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 (https://agencymanagementinstitute.com/gene-hammett/) 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!)
- How Gene Went from Running Businesses to Speaking
- The Best Places and Conferences for Thought Leaders to Speak At
- Why You Need to Have a Focused & Sales-Oriented Message as a Speaker
- How to Niche Yourself as a Speaker
- Why Having Great Content is Key to Driving Sales as a Speaker
- Some of the Biggest Mistakes Speakers Make in the Process
- How to Find Your Speaking Niche & Get the Right Speaking Engagements
- How to Create Relationships with Conference Planners
- 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 Entrepreneur.com. 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.
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 …?
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 …
Gene: You can’t stand.
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?
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.
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.
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?
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”?
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?
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.
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.
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 …
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.
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. The right room the right speech, and then you make an invitation, and then people want to take action. The results behind this … It’s too crazy to even tell you. But do you want to know anyway?
Drew: I do, but I also want to know if he got more speaking gigs at other things.
Gene: Oh, yes, of course.
Drew: Right, and then how do you … So, obviously now you’ve got video. Did you video him doing the first one? How did you develop him to be more attractive to other opportunities?
Gene: I did not develop … I didn’t do the speech. I wasn’t there. I’m his coach.
Drew: I didn’t mean you personally. Yeah, right.
Gene: So, they did do a speech, and they were really good about it and they put it up on YouTube, and he had that on his website, on the home page of his website, within a couple of weeks. He was so proud of it, and it wasn’t even that good of a speech. I’ll be honest with you, but it drove business. It drove new speeches. It gave him a calling card to say, “Hey, if you’re not sure if I can speak about this to e-commerce …” So he really leaned in to the e-commerce. He takes no other clients right now. He takes no lawyers. He takes no doctors. He takes no coaches. He won’t even do stuff for me. He’s like, “Look, we’ve got our processes. We’ve got our sweet spot.”
Drew: He’s ungrateful. He won’t even help you.
Gene: “We’ve got our blinders on.” So, not only has he gotten more speaking opportunities, Drew, but he’s been asked to write for a lot of the largest SEO journals, the rags. So, that’s putting more content out there, building his authority, and that’s actually getting him more speaking gigs, too. So it’s kind of a compound effect from one speaking gig to build all this authority or thought leadership.
Drew: Yeah, and that happens on all the platforms, which then makes when somebody Googles you or whatever to see if you’d be a good speaker. They go, “Wow. He’s everywhere. She’s everywhere talking about this topic. She really or he really must really know what they’re talking about.”
Gene: Here’s the words I use, and I totally agree with you. You’re absolutely correct. Here’s the words I put to that. Ron is now seen as an insider to the ecommerce world. He has positioned himself through the body of work, his stacking of success of all these portfolios, and knowing the clients. He’s built the systems behind it. His team talks the talk. The content is in line. Everything works for him. He has more leads than he can handle. They have more business than they can actually get to. They actually fired me, which is kind of painful, because they said, “We can’t take on any more work.” I know that sounds like a sales pitch or something, but it was painful last year when he goes, “Hey, we’re on a six week or eight week waiting list.”
Drew: Well, you know what, at a certain point in time, you’ve taught him what he needs to know and the student moves on.
Gene: It still hurts.
Drew: I know it hurts. No one likes to lose a client.
Gene: I’m being honest with you.
Some of the Biggest Mistakes Speakers Make in the Process
Drew: Yep, no one likes to lose a client. So when you engage with someone, what are the mistakes they’re making that get in the way of them being invited to be on the right stage? I guess part of it is being on the right stage, right?
Gene: That’s a really good question. So, I’ve got a process I call “stage mapping,” which is what I believe is that speaking is a marketing strategy. I think it’s one of the best marketing strategies because it’ll actually put you in the room with high value clients. They see you. They get the proximity rule. They actually get to share air with you. That really does add to the trust factor as opposed to you just being some company a thousand miles away.
