Episode 152: Scott Berkun, Confessions of a Public Speaker
Scott Berkun calls himself a "freelance thinker," rather than a public speaker. A former teacher of creating thinking and Microsoft project manager, his latest best-selling book is "Confessions of a Public Speaker."
Learn what he thinks audiences expect today, and how important technology is to the speaking platform now.
Find out what Scott does to create intimacy and rapport with the audience and what he does to counter the inevitable disaster.
Get his advice about the best way to sell from the stage and how you can get a speaker's bureau to represent you.
Scott shares his speaker fee negotiation strategy and how he recommends you go from speaking for free to getting paid for it.
I have one free, personally autographed copy of "Confessions of a Public Speaker" for a DishyMix fan. Just go to the Facebook Fan Page for DishyMix and post your desire to have the free copy on the wall.
Susan Bratton: Welcome to DishyMix. I’m your host, Susan Bratton, and on today’s show you are really going to enjoy this guest, especially if you do any public speaking at all. Scott Berkun; he’s a best selling author. His latest book – which I absolutely thoroughly enjoyed and of course I have a free copy for a DishyMix fan – is called Confessions of a Public Speaker. He calls himself a freelance thinker rather than a public speaker, which I really like the idea of. Used to be a teacher of creative thinking and you’re going to see that coming through in our conversation today. Scott is a regular commentator and CNBC, MSNBC, NPR and you will enjoy this conversation we’re going to have about how to be a great speaker. So let’s welcome Scott on the show. Hey Scott.
Scott Berkun: Hey, how you doing?
Susan Bratton: I am good. How are you today?
Scott Berkun: Good, very good.
Susan Bratton: You’re between gigs today on the, and back in your home office.
Scott Berkun: I am and it’s actually a sunny day in Seattle, so I’m very happy.
Susan Bratton: Nice! That’s awesome. Well I loved one of the things you told me was your goal. You said that you want to fill your shelf with the books that you’ve written. Now my question is how big is that shelf?
Scott Berkun: Unfortunately it’s quite large. I’d say it’s about three feet wide.
Susan Bratton: That’s a lot. You got to get busy. And tell me about, just go through for our listeners – ‘cause Confessions of a Public Speaker’s just your latest of many books that you’ve written – go through the list for us.
Scott Berkun: Sure, the first book I wrote was called Making Things Happens, which is about my experience as a manager at Microsoft from ’94 to 2003. And then I wrote another book in 2007 about creative thinking called The Myths of Innovation, which was also a bestseller. It came out in 2007. And then there have been second editions of those books. And then this last book came out in November of last year, so it’s been out maybe six months or so.
Susan Bratton: And who did you write this book for, Confessions of a Public Speaker?
Scott Berkun: Well so, I used to work at Microsoft, I quit the company in 2003 to be on my own as a writer, and I’ve been lucky, I’ve been very fortunate, I’ve had a good writing career so far. But a side effect of being on my own and writing books and magazine articles is that you get asked to speak in lots of places and you get hired to go to events or corporations – this is a side effect of being an expert on something, this just tends to happen. And I had lots and lots of, I don’t know, I wouldn’t want to say they were all unpleasant experiences, but I made a lot of mistakes and I took what I was doing very seriously, that there were people in the audience that were volunteering their time to go and listen to me. I took it very seriously. So every time I spoke I took notes about what went well and what didn’t, and I became a student of how to do it well. And then after having done this now for probably seven years or so, I realized that there are all these things that I had learned from my own firsthand experience that don’t show up in most of the books. Most of the books are all of these perfect stories and how to do everything perfectly right, and I know from my own experience that almost never happens and there’s all these little things that I learned, that I thought wow, there’s so much bad public speaking out there. I mean the bar is so low that I felt like there was an opportunity to write a more honest first person book about communication, which is really what the book is about.
Susan Bratton: I personally really identified with it, having spoken probably in the last ten years maybe close to a hundred times. I’ve moderated panels, I’ve done keynotes, I’ve MC’d awards ceremonies, I’ve run workshops, I’ve, you know – whatever else there is I’ve probably done that too.
Scott Berkun: Right.
Susan Bratton: So I love to speak. I mean I do it every week on DishyMix too, you know…
Scott Berkun: Yeah, it’s the…
Susan Bratton: I mean, I feel like it is the same thing.
Scott Berkun: Yeah.
