Public speaking is the number one fear in America. Death is number two. From sweaty palms to cracking voices, speaking in public can be terrifying, yet it is a crucial skill to have in the agency world. As agency owners, our speaking skills are in the spotlight, be it in presentations, pitches, at conferences or just in front of your kid’s school. No matter how many people you’re in front of or how long you have to talk – every presentation matters.

Tamsen Webster believes passionately in the power of human-to-human communication and has made it her life’s work to see to it that you become a better speaker. She coaches TedTalk speakers, business leaders and teams on how to get the audience to focus and relate to your ideas and feel connected to you in the process.

Join Tamsen and I as we flesh out how to use presentations and speeches in a strategic way to grow your business. We cover:  

  • Why speaking is the best tool for convincing someone that your agency is the best agency for them
  • Why you need to make your speeches about your audience and not about you
  • Mistakes that agencies make in pitches all the time
  • How to structure your new business presentations so that you win the business
  • Why you want people to remember the one big idea of your presentation — not specific tactics
  • How to develop a thought leadership presentation
  • Why niched presentations are a lot more effective than broad ones
  • “Why,” “what now,” and “how” talks: what’s different about these kind of presentations
  • How to structure a talk when you are given a general topic that you have to speak on
  • Why you should stop before the sell when you’re presenting to gain awareness for your business
  • Why creating an event is a great way to get good at speaking
  • How to find other speaking engagements
  • Why you need to grab testimonials from speaking engagements and video of your speeches
  • How to unravel a failed speech to make sure it works in the future

Part “idea whisperer,” part message strategist, and part presentation coach, Tamsen Webster helps people and organizations like Verizon, State Street Bank, Ericsson, Johnson & Johnson, and Disney find and communicate the power of their ideas. She is the Executive Producer of TEDxCambridge, one of the oldest and largest locally organized TED talk events in the world. She is also Executive Communications Coach with Oratium, a messaging consultancy. In former lives, she worked in both agencies and at nonprofits heading up brand, marketing, and fundraising communication strategy, along with a brief but enduring turn as a change management consultant. She’s also also a retired Weight Watchers leader and an accidental marathoner.

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. The Value of Public Speaking for Your Business
  2. Thinking Through & Better Constructing Presentations
  3. How to Use Public Speaking to Grow Your Business
  4. How to Find Speaking Opportunities
  5. How to Get Better at Public Speaking & Presenting (Action Steps)

If you’re going to take the risk of running an agency, shouldn’t you get the benefits too? Welcome to Build a Better Agency, where we show you how to build an agency that can scale and grow with better clients, invested employees, and best of all, more money to the bottom line. Bringing his 25-plus years of expertise as both an agency owner and agency consultant to you, please welcome your host, Drew McLellan.

Drew: Hey, everybody, Drew McLellan here with another episode of Build a Better Agency. So today’s topic is one that I chat with many agency owners about all the time. The whole idea of, how do you become a thought leader? How do you get in front of folks? And how to use public speaking to grow your business. Without overtly selling and helping them understand how good you are, how smart you are, and how you can actually help them solve their problems. And we’re gonna talk about that today. How to use presentations and speeches in a strategic way to grow your business.  

So, my guest today is Tamsen Webster. Tamsen is part idea whisperer, part message strategist, and part presentation coach. She has helped people and organizations like Verizon, State Street Bank, Ericson, Johnson & Johnson, and Disney find and communicate the power of their ideas. She is also the executive producer of TEDxCambridge, which is one of the oldest and largest locally organized TED Talk events in the world.  

She is an executive communications coach and she also consults with corporations, agencies around better speaking practices and skills. She works with teams, she works with individuals who are gonna give presentations. So today, we’re gonna focus on how agencies can use presentations and speaking, in all forms, to grow their business. So, Tamsen, welcome. Welcome to the podcast.  

Tamsen: Thanks so much for having me, Drew.  


The Value of Public Speaking for Your Business

Drew: So, speaking is one of those things that everybody thinks they should be better at, and they are both excited about and terrified of. Talk to us…

Tamsen: They are.

Drew: Talk to us a little bit about your vision of the value of an agency owner or the face of an agency, A, being a polished speaker, but B, using it to leverage the growth of their organization.  

Tamsen: Well, if you think about it, there is so much out there that’s cluttering how people find and choose and really make decisions for themselves about which agencies to go with. And all of that. And whether you’re talking about content shock, where… I think the latest figure I saw was that there’s three million blog posts a day put up. A lot of agencies have this question about, how can people quickly understand that we’re the right agency for them? My perspective on that is there’s nothing that can replace the value of seeing somebody from that agency, how they talk, how they act, hear them speaking from their own personal experience and, in a lot cases, their own personal passion about why they do what they do, how they do what they do, and how all of that translates to the work of their agency.  

In other words, I think there’s no more differentiating thing that any agency or agency owner or spokesperson can do than to leverage the truly unique qualities of human to human communication. And whether that’s one-to-one or one to many, it’s just one thing that nobody else can copy the same way that you, as an individual, do.  

Drew: Well, and it gets sort of to the essence of the… There are lots of people… There are lots of agencies who are good at what they do, but the sort of unique DNA of any agency is the chemistry of that agency. And oftentimes, that’s sort of personified in the owner or the spokesperson. And you know, when we’re talking new business with agencies, and when we go out into the field and we talk to CMOs about how and why they selected an agency, so often they revert back to the…

Tamsen: Chemistry.

