As seen in the trade publication of the National Speakers Association
Purple!, he exclaimed, as he looked at my media kit. I sat across from him with all my pre-pubescent speaker naivete, idolizing his "big name" status and hoping desperately for some sign of delight, while he gazed at my first attempt at a professional speakers marketing tool. Alas! Alack! He continued by adding insult to injury. "Professional speakers aren't purple, he said, corporate America is not purple................gray, burgundy, navy blue! If you're going to make it in this business, you must conform.
To Do #1
Don't let anyone tell you "it can't be done". Find your style, or as Larry Winget says, "exploit your uniqueness!" Look, listen, learn, adapt never adopt and find your USP, unique selling proposition. Ten years later, my media kit is still purple.
When I taught dance, my students used to ask me why I continued to go to New York every week to take classes. I tried to explain to them that even Barishnykov still takes classes, or would they want to go to a Doctor who never refreshed his knowledge or stayed current? Become a lifetime student of your craft. Some NSA'ers have taken classes in presentation skills, marketing, business development, creative writing, humor workshops, improvisation, acting techniques, the opportunities are as boundless as your imagination. The speaking industry is like a fountain, some of you drink and the rest of you, gargle!
To Do #2
Attend your chapter meetings and all the NSA workshops and conventions that you possible can. As Danielle Kennedy once said, "are you green and growing or are you ripe and rotten"? When do we stop learning? NEVER! The competition is getting stronger and as professionals we need to stay current with our skills, our topics and our industry knowledge. Continue to invest in yourself with time and money. At every stage of your career, there are new challenges. I do alot of consulting and coaching with speakers at all levels and I'm often amazed by the attitudes of those who invest in themselves and those who miss the point. Many of the top speakers today continue to hire coaches and consultants to help them to the next level or to refine technique. Whether the investment of time or money is in technology, presentation skills, marketing techniques or wherever you know you need the most help, we need to re-invent ourselves for the sake of ourselves as well as our clients. Auntie Mame in the Broadway show said, "life is like a banquet and most poor son of a guns, are starving to death!" Well, it was close to that.
The Christmas of 1994, I read the book, "Real Moments" by Barbara deAngelis. A good book by definition, not the most profound or prolific but as some wise person once said, "when the student is ready, the teacher appears" I believe that book was timely for me and inspired changes in my personal and professional life. The essence of the book was basically this........is it a real moment when you're speaking to a crowd of 5000 or is it a real moment when you are tucking your child in at night, is it a real moment when you are traveling to South Africa to speak or is it a real moment when you are petting your dog?
To Do #3
Savor the real moments in your life as well as your career. Prioritize, leave time for true joy(God bless you, Steve Wilson, Joyologist), never sacrifice your relationships for a booking, nor your health or your mental well being for that one extra engagement. Don't hire a staff and buy all the latest equipment before you even have a calendar that is fairly full for your standards. Be proud to say you have 50 engagements not 100. Make more money and work less, that's my New Year's resolution, what's yours?
After speaking for a client in Germany, they asked me back for five years in a row. Always thrilled with repeat business, he often placed demands upon me for topics I was not well versed in. One year, I succumbed and learned a valuable lesson. I spoke on a subject that I knew alot about but had no desire to speak on. Needless to say, it was not one of my most memorable presentations. I spoke on many different topics in the early years of my career. Although, I was discouraged from doing so (which, of course, led me to do it even more, being the irreverent speaker that I am), I did discover many interesting points. The most obvious lesson is that passion for your topic is as important as expertise. Often my clients look to me for the appropriate topic for their meeting. I believe it's important to understand their objectives and audience profile to make an educated and applicable suggestion. Do not try to fit a square peg in a round hole. Recently, one of my consulting clients called because he got his first job and when asked to present, he offered them the one topic he knew and it was not the topic they thought they were getting. That could be a fatal mistake. I do not encourage everyone to speak on alot of subjects, I happen to have felt qualified to do so because I had owned 8 successful and diverse businesses. The eclectic mix included professional dance, health club owner, retail store, management consulting firm, cruise placement agency, Sea-ductive Adventures, and my catering business, The Happy Cooker (did you expect anything else?) A consummate entrepreneur, I did make one foray into corporate America as director of marketing for Public Television. I eventually found my topics began to niche me. No, it didn't hurt. You begin to discover your strengths and your own self enjoyment and when you do that, your audience benefits as well.
To Do #4
Speakers often make the mistake of choosing topics based on what their clients demand, or based on what the buzz is in corporate America or what they hear someone else do, that they know they could do better. (we've never heard that statement at an NSA convention). As only an "in your face personality and top speaker would say, over a plate of pasta in a New York City restaurant, my good buddy, Warren Greshes re-enforced the message we all know and sometimes need to be reminded of, " don't pick a topic because it's hot, pick a topic that you're passionate about". (I know, I know, the sentence was too long, hey, remember to "break the rules"). Amen!