Susan Bratton: It’s just face shifted a little bit, but I’m always holding my person, my peeps in my mind, you know, working on their behalf, which is a big part of what you talked about in the book, you know.
Scott Berkun: Yeah. Well that, I think that’s a fundamental mistake is when someone gets asked to speak – and this happens to everyone, it happens to famous people, ordinary people – you’re asked to speak, it becomes very quickly about you and your ego. “Oh, what do I want to talk about? Oh, what am I going to wear? Oh, what do I want to say so I sound smart?” And the whole idea of a speaking engagement, it’s really set up like a theater. It’s set up for the audience, it’s set up for them. But there are all these traps that you can fall into very quickly about losing the focus on who is there and why you’re being invited. It’s for them. It’s so they leave feeling smarter or better or they’ve learned something or they heard a story they’ll remember. But, it sounds obvious, but most speakers very quickly fall into that trap. And the other, I mean the other end of the trap is that there’s very, there are very few opportunities for people to get feedback on their speaking. When you’re done it’s polite to give you a round of applause, so you could’ve done an awful job, you’ll still get a round of applause, you’ll go “Oh, I guess I wasn’t too bad”, and then people who thought you were really awful, they’re not going to come up to you and say “You know Scott, you sucked today.” Like no one’s ever going to say that to you.
Susan Bratton: I’ve had that said to me.
Scott Burkun: Oh you have?
Susan Bratton: I have. I remember it really helped me too. It was probably, oh 2001 or so, you know, maybe 10 years ago now. I was speaking in Chicago and we were doing a corporate event and we had feedback, you know, cheats that people could fill out on all the seats, and after I spoke I got a couple of negative pieces of feedback and some of them were kind of nasty, and it really hurt my feelings. I felt like “Oh my god, wow. That’s how I came across?” What happened was I was trying to be too perfect. I was trying to be like just exactly right, and people didn’t like me. I was unlikable. I was too polished, I was to breezy, I was too, you know, whatever, and they told me. And it was really helpful for me to learn to reveal a bit more of my authentic self. It let me come down from what I thought was this thing that people wanted to realizing actually they just want you.
Scott Berkun: Yeah, what, that experience is good but that’s unusual…
Susan Bratton: It’s rare.
Scott Berkun: that they, well it’s unusual that an event organizer will even have feedback forms. I’d say maybe half the time events do that. But then even when they collect that data, it is very unusual that they will pass that data on to their speakers. That’s very unusual. And a good speaker, someone who wants to get better, can ask for that or ask for the feedback, but even then there’s this weird dynamic about how this is often set up that anyone who invites you in to speak they see you as they’re hosting you, you’re their guest. So they’re unlikely to feel it’s polite to give you critical feedback as the host. So there’s a strange dynamic and there’s a lot of people out there - and anyone who goes to training events or conferences, you know this is true – there’s a lot of people who are well known or who are famous who are just awful speakers. They’re boring or they’re self indulgent or they don’t talk about the topics that people came there to hear, and that’s in large part because the feedback loop is, it’s kind of broke. So it’s good that they gave you that feedback. That at least gave you a chance to, gave you a chance to sort out for yourself how much of what they were saying was useful or not…
Susan Bratton: Absolutely.
Scott Berkun: But most speakers never even get that.
Susan Bratton: Well and it was still, it was based on ego. I was trying to be perfect and instead of being in service to my office, and, you know, that’ll kick your ass every time, so…
Scott Berkun: Right, yeah.
Susan Bratton: I want to talk about O’Reilly. O’Reilly is your publishing company, and they’re a very innovative publishing organization. I really like the work they do. What have they done? And they try different things – you know, making it available in downloads for Condolin, you know, registering your book online and all these different things, you know. Has there been anything that O’Reilly’s done that’s been technologically next generation that you think has worked or not worked, surprised you in any way, added tremendous value or kind of fallen flat or too early, or where are you with that?
