World of Speakers E.04: Leo Bottary | Who you surround yourself with matters


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World of Speakers E.04: Leo Bottary | Who you surround yourself with matters

Ryan Foland speaks with Leo Bottary, thought leader and global expert on the topic of peer advantage. Who you surround yourself with matters and, because of this, business leaders can help each other in ways they just won’t find anywhere else.

Ryan and Leo share insights about what they have learned about audience engagement, and how to go from being a good speaker to a great speaker, offering practical advice on how to empathize with your audience, and successfully build your speaking business.

Listen to this podcast to find out:

  1. Why having a strong network is crucial for success both off, and on, stage
  2. What kind of people you should connect with and why being conscious of your connections makes a difference
  3. How helping your network actually helps your
  4. What real audience engagement looks like, and why so many speakers fail at it.
  5. How to make money from your passion



If you enjoy this interview we’d be honoured if you reviewed us on iTunes. Just follow this link.


Leo Bottary: This is Leo Bottary participating in Ryan Folond’s World of Speakers, talking about the power of peers.

Ryan Foland: Welcome once again to the World of Speakers Podcast where we talk with speakers who literally talk around the world. We get to know who they are, and what their story is.

We get to find out what their insights, tricks, and tips are from a public/professional speaking standpoint. Then we try to find out how they’ve been able to be successful at monetizing their speaking.

Today, I am super excited because I met today’s speaker, Mr. Leo, in Portugal of all places. We were both flown out to speak at the 30th anniversary of the OECD, the government supported system of entrepreneurship, getting kids at an early age.

Since then we have become buddies. He is part of my insight crew. He’s one of the first people I think of when I think about people I admire who are successful out there speaking. Not only just speaking his mind, but speaking to get a little cashola, if not a medium cashola, if not a lot of cashola. So Mr. Leo, welcome to the show, sir.

LB: Ryan, thank you so much for having me. It’s always a pleasure.

RF: It is, right?

LB: It always is.

RF: I think there’s certain people you talk to where it’s always nice. We met in a foreign country. We found out that we live very close to each other. Since then it has been fun to see your path, and your explosion with Year of the Peer.

You’ve made me think twice, even three times about the people I hang out with. You’re like this little person on my shoulder asking me every time I meet somebody, “Is this someone that you want in your peer group?” 

How about you introduce yourself to everyone else. I already know your story pretty well. But where did it all start for you? Because I know you weren’t always doing what you’re doing now. But it has been a nice organic flow.

LB: After graduating from college I started working in politics. Everything from local to presidential politics. I was involved in Paul Tsongas’ US Senate campaign in Massachusetts, and years later in his run for president in ‘92.

But while I was working on political campaigns I discovered a lot of the people I really respected had real jobs in the private sector, in addition to working 100 hours a week at a campaign and making no money.

Anyway, very fortunately because I was able to meet a lot of really great people there I was able to get a position writing speeches for the CEO of the Stop and Shop company.

That was a diversified fortune 500 retail company at the time, worth about four billion back in the mid-1980s, which was certainly a pretty good size for back then.

The unique thing about that job was, on the one hand, I was writing speeches for the CEO, and on the other, I was constantly looking at the business at a 30,000-foot level. Another part of my job was to write community profiles for when they were going to enter new markets.

I was this guy who on one hand was looking at the business in a really big way, and on the other hand was probably the only person at headquarters who spent the most time with real employees, and real customers on the front line.

We used to remind ourselves there are no cash registers at headquarters.

That combination of trying to think about the business in a big way, and constantly be in touch with what’s really going on is what I’ve tried to bring to every job I’ve had since.

I started there of course in corporate communications.

For about 30 years after that, I was on the agency and client side of the business. Every time I always tried to really surround myself with the kind of people I needed. People who could inform me in each of those particular areas I ever had to write or talk about.

I was very fortunate. I worked at places like Mullen. It is called MullenLowe today. As well as Hill & Knowlton. But I also owned my own firm for five years. While I was doing that I joined a group called the Worldcom public relations group, which is basically a consortium of agencies from around the world.

They largely gave agencies who were based in Jacksonville, Florida in my case, best in class offices all over the country, and around the world who I can partner with.

 If I had a client who had a local meet somewhere, I had a partner I felt was reliable and trustworthy. We used to meet twice a year.

While I joined it in many respects for marketing reasons, what I really got out of it was being around other agency principals, and learning from them about how to run and grow the business. That was probably considered my first real experience with a peer group, and I really saw the value of that.

