One of the best ways to get on a prospect’s radar screen is for them to see you on stage at a trade conference or show. The implied endorsement of your thought leadership can open many business development doors. But how do you know which stage you should be on and how do you get there? How do you position yourself to become the choice, not a choice, when people are looking for speakers with your specific expertise?

My podcast guest Gene Hammett uses his 20+ years of experience being on many stages (right and wrong) to walk you through how to find your profitable niche, translate that into new revenues, new leads, new business and make you the insider in the space you are shooting for so the right clients will come to you.

Gene says, “Most people believe they should be getting paid to speak, but I believe that you can and should speak for free at the right stages. Be in the right place and the right clients will walk up to you after your speech and present you an opportunity. Of course, that assumes you’ve done your work and you really carry the moment and deliver something fresh and useful.”

Join Gene and I as he lays out a great road map for becoming THE choice, and not A choice with:

  • Why Gene became a coach after losing 3 million dollars
  • The real reasons you should be speaking (it’s not a speaker’s fee)
  • How to get speaking engagements that will fill your sales pipeline
  • Why you shouldn’t shy away from the “breakout” sessions at conferences as a speaker
  • The opportunity for diverse speakers
  • Why being a generalist is dangerous for speakers
  • Why great content rules over speaking skills
  • Giving attendees permission to come and find you instead of trying to sell from the stage
  • Why you need to build relationships before filling out the speaker submission form
  • How to figure out what to speak about
  • Getting on the radar of the conferences you want to speak at through writing
  • Gene’s 5-day “authority gap” challenge

Gene Hammett turns everyday entrepreneurs into FORCES of nature in their market. He sorts through the complexities of business strategies to help you “be THE choice, not just a choice.”

Gene has been a business leader for 20+ years. He started and ran multiple million dollar companies. He succeeded, failed, reinvented himself, and succeeded again. He can pass along to you the key lessons he’s learned in the process so you can have a business that is both successful and fulfilling.

On his podcast, Leaders in the Trenches, Gene has interviewed hundreds of world thought leaders and best-selling New York Times authors. Gene has been featured in Forbes, Success Magazine, Business Insider, and INC Magazine. Gene is also a regular contributor to Entrepreneur Magazine.

In all of his keynotes, Gene uses personal stories and humor to clarify key points. This message is a unique approach to how stepping out of your comfort zone, thinking differently, and innovating can lead to increased market share and trusted authority status. Gene always gives powerful strategies to be implemented right away to create immediate results.

To listen – you can visit the Build A Better Agency site ( and grab either the iTunes or Stitcher files or just listen to it from the web.

If you’d rather just read the conversation, the transcript is below:

Table of Contents (Jump Straight to It!)

  1. How Gene Went from Running Businesses to Speaking
  2. The Best Places and Conferences for Thought Leaders to Speak At
  3. Why You Need to Have a Focused & Sales-Oriented Message as a Speaker
  4. How to Niche Yourself as a Speaker
  5. Why Having Great Content is Key to Driving Sales as a Speaker
  6. Some of the Biggest Mistakes Speakers Make in the Process
  7. How to Find Your Speaking Niche & Get the Right Speaking Engagements
  8. How to Create Relationships with Conference Planners
  9. Gene’s 5-Day Authority Gap Challenge

Drew: Hey everybody, Drew McLellan here with another episode of Build a Better Agency. We are going to talk about a topic today that a lot of you have been thinking about and challenged by, and I know that our guest is going to give you all kinds of pragmatic, practical, actionable items that you can put into play. So let me tell you a little bit about him, and then we’re going to jump right into the conversation.

So Gene Hammett helps leaders go from status quo to exceptional to accelerate their business growth. He does that in a lot of ways, but the way we’re going to really focus on today is how do agencies drive revenue and sales through thought leadership, specifically around being on the right stage at the right time in front of the right audience. So we’re going to dig into that.

Gene has been a business leader for over 20 years. He started and has run multiple million dollar companies, and he, like all great business people, has succeeded, he’s failed, he’s re-invented himself, and he succeeded again. I’m sure he’s going to tell us all about that. He’s going to help us really understand the process that he uses when he coaches his clients through the ability to become real authorities in their space.