Scott Berkun: I think there’s one key thing that – and this is more of an attitude than a specific tactic – it’s that their attitude about technology is unlike all the other publishers. They’re a tech company first – they’re not a tech company first but they’re very deeply entrenched in technology. So whenever there’s a new thing to try, they’re very quick to try it out. So one of the things that I know that they did, for the first book they even started doing this, is they were doing webcasting really early. They would set it up for me, be free for me, I could do it from where I am right now, my home office, and I could reach 200, 300 people in an hour and talk up my book and have this free platform that they provide because they’re accessed to technology. That attitude I think is the best think that I could say. I could come to my editor and say “Hey, there’s this new thing I want to try. You guys, can I use your website to do this? Can we launch this on your service?”, and they will mostly say yes or they already have someone somewhere in O’Reilly that’s already doing that thing. And unlike most publishers who, they’re catching up – I mean the bigger publishers are catching up now – but they don’t have nearly as much confidence in their ability to try out new stuff. So I definitely say there’s, my answer is just there’s this attitude. There’s no single thing anymore today that other publishers aren’t doing. Everyone’s on Twitter, everyone’s on Facebook, a lot of them are doing webcasts to promote new books and stuff like that, so I can’t think of any specific technology where there’s an advantage. But the attitude and the response rate that O’Reilly gets when they do these things compared to other publishers is much better because they actually believe in the stuff.
Susan Bratton: What do you think about the future of e-readers, Kindle and the like, the iPad, do you think that’s going to considerably increase your sales, keep it the same? Where are you netting out on that?
Scott Berkun: Yeah, that’s a good question. You know, I think it’s too early to say. I think, the iPad I think is kind of a side issue because until it’s market share changes it’s a niche thing. It’s a successful niche thing, but it’ll be a long time before even five percent or ten percent of books published every year are read on that platform. I think more about digital versus print, that’s a scary thing for me. I think about, a lot of people say that books are dead and they say that blogs have demonstrated that shorter form writing is the way to go, but it’s ironic that writing started in short form. Charles Dickens wrote all his books like, they were all four or five pages at the time; it was serial writing. And so the publishing model started all of the stuff that you write in small pieces. The question then becomes whether people are willing to pay for it or not, and I think that given how much the stuff that I read – I read a lot, I read a lot of books, I read a lot of blogs – just like public speaking most writing is really not that good. It’s really not. And the number of people who can sustain someone’s interest through writing, to write something that’s compelling and interesting and fascinating and makes you want to keep reading, is pretty small. And I think that people who are able to do that, regardless of the medium – that could be through e-books, that could be through printed books, that could be through speaking on the stage – anyone who can keep someone’s interest for a half hour, hour, hour and a half, that is a valuable skillset and people will always be willing to pay for it. It doesn’t mean that all books will continue to do well. But anyone who can write, write 200 pages that you want to read in one sitting, people will always pay for that. I’m convinced of that.
Susan Bratton: Yeah, I have to agree. Although with my publishing company now everything we publish, I have over 20 titles and they’re all e-books, they’re all digital. You download it to your computer or even just read it on our membership site, look at the videos on our membership site, download the audios and listen to them on your iPhone or your iPod. I think someday we’ll probably take some of the best successes and turn them into print books, and I still think there’s a place for print books as a calling card, in imprimitor, that an e-book can never replace yet…
Scott Berkun: That’s true.
Susan Bratton: from a credibility perspective. Nonetheless, I think people are getting very used to instantaneous content access…
Scott Berkun: Yeah, that’s true.
Susan Bratton: and that’s certainly the wave we’re riding.
Scott Berkun: Yeah.
Susan Bratton: I want to talk about audience in 2010. You know, we’re in the next century now, well into it. We’re very technologically oriented, there are some audiences now where the speaker has a Twitter feed running, you know, a Twitter wall running with, you know, comments from the audience. What do you think are the kind of most interesting high level benchmark things that a speaker can do to engage an audience in kind of the newest ways?