Along the way, I decided that going to graduate school would be really important, so I did that, and I learned a tremendous amount. I went to Seton Hall University, and got a Master of Arts in Strategic Communication and Leadership.

Today whether online or in the classroom when you have mid to senior level executives as students, any professor would be out of their mind to think they’re just going to stand in front of the class, lecture at these students, and then just let them go away.

You’ve got such a rich collection of experiences in that room that if you’re actually doing your job right as an instructor, you’re going to get them to learn more from one another than they ever will from you or the material. As a student I experienced that.

Later Seton Hall was kind enough to invite me to teach in their program. I’ve been an adjunct now for ten years. As I was pursuing that, this idea of working for Vistage came, and there was an opening there.

Vistage assembles and facilitates peer advisory groups largely for CEO groups, but also for mid to senior level executives. They do it here in the US and around the world. On the academic side, I’m working and seeing the power of students helping, working, and learning from one another. I saw the same thing at work in the private sector.

Even though I was at Vistage largely doing corporate communications, that later shifted to directing thought leadership around this idea of who you surround yourself with matters. That we know these peer groups work really well, but we didn’t always have the ability to articulate how or why.

Ryan Foland with Leo Bottary - Quote on people around you - World of Speakers Podcast (Blue) _ Powered by SpeakerHub

Which is why in 2016, along with Leon Shapiro, we coauthored a book called the Power of Peers. We explored not just Vistage groups, but groups all over the country, and all over the world in terms of how they work.

We discovered not only a little about how these groups work, but in many respects that successful peer groups and teams share a lot of common characteristics in terms of what makes them successful. That brings us a bit to the present. You mentioned the Year of the Peer.

RF: Yes. #yearofthepeer

LB: As part of that I’m doing CEO workshops, and speaking in keynotes all over the country. You mentioned Portugal. I was just there a few weeks ago. I did a workshop there, and it was just so much fun. You know what being there is like, and what the energy in that building is all about.

RF: Even the facility is so crazy. It’s this high-level complex where you have crazy offices down below.

At the mid level, you have these crazy balconies.

Up top, you have these different departments, and rooms.

They have young entrepreneurs together, middle-school-aged entrepreneurs together, highschool-age together, and then grown-ups. It’s like a little university academy of entrepreneurs at every level.

LB: It’s on the river on top of that, so it’s pretty.

People sit out on the grass, just hang out, and think about what it is they’re trying to create.

RF: You’ve got the fresh water that meets the salt water. When I think about it it’s the perfect spot for you. Because when you were starting off and writing speeches you were looking at the macro, and now you’re into the micro.

You’re here in academia dealing with students before they get out in the real world.

Then dealing with CEOs who were students at one point. I see you at this junction between fresh water and salt water.

You navigate right there in the middle.

LB: It is funny how you can be in different areas like that, see what’s in common, and start taking note of that. I think that has been really exciting.

The worst part of this “Year of the Peer” is that I’ve got this podcast series where I committed to doing 50 interviews with CEOs, scholars, artists, and people from various walks of life who are really great at what they do. We talk about the people who helped get them there, and about the people who they surround themselves with today.

There isn’t one person yet I’ve talked to who has said to me “I’ve gotten where I am completely on my own, I’ve never had any help from anyone.” That doesn’t happen. That isn’t how we are successful.

Ryan Foland with Leo Bottary - Quote on being successful with help from others - World of Speakers Podcast (Navy) _ Powered by SpeakerHub

Surrounding ourselves with really good people can encourage us, and provide us with advice.

Those people can hold us accountable for things we say we want to do for ourselves and our lives.

There’s really nothing like it. When we can give that to others, as well as receive it from others, it’s incredibly powerful.

One of the interviews I did recently was with Angela Maiers.

Angela Maiers founded an organization called Choose2Matter. Her premise is that if we believe we matter can fundamentally change the way we do everything.

The way we think about ourselves, the way we engage others.

Me, showing up in whatever way, in whatever forum with my A-game matters. When I don’t show up with my A-game, that can matter too, often in a negative way.

That’s really powerful. It’s fundamental in many respects to this whole idea of the Power of Peers, the five factors that I talk about in the book.

If we accept responsibility for the gifts we have, and decide we should not be humble, but giving of them, that makes a big difference. 