Drew: The chemistry thing. “It’s not tangible, but I just connect with them or I like them, or I think I would like to work with them.” And what you’re saying is, and I think you’re right, it’s the how do you talk and what are your mannerisms and how do you connect? Whether it’s you’re standing behind a podium or you’re sitting across the table from somebody.

Tamsen: Exactly. Well, there are these things that we as humans send out, they’re called honest signals. There’s some fascinating research that came out of the MIT Media Lab about this, that within seven minutes, we have all the information we need about somebody else. And that goes well beyond, just those first impressions. But within seven minutes, how we speak, how we talk, how we hold ourselves, whether or not we unconsciously or consciously mimic the other person, how much we over-talk, how much we interrupt people, how slow we talk, how… All of that comes out in ways that we can’t fake.

And yet, even though none of it is stuff we consciously do, we as audience members can recognize and react to that instantly. And that is what chemistry is. Chemistry is honest signals. For some people, that creates this problem, of course, which is, “Well, how do I create that?” And the answer is, you don’t. You can’t fake it. So the only thing you can do…

Drew: How do I fake being honest?

Tamsen: How do I fake being honest? The only thing you can do is find what to speak about and a way to speak about it that is so true to who you are that what they connect with, what those honest signals send out, is 100% you. And if there is not a connection at that point, then there never would be. And so that’s a lot of what I counsel clients on, is much of what a good agency counsels others on, which is, not everybody’s for you. You wanna find the right match. And being true to that, being true to those honest signals is the best path.


Constructing & Thinking Through Your Presentations

Drew: Yeah. Yeah. So, I know that one of the premises of your background and the way you coach and teach is, sort of, the construction or thinking through the presentation. And I think a lot of agencies, especially in new business pitches, and we can get into that in a second, but I think… Regardless of the setting, I think a lot of agencies rush to the sell. Or rush to trying to make themselves look buyable. Talk a little bit about that and maybe a different way to think about constructing a presentation with the audience more front and center.

Tamsen: Well, as you can probably already tell, I love figuring out why we do the things that we do. And one of the controlling concepts of human communication is something that’s called self-orientation, which is…or sender orientation. It’s basically a fancy word of saying we’re incredibly self-centered. And it makes sense, is that’s the instinct that keeps us alive, it’s what keeps us tracking on what is gonna make us happy, it’s how we pursue those things that will bring us success.

The challenge for us as communicators is, while we as speakers are sender oriented, while we’re very self-centered, the audience is too. And so when we’re talking to potential clients, one of the chief mistakes that agencies and truly, though, any speaker makes, is that they forget to put the client or the prospective client or the audience at the center of what they’re talking about and that, ultimately, everything that you’re presenting needs to be thought through their eyes.  

Now, if you think through that to its logical conclusion, you’ll realize pretty quickly that a lot of the things that makes sense to us as ways to lead off a presentation, “Here, let me tell you why I’m here. Let me tell you why this is the right strategy for us to go after. Let me tell you about our approach. Let me show you a NASCAR slide of all the clients that we’ve worked with,” that… Think about what the client is doing there. The client is desperately waiting for you to say something that is relevant or more specifically about them.  

And so, when it comes to pitches, what you really wanna think through is, what do they really wanna know? Right out of the gate. Not, what do we really wanna tell them, right out of the gate? But what is it they really wanna know? And if you flip that, then oftentimes the pitches can look radically different.

Drew: Yeah, it’s interesting. One of the speakers that we often have at some of the AMI network meetings is an agency search firm. And they talk about the mistakes that agencies make in the presentations, and without a doubt, one of the biggest that they cite is… If an agency has 60 minutes, they spend their first 20 minutes talking about themselves and haven’t even gotten to the client at all. And often if they run out of time, it’s the client-centric stuff that gets sort of squeezed out, rather than the agency chest-pounding part.

Tamsen: Yeah, I had a… I mean, the examples are legion. I had an agency as a client and we went in and asked them for two things. We went in and asked them for an example of a pitch that they had won, and an example of a pitch that they had lost. And the pitch that they had lost was for a typical 60-minute finals meeting, was 118 slides. And the first mention… I mean, just even think about the math there. You were not getting…

Drew: Staggering. Right.

Tamsen: I know. But take a wild guess at which slide was the first mention of the client.

Drew: 59.

Tamsen: Yeah, it was 62. It was bananas. Yeah. And we wonder sometimes, I mean… When we step back and look at these things, we can say, “Of course, that’s crazy. Of course, we made that client probably wait close to 40 minutes.” Because there’s no way they’re covering those slides one per minute, or one per 30 seconds. We probably made that client wait 40 minutes before we told them anything about why are you here, what are the challenges that you’re facing, here’s what we think the answer to that is. And then why now, after we’ve told you that, why do we think this is a good idea.  

And that’s the biggest shift that I’ve seen when I work with agency pitches, but also I do a lot of work with entrepreneurs and investor pitches. A lot of times you need to tell them right up front, “What are you doing?” And not as much time on everything else. It’s basically the giant… It’s like Tinder writ large. You know how it is. You go and you present something, you know pretty quickly whether or not somebody’s saying yes or no to that idea. Whether they’re swiping right or swiping left.  

