Fifteen Years of Insight & Observation about the Speaking Business

by Dan Kennedy | June 5, 2011

Dan KennedyIn 15 years in this business, I've made virtually hundreds of mistakes, many repetitively, and I've observed speakers making hundreds of mistakes, and all that's just part of the entrepreneurial lifestyle. But I see just a few really big mistakes made over and over and over again, in some cases, made STUBBORNLY over and over again.

My friend Herb True asked me in a recent phone conversation what the one, single, predominate value was that I brought to people in the speaking business. His, for example, is a profound focus on our responsibility to each member of every audience to be congruent, to have integrity and to deliver value. After a visit with Herb, you come away inspired to be a better human being, in and out of business. My answer to Herb was that my #1 contribution is forcing speakers to be businesspeople, so they avoid going broke while they're getting rich and famous or saving the planet or all three.

Yesterday, I had a telephone conversation with a lady about her speaking business, and it summed up a lot of what my personal frustrations with speakers are all about. She was asking about ways to increase her income, and I asked how she handled the audience members who did not immediately buy from her; did she send them a sales letter, a series of letters or whatever. 'Oh, I tried that kind of direct-mail,' she said, 'and it doesn't work.' And that response tells you why far too many speakers work very hard, deliver fine material and value, and still never get anywhere financially. It is called: ignorance.

A truer response would be: I tried that kind of direct-mail and it didn't work for me. A perfectly accurate response would be: I tried that kind of direct-mail and I failed to make it work. A smart response would be: I tried that kind of direct-mail and I failed to make it work - do you know how to make it pay off?

But she has made the incredible leap from her failing to the marketing method itself being a failure. She is not alone. Many speakers do it with many different issues. Just another example, I had one speaker tell me; and you'll hear it repeated as dogma; that no one can sell products from the platform at IBM. While she was patiently explaining this "law" to me, a speaker-client of mine was, that very day, was hard at work putting on a seminar for 150 IBM sales executives at full fee PLUS selling product in the seminar. He did over $20,000.00 in product sales that day. I've also been told by speakers that their big-corporate clients won't give testimonials - three different speakers have told me that about Xerox, yet Lee Milteer has a glowing testimonial letter from Xerox.

Please, if it's cloudy in your home town tomorrow, don't assume it's cloudy everywhere, all the time. And when someone tells you something very dogmatically, "this is the way it is," don't buy into their foolishness. That doesn't translate to some giant, universal truth anymore than it being cloudy in Boston, Detroit AND Seattle translates into it being a cloudy world. They are, at best, telling you of a conclusion they've reached based only on their own experience, possibly reinforced by what a few other people in their circle of peers have also experienced.

In fifteen years in this business, I think the #1 mistake I see speakers make over and over again is too easily and quickly buying into these kinds of Laws and Truths that severely limit their incomes and opportunities.....and the #2 mistake: trying something once themselves then too easily and quickly concluding "it" doesn't work.

You have to be smart enough to know what you don't know. I'm all for doing it yourself; marketing would be the last thing on earth I'd delegate; but I'm certainly NOT doing it blindly and ignorantly. For just about any aspect of the business of marketing information, the businesses of mail-order, direct-marketing, direct-mail, and direct-response advertising, there ARE legitimate experts with current successful experience who make their know-how readily available through books, tapes, newsletters, seminars, conferences, and consulting. Some also speak at association conventions, ranging from NSA to DMA, and at specialized conferences, like my multi-speaker, $3,495.00-per-person Direct Marketing Conferences. Of course, you have to sort out the pretend experts, the flash-in-the-pan one-time-only successes, and the real ones, and you need your BS Detector on full alert to do so.

But why anyone would charge ahead into any aspect of business new to them without doing some homework and availing themselves of all possible information, I just do not understand.

As an example, let's go back to the lady in need of more income, who has concluded that mailing to non-buyers doesn't work. She spoke 40 times last year and had over 8,000 non-buyers she could have mailed to. Handled properly, she'd have sold no fewer than 160 to as many as 800 units at least, at $100 package - $16,000.00 to $80,000 of income left on the table. But she tried it once and it didn't work. Well, knowing that "it" very definitely does work, the correct conclusions from her attempt are: either (a) her direct-mail piece was ineffective, which is very likely because she knows diddedly-squat about direct-mail and didn't bother to even go get a book, or any book on the subject to help her understand it; or (b) her products lack sales appeal, especially if divorced from her emotional presentation, so they need to bestrengthened in terms of actual and perceived value - which would be of benefit to her and her audiences and her clients; or (c) the offer made in the sales letter was a poor one; or (d) a combination of all of these things. Then, with this understanding, she could and should dig in and figure out how to make "it" work.

There are two characteristics demonstrated by all of this, that I think are exhibited by very successful entrepreneurs. One, a very open mind and aggressive curiosity about everything that might work for them, so that they learn what DOES work, so that even if it doesn't work right for them right out of the gate, they know it works, so they stay at it until they figure out how to apply it. Call this what you will - persistence, I suppose. Two, seeing themselves as entrepreneurs. In this instance, entrepreneurs first, speakers second. But the idea applies to every field. The person very willing to lock into a very narrow definition of his business will always earn small money.
In creativity training, this is often referred to as being in the box or getting outside the box. Many speakers live inside very confining boxes. Putting yourself inside a small box is a big mistake.

Dan S. Kennedy is the provocative, truth-telling author of thirteen business books; a serial, multi-millionaire entrepreneur; trusted marketing advisor, consultant and coach to hundreds of private clients running businesses from $1-million to $1-billion in size; and he influences well over 1-million independent business owners annually through his newsletters, tele-coaching programs, local Chapters and Kennedy Study Groups meeting in over 100 cities.


Glazer-Kennedy Insider's Circle, owned and operated by internationally known marketing personalities Dan Kennedy and Bill Glazer, is THE place where truly smart, progressive, aggressive entrepreneurs with a love of marketing, a sincere desire to get rich and richer (with no apologies for doing so), and an optimistic, forward-looking attitude, gather to exchange and share timely information and "what's working today" strategies and examples. Get Bill Glazer's #1 Bestselling Book, "Outrageous Advertising" for FREE. Click here.

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