So, they get to hear your message. You get 45 minutes, usually undivided. They’re not getting four of your emails.
Drew: Unless you’re on a panel.
Gene: Yeah. Well, I don’t really like panels, but that’s another story. So, I really do like the fact that if you think this is a marketing strategy … Marketing is something, I think, is proactive. You are doing something now to get something later. You create a content. You create a book. You create a speech, and you create those things to actually drive business down the road.
So if speaking is a part of that strategy, then why wouldn’t you go, “the 20 best stages for me in my business right now and over the next two years, I’d like to know those in advance.” The reason why you want to know those in advance is because it does take sometimes 12 months to get on these stages, or at least get into contact. Sometimes you find out about a stage that you just missed. The event just happened or they just closed off the selection process. So you want to have that list that allows you to go through this. I call this stage mapping, which is a process that, I’ll give you a free tool if we mention this at the end of the show, but it allows you to go through your top 20 events and map them into dream stages and map them into value stages. Really, the difference between the two are dream stages are probably a little bit harder to get. They’re going to take a little bit longer, a little bit more work and focus, and then the value stages are something you can do fairly quickly.
So, having a balance between the both would allow you to do this. My story with Ron, I would’ve put Magento on the dream stages. It just happened to be his very first stage. But for the most of us, we’re going to go through a process of working on those value stages and move up to the dream stages.
Drew: Right. That’s sort of the minor leagues that get you to the majors, right?
Gene: Yep. Climbing the ladders is kind of what you talk about. Sometimes you’ve got to climb the ladder. They want to see that you’ve spoken on stages. Even though he got on, he got on because he was an expert. He had the specializing in Magento with air quotes. But, that’s what you want to have. You want to build that case for yourself through speaking on these stages. Stage mapping is something I’ve coined. I put it in a 2 by 2 matrix called a value ease matrix, which is two axes, one’s high value, low value and the other is easy to get and hard to get. I sit down with clients and say, “Here’s all the stages that are a good fit for you. Now, let’s map them, and then let’s look at the ones you spoke at in the past and let’s figure out where they fit. Did they actually drive clients to you? Are they profitable and valuable? Or did they take a lot of your time and you got nothing from it?” I put those in the corner of “Not Your Audience” Stage.
So we all have those. I’ve had them, but we don’t want to keep doing them. We don’t want to make those same mistakes. We want to keep identifying the right ones and the ones that will lead us to the dream stages because that’s …. I did all these interviews. I’ve just got to say this. The biggest thing you can do to get on stages is to get on stages.
Drew: Right. Absolutely.
Gene: I know that’s like a chicken/egg kind of thing, but the psychology of the selection is the first thing they think of is, “Who do I know that could talk about this subject? Who is the expert?” Not the generalist, who’s the specialist? The next level they go down is they go into their network and they go, “Who do you know that speaks on this topic? Who have you seen before?” Those are the two, by far. They overweight everything else. The next level they go down to is they check with their community, the insiders. They do surveys and what not. Who would you like to see on our stages? What content would you like to have? And then they go and they do their own searches. You know what’s at the bottom?
Gene: Level 5. I haven’t said it yet. Call for speakers.
Drew: Yeah, which is probably where most people think they should start.
Gene: That’s where everybody thinks they start. That’s one of the biggest mistakes, filling out the speaker submission form before you have a relationship is, in my opinion, a mistake. So, I show people how to navigate through this. So you want to be that expert. You want to be positioned. You want to have that unique brand, and here’s the other thing. This is the biggest mistake they make. Did I say biggest twice? But this is another really big mistake they make is the PR style pitch email. Do you know what I mean by that? You’re a Podcaster so you probably get emails …
Drew: All the time.
Gene: From people going, “I would love to be on your show. It’s awesome. Here’s how awesome I am. I’m awesome like this. I’m awesome like that.” I call this the, “I’m the awesome email.” Do you get those Drew?
Drew: Every day. Yep.
Gene: And you begin to go, “Really? Who are you?”