Ryan Foland with Leo Bottary - Quote on gifts and giving - World of Speakers Podcast (Grey) _ Powered by SpeakerHub

We’ve been talking a lot lately, and I think her work is fascinating. She’s just one of the incredible guests I’ve spoken with.

We’ve had the Chief Human Resources Officer for LinkedIn. We’ve had the Publisher of Forbes. We’ve had James Kouzes, who along with Barry Posner wrote the most successful leadership books probably of all time in terms of leadership challenge.

Learning from these people, and surrounding myself with them this year has been pretty powerful and exciting.

Between the workshops, keynotes, podcasts, the idea now is to put it all together for a book I’m going to be releasing in the spring of 2018.

The book will chronicle 12 timeless takeaways from the Year of the Peer people can take for themselves for use in their personal and professional lives. Many of those takeaways include personal experiences I’ve had.

RF: That’s very commendable sir. I’m a big fan of your podcast.

The last one I listened to was with Miguel when you were at in Portugal.

But anybody who is listening to this should also check out the Year of the Peer. Leo, where do they find the podcast?

LB: They can certainly go to They’ll also find the Year of the Peer Podcast on C-Suite Radio. We’re very excited to be part of that family.

But of course, you can go to wherever you listen to podcasts. As well you can find it on iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher, or any host over the platforms.

They can even go to YouTube and see them. We record the episodes on video and audio. There are a lot of folks who really enjoy seeing the video, because you can see a lot of the reactions, and watch the conversation as well as listen to it, which is really fun too.

They can subscribe to the podcast there as well.

RF: They can also just go to Google and type in #yearofthepeer.

It’s interesting, one of the last concepts. You were talking to this lady who said, “You have to believe in yourself, and that you do matter in order to really succeed.” Then on the other hand, you were talking about this groupthink, or group mentality where we’re all better together.

It almost seems like that junction again between the two different pools that meet in the middle, the saltwater meeting the freshwater. In that when you talk about public or professional speaking there’s this individuality, but there’s also this collective support and power.

I think in a general sense some people who are getting into becoming a professional speaker, and by that, I mean trying to get paid for their speaking and the information they’re sharing, I can sense there’s almost this I am an island concept. It’s all me. I don’t necessarily want to reach out.

I have found so much power and value in connecting with other speakers, supporting them, helping give them opportunities, and doing what I can do to help everybody else. That just comes back ten-fold.

Ryan Foland - Quote on connecting with other speakers - World of Speakers Podcast (Navy) _ Powered by SpeakerHub

I wonder if you can speak a moment on the challenges between the individual mentality, that I’m the person speaking, versus this group peer mentality that is counterintuitive if everybody is fighting for those same keynotes, and those same presentations. What is the relationship there?

LB: When you think about this idea of I matter, if you finish the sentence what you want to say is I matter to others. This idea is if I’m going to speak in front of a group is there anything I can do to learn as much about that audience as possible.

Talk with the people who are organizing the event, and have them be really clear about what their outcomes and expectations are. That we are going to work together, learn together, so I can make sure I deliver the content in a manner that is the most beneficial and useful to that group.

I think that’s fundamentally where this starts to come together. In terms of the fact that I believe people depend on me to present the information in a way that is both informative, and as I’ve learned, entertaining. Including those kinds of things really gets them to be part of it, which is a great way to involve your audience.

It isn’t just you alone in the front of the room. What you want to try to do is work at going from my presentation, my keynote, or my workshop, to our experience. If I can do that by the end, that’s really where you have people believing and leaving a talk feeling they got value from it.

Ryan Foland with Leo Bottary - Quote on not just you alone - World of Speakers Podcast (Blue) _ Powered by SpeakerHub

RF: I like that. That’s a great concept. I was just talking with John Bates, and he has a similar concept. You’re talking about entertainment, and he talked about more of a performance. Not a showboat performance, but knowing that the responsibility of a speaker is not the message you’re sharing, but about how well that message is received. That’s a total paradigm shift.

If you’re thinking this is the information I’m presenting, my job is to put it out there. Sometimes we forget it’s our responsibility that the audience understands whatever message it is. It has got to be catered and tailored to that audience.

LB: I’m going to tell you a very brief story from junior high school that has informed this idea that the responsibility of a message be communicated effectively, and be received as intended is the responsibility of the sender, not the receiver.

I was in junior high school at the last track meet of the year, and was asked to fill in on the relay team. I was at the third leg of the relay. I had practiced it before so I was fine in terms of being prepared to do it.