And if they’ve made that decision quickly, that “This isn’t what I’m seeing from you,” this idea, even if it comes 40 minutes in, if they don’t love it on sight, there is no amount of strategy that you could’ve told them ahead of time that is gonna change their mind once they finally see the creative. Like, that’s just not gonna happen. I find that that’s one of the biggest flips that people can make, is to take a minute and stop and say, “Wait, what would the client… What does the customer… What are they looking for? What are the things that they want to say yes to so that I can present those things right away?” And otherwise, they’ll say no. And we can’t afford that, as agency owners.  

Drew: Yeah. You know, as I’m listening to you talk, I’m thinking about the way we…the way agencies typically structure presentations. On the one hand, we talk about, “Oh, we want this to be a dialogue,” and blah-da, blah-da, blah. But we don’t actually give them anything to react to until three-quarters of the way into the presentation.  

Tamsen: Right. And basically, what we’re asking them is, “Do you love it?”

Drew: Right. Right. While we’re nodding our head at them. Yeah. You love this, don’t you? So when you coach agencies, how do you help them flip the presentation? And how do they… And, it’s easy to say, “Oh, put your big idea for the client first.” But how do they, A, get out of their own way to do that, and B, what’s the sort of mental process one has to go through to get there?

Tamsen: Well, the biggest thing that I like to start with is, what is it specifically that you want to have happen as a result of that particular communication? And that is honestly one of the places where many people go wrong. Because if it’s early in the communication, like let’s say it’s a creds meeting or a capabilities meeting, a lot of times, some agencies I’ve seen go in and try to make the sale there. Well, that’s not gonna happen. That’s not what’s… What you’re really asking for is, how can I get to the next stage? At the finals meeting, at the pitch, absolutely, that you’re hoping for, “Yes, we wanna go with you.”  

So the first thing is, what is it that you really wanna have happen? What’s the change you wanna effect as a result? And then from there, it’s a pretty straightforward process that I like to use. Which is thinking through, once you’ve had… I mean, we have to remember that, as an agency, and if you’re presenting, let’s take a finals pitch or even take a capabilities pitch, there’s something new coming in. There’s an idea that you’re trying to get across. And that’s all you.  

And that’s good because you need to know what that is or else you’re gonna just wander all over the place and the client isn’t gonna leave knowing why they should hire you. At the same time, though, that can’t be the only thing. So we have to figure out, how do we essentially message from the middle? How do we find that intersection point between what we want them to understand about us and that knowledge of how they’re gonna get that?  

So the process that I like to use is to say, once we know functionally what the idea is and what we wanna have happen as a result, then we start looking at everything through the client or the prospective client’s eyes. And that starts with understanding, well, what is it that they’re trying to achieve? What is it they’re trying to achieve globally, but what is it they’re trying to achieve out of this particular communication? And that often falls into one of two categories. One, there’s the known thing that they’re looking for, which is we need to hire an agency to do X.  

But there’s probably also something that’s a little bit more personal. So, it’s maybe they’re trying to look for validation of their role as CMO. Maybe they’re brand new, for instance, and they wanna make sure that they’re showing that they are…they get the brand. One, you gotta understand what that goal is, then you can start to think about the problem that they’ve got that’s getting in the way of that goal. And a lot of times that’s the problem that they came to you with. I mean, typically, that’s how most pitches start, is, “Hey, we’ve got this problem and we wanna solve it.”  

And this is an opportunity, this is probably one of your first opportunities as an agency, to show your mettle as being different than other places. Which is to say, you say you have this problem. And we see that and we see all the results of that and the consequences of that. But ultimately, we think your problem has more to do with something else. There’s a real problem going on that you probably…

Drew: Something underneath.  

Tamsen: Something underneath that you probably don’t realize. And this is where any agency with a good strategy shop, probably is already getting to. The challenge I find is oftentimes they’re burying that…they bury the lead under all the methodology and all the things they found out. Just tell them what the real problem is. And when they go, “Really?” And then you’ve… Hey, A, you’ve got an opportunity for a dialogue, and B, now you’ve got them asking for the information. Not just patiently sitting through it. So you’ve got the goal…

Drew: And now you actually have a shot of having a real dialogue, right?

Tamsen: Right. Right. I mean, at each point where you’re establishing these, I like to call them the skeletal sentences of a pitch or a presentation.  You know, the goal is one, the problem is another. It’s an opportunity to stop and say, “How does that look to you? Is this right? How is this feeling?” And if you’ve done your homework ahead of time, you’re most of the time not gonna be surprised with them going, “Yeah, that’s not it at all.” In the best case scenario, even, they’re saying, “Yes, that’s it. And here’s this additional information that we didn’t tell you yet.”  

But it helps you make an even better recommendation or make even better steps towards solving their problem. So we’ve got the goal, we’ve got their problem, then we need to say…then we need to frame the idea of the pitch or the idea of what we as an agency bring to that particular client, in the form of a single message. Now, what is the thing that you need to understand, either about us or about this project or this initiative or this approach, that will help you solve now this problem that we’ve identified, this real problem? And that idea is key.  

Because that idea… And this isn’t anything that any good marketer, advertiser, communicator doesn’t already know. That idea is the thing that people will say, when people ask you, “Well, why should we go with them?” Or, “What was the pitch really about?” The idea is the answer to, well, if you do this, then we will get this goal. And it’s not the actual… It’s not the actual creative, it’s what does that creative represent?

Drew: Or tactics.