Drew: Well and everybody can’t be that awesome.
Gene: Here’s what somebody said to me, and I will say only one person, but I get it now. The more awesome you try to make yourself sound, the more you blend in with all the other people that are trying to make themselves seem awesome. That’s pretty profound, isn’t it?
Drew: Yep. So true.
Gene: It is. Because you probably could …
Drew: Yeah, it’s almost like a template.
Gene: It is a template. That’s what it is. So what do you do instead? You don’t send templates. You identify those 20 stages on your stage mapping, and you figure out a very specific strategy. You get to know the one person you need to know, and maybe sometimes it’s two people or three people, and you circle that like it’s a strategic client you want to go after because it’s a really high value client, high value opportunity. Then you would be able to create the relationship before you actually need to pitch so that when they are looking for that expert in the area that your agency is the specialist or the authority in, they’re going to already know you. They might even ask you who can speak about this subject, and that’s your chance to go, “Well, let me tell you about what I’m doing with this client. We figured this out. This didn’t work. This used to work, and this works now.” That’s how you get on stages.
How to Find Your Speaking Niche & Get the Right Speaking Engagements
Drew: So, I know people are listening and they’re saying, “How in the world do I know what I can talk about that will be unique enough or specific enough that I could be the choice?” How does an agency owner, who perhaps doesn’t have a client niche or something, how do they find their special sauce that gives them the presentation that somebody would want to have on a stage?
Gene: You know, I would say that it’s just hard, but the fact that I’ve been able to sit down with every one of my clients and figure this out for them, I don’t think it’s a testament to me. I think it’s just a process of sitting down with someone that understands how to pull it out of you. That understands how to challenge the crap that you think is special, that’s not. I do this all the time with my SEO companies. I’m like, “Alright. I’ve heard this before. So what else is new? Well, what’s new about that? Why is that new? How is this different than before?” Because it’s ever evolving in SEO, so it’s always on this innovative edge, and if you’re not on the innovative edge, it’s really hard to compete, especially if your pricing is not rock bottom. I don’t typically work with people that want to be a commodity in the marketplace. You could probably get that from my, “Be the choice, not just a choice.”
So you’ve got to have someone who will challenge the status quo inside you, challenge you to come up with that really unique thing. Most of the time, it’s right there in front of you, you just can’t see it because you’re already inside the business and you’re inside of it.
One example I have, it’s a social media company that I work with. I told you I work with a lot of marketing companies, didn’t I Drew?
Gene: So, she did this incredible project that I saw came over Facebook and it got this millions and millions, like 96 million impressions, whatever that means. I said, “That’s a really interesting project. Tell me about that, Melanie.” So we got on the phone, and we’re talking about it and she goes, “We got picked up by USA Today. We got picked up.” I said, “You’re a social media company. You’re not a publicity company.” She goes, “I know, but the story had such deep roots to the heart of something that people wanted to talk about it.” I’m like, “That’s pretty cool. Where’d you come up with this idea?” And she goes, “Well, they wanted engagement and I told them they needed something more than engagement, so we came up with this purpose-driven marketing.”
This is Somedia, so if you guys want to look up Somedia Solutions. They created this campaign for an assisted living facility where an 86 year old guy learned to knit baby bonnets, the little head bonnets. I don’t know if I’m saying that right. But he’s got a picture of him in like USA Today and Fox News and all these media plays around him sitting on a couch knitting these little beanies. Not only did they get this press because they donated to the local hospital that produces all the babies around here, Atlanta. It was just a heartwarming story, and guess who’s mentioned? Well the assisted living facility is listed in there. They get more awareness in this and people go, “Well, we should check out their stuff,” and it really had an impact to the business. It really had a profound impact because they did something worth talking about.