Scott Berkun: Hmm, I don’t know…. Hmm, okay. I think that, I’m an old school guy. Even though I used to work in the tech sector, I’m an old school guy. When I get up there on the stage I feel like – or in front of an audience, it can even be a small group – I feel like my job is to make this, I’m thinking about intimacy. I want eye contact, I want them, I want to be talking about the thing that they came to hear about. This is why they drove for an hour in traffic, they showed up for this event, they paid whatever they paid to get in the door, they’re sitting down now. This is it. I want to provide, I want to be so on the money in what I’m providing for them that they can’t bare to look away. They don’t want to look at their phone, they don’t want to do anything else because I am giving them the thing that they came to get, and I feel like that’s my job. When I am doing, when I am doing well I could be speaking at the most technologically savvy Twitter centric crowd in the world, but if I’m doing my job right their eyes are on me. They’re listening to me. I’m speaking about the thing they came to hear about. Now that’s not to say that’s easy to do or that I can pull that off. I’m not, you know, I’m not that good. But that’s my objective. If I’m doing it right, they should not, most people in the room should be mostly listening to what I’m saying. And now all the technology and stuff, sometimes that’s useful sometimes for people, if the goal of what I’m speaking about is education, I’m actually trying to teach them something or teach them a skill, then part of what the whole system is supposed to be about is retention. That not only are the supposed to be entertained and feel like they’re learning, but once the talk is over and they walk out the door they’re supposed to leave being a little bit different – a little smarter, a little wiser, asking new questions. So it’s about retention, and if them taking notes on a computer or typing it up on Twitter or typing it up on their blog as I am talking helps for their retention – and there’s some evidence that that’s true – then that’s good. So I’m not, you know, if that’s the way, I’m going to increase their value in having to listen to me speak is by retaining this stuff, then that’s great. But through the history of, you know, our species, lecturers and speakers and people who change peoples minds, they manage to do it without any of this technology. When you go to the theater today they manage it without any technology. And so my philosophy – and I can’t prove that this is true but this is what I believe out of my experience – any good speaker on any day will get more attention from their audience than any bad speaker independent of how much technology is in the room or not. End of story.
Susan Bratton: Well said. I couldn’t agree with you more. I think it’s…
Scott Berkun: Oh really? I thought you were going the other way. I’m like…
Susan Bratton: No. No, I think it still all comes down to creating repertoire and that’s what we’re really talking about here is, you know, giving them what they want and making a connection with people. Now that being said, I recently did a speaking engagement with about, I don’t know, 300 people in the room, and what I was tasked with speaking about and the time that I had was impossible. So what I did was I created a PowerPoint presentation with this strategic framework around social media. I was supposed to present how you strategically approach your social media strategy. I couldn’t do it in the 7 minutes I got, so what I did was I presented the concept of the framework and I told everyone to go to socialmediasuperpowers.com and they could have the whole PowerPoint with everything, every thought, the entire thought process, and I recorded a voiceover the PowerPoint, that they could watch the video and hear me explain it in detail. And that way anybody who… So I did use technology. I sent people to a free download that I’d created because there was no way I could present it all. But at least I could tee it up and give them the concept. So…
Scott Berkun: That’s actually a good idea. I like that you basically extended your 7 minutes to anyone who was captivated enough by your 7 minutes, you’re saying “Hey, if you like this, here you go.”
Susan Bratton: Yeah.
Scott Berkun: Yeah. But most speakers who are here to talk about technology, they’re doing stuff where they’re trying to, they’re trying to find ways, they’re trying to find end runs, they’re trying to find ways around the work. What you’re describing is you’re actually doing more work than was asked of you. You were asked to speak for 7 minutes, and you basically prepared and made available to the entire audience a 30 minute or 40 minute presentation. That’s arguably for most people, most listeners, that’s more work. And I’m the kind, I’m like hey, if you want to be better it’s going to be more work, whether that’s in the 7 minutes or doing something extra for your audience, it’s… There’s no shortcut. I mean that’s the thing in a lot of these books on public speaking, that they offer these tricks or tactics, and there’s no, all that stuff is just bogus. I mean, there’s no way around the hard work and skill required to learn how to pay attention to an audience sufficiently well that you come across well. There’s no secret.
Susan Bratton: Well I think you do have a couple of secrets that I’m going to get out of you after the break, ‘cause I have a feeling there’s some things you’re doing that we want to know about. So there are some secrets Scott and we’re going to find them. So lets go to break, thank my sponsors, and when we come back we’re going to talk about creating repertoire, disaster recovery, selling from the stage and how to negotiate a speaker fee. Those are the four big things I want to cover, so are you ready to get busy with me?
Scott Berkun: I’m ready. I’ll tell my secrets. I’ll tell my secrets.
Susan Bratton: I knew you had secrets. And I want to let you DishyMix listeners know – thank you so much, of course – Scott is going to personally autograph a copy of Confessions of a Public Speaker. It’s a great book. You know how to get it; you go to the DishyMix fan page on Facebook, it’s at dishymixfan.com, you post on the wall that you’d like a copy. Tell Scott and I why you’re the one that needs to get this, and we’ll pick a winner and he’ll personally autograph it and send it off to you. So thanks for doing that. We’re going to go to a break. When we come back lets talk about disaster, repertoire, selling and negotiation, all sounds fun. Stay tuned.