We were undefeated. All we had to do was win this race. We had the fastest kid in the city running the final leg. All I needed to do was do my job, which was to pass the baton to him, and it was a done deal.

Sure enough, it comes to me, and I run my leg of the race. I go to hand him the baton, and the baton hits the ground. Game over, we lose. At the end the coach let me know in no uncertain terms that was my fault that happened. That you never let go of the baton until you know that the receiver has grasped it.

The fortunate takeaway from that experience is I have applied that to communication. I’ve said to myself, “I want to make sure before I walk away, before I leave a point, that I’m clear that the audience has the baton before I let it go.” I think fundamentally if a speaker, writer, or whomever can accept that responsibility, that can be very powerful, and a real game-changer for how people communicate.

Ryan Foland with Leo Bottary - Quote on leaving a clear point - World of Speakers Podcast (Navy) _ Powered by SpeakerHub

RF: The Bottary Baton Theory has just been launched right now. I love that. I got goosebumps when you were telling that story. Somebody told me, “You get goosebumps when you relive a moment in your past.” That it’s a weird time trip.

I ran track in middle school, and you brought back these crazy memories for me.

There is so much anxiety around passing the baton, and these goosebumps just made me figure that out. It was enough anxiety for me that in high school I didn’t run track, I just did pole vault. I just had one big baton that I was in charge of the entire time, and owned the responsibility for it.

But what a great analogy of a speaker handing off that baton to the audience, but not letting go until you were sure the audience had ahold of it.

LB: There’s a second lesson I always found very valuable with a completely different context. The speech that Lincoln gave at Gettysburg. Most people may or may not know that Lincoln was not the featured speaker that day for that event. It was Edward Everett who I think was the former secretary of state, the governor of Massachusetts.

It was a very lauded order back in those days, where people would give two and three hour speeches, and that’s what they did. Oftentimes we as writers and communicators can start falling in love with the sound of our own voice, and lose the essence of communication.

Ryan Foland with Leo Bottary - Quote on the essence of communication - World of Speakers Podcast (Navy) _ Powered by SpeakerHub

What happened that day was Edward Everett gave a magnificent and beautiful speech. However, the speech that was remembered that day was Lincoln’s. Edward Everett actually wrote to Lincoln after and said, “You communicated in two minutes what took me two hours to do. Yours will be the speech that will be remembered from that day.” 

Wise as he was about public speaking, there’s hardly any speeches that have stood the test of time better than the Gettysburg Address. When we start thinking about our audience and about communicating, we should think about the audience primarily, and not about our own egos, the sound of our own voice and all that.

RF: I think that’s very true. Sometimes culturally the longer you speak, the more weight in what you say is held. That’s what I try to fight with my whole 313 theory. I believe the more you talk, the less people listen. The less you talk, the more people ask questions. Questions are what drive the conversation, even if it’s a one to many situation.

Ryan Foland - Quote on what drives the conversation - World of Speakers Podcast (Blue-Grey) _ Powered by SpeakerHub

The challenge comes when you have a 30 or 45 minute keynote slot you have to “fill”. Then the question is how do I use that time to create the most value for the audience, where I know they’ll leave with that baton, according to the baton theory.

These are great tips, and I want to continue for a little bit hearing about your best and brightest tips.

The Bottary Baton Theory is number one. The Lincoln Length Theory is number two. If you can create a message in two minutes that would take you two hours, you need to apply the Lincoln Length Theory.

What are some of these other crucial elements? I think some of our listeners are beginning, some of them might be in the middle stages, and some of them might already be well advanced as speakers. My favorite tips are the ones that apply to them all.

John Bates is fresh in my mind because we talked a little while ago. He talked about having this beginner mentality. Where no matter how professional or advanced you are, to have this beginner mentality, and that will take you to that next level. Because sometimes when we get advanced we forget about those basics.

What are some of the crucial basics you find you leverage all the time, and continue to work on?

LB: If I’m speaking at an event I not only want to make sure I’m there early, and doing my own setup, and all that kind of stuff. I want to get that done as quickly as possible so I can go to where people are getting ready to sit down, introduce myself, and get to know some of the audience members.

I’ll ask questions, and oftentimes I’ll learn some things I’ll incorporate into the presentation I’m making. That creates a good comfort level for me, because then I’ve started building a rapport with the audience.

They start getting to know who I am beyond just being removed in that way when you’re on stage, and they’re sitting at a table or in their seats. I think that really breaks down some barriers right away between the speaker and audience. Like I said, I think it makes everybody more comfortable.