Now, I’m talking to her and she goes, “I don’t know what I would speak about.” I’m like, “Are you crazy? Speak about that.” So it’s usually right in front of you, you just can’t see it. Sometimes it’s got to be kind of polished like a diamond and come out of someone, but it’s usually there, and if you’re willing to accept, if you’re willing to know that you have something to say and take the stage, you can find a stage that is just right for you that’s filled with your audience, and you can either get strategic partners or you can get new clients just because you get the authority. Then, as you said, I didn’t even bring it up. This was Drew’s thing. How does that leverage into more speaking and more opportunities? Well, it’s very natural. It just starts to happen once you have the credibility and you’re seen as an insider in that space.
Drew: Yeah. Okay, let’s say I’m an agency, I’ve identified a case study or something really unique we’ve done that I can kind of blow up into more of a best practice and use the case study as sort of the thread that weaves through my presentation. I’ve used your matrix to identify some conferences where I should be at. How do you recommend that I then forge relationship or get on the radar screen of, let’s just say the one conference that I really want to have a presence on, that I think is within striking distance of reasonable for me.
Gene: Do you have a conferences in mind that’s in striking distance for you?
How to Create Relationships with Conference Planners
Drew: Well, I actually am really fortunate. I get to speak at inBound and all kinds of other places where agency owners live and breathe. So let’s say I wanted … I was going to say MarketingProfs, but I know Ann Handley, so that doesn’t count. Let’s say … Nope, sorry. You know what? Because of my world, I am lucky I get to know most of these folks, but let’s say that somebody didn’t know anybody at the conference. They look at the list of people. How would they start that process?
Gene: So, I have taught someone on my team to do this for me. So if I could teach someone to do it, you could do it too. The basics behind … Does that make sense? Does that logic make sense? That person’s offshore.
Drew: Yep. It is a process.
Gene: It is a process, and that person’s offshore. So they’re not necessarily English speaking, in a second language, and they’re very nice and they do a great job for me and they book me five to six appointments a week, and I’m always talking to meeting planners.
It’s never been hard for her to figure it out. Now, is she always right? Does she get it right the first time? No. So part of the process is having someone to do some research for you that will go out there, do some data scraping. You kind of know the titles you’re looking for. If it’s association, you’re looking for Education Chair or Program Chair. If it’s a corporate event, you’re looking for event planners.
Drew: So let’s say you know who the person is? How do you begin to create a relationship with that person so that you can have the conversation about why you’d be a good speaker?
Gene: So, there’s a couple of different things you can do. I’ll give you my strategy, and I know that not everybody can do exactly what I do here, but I think they can do a variation of it. Would that help?
Drew: Yep. That would be great.
Gene: So, and mine’s working like a charm. Tell you that right now, and it’s setting me up five, six meetings a week. So I identify the top conferences and then I wrote an article about the top 100 conferences and we submitted that to be published in one of the major magazines I write for. So while we’re doing that, I go, “What’s the next level behind this? I think I’m going to come back and do the speaker selection interviews.” Why did they select the speakers? How do they get to be the choice instead of just a choice?
So, I did it partly for me to understand who they were, but also to understand the thinking behind these people and to learn what I’ve learned, what’s important, what’s not important and what’s the best way to build relationships. They’ve literally told me, “Come in with something thoughtful. Come in with something that adds value to what we’re doing.” It may not be the pitch in the first thing. I’m not pitching them the first time I talk to them. I’m offering value. I’m going to write something about the speaker selection process, and in fact, the first article that I’m writing is about … It’s kind of loosely title right now, “Why gender diversity matters to conference hosts.”
Drew: Yeah, I can totally see why that would get on their radar screen, and now they recognize at least who you are and they have some expertise.
Gene: And I’m writing it to Women of Entrepreneur Magazine and I’m putting it together. So they want their conference to be represented. I didn’t know this was the angle, and I didn’t even tell them that’s the angle. I get them on the phone. So they don’t even know that, but once they hear that, they’re like, “That’s so true. You’re on top of it. You’re the man. I appreciate that. That’s a great topic.” They’re fired up about it. I didn’t realize it. I found this out because I took action to get into this strategy.