Tamsen: Yeah. It’s not the tactic. It’s the process, it’s the approach, it’s the idea. And this is where, I think, there’s a real opportunity, because so many places don’t do this well, for great agencies to set themselves apart. Because we wanna give people a handhold on how to talk about us. And that idea is that. From that idea, then you say, okay, if this is the thing that helps us understand why we have the problem, then we now also have, in the idea, the path to solve it. And so then there’s this change, which is the thing that you want them to do. In other words, that’s the original thing you said you wanna have happen as a result of the communication. And then you can talk about the actions that that…that would get you there.  

So that means, we’re gonna deploy across content and social, or we’re gonna do some outdoor whatever, or there’s this digital solution, etc. So those five things are the goal, and that’s the audience goal that they would readily agree they have. The problem, which is probably something they don’t understand they have. The idea, which is the one thing we need to understand in order to solve the problem. The change, which is the thing they need to do to achieve their goal, and it’s the thing you want them to do. And then the actions, which is the tactics of how to achieve it.  

Just that, understanding that arc, A, clarifies internal thinking and therefore it’s a lot easier to get people within the agency on board with what are we trying to do in this particular presentation. And B, it has the added benefit of backing you into a really solid outline for how to present the information.  

Drew: You know, I am grabbing onto, no pun intended, this whole idea that the idea is the handle or the one sentence summary, that when they’re sitting around talking about the presentations afterwards… You know, agencies often try to, sort of, gamify it by going first or last, or bringing in food, or, you know, having some presentation gimmick. But very few agencies, I suspect, say, “If they had to describe our presentation in one sentence, what would it be? And what do we want it to be? And then how do we build the whole presentation to make sure that that’s the pinnacle of what we talk about?”

Tamsen: Right. Because what you don’t want them to do is to walk away going, “Oh, we loved this particular deployment,” or, “We liked that particular idea.” Because all of us who’ve ever spent any time in agencies know that in the work… You know, just the nightmare thing can happen where they go with some other agency and then they cherry-pick your ideas out of the pitch. Now, of course, that’s not supposed to be what they do. But we’ve all seen it happen where they’ll cherry-pick the ideas. I don’t mean the big idea, I mean they’ll cherry-pick the tactics.  

The reason why I hammer so hard on understanding what this one big idea is, not only does it come from all the TED work that I’ve done, but it comes from this perspective that or this knowledge that we as humans are not rational decision makers. We’re rationalizing decision makers. So that gut decision about where we go, whether or not we have the chemistry with this agency that’s coming in, whether or not we like the idea, we like the creative, that’s real. And I’m not gonna deny that. And that’s where going first or last can kind of gamify it to some extent.  

But ultimately, you know that that first reaction is something that’s important to them but then they go and sit around a table with all the pitch books, or whatever you left them at…or the boards or whatever you left them as the relic of the interaction. And then they make a much more rational decision. And if what you leave behind doesn’t 100% deliver on the rational decision making, then you’re not gonna win. But just imagine the power, if not only are you connecting with them in the moment, but then what you leave behind, they’re like, “All right. All these other present… You know, they’ve got this stuff, they’ve got this stuff. I see their boards, it’s an interesting idea. But this agency, this agency, they’re the ones that help us understand that if we just do this, then we get to this goal that we’re looking for.”  

Drew: Yeah. You know, your mention of the TED Talks, again, part of why we love TED Talks is because they’re so singular in their message. And yet, I don’t think we think about that when we are constructing our own presentations.  

Tamsen: No, and it’s the hardest… I will tell you that when I work with clients, it is the hardest thing for business presenters to come to. Because we’ve been so trained by conference organizers or ourselves, or PowerPoint, frankly, to “What are the five actionable takeaways?” Like, everybody wants the learnings, they want the tag… And I’ve been at conferences that said, “Well, I don’t see your takeaway slide.”  

And like, trust me, A, everybody gets a handout. Whenever I present, I always give a handout. And B, that handout’s gonna be way better than your takeaway slide. But C, this is the thing that I tell people I work with, “You can still give people actionable takeaways, you just need to wrap them in a big idea.” Increasingly, of course, conferences are going to 20 minute…they’re going to TED-style presentations. Which is just a nightmare for the average person because the average person is used to having 45 minutes to wander their way to their point. And in 20 minutes, what happens is that people just try to jam a 40-minute talk into a 20-minute slot, and it just does not go well.

Drew: Yeah. That’s ugly for everybody.  

Tamsen: It’s ugly for everybody. So it becomes so much simpler on everybody, and first and foremost, on the presenter, to say what is the one thing? And once you know what’s the one thing, it takes the pressure off the actions. It’s not that they don’t have to be there, but you say, “Listen, what this all comes down to is creating,” to use an example of a client I was working with yesterday, it’s about creating lifelong relationships with the customers. In order to do that, we need to make sure that we’re making long…we’re taking long-term actions with them. Right?

Now, how can you do that? You know, she’s got some specific examples that she’s using. But at the end… She does have three clear actions that people can take. But she’s summing up by saying… But really, whether those are the right actions for you or not, what it comes down to is, are you using long-term actions to get long-term relationships? And the additional benefit, then, that you get, is that… when you sell people on the idea, you open up many, many more avenues for them.  

Drew: Right.

Tamsen: I think we’ve all had that experience as an agency too, where people said, “You know, we didn’t actually love the creative, but we loved what you were trying to get at. And we think that you can still get there for us.” And that’s the gold. Because then they’re looking at you as a partner, and not as a vendor.

Drew: And they love your thinking, rather than just your creative. It’s just sexy. Yeah.