He also does a great podcast called Leader in the Trenches, and he interviews world thought leaders, best-selling New York Times authors, and talks to them about their leadership and the lessons that they learned when things got a little down and dirty. He has shared the platform with the legendary Jack Canfield, and he’s often featured in Forbes, NBC, Success Magazine, Huffington Post, and is a regular contributor to So clearly, a man who knows his stuff. Gene, welcome to the show. Thanks for joining us.

Gene: Drew, thanks for having me and wow, that seems like I’ve been busy.


How Gene Went from Running Businesses to Speaking

Drew: It does sound like you’ve been busy. So, in the intro, in the conversation we had before I hit the record button, you used a line that I want to start our conversation off with which is that you help your clients become the choice, not a choice, when people are looking for speakers. So, let’s just start there. How did you get from running businesses to doing what you’re doing today?

Gene: The short of it is I lost three million dollars in one day. Bam. There you go.

Drew: Voila, I’m an entrepreneur, right? I’m going to start a business. So, maybe there’s some context in that story that you want to share.

Gene: I’ve never given it that short before. I was going to see how that felt, and it felt really odd. Normally, I go on way too long. Drew, I have been an entrepreneur since 2001. Even before that, it was in my heart, but I was in Corporate America learning the skills to be an entrepreneur. I think I was a little bit scared, and just didn’t have an idea.

When 9/11 came along, now or never. I created an ecommerce business. I took it to a million very quickly. I ended up figuring out how to take it to five million, created a cash cow, created a lot of money and a lot of freedom for myself, but there was something that was missing. It was really kind of two things that were pulling at me. One of them was I wanted to innovate inside this business that I kind of hated because I wanted to kind of get out of it, but also wanted purpose in what I was doing and they kind of were two opposite ends of the spectrum. Do I stay or do I leave? Do I stay or do I leave? Do I persist or do I pivot? I chose to persist. I chose to just make more money. It really came from looking back at that showing that I was really scared.

So, I give you that context to this. I was at the height of that business. I was in Beijing. I had 8,500 clients, sports tours at the Olympics there, 2008, and I made over $1.2 million dollars for me and my partner. So, obviously I knew what I was doing in that world, but I just … I wasn’t happy. I moved into the next big deal, which is what we do. We go onto the next bigger thing, which was Vancouver Olympics. My friend and I had a relationship and a partnership and we’d done business together. He had three million dollars of my money, and I had a piece of paper that stated out all the stuff I’m supposed to get, and I ended up getting nothing.

So that caused an immediate halt to everything I’ve done, even my breath. I mean, I felt like I didn’t breathe for a few days there.

Drew: I can’t imagine that you weren’t curled up in a corner somewhere.

Gene: I was. It strung out over a few days of what was going to happen, and the lies started unraveling. I won’t kind of throw any stones here, but I trusted the wrong person way too much. They had all my money, and I ended up losing everything.

So, coming back into the real world, I knew I would start another business. I had no idea what I would do, but I’m like, “You know what? I should do something that really charges me from a purpose-driven place, from my inside out,” and it’s not that I wanted to make more money to buy more toys, I just wanted to provide for my family. But that was all gone now, and so I started a business. I started thinking about the coaching I got in my journey as an entrepreneur because I believed in getting guidance.

So I got this guidance, and I love being heard. It sounds so simple, but I loved talking. I like to talk out my problems, and I love for people to challenge me with good questions and really help me see things I can’t see. It really helped me grow my business. Some very pivotal moments through all that, and I’m like, “You know, I want to do that,” but I was worried. I just lost three million dollars. Who’s going to hire me to be their business coach if I just lost three million dollars? That’s a pretty valid concern, right Drew?

Drew: Sure. Yeah, maybe.

Gene: So, I did that research and I thought about it and I actually got some more coaching around this, because that’s what I believe in, and it helped me navigate through that time in my life where I wasn’t sure what I was going to do. But I’m like, “I’m going to do something that really means something for me,” and the word significance came up. I want to feel significant. I want to make sure I’m making an impact, to have a purpose.