So, my variation works really well because I write for large publications. So you may be thinking to your mind, “Well I don’t write for large publications so I can’t do it.” But guess what? You can write for LinkedIn. You can write for Medium. You can write something and work in collaboration with someone like me who writes for Entrepreneur and who’s willing to publish it. That’s a little bit harder, but there are other options if you’re willing to do the work and just get out there and make it happen.
My suggestion, too, if you’re in an industry that you’re really going after, and let’s say it’s doctors, write down the top 10 conferences and do a LinkedIn post on that and feed as much traffic as you can into that. Interview the people about the conference and why they’re making it innovative and just talk about the 10 conferences that doctors must go to if they want to build their practices. If you’re serving the doctors, guess who’s going to read that? Doctors. Guess who else is going to read that? Other conferences, other 10 conferences, and they’re going to go, “Oh, who wrote that?” It gives you a chance to come back to them and say, “I wrote this about you. What do you think? Thank you for doing the work you’re doing. Oh, by the way, I’d love to talk to you about my next series of articles.” So, a strategic angle is going to be better than a pitch. Does that make sense?
Drew: Yep, absolutely does.
Gene: The pitch actually is something they look at you and count off if you come in, especially with, the “I’m awesome” email. So I try not to say pitch anymore. I try to say, “When is the right time to put in a proposal?” I think the proposal comes, very much like your agency world, you have a conversation with the client, you have an idea of what you’re going to scope the work out as, and they go, “Will you send me a proposal?” Great. So, move that over to the conference world and go have a conversation with these decision makers and say, “Here’s what I’m thinking about. What do you think?” And they’re like, “Oh, that’s a great idea. We have that on our topic list.” What is the one area that you’d like for us to make this unique? What else is going on that you feel like you need to fill the holes with? They’ll actually tell you the gaps. If you can fill a gap for them, does it make their job a little bit easier?
Gene: Yeah, so it is a little bit longer, I will tell you. But again, you’re not doing it as a blast email and a template out to 100 or 1,000 people and hoping something works. Because in this noisy world, that stuff gets ignored. What you’re doing is picking 10 from stage mapping, and I’ve got that tool I’m going to give you, but that stage mapping will give you the guidance and you can come up with an exact strategy for 10. I believe people can do this in about 4 hours a week, two hours of research and two hours of reach out. I don’t want to over simplify.
Drew: Yeah, and again, somebody else can do the research for you. So you may only have to invest a couple of hours in actually having conversations.
Gene: And that’s exactly what I’m doing. Someone on my team, we’ve got a system that she works. It works every … And she’s not emotionally attached to this thing. She gets in the morning. She hits me on Skype. She goes, “I’m starting work,” and for four hours a day she just reaches out to people and sets meetings.
Gene’s 5-Day Authority Gap Challenge
Drew: Yeah, awesome. Before I let you go, I know you’ve got something, a five day challenge called the Authority Gap. Can you tell the listeners about that? I want to make sure that they know that’s out there and that they can access it.
Gene: So, that is a challenge that you can get. If you feel like you’re invisible a little bit, it will help you understand where your authority is. So the five day challenge is something … I like to make things as simple as possible, about as much time as it takes to drink a cup of coffee, which is about 10 minutes. So it’s about a five minute video, four to five minutes, and it’s also … You’re going to take about 5 minutes to answer 3 questions. So, that authority gap challenge, you can access that at leadersinthetrenches.com/challenge and it’ll kind of guide you through that. What it will do is really highlight where your best fit and your best opportunity for you to do.
Stages is only one of those days. So there’s four other very counterintuitive pieces to it. The way stages is in there, I kind of started with this. Most people believe they should be getting paid to speak, but I believe that you can speak for free at the right stages, and the right clients will want to come do business with you if you’ve done your work and you really carry the moment and shatter those beliefs from that speech.
Drew: So, in other words, they can spend five days. They can have coffee with you five days in a row, and answer the question, “How can I package myself to be a unique choice for conference planners? And as I get better and better at this, I will be the choice not a choice.”