Tamsen: Right. And from an agency pricing standpoint and value creation, yeah, you don’t… And then you don’t end up being just executors of tactics, then you are now in that catbird seat of being able to say, “Remember this thinking? This is the idea that we’re trying to go with.” And once you’ve got an idea, the idea can just…can spin out in so many different directions.

Drew: Yep. Okay, this has been awesome. I wanna take a quick pause and when we come back, what I wanna talk about is… Now, not so much the new business pitch, but more of a, “I’ve been invited to speak at a conference and industry trade show, that sort of thing. How do I construct a presentation that sells without selling?” So let’s take a quick break and then we’ll come back and dig into that.

I hope you’re finding this content really helpful. I just wanted to take a quick pause and remind you that on top of the podcast, we also do a lot of live workshops for agency owners, agency leaders, and account service staff. If you’re interested in the schedule, check it out at Let’s get back to the show.


How to Use Public Speaking to Grow Your Business

Okay, we are back. Okay, Tamsen, so we’ve talked a little bit about the new business pitch. But much more likely for agencies, in terms of their sales process and in terms of sort of what I set up in the beginning of this podcast, is this idea of thought leadership. Agency owners, particularly, or spokesperson for an agency, are looking for opportunities to be presenters, especially if they have a specialty industry or niche, or a core skill set, or something like that, to use that as a door-opener for new business opportunities. So, talk to us a little bit about how that sort of presentation, is it exactly the same as what we’ve been talking about? Is it different? And how does an agency owner know what to talk about, and equally important, when to stop talking so they don’t give away the farm?

Tamsen: Oh, such good questions. The core of what I was talking about is true and is the same. But I will recast it from the perspective of how do you develop a talk for raising awareness or thought leadership? But by way of explanation, the reason why that basic structure of figuring out the goal and the problem and the idea and the change and the action, is that it is the way that we, as humans, think. It’s how we process information, whether we know it or not.  

We unconsciously are always in search of something, as people. We’re looking constantly to get rid of any barriers in our way. And we’re looking for how to solve those problems. And so, when things are framed that way, we are going to much more quickly understand them, and the benefit from the speaker’s standpoint, we’re gonna be able to get an idea to transfer from my brain to yours with as little friction and as little loss as possible. “So that’s great, Tamsen, but how does that turn into a presentation?”

Well, the first thing I would say is, much like you would with any recommendation you would be doing on behalf of your clients, the question starts with the audience. Who do you wanna reach? Who do you wanna reach most? Are you trying to get into a specific vertical? Are you trying to get in front of a particular size business? Is there an industry that you’re looking for? Is it more general? Who do you wanna talk to? Once you’ve got that pretty clear in your minds, then you wanna ask yourself, “Well, what is it that that group of people want to know about?” And particularly what they want to know about that you can contribute to in a very powerful way? First big step is, who do you wanna talk to and what do you wanna talk to them about? From there…

Drew: Okay, but the answer is not everybody in the audience, right?  

Tamsen: No. No, no, no. That’s a really good point. So I recommend that you identify and define for yourself your ideal audience member. And define that person as clearly as possible. And I don’t mean just a persona I’m talking to, a…business owners and…or I’m talking to brand managers of people in manufacturing that are on the west coast. I’m saying I am talking to Jane, and Jane is probably about this age, and Jane is the decision maker for this kind of process that I, as an agency owner, can help her with.  

You wanna be very specific about that. Because the more specific you are about who your ideal audience member is, the easier the rest of the planning for that talk is gonna become. And what some people say, “Well, but if I design it so narrowly, aren’t I gonna miss the rest of the audience?” And my answer is two-fold. One is, if that’s the person you want and you reach them, then you’ve achieved your goal. Second, there’s this… I love how…I forget the author’s name who said it, but there’s this universal paradox of communication, which is the narrower you focus, the more broad the effect. In other words, the more specific you are in how you communicate, the more powerful it is to a broader audience. And the reverse is true, that if you try to please everybody, and we all know this, you’re gonna please nobody at all. So, great question.  

It’s about being very specific about who that audience member is and what is it that you wanna talk to them about. The next big step… I mean, there’s some other things in between. I’m often working with clients on figuring out for the…once they’ve got that topic, refining it based on what the speaker’s expertise is and what they’re truly excited to talk about, because that’s pretty important when it comes to those honest signals. But the next big step that people need to decide is, based on where that ideal audience member is, in terms of a purchase decision for the agency or towards the agency, what kind of talk does it need to be?

And here’s what I mean by that. There are, essentially, three kinds of talks. And I call them why, what now, and how. And those three kinds of talks correspond to how high up somebody is in the funnel. In other words, how far away from a purchase decision or buy decision or a hire decision are they? The further away they are from a hire decision, the more time you need to spend on why. Why do you have this problem, that I think you have, that you probably don’t think you have? Not, why should you hire us? Because people don’t make that… They can’t make a decision about whether or not you’re the right partner if they haven’t said yes to the fact that they have a problem in the first place.

So, early in that process, high in that funnel, the further away they are from you, the more you need to be spending time on why do you need to be doing something differently than you are right now? And to some extent, just a little bit of time on, what might that new approach, that new idea… Notice, not new partner, new vendor, new tactic. What approach, what idea might be the solution to it? Now, if they’re a little further along and they’re already somewhat aware that they’ve got a problem that…maybe not fully what they understand, but they at least realize that what they think is going on, is not going on. That’s the time where I call the what now talk comes into play.