So, I decided to become a coach. I got trained. I had to get a job, so to speak. I’m really unhirable. But, for a couple of years I did sales for digital agencies. So, shout out to you guys. I understand your world. I did that, and I started out. Five years ago, I became a coach mostly to creative companies, design companies and agencies to help them become the choice, not a choice.


The Best Places and Conferences for Thought Leaders to Speak At

Drew: So, one of the things that we chatted about, again, before we hit the record button is that part of your role is to keep track of the best places to speak and the best conferences. So, tell us a little bit that, and then I want to dig into how you help your clients become the choice rather than a choice.

Gene: I want to back us up one step behind this because knowing that there are speaking engagements out there is great, but why would you want to speak for your business? The why, some people get this twisted, and I’m just going to be honest with you guys. Let go of the fact that you’re going to be a paid speaker. Maybe you will someday, and maybe that will be the place, but you don’t need to get paid right now. What you need to do, and I’m going to say this very clearly and bluntly, is if you’ve got a strong company, you’re doing really good work for people, you need to get more people to know about that work.

Drew: Yep. Right.

Gene: Period.

Drew: You are going to get paid. It’s just not you’re going get a speaker’s fee. It’s that you’re going to get revenue from another source because you spoke.

Gene: Absolutely, and I’ll say that with …

Drew: Yeah, I agree completely.

Gene: That’s one thing we’ll talk about is the stage mapping. So, when you understand that you need more people, I’m going to be honest with you. It does happen, but you putting together an email sequence in a funnel is not going to bring you in that next $50 or $100,000 dollar client.

It’s just not. They’re not listening to webinars. They’re not going to probably find you on the podcast. High value clients are busy working. They’re probably already working with another agency, too.

So, what you have to do is go, “Who are my ideal clients?” And you get really clear about that, and that’s part of being the choice, which we’ll get into. But when you know which industries you would best serve … One of my friends came up with this question. I’ll give it you because I just really think finding your target market and your profitable niche is just one of the most foundational exercises you can do as an agency owner. Most people resist this because they’re like, “I work with big brands.” But it …

Drew: Right, and there’s a dollar on the table that I want. So, that’s a client.

Gene: So, if you find that profitable niche, and here’s one question that will help you. If you only got paid on performance, who would you work with? Think about that for a second.

Drew: That’s a great question.

Gene: It’s a question that’s meant to challenge you. Why is he telling me to get paid on performance? I’m not. I’m just saying, you know where you do your best work. You know where your work is translated into new revenues, new leads, new business, and it’s really clear. You know that. You should know that as an agency owner. Do you agree with me or …?

Drew: Absolutely.

Gene: Just making …

Drew: You should know what clients you are delighting every day and which clients keep bringing you more money and saying, “That was awesome. I’d like to give you more money and do more of that.”

Gene: You also know which clients you think …

Drew: Don’t.

Gene: You can’t stand.

Drew: Right.

Gene: And you know the clients too that you’re not doing the work that you could be. You’re not delighting them. You’re taking their money, but you’re not delighting them. You may not like me for saying this, but I’m just going to say. There’s different kinds of clients out there. Really focus on your business and the ones that, if you only got paid on performance, you’d work for them. Then, those will be your brand advocates. Those will be your raving fans. Those will be the ones that will be so thrilled about what you’re doing, that they’ll tell everybody. They’ll actually get on stages for you …

Drew: And with you.

Gene: And they’ll give you a speech and say, “Yep. My agency figured this shit out.” That’s the best advertising you can get. You can just be in the audience and go, “Hey, that’s me.” Right?

Drew: Right.

Gene: I’ll take that.

Drew: Right, I’ll wave when he mentions my name.

Gene: And you can co-present. Sometimes you can do a case study, co-present, which works too. But if you knew where those people are, those valuable clients, whatever you want to call them, and you knew which conferences they were going to, and you were the only digital agency in that line up … This is not amongst your peers. You go into that software as a service companies, and there’s a thousand of them, or it’s doctors or veterinarians or it’s consultants or it’s speakers, or whatever it may be, right? You follow me there, right?


