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!

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!