Those talks are typically fairly well-balanced between explaining why the problem is the problem, why the real problem as you define it is the real problem. And, once you’ve gotten them to say, “Yes, I have that problem,” to saying yes to this idea that will help solve it.  Then the what now piece goes, “Well, now that I agree I have this problem, and I agree that this will help me solve it, what do I do now?” And so the balance of the talk, the last half of the talk, typically, is spent on, “What does this idea look like, high level, in play? What is the kind of big level change that we need to make?” And broad, broad strokes on what actions might be associated.

And then the how talk is exactly what you might think. They’re very close to a final decision, they’re ready, they’re…you don’t have to convince them that they have a problem. What they’re really looking for now is, how do I do this? How does this look? How does it work to potentially work with you? But you can’t get to how unless they’ve already said yes to, “I understand why and I understand what I need to do now.” So that next big step is, once you’ve got this, who are you talking to and what are you talking to them about, it’s “What type? Is it why, what now, or how?”  

Drew: So, in a lot of cases, for example, if I’m invited to speak at an industry conference, I might even be “assigned” a topic like, “Hey, will you do a trends topic in agency ownership?” Or whatever it may be. So how does an agency owner, when they’re assigned, especially like a, “What’s new in digital?” Or whatever it may be. But it’s more a mechanics kind of presentation. How do they back that up to find the idea that they can, as you said, wrap the tactics around?

Tamsen: A lot of that comes from understanding what the ethos is of the agency itself. A lot of times your answer for how you can package a tactical talk like that, a how talk and a larger idea… Here’s a hint. There’s probably a clue in your own branding of your agency to begin with, about what you guys…whatever you think your agency stands for, what sets it apart. More specifically, though, it comes down to those same questions that I was asking earlier. So even if somebody says, “Give me trends in digital,” you’re gonna go through that same process.  

Well, who am I talking to? Well, I’m talking to small, medium business owners. You know, generally, either… Let’s say it’s their owners. Generally, they’re doing x, y, and z. All right, well what’s their problem? Well, the problem that they know they have is they have to keep up with all these digital channels. And they don’t know how, and that’s really frustrating for them. “But what’s the real problem?” you’d ask yourself. Well, the real problem is that they’re chasing those channels. They haven’t actually figured out what they stand for. So it’s just talking through how you might be able to do the thinking behind a tactical talk like this.  

Okay, so what is the thing they have to understand in order to solve this problem? Well, the thing they would have to understand, then, if we’re talking about digital trends, is that, even though the channels might change, the core of what people connect to doesn’t. Okay. All right. And I got something here. This is the idea. All right. So then, what’s the change that I want them to make? Well, let’s say I’ve got this idea or our agency has an approach that we tend to take about how we frame our approach to digital. I don’t know, let’s say it’s who, what, where. I’m just pulling that out.  

But let’s say you’ve got this approach that you guys use called who, what, where. And so, then, you say, “Okay, I could do who, what, where.” And then now, I can slot these trends into how they fit into who, what, where. And so, even if you lead with the trends, you have an opportunity now to sum it up and say, “Well, you know, I just gave you 12 trends today. But they all boil down to these three: Who, what, where. And the reason those are important is because it’s… Even though the channels may change, these things that these approaches satisfy, don’t. And that’s how you can continue to stay on top of digital, whether or not these tactics that I just gave you are gonna be good a year from now, the who, what, where thing is gonna be good for life.”

And then you’re done. And so now you’ve had a way to be able to pack this really tactical talk into this larger thing that also gives you an opportunity to reinforce your brand and what your company stands for.  

Drew: Well, and you’ve now taken what could’ve been a generic trends talk that anyone could give and made it uniquely yours and sort of wrapped it up in a, “Here’s how we think and how we talk to clients and, sort of, our perspective.” Which I think oftentimes agency owners are so worried about delivering the tactical content that they forget about that wrapping.

Tamsen: Exactly. And the key to not selling from the stage when you do this, is don’t wrap it into a product that they can only get from you. This is where you look generous and smart at the same time. So, you can say, “Our approach…our agency… We think of it as this who, what, where.” And you can do a passing sentence on and we’ve wrapped that into a product. But then you immediately go, “But these principles apply no matter what.” And then you go back to the process. Like, that’s the only indication you ever give that there’s something that you can sell them off of that. What you want them to do is say yes to the idea, because if the idea is yours, then they are ultimately saying yes to you, but let them choose how to pursue further. Because as soon as you force a yes, you’re gonna get a no.

Drew: Yeah. You know, one of the things I talk to agency owners about all the time because they’re so worried about giving away their secret sauce… And one, there’s not a lot of secret sauce out there. But two, understanding how to do something and having the resources or skill or desire to do it are two very different things. And I think a lot of times it’s okay to teach someone, in essence, or show them the map, if you will, or the path. It doesn’t necessarily mean they’re gonna wanna do it themselves. It just means that they now know that you’re the expert at doing it. And I look at that map and go, “I don’t wanna do that. And so now I know who to hire.”  

Tamsen: Exactly. I mean, Emeril putting out his cookbooks, did not put his restaurants out of business. Right? I mean, there’s so many examples of that very similar thing, where somebody can give you all the instructions in a book, in a presentation, wherever. Most people just don’t wanna have to do that much work, which is why they hire people out in the first place. I mean, that’s the thing. What they want to feel like is, if I’m not gonna do this myself, is it as smart or smarter than if I were to do it myself?  

