The Biggest Myth In the Speaking Industry

selective focus photography of woman wearing black cold-shoulder shirt using megaphone during daytime

When I first began my speaking career, I read almost every book under the sun about the industry. The end goal – find out what works and do what the successful speakers do. Throughout all of them, the most peddled advice, a great keynote is your best marketing tool. As a result of this strategy, many coaches and experts have popped up, claiming that their services will help book speakers ten of thousands of dollars. The only thing that speakers needed to do was improve your keynote. Some of the coaches claim to ‘help you find your voice’ to others that will help you ‘create magnetic stage presence.’ 

As someone who has hired a speaker coach, I can tell you it’s very helpful, especially if you never had one before. However, some of these experts go too far claiming the impossible with their services. In fact, one of the biggest lies, but most believed quotes in this profession is the following: 

“You know you are doing a good job if you are getting two referrals after each gig [speech].”

This quote is the reason why so many speakers think if they have a killer keynote, it will solve all of their problems. Unfortunately, this is so far from the truth. 

I was initially told this by an ‘expert’  who writes about how to get booked as a keynote speaker. However, the guru does not make their living as a keynote speaker.

I have an engineering background, and when they told me this quote my engineer sense kicked in. Something was wrong about it because it’s…well, impossible. Kudos to the coach to use this line because almost everyone is not in this position. Now, before you think I am crazy, or just I am offended that my business is not doing as well as the coach said I should, let me walk you through why it’s impossible.

 

Math Time (Not Complicated I Promise)

Basically, this quote means that every gig that you do, you will be booked for 2 more in the future. Sounds pretty reasonable, if there are 100 people in the room when you speak, 2 percent of the audience want to bring you into where they work. Overall, this logic does not signal any red flags at first glance.

In fact, this is a doubling equation in the format: 2^n

Now before you roll your eyes and freak out the logic behind this math it’s pretty simple. 

Let’s say a friend invites you to speak in their company. You speak there and 2 people approach you to speak at their event. The time between speech and your referral speech is approximately 6 months (which tends to be the industry average in planning time for events). 

You wait 6 months and speak at your 2 referrals gig. Again you are a great speaker so each of those gigs turn into two more so you have 4 on your calendar to do in 6 months. Easy enough. And when you do those 4 gigs, each one you two more gigs, and now you have 8 referral gigs to do. Wait 6 months, do your 8 gigs, each one gets you 2, now you have 16 referral gigs booked. Wait 6 months, do your 16 gigs, each one gets you 2 gigs each so you now have 32 gigs to do in 6 months….you get the picture, basically below is what happens:

 

Time in professional speaking: 0 months

Number of gigs done past 6 months: 1

Referral gigs from past 6 months of gigs: 2

 

Time in professional speaking: 6 months

Number of gigs done past 6 months: 2

Referral gigs from past 6 months of gigs: 4

 

Time in professional speaking: 12 months 

Number of gigs done past 6 months: 4

Referral gigs from past 6 months of gigs: 8

 

Time in professional speaking:  18 months 

Number of gigs done past 6 months: 8

Referral gigs from past 6 months of gigs: 16

 

Time in professional speaking:  24 months 

Number of gigs done past 6 months: 16

Referral gigs from past 6 months of gigs: 32

 

Time in professional speaking: 30 months 

Number of gigs done past 6 months: 32

Referral gigs from past 6 months of gigs: 64

 

Time in professional speaking: 36 months 

Number of gigs done past 6 months: 64

Referral gigs from past 6 months of gigs: 128

 

Time in professional speaking: 42 months 

Number of gigs done past 6 months: 128

Referral gigs from past 6 months of gigs: 256

 

Time in professional speaking: 48 months 

Number of gigs done past 6 months: 256

Referral gigs from past 6 months of gigs: 512

 

Well, this is the problem. After 4 years of speaking, you should be around 512 referral gigs after speaking for six months. Get ready for it, the biggest kicker: zero dollars spent on marketing.

 

Getting Real With Marketing

It’s this fantasy utopian reality that I dislike in marketing. There aren’t speakers getting that much demand, especially after only four years of speaking. I know speakers who earn several million a year just from keynoting, and they consistently do some form of marketing. Maybe it’s not cold calls, but it could be staying in touch with speaking bureaus that make sure that they are top of mind. If the people who lead their field have to market, what does this tell you about this quote? 

By the law of deduction, it’s either all the best speakers in the industry aren’t good speakers and are great marketers, or the quote above is false. I guess earning several million in speaking fees a year isn’t that good for this coach. 

So why is this quote so far from the actual reality? There are many reasons why you wouldn’t get rebooked after an engagement, or get a referral, here are a couple of them:

  1. The audience does not know event planners and can’t get you booked.
  2. The place that wants to book you can’t afford you. 
  3. The place that wants you cannot utilize your current programs, so they can’t convince the board to bring you in.
  4. People who attended your talk forget and don’t follow up with you (most common).

 

Now granted, this realization didn’t come to me overnight. One of the biggest problems is that I took this quote at face value, and whenever I would get only one referral gig from an event or sometimes zero, I would sit down and think, “I just suck at speaking.” Even if the reviews were 4.7/5.0 for the keynote reviews, it didn’t matter. So few people wanted to hire me according to the quote. However, after walking through the math, I realized that successful speakers were also facing a similar reality. 

In the future, if someone tries to tell you if you don’t get x referrals a speech then you don’t know what you are doing- don’t get discouraged! This is one of the biggest reasons why the speaking industry is so complicated. It would help if you had a great keynote, but it is not the nail in the coffin to your troubles in the speaking world. There are a lot of myths around referral gigs. It takes excellent marketing, speaking, relationships, and thought leadership to breakthrough. Keep speaking, share your message, and learn from your mistakes! 

Good luck in 2020!

 

Jeff Butler

Jeff Butler Internationally respected speaker and consultant, Jeff Butler helps bridge generational gaps between Millennials and companies looking for their talent and patronage. Butler has quickly built his reputation as a memorable presenter with tangible solutions for attracting, retaining, and engaging Millennials as employees and customers. Within just the past three years, he has spoken at two TEDx events and multiple Fortune 500 companies such as Google, Amazon, and LinkedIn.

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