Susan Bratton: We’re back with Scott Berkun, author of Confessions of a Public Speaker. So Scott, you told me you’d divulge a few things. I just recently interviewed Michael Ellsberg. He just wrote a brand new book called The Power of Eye Contact, and in it a part of it was actually covering eye contact when you’re public speaking. And he had a couple of different people that he had quoted. One woman who was Touch, Talk Turn, she said, I guess it was like turn, look at your PowerPoint and then turn back and talk to your audience, so that made total sense. Another guy started off looking at the people, before he would start speaking he would stand up on the stage and he would just look at a few people and kind of make eye contact with them and get the audience all focused on him before he started. And then another guy would speak to one person the whole time he was on a particular subject, like a short subject, he would at least finish an entire sentence making eye contact with one person before he broke the gaze and looked at somebody else. And you know, those were three kind of techniques that various people used. What techniques have you found that work really well for you in creating that connection, the repertoire, the intimacy with your audiences?
Scott Berkun: Well so the first thing, just right off the bat there’s one fundamental thing that gets lost in this all the time, which is I mentioned this briefly before is that everyone who sits down in the audience by choice, they’re there for a reason. There’s something they want to learn, there’s a story they want to hear, there’s a problem they’re trying to solve. And anyone who actually hits those things and spends all their time onstage talking about those things will do well with an audience regardless of how much eye contact they make, how, what their body language is like. They could get almost all the superficials wrong, but if they get the fundamentals right, that they understand why the audience is there, they know who they are, they know what their top questions are, they know what their problems are and they offer solutions for those things, will demolish the most eloquent charismatic speaker who has no clue why the audience is there, and that’s the fundamental thing that people forget is the content, I’m totally convinced that the content trumps the style and the superficials all the time. There’s no reason we can’t have both, but before I’d worry about body language and eye contact and what the little patterns are I’d say is your content any good? Do you understand why the people are there? What are their top five questions that they showed up in the room for and are you going to answer those five things? Or are you going to waste their time with your content? If you’re going to waste their time with your content then well I wouldn’t worry too much about whether or not you’re making eye contact or not because you’re going to look at a bored audience. Like there’s nothing, like your eye contact’s not going to save you. But lets assume for a second, just move to actually answer your question, lets assume your content’s great. Okay, now what do you do? Well the only way I’m able to actually create repertoire or intimacy or any of these things is because I know my material very well. I’m not worried about my slides, I’m not worried about the next story because I’ve practiced it sufficiently that it’s familiar to me. And I’m not, my brain process is not focused on “Oh my god, what’s the next thing? Oh my god.” No, I’m like hey, I’ve told these stories ten times ‘cause I practice them that much, so now I’m standing here, I can kind of be more like me. I can be more like how I would be if I was having coffee with someone. I am actually more comfortable simply because I practiced my material. And that makes it much, much easier to be natural and to look at the audience, because I’m not worried about this thing that most speakers most of the time are worried about. They’re worried about their material. The only other thing I think that I do, that I’ve learned to do from experience is to recognize that the room – this is pure theater stuff – that if you’re in a big room then if you’re making eye contact in one direction there’s most of the room you’re not making eye contact with. So you should at least change your posture every, I don’t know, every 20 second or 30 seconds or you’re at least looking to the left, you look to middle, you look to the right, and there’s some variation in where people perceive your focus to be. And that’s a very simple theatrical technique. You know, all this stuff is derived from theater anyway, that I know that I make sure to try and do. And I don’t do anything special at the beginning. I’m trying to be smart guy who’s friend, smart guy to the audience who’s friendly – that’s the vibe I’m trying to get across. And I don’t focus too much about any of the specific, there’s no specific pattern I make sure that I follow. There’s no specific trick that I make sure to do other than practice. I find that if I’m comfortable I’ll be natural, I’ll come across as natural and the audience gets what they want.
Susan Bratton: Yeah, that’s, I couldn’t have said it better. Disaster recovery, things go wrong. I’m sure you had a lot of them. You talk about some of those stories in your book. I’m maybe less interested in like the worst thing that ever happened than I am about recovery strategies.
