When and how did you begin speaking professionally (for a fee)?
In 1975, a hairstyling company called Markham paid me $350 a day for hairstyling demonstrations. What set me apart from other stylists was the fact I could cut hair for four hours and talk the entire time! I realized the people in the back could not really see what I was doing. Therefore, I had to describe what I was doing in a way that they thought they could see. To keep their attention, I also told them how to sell more, interview potential employees, and promote and market. The speaking part of the program was so successful Markham extended the training to a second day on management and motivation. Since I was the star of my Dale Carnegie class and attended Toastmasters, I knew how to organize my remarks without notes.
At the same time, my executive clients invited me to speak to their service clubs, staff meetings, and small conferences. Because of my personality and expertise at cutting their hair, my clients thought I would be a pretty good speaker. However, without exception, they were amazed how good! Many of my first free or low-fee talks to their companies eventually led to major long-term relationships.
For example, the first time I spoke to Bob Kessler’s team at the San Francisco office of Moore Business Forms, he paid me $75 in Moore business forms. Throughout the years as he got promoted, he hired me multiple times in many cities. The last time was to keynote a convention in Hawaii to sales professionals from sixteen countries with name entertainment. Shame he retired!
In 1984 when I finally retired from hairstyling and was a full-time professional speaker, I was hired to speak to AT&T National Account managers. I was referred by Gary Hickox who, at age twenty-seven, impressed his boss by bringing in a top motivational speaker to speak at a small team meeting. His hairstylist! In 2010, twenty-six years later, we still keep in touch.
At Rotary Club speeches marketing my salon I was asked, “What would you charge to say that to the Oakland Appliance Dealers?” “$50!” The next request was to speak on goal setting to the San Mateo School Administrators. I replied, “$50 an hour and travel time.” He offered me $125! Incidentally, the next time the same gentleman asked, “What would you charge to say that to the Oakland Appliance Dealers?” he paid me $5,000.
In 1977, I attended my first NSA convention and realized I could one day be a speaker.
How did you choose your early topics, since your prior career was as a hairdresser?
Alan, we teach speakers you get paid for what you know. You get paid well when you deliver what you know with impact. I realized I was an expert at building a small or medium size business.
My early topics were the result of what I did on a daily basis, “How to Get, Keep, and Deserve Customers” and “How to Promote Business.”
As a hairstylist I learned important business building advice from my successful entrepreneurial dad. Good fortune led me to always work with brilliant bosses such as Jay Sebring the Hollywood hairstylist, and I maximized my 45-minute haircutting sessions with my executive clients as an education. I would ask, “What made you the top sales person in your company?” and “What did you do to your small company that made a big one want to pay you millions of dollars for it?”
In the early days of my speaking career, sometimes audience members would ask, “Where did you get your MBA?” and “Are you an industrial physiologist?” I would reply, “No...just twenty-four years behind a hairstyling chair…taking advantage of opportunity.”
Was it difficult to prove your credibility at first to buyers and the audience? Why or why not?
In the middle 70‘s and early 80’s there were fewer speakers and fewer requests to customize. I met Mike Frank at my first National Speakers Association convention where he “discovered” me. Mike promoted big sales rallies and ran a speakers bureau. He was an early supporter and recommended me to some of his clients. In those days he would ask, “Would you consider a woman speaker?” Often the answer was “No.” Then after a few years it was, “We must have a female speaker.”
At the time, there were few women speakers who fit in several categories as I did. I was entertaining, yet not a humorist. I had been successful in a male dominated industry. Plus, my energy and personality was a match to the business like it had been in hairstyling. Mike reported, “Men and women like you, and so do young and mature audiences.”
Most of my early engagements came at the recommendation from speakers bureaus or people who had heard me and knew what they were getting.
What are the biggest changes in your career while in the profession?
The Internet and technology. A website is a sales person who works seven days a week, twenty-four hours a day, knows what you do, who you do it for, and what they say about your service.
My business was built with me as a keynote speaker. In my heyday I presented 100-130 keynote speeches a year. By listening to my clients, I realized my passion…speaking about speaking…was something they desperately wanted and would pay handsomely for. Also by listening to my clients, I developed a very profitable and actually more satisfying part of my business: teaching executives and sales professionals to deliver their messages more powerfully and persuasively.
My business is now three-fourths sales presentation skills training and executive speech coaching.
Would you do anything differently, if you started again, knowing what you now know?