One year, when I must have had a frontal lobotomy, I hired a marketing director. It didn't take long, no, that's a lie, it took too long for me to realize that my growth in the business was directly related to her self esteem. While she totally believed in my talents and was good at marketing, I started to notice a pattern. Everytime I wanted to raise my fees, she was apprehensive. I noticed she negotiated my set fees more than I ever would and then finally, the Aha! As the "Titan Principled" speaker, Ron Karr so eloquently puts it, "your fees are in direct proportion to your self esteem" Ah, I couldn't have said it better myself, dear Ron. I know there are many good marketing directors and qualified staff supporting speakers today, I suggest part of the screening process should be questions designed to demonstrate integrity, self esteem, assertiveness as well as marketing skills. It's all part of the proverbial internal marketing mix. Ah, hiring, that's another article.
To Do #5
In my sales programs, I love to ask the audience, "when is the best time to make a sale?' I often get many profound and obscure answers, the answer is simply, "right after you made one". The reasoning should be obvious, you're feeling empowered and your confidence level is high. When is the best time to raise your fees? When you are so busy at the fee level you are at, when you have risen to the next level by virtue of new skills, the addition of presentation value added tools such as multi media, when you have product that supports your programs to sell or giveaway, in essence, when you can objectively look at yourself and your calendar and know that "it's time". At each new fee level, is that proverbial lump in my throat, will anyone call? is it too high, is it too soon?. A quick reality check by yourself, your family and your peers will help you affirm your financial leap into the deep waters of the bureau and meeting planners pools. Raise your fees and then remember why you did!
As I celebrate my 10 year anniversary in this business and I reflect back over all the successes, lessons learned, memories made, goals achieved, occasional blunders along the way, I believe there is only one rule and that is that there are no rules. Or put as succinctly as the presentation guru, Robert Gedaliah says, "trust your instincts". I promised you answers, I don't think there really are any. It's what's right for you. Sure there are guidelines and mentors and coaches and people to admire and emulate. There are just as many who given the chance will steal your very soul by making you into a carbon copy. Don't let anyone "should" on you. Make your own mistakes, they are part of the learning curve.
10 years have earned me the right to be cliche in offering my 10 favorite lessons learned and 10 bloopers which could be the inspiration for the next Dummies series, indulge me;
Lessons a.k.a. AHA's
- Be unique
- Break the rules
- Get a life
- Continually learn
- Your network is important to your net worth
- Persistence is a virtue
- This is a business
- Serve with humility
- Give back
- To thine own self be true (OK, so it's someone else's lesson)
Faux pas', bloopers, blunders, boo boo's, doo doo's, you get the picture!
- Don't hire staff too soon
- Don't rent an office, work at home and if you can't stand the stigma, just say with a smirk, "I own the building my office is in"
- Don't ignore Murphy when he comes a callin', after all, he wrote the law
- Don't burn any bridges, today's acquaintance is tomorrow's client
- Don't neglect your health and sanity, keep your perspective
- Don't believe everything you hear
- Don't think you can do it all
- Don't ever rest on your laurels (or janes, carols, marys, I couldn't resist)
- Don't use jokes or stories that have been done,...and done,... and done, .....and
- Don't ever take for granted this great profession that we are in
Out of all the memories garnered from the "privilege of the platform", one in particular comes to mind at this anniversary time and as I write this on the day of the New Year. I spoke in Israel, several years ago and after a week of being wined and dined and shown their magnificent country, the greatest thrill of all was reserved for the last day. Five jeeps drove out into the Negev Desert and after driving for an hour or so, when you looked out the back of the Jeep, you saw nothing but desert and you felt your humanity. You feel like a speck on this earth, so small and humble. We finally arrived at a large rock formation which was beginning to look like a mirage as we had seen nothing for so long. As we got closer, we truly couldn't believe our eyes. They had catered a formal lunch for us, all set up with long tables, white tablecloths, set against the blazing sun and solitude of the desert. When I returned home and opened the parting gift that they gave me, tears came to my eyes. There in a picture frame was a photo of the table, all set against the backdrop of the Israeli desert and in that moment, I remembered why I was in this business. It is our responsibility to make memories for not only ourselves but for all the lives we have the "privilege" of touching.
I believe we are all born unique, we just die as copies. One attendee recalled that I had been a professional dancer and upon observing my unconventional speaking style, noted on my evaluation the following quote, "those of us who dance are often thought mad by those who can't hear the music". Come dance with me!
Mikki Williams, CSP is an international speaker, trainer, author, consultant, entrepreneur extraordinaire and mensch. An inspirational humorist and business motivator, known for her outrageous style and flamboyant personality, she offers keynotes and workshops in personal development and business dynamics and consults and coaches speakers and entrepreneurs at all levels of their careers. Reach her in Wilton, CT. at ph. 203-762-2526, fax 203-762-2494, e-mail: MikkiWill@aol.com or www.mikkiwilliams.com.