Scott Berkun: Okay. So I go in knowing something’s going to go wrong. That sounds really cynical and, you know, skeptical, but I go in knowing, you know, something’s going to go wrong – the mic’s not going to work, the laptop’s going to die. You know, I’m not prone to accidents, but stuff will go wrong. It’s just an assumption. So that means that whenever I give a talk I’m thinking “Okay, what will I do right, what will I do if a minute in my laptop blows up?” I should have some basic strategy for what I’m going to do. And so whenever I prepare my material – this is in the book somewhere, it’s in one of the later chapters I think – whenever I prepare my material I always go in thinking “What are my five points? What are the five things that I think people, or the five questions that people came here to have me answer? What are they?” And if I know my material well, then without a single slide if I know those five questions I could just stand in front of the audience and ask those questions, and say “Hey, okay, you want to understand how to be more creative, okay, here’s what you do. Question number two…”, and that’s, that can be more compelling and more powerful for people to put down all the machines and whatnot and just speak directly to the audience about what they wanted to hear. So I’m always, I go in prepared for that. I have slides, I usually use PowerPoint and I put a fair amount of energy into those slides. But I go in knowing that if it blows up I’m okay. It won’t be the same thing, but it’ll be good and it’ll be different, and in some cases it can be more interesting for the audience because it’s not canned. It wont’ seem canned because it’s not. So I go in thinking if I don’t have a microphone, if it blows up, laptop blows up, lights go off, I’m okay. And if I’m okay with it, whatever happens, and I can respond with that kind of confidence, then the audience will be okay with it. I mean anything can happen and the audience will look to the speaker to go, “Hey, is that bad or is that good?” And if I’m like “Oh whatever, I’ll keep going”, they’ll be like “Oh, he doesn’t care he spilled the water on his lap”, “He doesn’t care that the light crashed down”, “He doesn’t care his laptop blew up. Wow. This guy’s good ‘cause he doesn’t care. All right, we won’t care either”, and they’ll follow you. But if you freak out, if you spend 20 minutes trying to fix your laptop in front of an audience – which is probably the most painful thing in the world for an audience to experience, you doing a real time like tech diagnostic that’s just a disaster – then you are telling the audience that you really are not that confident. You’re kind of confused and you don’t really understand what they’re there to see. So as a rule, you know, I’ll spend a couple minutes trying to solve a problem. If I can’t then I move on, and the audience is always, I’m convinced the audience is always grateful for that. They’d rather me talk to them directly and answer their questions than spend, watch me spend 15 minutes doing, you know, help desk 911. It’s just there’s nothing fun about that.
Susan Bratton: No kidding. Hey, and I think so much of this comes back to preparation. Almost everything that you, every answer that you’ve given me so far in many ways comes down to preparation. And it’s funny too because I was telling you that the two books that I wrote, Talk Show Tips and Masterful Interviews, where I teach people how to conduct interviews – and you were remarking, you know, “You’re totally well prepared. I’m not worried about a thing today”, you know. Most people just say, “Okay Scott, go.” It’s the same thing. When people read my books they say “Wow, the part on the actual in-interview technique was a lot smaller and the part on the preparation was a lot bigger than I thought it would be” and it’s the same, it’s the same thing.
Scott Berkun: Yeah. But people don’t really want to hear that and…
Susan Bratton: I know, but too bad. That’s what you have to do, right?
Scott Berkun: Well yeah, I mean…
Susan Bratton: If you want to be good you have to do the work.
Scott Berkun: Yeah. And, I mean, there’s the prep work, but then there’s just, then ther’es just the work of speaking. I mean I was not a very good speaker when I started. I was a lousy speaker. I made a lot of very basic mistakes. But for a bunch of reasons I’ve found it interesting, so I watched videotapes of myself doing it and I paid attention to things that as an audience member I know I hate when speakers do and I realized that I did a lot of those things. So when I spoke again I would pick one of those things. You know, I’d say…
Susan Bratton: Yeah.
Scott Berkun: “I’m going to not do that. I’m going to work to not do this. I’m not going to”, like that was a bad habit I had, “I’m not going to, I’m going to make sure I don’t do that.” So it’s not even the preparation; it’s just if you want to be good at anything you’re going to have to do it a lot.
Susan Bratton: Yeah.
Scott Berkun: Like not, reading a book on almost any skill alone is not going to make you better; you’ll get better if you do it again and apply what you learned from the book. And so I, you know, you want to be a better speaker, well speak more and get better feedback. But you’re going to have to do it.