Technology did not exist when I started. That would have made a difference. On reflection I wish I had embraced technology, hired the speech coaches, and collaborated with others…earlier. Nothing differently…just embraced sooner.
What’s the most important advice for a beginning speaker?
You may not lack the talent it needs to be successful, you may lack the patience. You need a superb speech or seminar, have to market effectively, and understand the speaking business. Don’t reinvent the wheel. Learn from others who are where you want to be.
What’s the most important advice for a veteran speaker?
Value your wisdom and experience, partner with younger professionals, stay relevant, let your long-time clients know you are still in business and how you have expanded and adapted your expertise. Revisit, rediscover, and refine what you are doing. This will help you fall in love with your content again.
Where do you see the profession going for the rest of this decade?
Tough to answer for a whole industry. However…from my own experience and point of view:
More business leaders will enter the professional speaking ranks as the ‘boomers’ retire and enter their next career. Humorists and celebrity speakers will always have an important place at conventions. However, experts who deliver their message in various formats will be the most successful. More companies are going to question the value and contribution of outside speakers and consultants. The ability to customize and personalize your message is mandatory. A professional with the ability to deliver in Webinars, as well as in person, will give a speaker an advantage.
After experiencing the last couple of years of ‘the new normal’ clients will continue to look for value, however more meetings and conventions will return.
What’s the most astounding or incredible thing that occurred while you were speaking?
Getting out of a space ship in a Wonder Woman costume.
Looking out at my audience of 150 $350,000-a-year sophisticated sales professionals not believing they could all be that drunk.
Early in my career speaking for an enthusiastic direct sales company, I paused for effect before my review; they leapt to their feet in a standing ovation…so I walked off without finishing the presentation. After all, I thought, “How many standing ovations of that magnitude does a speaker deserve?”
I never cease to be amazed that companies spend six million dollars for conferences, especially for their valued clients, and key executives frequently walk on stage with a few scribbled notes they just put together and deliver very poor speeches.
The weather was bad and nationwide all planes delayed. A celebrity speaker refused
to even go to the airport. I told the client I would deliver two speeches, my own and one in her place. He stood up and said, “I will never overlook the opportunity to bad mouth ‘the celebrity for…’ and take every chance to rave about Patricia Fripp.”
How do you determine from which sources to accept advice?
Recommendations and their track record.
All of us have failed and learned from it. Do you have a favorite “flop”?
Speaking for gravel quarry workers who were drunk. They would have been better off hiring a stripper.
What did I learn? When an insurance company executive who likes you and your message wants to sponsor you for a safety banquet for blue-collar workers, and they are going to have an open bar, go with your first response, “I do not think I am a fit for the audience.” That week I had no other bookings, it was close to home, the more I protested the higher the fee. Overly confident from past success I thought, “How bad could it be?” I found out!
You’re an excellent speaking coach. What are the traits of an outstanding speaking coach?
Very few great speakers are good coaches. Delivering a good speech does not require the same skills as helping others structure, script, and deliver a speech on a subject the coach knows nothing about. I have learned from different coaches who specialize in structure and others in performance.
The reason I believe my clients keep coming back is my multifaceted approach. As well as having spoken to audiences of all sizes myself, and familiar with business and sales, I add best practices from Marquee comedians, Las Vegas entertainers, and Hollywood screenwriters to my client’s business communications. Over the years I have developed the ability to ask my clients questions, take their answers, edit and polish them, and put the answers back in their mouths. This way it is easier for them to remember. We conversationally write their speeches.
What were the biggest obstacles, and how did you overcome them?
To be honest I do not perceive I have experienced obstacles beyond time management.
However, to generalize:
As a novice, not knowing where to start and getting audiences.
As a beginner, how to adapt our message to multiple audiences and make it relevant.
As a professional, how to manage our time between business and performing.
Suffering from ‘recency bias.’ When the phone does not ring, you imagine it never will. When business is superb, you forget the cycles of business. Your demand will go down. We must develop a balanced business model.
As a seasoned veteran, to stay excited and relevant.
What final words and ideas do you want to leave with our readers?
The best part of the professional speaking and training business is the education it provides. We learn a lot about many industries that makes us more valuable to others. Unlike Hollywood, a few lines and grey hair add to the credibility.
Alan Weiss, PhD, CMC, CSP,CPAE author of 37 books is the consultant’s consultant, Patricia Fripp CSP, CPAE is the speaker’s speaker. Together they are The Odd Couple™ the yearly marketing and strategy seminar for speakers, consultants and professional speakers.