And that’s the goal of a presentation, is to make people feel smarter. But think about that. If you withhold information, you don’t make them feel smarter, you make them feel like you’re holding something away from them. And nobody likes that. So it’s about finding that balance. What I have repeatedly found is – obviously, this is not true for a pitch, but this is true for a presentation that you’re trying to use to gain awareness for your business – is stop before the sell. You sell the process, sell the approach. You are not selling the product. When you do that, you get them to hook into an idea and that idea is the thing that will sell you. And you gotta trust that. But it does in fact work, and it works powerfully.


How to Find Speaking Opportunities

Drew: Yeah. I absolutely agree. So, as agency owners are listening to us and they’re nodding their head, one of the things that we haven’t talked about yet and I want to just get to it really quickly. How do agency owners find opportunities to present and speak, A, to hone their skills and get more comfortable being in front of folks, but also B, to begin to get in front of the right audiences so that they can begin to build that thought leadership position?  

Tamsen: Sure. From the honing the skills standpoint, there’s nothing that beats safe practice. So, the first thing I’d recommend is, if the agency is of a size or shape to do it, create your own events. Give yourself practice. When I was at Allen & Gerritsen, an advertising agency in Boston, I created what we ended up calling Full-Brain Fridays.  Where, it was Friday afternoon at 4, and we brought in beer and wine and every week, somebody presented about something. And it didn’t have to be necessarily related to the work of advertising. Sometimes it was people presenting on a personal passion.  

But the core reason for it was to give people more practice at speaking about things that were important and that they cared about. So you can do that. And I know agencies that do similar things and then open those things up to other people. So that’s a way to do it. If you wanna do it in a more personal way, honestly, I’ve never heard anything but good things about the effect that Toastmasters can have, for giving people a very safe space to present over and over again.  

Toastmasters is wonderful at producing polished presenters for people who are willing to work at it. When it comes to finding ways to speak in front of the audiences that you want… My dirty little secret… It’s not even that dirty, and now it won’t be even a secret anymore.  

Drew: That’s right.

Tamsen: Is to set up… Well, Google alerts used to do it, but then they turned into crap. And so I use a service called Talkwalker, T-A-L-K-W-A-L-K-E-R. Talkwalker. They’ve got great Boolean searches that you can set up for…same way that Google alerts used to work. And I’ve got one that I get at least a ping or two every day on the phrase, “Looking for a keynote,” “Call for speakers,” “Call for proposals,” “Looking for sessions.” And you can set up whatever combination of things make sense to you plus the things you wanna be known for. So for me, I look for communication, I look for leadership, I look for public speaking. You’re trying to find things that get you…just let you know when conferences have opened up and are actively looking for speakers.  

In the beginning of your speaking career, that’s how it’s gonna work. And agencies often, more than others, are gonna find themselves in a position where they’re asked to pay to play, as we like to say.  Where conferences will trade a speaking slot for a sponsorship. As both an event organizer and as a speaker and as an audience member, I hate that. It can be worthwhile. But the audiences know when they’re watching a pay to play speaker. They just do. Most of the time because the pay to play speakers cannot resist selling from the stage. So, if…

Drew: Or they’re ill-prepared.  

Tamsen: Or they’re ill-prepared. Just don’t waste that opportunity when you’re in front of somebody. I mean, this is… Like I said, there’s nothing… You can’t fake it. It also means you can’t fake sucking.

Drew: Right. Right.

Tamsen: So, you know, put that…particularly if you’ve paid to be up there, my goodness. Like, if you want your money’s worth, don’t just throw up your normal pitch deck. Like, give them something that changes their opinion of what a pay to play speaker looks like. The best thing, though, is to submit the old-fashioned way and apply to speak at organizations or conferences where your potential clients gather. So, if you are in marketing, then try for the marketing conferences. Things like HubSpot or MarketingProfs B2B Forum or Content Marketing World or Social Media Marketing World, some of those big players in that space where your potential customers show up.  

The key to getting gigs that you don’t have to apply for is to be awesome at the ones where you did. And that’s how you get invites.  Is that, you know, early in your speaking career, even if you’re well-advanced in your agency management career, part of you is gonna have to swallow the pride a little bit and go back to single A ball. And just do the grind of taking the free gigs, taking them wherever you can, putting the work into making them great. You know, if you need to, work with people who make you better. I mean, that’s… This is an investment. And it’s an investment in you and it’s an investment in the future of your company. But do the work. Go out there and do it.  

You know, the more that you do it, the better you’ll be.  The better you are, the more people will see you. The more people see you, the more that you get invited. And eventually you get to a point where you don’t have to submit anymore, people are asking you to come speak. You’re not just taking the topics they give you, you’re able to say, “I wanna talk about this.” And in the worst case, someone will say, “Okay, how can you shape that for our audience?” And you do a tiny tweak on what you normally present, and you’re ready to go. So it really is just a process of doing the work.  

I wish there was a magic wand I could wave. But even if you were to go through some intense coaching process and have this amazing talk, you would still have to grind on it for awhile before it would start making hay for you. Simply because the only way to get gigs is to have them in the first place. It’s a very cyclical, unfortunate thing that…

Drew: Well, you have to earn your stripes, right?