Susan Bratton: Absolutely.
Scott Berkun: But the only other secret I can think of is about fears and the realization that everyone gets afraid when they speak is tremendous for me. I thought it was just me, that somehow I’m stupid. And when I realized….
Susan Bratton: No, it never goes away.
Scott Berkun: No, it never goes away, and the tip that, the secret that I give to people – and I haven’t had anyone tell me it has not helped them – is that if you’re going to, you have a big pitch meeting, you’re going to give a presentation, a sales meeting, whatever, that you get exercise that day because that response, that fear response is physiological. Your body is pumping adrenaline into your system ‘cause it thinks it’s in a physically threatening situation. If you get exercise that morning, your body’s going to be much calmer, and if you’re body’s calmer your mind will be calmer, guaranteed. If there’s one trick I can give people that requires no practice and no, like, you know, years of training, it’s that one tip, that make sure your body is relaxed, and everything else will go much simpler.
Susan Bratton: Thank you. We only have a minute or two left and we didn’t get to as many things as I’d like, so here’s what I want to do if you’re game. I’d like to play a lightening round with you where I ask you a few questions and you give me just, you know, kind of top line pivot point answers. Are you game for that?
Scott Berkun: Absolutely. Sounds like fun.
Susan Bratton: Okay. The first question that I have is I have gotten a product from a really great woman named Lisa Sasevich. She has a product called The Invisible Close. I’ve promoted it to my fans and followers ‘cause I think it’s really good. And she teaches you how to sell from the state essentially, seed your offer early in the presentation, craft a really irresistible offer that’s only available, you know, using tension and limits to generate demand in the moment, and then having the right handout so people can actually purchase what you’re selling at the end if they’re interested. I know you don’t do selling from the stage, but I just wanted to get any ideas, feedback, input, ‘cause you work with a lot of audiences about people who do have to sell from the stage.
Scott Berkun: I think the whole story is you give something for free. If, whatever you’re selling, give some of it away for free and demonstrate that you have what people want. Do it for free.
Susan Bratton: Yeah.
Scott Berkun: For five minutes give them as close you can from the stage, actually give the thing you’re selling away, and then mention at the beginning you’re going to sell it and then you give them the thing for free and then when you’re done you say “Hey, if you want more of this here you go.”
Susan Bratton: Yeah.
Scott Berkun: And then it’s a natural, that’s it.
Susan Bratton: That’s what she says too. There’s either the appetizer plate style or the here’s one of the three courses in all its detail, and I think that works well. The second thing is – and thanks for, you’re doing a good job with the lightening round.
Scott Berkun: I’m trying.
Susan Bratton: Yeah I know, it’s good. Speakers bureaus; do you use one? Do you book everything yourself? What’s your thought on that?
Scott Berkun: Most of my requests for speaking come in because of the blog, I have a popular blog at scottberkun.com, it gets a lot of traffic. And the books, the books go out there, people buy the books, the read the books, so most of my speaking engagements I’d say probably 80 percent come in just directly to me from organization, events, companies. And speaker bureaus are only interested in you if there’s something they can sell. So a lot of people say “I want to be a speaker. Should I sign up with a bureau?” I’m like “Why?” They can’t place you unless you are famous or you’re an expert on something, it’s very difficult for them – or have a reputation for being an expert on something – it’s very difficult for them to place you anywhere. So there’s really no point. You have to either have experience speaking or be famous enough that you name has value in a particular community or business that a bureau can even represent you. So I’d say, I’d tell people speak, go out and speak, get more experience speaking, and if you’re good and you get a reputation paying gigs will start to come in for you. But like we said before, you have to do the work first.
Susan Bratton: That’s the next question. Negotiation points, when you are negotiating your speaking fee, obviously you’re trying to maximize it. How do you set your fee and what are some of the negotiation points that you have found are good leverage?