RF: How do you actually do that? Do you greet them at the door? Do you walk around, and people look at you and recognize you. Then you say “Hey, how’s it going?” What are some of the practical things?

I love the idea of meeting the audience. But what are some of the strategies behind that? Do you sit down at their table? Is it more organic where you’re just hanging out? Because I can feel that awkwardness of people not knowing if they should approach you. What works for you?

LB: I would say I fall short of sitting at their table.

RF: That’s something the Ginger MC would do. He would pop in saying, “Hey guys.” 

LB: That’s when they say, “Excuse me, we’re having a conversation here, would you go away?” I think you look for your opportunities whether people are sitting down, standing up, or whether you’re at the door.

Again, I don’t try to put them in a situation where I’m standing at the door, or where they have to do something, or say “hello.”

I may make eye contact with someone, walk up, introduce myself, and find out about the people there.

Then why they’re here, or what they hope to get out of the day.

I don’t always get that involvement, it just depends on the people, and what feels right in the moment in terms of how far to take the conversation.

Even if that’s just getting a few people’s names, and creating some level of familiarity.

Like I said, I used it initially to create a greater comfort level for me at the start. Then over time I kept using it, and got a lot more from it, in terms of incorporating some content from them. I can say, “I just talked to someone in the audience two minutes ago, and here’s the situation I talked about.” That really connects you immediately.

The other thing is your audience doesn’t want to feel like you’re giving the same canned speech you’ve given 1,000 times at every other conference. It has got to feel like this is specifically for them.

Ryan Foland with Leo Bottary - Quote on not canned but specific speech - World of Speakers Podcast (Black) _ Powered by SpeakerHub

You could change the way the slides are done.

Take note of where you are, who you’re with, and say what you’ve got here today was prepared very specially for them. For me, I do that in all cases.

Granted there is a core of content, but it’s wrapped and framed in a way that is going to be very specific to what the needs of that audience are.

RF: That’s a great reverse engineering concept.

You’re literally speaking with the audience members beforehand to build a rapport.

But you’re also able to incorporate some of that into your speech so they feel like it’s catered to them, versus something that’s just plucked off the shelf.

LB: A pet peeve of mine is when an author writes a book. I read the book. I go to hear the author speak about the book. The last thing I want to hear is the author go through and…

RF: Read the book, right?

LB: Yes. I’ve read the book, I’ve got it, you know what I mean? I want to hear the other stuff. I’m always really mindful of that. How can I introduce things?

I also think as another point I’ve definitely found that the more I can reveal of myself, the more I can be vulnerable in front of the audience, the better connection you create there.

I don’t always tell the story of the baton dropping situation, because I hate to tell the story in many ways. But it’s a story, to your point, that connects with people.

Because if they’ve never run track, it doesn’t matter. But they’ll think about a time where they’ve made a mistake, and they’ve been like, oh no, right?

I think there’s also this opportunity whenever we do something bad, inadvertent as it was in my case, to take that experience, learn from it, and bring it into my life in a way that’s positive. That’s the only good thing that came from that.

I’d pay a million dollars to have that moment again, and have won that race as we should have. But at the same time, that experience definitely informed a way of thinking about communication that I may never have developed.

RF: It’s empowering if you think of it that way.

Because you’re talking about authenticity and being vulnerable, but in a way that shares those lessons of failure, which humanizes you at the same time.

Back behind that is a lesson.

LB: No doubt. Or anytime you can just have fun, and be a bit self-deprecating. Every once in awhile I do workshops for Vistage. This was a Vistage speaker series for world class speakers, and I was introduced as a world class speaker. 

I started out saying to the audience, It’s great to be here. I’m glad to be able to replace the world class speaker you’re supposed to have here today. Everyone has fun with that. They laugh. That immediately cuts through and breaks down barriers.

My job isn’t to prove myself to you, or anyone in that audience. It’s not about me. Tony Lowe, who I think is one of the best presentation trainers in the world told a story about when he was young and delivered a speech in South Africa.

He delivered his speech. He came down from the podium.

A guy walked up to him and basically said, “Hey kid, nice speech. Don’t be so selfish next time.” 

Tony immediately knew what he meant and said, “This is why a lot of speakers can get really nervous. They care more about their own performance than they do about the value they’re supposed to be delivering to the audience.”

If you care more about the audience, everybody wins. I think that was a great lesson Tony learned early on. It’s a story he told me that I’ve never forgotten.