Tamsen: You do. You do. And the good news is that the more you do that, though, then you capture testimonials from people. Hold onto them. Any organization or any conference or any gig that you do that… If you can get video from it, grab it. And if they’ll let you bring video in and you’ve got those capabilities within your own agency in certain cases, get it. Because there’s nothing that… If people can’t see you live and then make their recommendation, then they wanna be able to go and look at, well, what is it like to see you speak?  

Because all they’re trying to do is manage the risk. They don’t want somebody who is not interesting on stage or doesn’t have value or who the audience doesn’t like. And they wanna be able to answer that question for themselves. And they can only do that by either seeing you speak or by seeing evidence of you speaking. And a lot of times that comes in video.  

Drew: Yeah. Or testimonials or whatever it may be.  

Tamsen: Or testimonials, yeah. Exactly. Yep. Word of mouth is your best friend.


How to Get Better at Public Speaking & Presenting (Action Steps)

Drew: Okay. So, if agency owners have been listening to us and they’re like, “I’m a speaking wreck, I gotta fix this,” they’ve got some presentations, whether they’re pitches… And by the way, I always recommend agencies go back and…especially the pitches that they lost, retool them, look at how they could’ve made them better. But whether it’s a pitch or it’s a trade show presentation or whatever it may be, what are a couple steps that they can take to kind of unravel a presentation and put it in its right order?

Tamsen: Two things. I’m sure that I’ll expand to three as I’m talking about it. But two things to start. One, the thing I’ve been saying through this whole show so far, find the idea. And a lot of times what you’ll find if you’re unraveling a pitch that didn’t work or a presentation that isn’t working, it’s because the idea is missing. So, reconstruct that idea. Go through that process of, who am I talking to? What’s their goal? What’s their real problem? What is the one thing they have to understand in order to solve that problem? That’s the idea.  
And once you’ve got that, then the change and the actions are easy. So the first thing I would say is, the idea is everything. You must find it. And the second thing is a direct offshoot of that. Which is, you need to honor that idea. And the way that you honor that idea is through single… Or, that I would have everyone put in their mind, and that is the word “yes”. What you’re trying to get at every point in your presentation is, if you flipped what you were saying into a question, a yes or no question, would the audience say yes?

And that will save you a lot, a lot of pain. Because if you think, just for a moment, about how often we present the details of us, our agency, and our solution, right up front, right up front, and say, “This is the way you need to go,” that is… They’re gonna say no right away. Or they’re gonna go maybe. And the thing is, if it’s not a heck yes… I’d say more but I wanna make… It’s a family show. If it’s not a heck yes, if it’s not an absolute yes, it’s a no.  

And so, look through your presentations and say, “Where are all the places that they would say no?” And you gotta be brutally honest with yourself. And any place that they say no, you say, “Well, how could I…how do I make them say yes instead? What do they need to know? What conclusion do I need to shift? What assumption do I need to overturn? What do I have to do? What do I, as the speaker, have to do so that that yes, when I ask this question the next time, they would say yes?” So honor the idea and get the yes.  

Drew: Yeah. Love it. Love it. Okay, if… There’s so much stuff we haven’t even dug into, but I have to wrap this up. So, if folks wanna know more about you, if they wanna know more about your coaching, if they wanna get some more tips from you, if they wanna reach out and talk to you, what’s the best way for them to find you?

Tamsen: It’s easy. It’s, is the hub of all things me. That’s as you would spell it. I’m sure people would see it, but T-A-M-S-E-N, Webster like the dictionary, dot com. And more than happy to answer people’s questions that pop up after this. But there’s information there on coaching and what that looks like, and as well as speaking and what I speak about. So you can see that I do what I say I do, which is always nice. And I really would look forward to anything that anybody has to ask. I love asking…love helping people find their big idea and love helping them figure out how to get that big idea out there.  

Drew: You know, when you think about it, so much of an agency’s success is based on how we communicate, again, across the table, one-on-one, sitting in front of a conference room full of people, at a pitch. So this is so vital to an agency’s success and future. So I’m really grateful that you took the time to do this. Thank you for sharing your ideas so generously and for weaving the idea of the one big idea into every aspect of this conversation. So, surely, they will take that handle home from our conversation.  

Tamsen: I certainly hope so. I believe in the power of human-to-human communication passionately. It’s kind of the only thing we’ve got left right now. And it’s the one thing that can’t be replaced by computers. Well, not yet, at least. Even then, though, a computer won’t give out those honest signals. Agencies have such important work to do. And they have such wonderful people working there. And this is, when it comes down to it, just a skill-based thing that they can do and a skill set they can build that will dramatically change both their individual and their organization’s level of results, across the board.

Drew: Amen. Cannot agree more. Thank you so much for your time and your expertise. Appreciate it so much. Hey, everybody, that wraps up another episode of the Build a Better Agency. I will be back next week with another guest who will help us think bigger and grow your agency to be stronger and more profitable, to get you exactly where you wanna go. I will talk to you soon. In the meantime, love ratings and reviews of course. If you’re enjoying the series, please make sure you subscribe so you don’t miss a single episode. And if you’re looking for me, is where you can track me down. Talk to you soon.

That’s all for this episode of Build a Better Agency on how to use public speaking to grow your business. Be sure to visit to learn more about our workshops and other ways we serve small to mid-sized agencies. While you’re there, sign up for our e-newsletter, grab our free e-book, and check out the blog. Growing a bigger, better agency that makes more money, attracts bigger clients, and doesn’t consume your life is possible, here on Build a Better Agency.