Why You Need to Have a Focused & Sales-Oriented Message as a Speaker

Drew: Yeah. Yeah, well you know what? It’s interesting because a lot of my peers in the sort of digital space, a lot of my marketing peers, they love to speak at marketing conferences, which I get because they’re fun and you get to see all of your friends. But nobody there is going to actually hire you to do anything because they do a lot of what you do unless you are really are very narrow in your focus and message, right?

Gene: I will have to disagree with you, politely. At all those marketing conferences, and it depends on your industry. It’s a little bit hit and miss, to be honest with you, but there are lots of times if you go in there, there’s both sides represented, the buy and the sell side.

Drew: Oh, I’m not talking social media world or I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about conferences where it is for … The conference is for your peers. I agree. Those marketing conferences whereas many clients are there as agencies, actually in a lot of cases are more clients there than agencies, that’s prime picking. I’m not saying that, but I’m saying a lot of marketing folks love to speak to other marketing folks.

Gene: Yes, yes they do.

Drew: And that’s not really going to put more money in your wallet at the end of the day.

Gene: They like to talk about their awards, Drew. They like to talk about that stuff, and those things are fun too. I take those opportunities …

Drew: Yeah, they’re fun. Sure, but they’re not …

Gene: Not profitable.

Drew: Revenue. Yeah, right.

Gene: So, once you get clear about who your clients are, you want to know where they are. I really believe this. There are certain segments of the market. Some of them are completely 90% full of your ideal clients. Some of them are 40%, and it’s a pretty good … There’s not much in between that, and there are some that are just like 5%. So you want to be able to look at a conference and look at the profile, look at the sponsorships, look at what they’re messaging and who they’re attracting, and go, “If I really work with automotive supply companies, are they going to be in that conference or not?” So, that’s one thing you have to figure out for yourself, and one of the things I’ve done to kind of move to the real question you asked me about these conferences is I like to speak as well. I speak to get clients. I’ve been doing this for five years. It’s one of the main ways I connect with people because I like to do high value work. I will go to marketing conferences because those are filled with my ideal clients.

Drew: Absolutely.

Gene: Those are filled with the people that are having a little bit of that struggle going, “You know, I’d really like to make a turn or pivot to something bigger,” and I give them permission to look at having a niched business that becomes the choice not a choice and have authority positioning in their market. One of the ways to do that is to speak on these stages. That’s the reason we’re talking.

So, I mapped out, with my team … I didn’t realize it’d be this much work, but I hired someone on my team specifically to research the top 400-ish speaking conferences. These are conferences, not corporations, not associations, these are just conferences. Social Media Marketing World is on the list. Traffic conversion’s on the list, but also leadership, sales, international events, entrepreneurial events. So there’s a big selection, and I have mapped out not only the name of the conference and the URLs and the dates and the locations, I actually know who are the meeting planners behind that.

Drew: Wow.

Gene: That’s pretty powerful.

Drew: That is, yep. That’s the playbook right there, right?

Gene: That’s the playbook. Now, I’ll be honest with you. I don’t just shell that out willy nilly. My clients don’t even get it. I give them the names they need when they need them. I don’t want anybody blasting this list and burning it up because that’s what would happen, and we can talk about the strategies to actually get these bookings. But I have done this research, and I’m not saying it’s all of the places you could speak, but it is the conference set. You would also probably want to look at corporations and associations.

So there’s the three dominant players in the stage market, and I think you need to understand those and how they fit into your business. That’s a real powerful play. When you identify the stages and you get on those stages and give her a message, when you get into the details of the message, because this is the key. When you give a message that shatters beliefs, that shatters what they think is to be true and gives them another choice, that’s something they’ve never heard before, and that unlocks all the problems that they’ve been having and it addresses all that other stuff, it’s really kind of … There’s a promise behind every speech and behind every business. It unlocks the promise.


How to Niche Yourself as a Speaker

Drew: Right, okay. So I want to dig into how do we know what promise to make, how do we develop the promise, and then how do we deliver on that promise. But first, let’s take a quick break and then we will come back and dig deep into that.