Gene: And it’s all about authority. It’s all about you positioning your authority and accelerating that and finding a little place that you haven’t thought of, some counterintuitive idea that you can take and run with it. One of the ideas is interview influencers, like you’re doing with me, or I do with other people too. You could be doing that inside your market, and that makes you an influencer. As an example, what if you identify the conference host for those 20 places in your stage mapping. Then, you would go and interview them for a series that you’re going to put together on your blog and if you’re a good enough salesperson, you can actually get those people to participate or maybe get half of them, and that’s good content. You’re building relationships. You’re giving value about their conference, and it’s feeding your audience. But then you can come back and get to know them before you actually pitch them. That’s a strategic angle you can take and you can discover that if you go through the challenge.
Drew: Yep, awesome. Okay, gang. We will make sure that that link is also in the show notes. So if you didn’t jot it down as Gene was talking about it, I promise the link will be there. Gene, this has been, as I expected, I hate to use the word awesome after we’ve made fun of it all through the whole conversation, but it has been really a great action-filled, go do this, here’s some practical tips sort of conversation, which is exactly what I was hoping that you and I could offer the listeners. So, thank you very much for generously sharing what you’ve learned and what you know and what you teach your clients. I really appreciate it.
Gene: This is what I love to do. Some people may think I over give, but I really believe that some people will take this and run with it and hopefully you’ll come back to me and say, “I did it.” I would be happy for you if you did that, and then I’d love to know what your next steps are. But then, the other people go, “I’d like to be supported through this.” I mentioned the stage mapping so many times, I feel like bad if I didn’t mention where you could get that.
Drew: Yep, that would be great.
Gene: So, I’m going to make something very special for you guys, because I’ve never given this out on a podcast. I’ve given it out to my clients. I’ve given out to the people that are already on my list, but if you go to leadersinthetrenches.com/ami, that’s your initials right?
Drew: Yep, and I will make sure that link is in there, too.
Gene: AMI, so leadersinthetrenches.com/ami, what you’ll get inside there … I’m going to really sweeten the deal here. I’m going to give you a list of those 350 conferences that I mentioned, all the research we’ve done. I’m going to give you a list of the conferences and the URLs and the dates and locations. I’m going to give you the stage mapping tool. I’m going to give you a little guide that says, “Here’s the steps that I take if I’m doing this with you.” But I will let you do it yourself.
I’ll give you everything, and I’ll even probably throw in a training video probably that goes with this that talks about certain elements. Some people will be able to do it themselves, great. Some people want support, but I’ll give it to you completely for free and you can’t get this anywhere else. I’ve been looking for this, Drew, for a long time. There’s so much crap out there. I’ve been looking for something that is just mine. This is just mine. No one else is doing this. No one else is talking about. No one’s got this available to them. So if you want to get it, this is the only place you can get it.
Drew: That’ll be honest. Thank you very much for doing that. I appreciate you sharing that with the listeners and my audience who … As you said, a lot of your clients are agency folks. They are great speakers. They just need to know how and where and when and for what purpose, and you’ve given them a great road map for that in this conversation. So, thank you very much.
Gene: Well, it’s a pleasure to be here Drew. If there’s any way I can help you or help the audience in the future, just let me know.
Drew: That sounds good. Hey gang, this wraps up another episode. I bet you’ll be listening to this two or three times. Another episode of build a better agency. I hope it was helpful. I hope it inspires you to do one of the things that you know you’ve been talking about doing. I talk to all of you about this all the time. You have something to share and there’s something magical that happens when you teach and you help others. They’re drawn to you, and I think Gene gave us a great example of that, but also taught you some ways that you could do that yourself.
So, please put this stuff into practice. I will be back next week with another episode, with another great guest who’s going to help you build a bigger, better, stronger agency that serves you in the ways that you want it to.
So, I’ll catch you next week. Talk to you soon.