Scott Berkun: The only way that this works, it’s pure, for me it’s pure, it’s free market economics. If I’m getting offered a certain amount and someone else offers, has asked me what my rate is then I can honestly tell them what I’m being paid by other people to do the same thing. So I get a lot of, I get way more demand to speak than I can, so that means that my value in the market is good, that people are paying me for the right to speak at their place instead of somewhere else. Now if I don’t have any engagements – and this is, being a speaker is kind of an open thing. I don’t know six months from now where I’ll be speaking or if anyone will still want to, still cares what I have to say anyway. But if that were to happen, I’d be like, “Well, maybe I need to be charging less because my value, given the whole millions of speakers who are out there, is less.” So once you get your first speaking gig for whatever that is, okay, that’s your base rate now. And so I look at it purely on demand. If I am getting demand that means that my value is high and I should be paid for that. Negotiation is simple. I tell people what other people pay me, and that seems like a reasonable way to define my prices. If I were to ask someone to pay me twice what someone else has paid me then that, I have trouble with that. I don’t know how I’d justify that to a particular audience. Alan Weiss, you mentioned him, Money Talks is one of his books, he talks about it should be based purely on the value that the client gets. And so he has a whole, his whole strategy is based on that, and there’s some merit to that but it’s hard to convince someone that you don’t know that much about since they’re a client with their own thing about how to convince them of what that value is. But there’s definitely other philosophies that I know people use on this.
Susan Bratton: Last question: are there any other tips… Let just say that someone listening is doing a lot of speaking and they’ve spoken at a lot of industry events and conferences for free, they are a subject matter expert in their field, probably in digital marketing if they’re a DishyMix listener, and they want to break into that next level. They want to start charging. They don’t want to do it for free anymore. What’s that, what’s that segway? How do you make that happen?
Scott Berkun: You know, I don’t really, I have to be honest, I don’t really know. I think, I’ve heard so many different stories of how this happened for people. My story as I mentioned before, I backed into this from writing and from the blog. I had popularity in another form that led to peoples interest in having me come and speak. That’s true for a lot of people. Anyone who’s famous for anything other than speaking, which most people who are speakers are, they backed into, that they became interesting to an audience for that reason. I think what I would do if, lets say, you know, cynically into the future people stop coming to my website, they stop buying my books, they don’t care about me anymore – what would I do to keep my speaking engagements? I’d probably go to venues that I think I could speak at and I’d send them mail and I’d introduce myself briefly. I’d say “Here’s my credentials, why I should speak at your thing, and here’s a link to a five minute sample.” And most organizers, most event organizers are always looking for speakers. They’re always looking for speakers because they can’t invite the same people back every year. So if you crafted that right and your five minute thing was really good, and you were right that your expertise matches their audience for their venue, that seems like a natural fit if you have a nice tight pitch and a good five minutes sample of you actually speaking – not a sales demo, but like a, you actually speaking to a crowd – I think that would probably bring, that would probably be the way to cross that gap.
Susan Bratton: That’s great. Are there any places that you go – I told you that was my last question and I lied. I have one last question. Are there any places that you can go to figure out what conferences that there are that might be willing to pay for you to speak? Because a lot of industry conferences, they get free speakers.
Scott Berkun: Yeah, that’s a good question. You know, I don’t know of one. I think as a general rule – and this gets back to negotiation thing – if I’m being asked to speak at an event that is, you know, it’s a free event for people and I’m expecting either not to get paid at all, which happens sometimes, or I’m expecting to be paid less. If people are paying $5000 dollars a ticket to get in the door, then I’m definitely expecting to be paid and certainly my full rate because they’re making money in the event. So I think you get a decent idea as to what you’re dealing with based simply on the fees for people to get in the door. You know, $500, $600 dollars a day probably means that they organizers are making money on the event or they’re trying to, which means some of that money belongs to the speakers since the whole event is centered on the speakers. That’s a common argument I use with event organizers who I know are making profit but don’t want to pay – or are trying to make profit, but don’t want to pay their speakers. Like, the event is the speakers, so shouldn’t some part of the revenue for this go to the people who are driving the thing? That seems like a very reasonable argument. They don’t always think that, but that’s events that I’m not likely to speak at, you know.
Susan Bratton: There you go, self selection at its finest.
Scott Berkun: Free market, free market, right?
Susan Bratton: Yeah, exactly. Scott I’ve really enjoyed having you on the show. Thank you so much for teeing up a personally autographed copy of Confessions of a Public Speaker for a DishyMix fan at our Facebook fan page. I appreciate that.
Scott Berkun: Oh you’re welcome. Thanks for having me on the show.
Susan Bratton: Absolutely, it was my pleasure. I hope you’ve enjoyed Scott and I hope you’ll tune in again next week. You know I’ve always got somebody good teed up for you. And I am your host, Susan Bratton. Have a great day and I’ll see you next week. Bye-bye.