Okay, welcome back. I’m here with Gene Hammett and we’re talking about how to create revenue and sales from the stage. So, Gene before the break we were talking about how every presentation or every speech is a promise and that someone who wants to be on the stage with the idea of being in front of prospects that attract them to then hire their agency, they need to understand how to really package themselves in a way that’s going to make them the choice for the conference planners rather than a choice.

So, walk us through your thinking around that, and as you know, many agencies aren’t differentiated by niche or by thought process or something else. A lot of them are generalists or sort of, “We serve butchers and bakers and candlestick makers.” So I would assume that it’s much more difficult to execute on your strategy if I’m a generalist.

Gene: The generalist has a tough time, to be honest with you, because when you think about the process of a meeting planner or conference host who selects the speakers, and let’s say the average speaker per event is doing about 20 stages per day. So if a conference is 3 days, you’ll have 60 speakers. That’s a pretty good number, right?

Drew: Yeah.

Gene: Some of them will be main stage or keynote kind of style speakers, and some of them will be breakouts. I wouldn’t shy away from the breakouts because the breakout gives the chance for the right people to be in your room. They self-select themselves in. That’s the version of the opt-in. Which way do I go? I’m going to go to this.

Drew: Right. Absolutely.

Gene: Rarely these days do we go to the one we don’t want to go to because we’d rather just sit outside and check our email. So we’re actually engaged to be there.

Drew: Yeah, that’s right. There’s always someone to socialize with.

Gene: So, don’t shy away from the breakouts, but if you want to … Once you identify the places and you want to make sure that they don’t see you as a journalist. They have to see you as someone that will add a unique perspective to their platform, and it’s always a mixture of this. This is something I learned through all … I did 57 interviews over the last 8 to 9 weeks with meeting planners and conference hosts, and I’ve got all this data that I’m collecting about this. 57 of these interviews, more than half of them, probably 40ish talked about the importance for diversity.

So if we have any females that are listening into this, really perk up to hear because I’m really calling you out saying, “There’s an opportunity.” They’re actually looking for you, and there’s really a big benefit for them to bring you on the stages. You still have to be good. You still have to have a good topic, but if you are female or you have a different color skin than white, then you have a much better chance of getting on the stages than I do. I’m a white male, in case you didn’t know.

So, that being said, you want to make sure you’re not positioned as a generalist. The generalist gets up there and talks about general stuff, but the expert or the authority is selected because they’re the expert or the authority. Have you ever heard this term, “curation”?

Drew: Yes.

Gene: So, conference planners, what they typically do is based on last year’s event, they’re looking at the new topics whenever they start to think about the content. They think about the content before they think about the speakers.

Drew: Sure, right, what are the trends or the topics that my audience wants to hear about.

Gene: Right. The theme of the event is part of that, and so the trends that are going on … If you’re talking about something that’s new, you’re by definition not a generalist. You’re talking about the cutting edge innovations of today. So, that is something that is a good way to do this. If you are taking a spin on social media and making it different and unique, they want you on the stages. If you are doing something that no one else is doing in SEO, please apply to their events because you have opportunities, because they’re looking for innovation. Actually they require innovation, and they actually reward innovation by selecting them over everybody else. Even if you’re not as good a speaker, they want the fresh content. It really kind of goes counterintuitive to what most people think. They think you have to become just super engaging. Now, they want you to be engaging. They want you to do this, but they will actually take people that have just really good solid content, even if they’ve never spoken before.


Why Having Great Content is Key to Driving Sales as a Speaker

Drew: Well, if you think about it, they’re going to put the title of your presentation, and maybe a little blurb, and they’re hoping that will A, drive conference sales or B, at least drive people to your session, and all of that happens before anyone knows if you’re engaging at all unless you’re well known enough in your world that people go, “Oh, it’s Mary and she’s awesome. She’s funny. She’s whatever.” But in most cases, if you’re not a recognized name, it really is about the content.

Gene: Let me give you one example. Can I tell you a story behind this?

Drew: Sure.

Gene: I don’t know how much time we have, but I’ll be brief.

Drew: No we’re good.

