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Speaking…All the Way to the Bank

Posted on October 31, 2006 by Vinnie Lacey.

“My criterion for success is pleasing people who can write checks that clear the bank.”
-Alan Weiss

You can’t get past the preface of Alan Weiss’ Money Talks: How to Make a Million as a Speaker (McGraw-Hill, 1998)—indeed not far beyond the title—and miss the crux of this 200+ page roadmap to the ins and outs of professional speaking. Weiss wants you to know he has made millions as a professional speaker and now, apparently, it’s your turn, too. Dilettantes beware: this book is not for the weak-hearted—nor the daydreamers fancying themselves the next Tony Robbins. While Weiss’ blunt, tongue-in-cheek delivery often comes across too smug for its own good, the content here is all business: the tools, targeted advice and piercing questions to push you head first into a career in public speaking.

In this review I will focus on three “big picture” lessons from Weiss’ marketing and sales techniques, although the book covers everything from developing content to publishing a book to staffing and supporting a business.

Big Lesson #1: Speaking professionally requires a lot of work.

Not surprising news, right?

Turns out the obvious is not so obvious. Weiss makes the distinction that having something to say—even with a superior ability to keep an audience captivated—does not make you a professional speaker. Only a public speaker. The truth is that most “professional” speakers find it difficult to put food on their plates just from speaking. The corollary to this first lesson is that you will expend more effort selling your speaking than actually delivering your lines.

Weiss catalogs several examples of professional speakers—some who have been speaking for many years—desperately trying to improve their business. In most scenarios the problem is not the content of the material, but rather how the individual has been defined. 

Like any aspect of sales, speakers can fall into self-destructive attitudes and routines rather easily.  Ongoing success means a willingness to do the advance research and constant self-analysis that centers you as a comprehensive solution to your client’s problem.  Celebrities sell on name alone—they have it easy.  But Weiss details the step by step process to honestly answer: “What do I bring to the table in my buyer’s terms?”

Naturally, then, chapters such as “What is a Professional Speaker?” and “Positioning Yourself in the Field” precede discussions of platform skills.  Weiss insists, “The only reason to hire a speaker…is to improve the condition of the audience and, frequently, the organizations which they represent.”

BeTuitive uses the same criteria to develop content for our B2B clients. Great professional speakers, like great custom publications, leave a lasting impact and improve the lives of their audience.  Relevancy and end results are everything. In this point lies the theme that Weiss returns to again and again. For all his boisterous opinions and “myth-destroying” contentions, the fundamental message is quite simple, bringing us to…

Big Lesson #2:  Craft all aspects of your professional speaking career around value to the customer and sell on value.

Successful businesses and successful salespeople, of course, do this all the time.  It’s getting there that’s difficult.  In order to drive home this point, Weiss dedicates his first five chapters to identifying the buyer’s objectives, defining your value as a speaker and finding ways to match the two effectively.  Particularly helpful are the topics:
•    Responding effectively to the question, “What do you speak about?”
•    Transitioning content knowledge and process skills into client results
•    Leveraging past experiences to adult learning needs
•    Determining where your ideal clients “live” (e.g. who has easiest established need, who taps into trends that drive your audience, who knows you exist as a speaker already, etc.)

Only by understanding the professional speaking process as a value-directed venture, Weiss contends, can you actually begin crafting a speech in the first place!

Of those three steps in the sales process, I found Weiss’ approach to defining your value as a speaker the most counterintuitive and challenging–bringing us to our final take-away, reprinted in its entirety for your convenience:

Big Lesson #3: “Define your value in the broadest conceptual terms, studiously avoiding industry, niche, and segment alignment.”

Huh?  Isn’t it all about specialization?  What happened to meeting exact objectives?

Weiss readily admits that some vehemently disagree with him, but writes, “Experience and circumstances will intelligently narrow [your market] as needed, but that winnowing process is often a gentle erosion around the edges, not a sharp knife slicing a pie into eights.  These steps are equally applicable for the neophyte or the veteran.” 

At first I had difficulty seeing this advice as anything more than motivational (c’mon champ, lots of people want to hear your spiel—it’s just a matter of getting their attention!)  However, I think Weiss’ contention dovetails into his overall message of thinking critically about what you leave behind as a speaker. A value-based definition is broad by its very nature and may open new avenues of potential audience members. You may be capable of doing more than you think.

Weiss’ point may be best summed up: Approach and market as if every person were a potential audience member; specialize your value to the buyer. In other words, enable any buyer to buy from the outset. When building rapport, ask the right questions and position yourself as the solution to your buyer’s specific needs and areas of pain.

Money Talks is an excellent place to start thinking seriously about a career in professional speaking. Experienced speakers looking to elevate their careers can also benefit from Weiss’ bucking of the status quo. Making a living as a speaker is a difficult niche to carve out, delivering a fresh product an even bigger challenge. But the results can be rewarding and—as Weiss would have us remember—quite lucrative. 

See you on the circuit.

For more information on Alan Weiss:

Summit Consulting Group

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