people who have done this. He wasn’t, from what I could tell an entrepreneur of any note whatsoever before he started doing this. He’s a great marketer and a great writer and those are compliments. And he built an annual event that was incredibly popular because it was a great event to be at. People loved it. So if you create a great product and people want it, they will come regardless of what you did in the past. And he understands how to connect deeply with people’s fears and their dreams. And that’s his special genius: writing and marketing about these ideas, Mel Robbins, she was an attorney who quit or was fired from almost every job she had. And now according to her website, she’s the number one most popular female speaker in the world.

Michael Port (12:37):

Is she speaking on the law? No. She’s teaching you how to take action again from a woman who couldn’t follow through on her professional commitments in the early stages of her career. So I’m not criticizing her. This is what she says. She’s fully open about this. And I think it is fantastic because what she’s demonstrating, what matters is what you do now. And in fact, she also recently realized she was a terrible boss and fired herself from that job and brought in somebody else to run her company because her special genius is speaking, writing, creating IP, connecting with people. So many people worry that they don’t have enough experience on their topic to be credible as a speaker. And in a few cases, maybe that’s accurate, but most new speakers have more than enough experience or expertise in their field to be considered credible.

New Speaker (13:29):

Meeting planners, don’t hire credible speakers. They hire transformational speakers. A meeting planner hires you to change the way their audience feels, thinks, and acts. Accomplishing this takes craft, substantial skills in content and script development, stagecraft, contextual modeling, development of signature bits, and of course the ability to comport yourself as a professional in the business of professional speaking. So you are no longer whatever it was you did before you became a speaker. You’re now a speaker and you should develop your expertise as a speaker slash performer more than you should be concerned about your expertise on the topic and what you did in the past. You likely have more than enough expertise. A professional speaker, however needs to be able to create an insightful, entertaining, and transformational experience for an audience. And that is separate and apart from your expertise. That requires professional speaking skills. Your level of topic expertise is less important and there’s nothing that obligates you to having any particular experience going into a new field that is governed by market forces, namely supply and demand.

Michael Port (14:41):

I mean, you look, you can’t perform open heart surgery without being a licensed board certified medical doctor. And even then you need special training called Fellowship and surgery, cardiology, cardiac surgery. I have no idea if that’s actually what it’s called, but it’s because the industry is regulated. You would think we wouldn’t need regulation because people would be smart enough not to try open heart surgery on their friend, you know, just like, oh, let’s I can do. I’m like cut your heart open. I’ll put something in there like ply or part and I’ll start working on it. But unfortunately we’re not. But entertaining people while offering insights that help solve problems and or help people feel better or think differently doesn’t require any special degrees. It just requires competency. And competency is easy to evaluate in this industry because you can see it on the stage.

Michael Port (15:32):

Someone is either competent on the stage or they’re not competent on the stage. The audience either loves what you say or they don’t. Their response to your work isn’t based on what you’ve done in the past. It is based on what you can do for them in the moment. And if you think about your work from that perspective, then you will march in to the future with a kick in your step and a lot more love in your heart and a much more anticipation for what is possible. So in the meantime, keep thinking big about who you are and what you offer the world. This is Michael Port and Steal the Show.