July 13, 2009

From public speaker to public consultant

To say the least, the world has changed in the last year for the meetings and conventions industry. The key buzzword these days is value.  In other words, meetings need to deliver $$$$ value to their sponsors, hosts and attendees -- hopefully in the quarter.  This is one of the themes at the 2009 Meeting Professionals International annual World Education Conference: Talk in business terms!

To be fair, marketing, advertising, packaging, promotions and employee perks are all experiencing the same short-term scrutiny, due to the recession.  All of these categories typically get punished for supposedly being "frivolous" when times turn sour.  

As a professional speaker, I'm focusing my work on generate value for the meeting planners and their customers/clients/attendees -- instead of just giving rousing talks and scoring high on event surveys. The best approach to create value is to look at myself as an expert who researches, writes, speaks and delivers after-event results. In the end, I'm more of a consultant (albeit much less deeply engaged) than a performer.  Here's my consulting system: 

1.  Interview the meeting planner and his/her stakeholders to determine the event's business objective, audience profile, emotional needs and measurable metrics for success.  (Example interview form)

2.  Do more interviews with extended stakeholders.  Conduct research to connect my expertise with the business objectives of the meetings.  Circle back with the meeting planner to compare notes. 

3.  Write a one-of-a-kind speech, based on the research.  Choose a singular archetypal story to frame the talk, so it is easy for the audience to buy-in to its premise.  MOST IMPORTANT: Include at least six action items for the audience that tie-in to the business objectives.  (Example from ASAE event)

4.  Show up at event early enough to conduct on-the-ground reconnaissance with meeting planners, execs, sponsors, attendees and vendors.  Rehearse (conversationally) some bits and action items to gauge their ability to move people to action.  Sleep on all of your findings

5.  Get up at least two hours prior to sound check time and tweak the speech.  Rehearse the entire talk if possible, integrating the customized content.  Remember: The attendees know their industry and jargon much better than you do! 

6.  Psyche yourself into a mental state backstage that "the only reason to give a speech is to change the world."  Right before you go on stage, review the key action items you MUST include for the talk to deliver measurable short-term business value.  At a recent event, for example, I knew that reducing the load of cc'd and reply-to-all emails would save my client company money, and the IT director was a stakeholder for the event.  I made sure to review my points regarding "less email is better", and gave it some weight during the talk.  

7.  Offer your email address from the stage, so the audience can follow up or give your feedback.  This is crucial, because much value is created away from the meeting planner's purview (surveys, word of mouth).  

8.  Follow up with the meeting planner, if they desire, to share your insights, audience feedback and next steps.  Offer up a podcast or PDF key takeaway points document as an after event deliverable. (Example from MPI-PEC event)

9.  Answer EVERY follow up email from audience members, stakeholders or meeting planners.  Encourage action, document it whenever possible, and include all of your findings in a database to help at future events. 

I know this sounds like a great deal of work for speakers, but after all, we live in a time where we must work twice as hard to make as much as we did in the go-go days of 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2008. Speeches must, as author Nick Morgan argues, move the audience to action. In this case, getting a standing ovation doesn't equate to action.  Increasing prospecting call volume after speaking at a sales rally does. Driving efficiency in shipping and operations after speaking at a corporate offsite does.  

If you figure out a way to prove that you deliver more short-term cash value than you charge, you'll turn your speaking career into a sustainable business, now, and during the good times ahead.  This year, over a third of my speaking engagements are rebookings from previous year's events.  In almost every case, I was brought back because of my value, not because of ratings or surveys.  The system works!

Inquire about bringing me to your next event

PS - Read the comments below for bonus tips, tech hints and and more great ideas on this subject. Clearly, this post has hit a nerve!
Posted at 9:24 AM in Public Speaking  |  Permalink  |  Comments (5)  |  TrackBack (0)



What makes Tim a great speaker (besides his mastery of the technical aspects of speaking) is that he gets the big Zen insight of public speaking: it's not about you -- the speaker -- it's about the audience. When you put your focus on the audience, a host of good things follow -- and you have more fun besides.


Thanks, Tim. These tips came at the perfect time. I'm doing more and more speaking and this advice will help me to make each engagement more meaningful. Adding Jeff's perspective as a meeting planner was a great touch. I've saved this checklist for my records.

David Rendall
The Freak Factor Guy



The shift that you suggest, from being a speaker who generates enthusiasm to being a consultant who generates company-specific insights and value, is what separates the speakers who are out there to promote themselves (or their books, or whatever) and those who are out there to change the world.

This is a terrific set of recommendations (and thanks Jeff for your additional ones).

I think these are useful not only for professional speakers and 'consultants' but also for academics like me, who give talks linking research to business practice.

It takes a lot of work to go from the science to the useful 'aha', and even more to get to action steps the audience can use. I'll put your tips to work and see how I can get my next research talk to change the world... every little bit helps.

Thanks again for these insights.


Great post Tim and great addition Jeff.

I am going to go out on a limb here and re-phrase some of what Jeff is saying... develop multiple media. Different people want to learn in different ways at different times. Offer your customer: video, audio, blogs, consulting, etc... so that their audience can learn from you whenever they need it.

I realize that multimedia is not the forte of many speakers. But, there is now a company called Speaker Interactive (http://speakerinteractive.com) that handles the re-packaging of speaker content so that speakers can focus on their message and leave the technology to others.




Thank you for leading by example and showing other professional speakers how to add value. I've hired you before in the past and know that you are a true believer in this method. (I worked for PPAI and hired you speak at the Motivation Show several years ago.)

I would like to add five more tips to your list to make yourself even more valuable to the meeting professional and his or her audience:

10. Provide one or two blog posts written by you the speaker that the planner can add to the conference blog site for extending the event experience before and/or after the event. Also provides great marketing and exposure for you the speaker.

11. Provide a unique newsletter article that the planner can use in their weekly or monthly e-news.

12. Consider creating a short one- to two-minute video interview that the planner can post on the conference website. Use your web cam or have a family member or friend tape you with their flip camera.

13. Be willing to do a live 30-minute internet radio interview with someone from the hiring organization.

14. During the negotiation process, tell the hirer that you're willing to stay around after the presentation to sign books that are sold onsite. It's a win-win for both you and the hiring organization.

These additional value add-ons will make the planners, planners' company and the attendees experience with you, the speaker, richer.

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