Gene: I had a general agency that I was working with, out of Atlanta, SEO company. They did a little bit of other stuff too, but we quickly cut that out. They were so general that it was really hurting them. So, he focused on the SEO and I said, “What are your best clients? Who would you work with if you only got paid on performance?” There’s that question again. He’s like, “I really like tried and true companies, companies that create things, that manufacture things,” and I’m like, “Are you talking about e-commerce?” He goes, “Yeah, I like e-commerce companies.” He didn’t even have a word for it. He knew it was e-commerce, but he was just trying to figure it out. You with me, Drew?

Drew: Yep, I am.

Gene: So, across a few sessions of working with me and really just zeroing this in, it came up with e-commerce companies and I said, “Well, what are the top providers that you work with?” And he said, “Well, we work with all of them.” I go, “Which one do you like to work with the most?” He goes, “I like Magentos. I have four clients on Magento right now.” I was like, “Perfect. Do they have conference? Yes. It’s in five months. Perfect. Let’s figure out how to apply.” We applied. He got shortlisted. He waited. He was nervous because he’d never spoken before, Drew. He had never taken the stage. He didn’t have a video. He didn’t have anything. You know what we changed on the website? This is so crazy when I tell you this. All we changed on the website was in the Hero area, right underneath the logos and all that stuff, is “We do SEO for ecommerce companies specializing in Magento.” That’s all we changed.

Drew: Wow.

Gene: He got shortlisted because of that. They got on the phone with him and they talked about some Magento clients and they talked about Magento platform and things that were moving and the trends and he was able to field the questions fairly well. It’s like, “All right. We’ll get back to you.” Three days later, he gets it.

Drew: Wow.

Gene: So he gets this opportunity, this is two years ago, and he was able to get on that stage and give a speech. He took two Red Bulls, literally just sucked them down. I don’t know why you would take two Red Bulls if you’re nervous.

Drew: So you could be more nervous.

Gene: He’s a kid, right? He just did it. He’s 26 years old at the time. So, he did that and he immediately, no pitch … He had to fly to Vegas himself. He didn’t get paid for any of this stuff. He put his own money into it, but he was so prepared for this, and he gave a great speech that challenged the beliefs of the audience around what they thought they should be doing with their SEO. That’s what we came up with. You’ve got to challenge the beliefs. I said, “What are the core beliefs? And let’s crush them. Let’s just go in there and create data. Let’s create stories. Let’s create the tools. Let’s just build this story, this case out of why they need to look at this differently.” This is what’s important. This is the promise that we were kind of talking about before.

So, that gets him on the stage. That gets him an opportunity. Now, at these … Let’s be honest and be very clear. In most of these opportunities, when I say most, 99% of them, you are not allowed to say, “Now if you’d like to sign up for my services …”

Drew: Right. Of course not. No selling from the stage, right?

Gene: Come to the back of the room. There’s no selling from the stage. There’s no pitching. There’s none of that stuff. Is that clear? Like do I need to go …

Drew: Nope.

Gene: Because a lot people go, “I don’t want to sell from the stage.” Here’s the thing. You can’t.

Drew: Right, and you really can’t even do it subtly. You need to just be informative and helpful.

Gene: Well, here’s the twist. I actually do something called the invitation. Because what I believe in my heart, that if I’m going to give a speech, I’m going to give as much as I can right now that if the audience would like to know more information, would like to get to know me, I’m just going to invite them to come meet me.

Drew: Sure.

Gene: I’m not selling anything, but to say, “Hey, if you’ve got more questions, I’m going to be around the event for the next two days. I’d like for you to come up to me. Give me your business card. Let’s put something on the schedule and let’s talk.” That’s all you need to do.

I’ve told people this and they’ve said, “No, I can’t do that. I can’t do that. That’s pitching. That’s selling.” I’m like, “What do you mean? It’s about relationships. It’s about you getting …”

Drew: It’s about, “Look, if you have more questions, find me.”

Gene: Yeah, exactly. Giving them permission. That’s what it is. Give them permission to come to you. I could tell you stories and stories behind this, but I’m going to kind of go off. I’m going to make sure we cover everything we need to today, but that’s what I’m talking about.