We hear it nearly every freakin’ day.
My team and I will be on the phone with a new prospect. And they’ll say something like this, “We don’t book speakers anymore because…
- …our students don’t identify with them
- …our employees were let down by the last couple
- …they don’t draw good audiences
- …there’s so many good TED Talks online
- …it seems like there’s so much ego out there
- …there’s a lot of ego
- …they just talk about themselves
- …they’re really expensive for what we get
- …we’ve tried, but we just haven’t had good experiences.
Our response? “You’re 100% right.”
A WAKE-UP CALL
This post will be uncomfortable for my friends in the speaking industry—either as speakers, agents or bookers—but it is immensely important to spell this out clearly.
The speaking industry is in the early stages of a massive shakeup, akin to what’s happened with the rise of on-demand TV and a bazillion other industries in the last 15 years.
Let me put it simply. In an on-demand world, why would we expect anyone to sit in a room for 60 minutes to intently listen to a keynote? Why would we expect that people should base their schedules around us? Why would we believe that hearing our message is more important than whatever they have to do? Seriously. Why would have such high expectations of ourselves?
I can’t think of much more dated idea than saying to an audience, “Come to this room at this time to see one person on stage for an hour.”
Think about it. It’s 2017.
If that was the pitch you were given, would you go to that? No. You’d be like, “Unless Jay-Z and Beyonce are here, I have other shit to do.”
Hell, I am going to see Tony Robbins next week for four (whole!) days and already dreading it because after the first 30 minutes I’ll think to myself, “Alright Tony, move it along. I get it. We’re powerful. Finding our purpose is great. Hugging strangers is awesome. But just… move… it along.”
Simply put, our product isn’t what the market wants. And we’re so precious that we think the market is the problem, not us.
This is where we’re mistaken, friends. The problem is us.
WHAT CAN WE DO?
We should think like the music industry. Remember that industry? Yeah, that thing.
Record sales have plummeted with the rise of streaming service… but concerts are still a huge moneymaker. In fact, it’s really the only moneymaker aside from sponsorships and licensing (which have declined too). Why has concert revenue grown? Because truly great performers are always worth paying money to see in person.
So let’s ask ourselves some hard questions:
- Speakers- ask yourself, are you are worth seeing live? Are you that kickass that people should drop everything and haul ass to their local auditorium? If not, you need to stop everything you’re doing, work on your product and iterate it with the help of people you trust.
- Agents- ask yourself, is your roster worth seeing live, or not? Are they in it for the money, exposure or otherwise? Do they give a shit about the audience’s betterment? If not, you might want to re-think who you represent.
- Bookers- ask yourself, what will excite and draw your stakeholders? What are those formats? What topics or ideas makes people care and engage? What do people need to feel? Please, I beg you, share that with your peers in the speaking industry. They need your feedback badly.
All of this is to say that as agents and speakers, we all need to change our priorities.
We must deliver insanely good live experiences. Think like a performer. Rehearse like crazy. Know your shit. Work for hours and hours to focus on moving people through a range of emotions, akin to seeing your favourite band. Incorporate surprises and unexpected elements that will leave them in awe. And for god-sakes, don’t end with a Q&A.
We must think beyond the live event. Deliver value to attendees before and after the event. Whether that’s cheat sheets, online courses, videos, hacks, inspiration, tools or anything else you can imagine, package it and deliver it. You are being paid well. Step up and deliver some more value.
We must value to the audience. When they’re starting out, any band knows that they have to play at the audience… even if that means playing Bruce Springsteen covers at a shitty bar on a Wednesday night. Use that same mindset for speaking. Focus on what they need. Entertainment? Enlightenment? Enthusiasm? Vulnerability? Reliability? Whatever it is, do that full-out. Remember that speaking is not about the speaker. It’s about the audience.
We must plan smarter. Package your speeches in one week or two week tours. Go and deliver them, and then come home and stay there. Thinking in tour formatting makes you perform better, save costs (which can be passed on to the client), streamlines promotions, aids planning, and opens up opportunities to partner with brands and organizations.
We must evolve the keynote format. Turn your keynote into a workshop, a pop-up, a journal or kids book, a board game, an art exhibit. Just because you give keynotes doesn’t mean you can only do that. Look closely at the core idea.
We must check our egos. We are in this mess because of the same egos that got us here in the first place. How special are we that we deserve to have our voice heard publicly? Please. We are in an incredibly fortunate position to share our stories, ideas and passion with people. Remember that. As soon as you do, you’ll be more open to evolving for survival rather than resisting it.
HERE’S THE DEAL
Public lectures have been around since our earliest history of mankind. They ain’t going anywhere. But the industry as we know it is.
Many speakers do not cut it. Many speakers are too concerned about their story, their brand or their company to hit this mark. And in turn, many agencies are not delivering the right value to their clients, including ourselves sometimes. We’re not immune, we’re just learning quickly.
Does it mean that there will be no more keynote speeches? No. Does it mean that there’s no hope in becoming a speaker or if you are a speaker? No.
What it means is that speakers and speaking agencies have to try much harder to deliver value to audiences in a way that is expected in 2017.
So what will you do about it?
Jordan is a Partner at Disruptt, keynote speaker and coach to top entrepreneurs. He is currently prepping for the launch of The Bold Class, Disruptt’s first coaching program dedicated to helping leaders find their real story and tell it in a way that pulls on the heartstrings of audiences. You can sign-up on the waitlist right here.