Ryan Foland with Leo Bottary - Quote on caring about the audience - World of Speakers Podcast (Grey) _ Powered by SpeakerHub

Every time I try to take on that feeling that I’m being evaluated out there, I have to remember the reason I’m here isn’t because we’re having a speaker contest, and that they’re going to rank me in some way.

I have to let go of all of that and make sure I really care about the audience, the outcomes, and all the things we talked about earlier. That’s what makes for a winning presentation, whether it’s a keynote workshop or whatever.

RF: What I love about these kinds of golden nuggets is that these are things that are conceptual, that anyone can build into.

I’ve got this face dancing theory. The concept is there are two types of bad dancers. The bad dancer who has the good moves, and is trying to apply the moves to the music.

Then you have the bad dancer who is a grandma on a wedding dance floor who is hands down just a terrible dancer.

But there’s something about her moving to the music, and not caring about anybody, not caring about what she looks like.

She’s just having fun, and it’s magnetic. You want to go dance with grandma even though she’s a terrible dancer.

Yet the person on the dance floor who is trying to be good isolates himself, and everyone creates a circle around him. People are like, “I’m not sure.” 

These tips you’re giving are things that anybody can take and incorporate no matter what their speaking level.

I’m going to recap. First of all, we have the Bottary Baton Theory. I think that is a good one.

The Bottary Baton Theory is making sure as a speaker you do not let go of the baton, which is your core message, or your concept throughout your talk until the audience has a handle on it.

I think we’ve all gone to give something to somebody and released it before it has actually been secured, whether it’s a baton or not.

Then you’ve got the Lincoln Length Theory, which is if you can say something in two minutes that takes someone else two hours to say, you might be more memorable, and/or you can pack in more information.

Think about if you spent two hours giving amazing two-minute chunks and nuggets of your best material, they’re just going to assume that you have that much more, so don’t hold back.

Then you’ve got, I’m going to call it the Talk Before Your Talk Theory. Where the more you talk with your audience before your speech, the more tools you have to speak to them in a way so they feel you’re talking to them. #talk.

Then this whole idea of being vulnerable.

But I heard you say something I combined, which I’m going to call it the Bringing Bad Theory.

Not Breaking Bad, because there’s a weird halo with that, but Bringing Bad. Bring all of the bad stuff that has ever happened to you, and use it in a way to connect with the audience.

Humanize yourself. Be authentic, and be genuine.

Ryan Foland - Quote on being authentic and genuine - World of Speakers Podcast (Blue) _ Powered by SpeakerHub

Then the Selfish Speaker Syndrome. Which is if you’re feeling anxiety, or you’re stressed out, look at yourself. You’re likely worried about whether or not you’re sweating through your shirt, whether or not you’re fumbling through your information, whether or not your slides look good.

That takes away from the core message.

You have to understand that your responsibility is to give people something to grab from you. You shouldn’t care whether or not your shoes are untied at that point. I love it.

Well, there’s a whole book there. A speaking theory 101 which everyone can listen and learn from.

RF: So Leo, how do you monetize this? I think what I’m curious about, and what I’ve been trying to learn from you is how to get into these workshop/keynote opportunities with these C-level executives.

Because then you have an audience who actually has money to pay.

If you were to go back in time and help yourself get to where you are faster, or help someone like me, or anyone else who is trying to monetize the information they’re spouting out through their mouth, what are some of the things that work, that don’t work, and things to do or avoid?

LB: For me, I’ve had a real advantage. Because I talk about what matters to so many Vistage groups here in the US, and next year internationally.

Find a group that needs you for more than one gig a year.

In other words, I’m in a situation now with Vistage where they have group meetings all over the country. I did 25 CEO workshops in the first five months or so of this year.

RF: Wait a minute, 25 in the first five months? That’s good.

LB: They were three-hour workshops that were done for CEOs and key executives. The idea was two fold.

It was a self assessment of their peer group. But it also gave them tools in a presentation they could take back to their companies. We could run the same exercises with their teams to make them higher performing in their organizations.

We talked a little earlier about the five factors that are so essential to a high performing peer group. These five factors are also essential to high performing teams.

Those five factors are having the right peers, having a safe and trusting environment, having valuable interaction. That people not only trust one another, and work well together, but they’re actually really productive.

Fourth is that they’re accountable to one another. It’s not just about being accountable to the boss, it’s about having the kind of team that would never ever want to disappoint a colleague. That you hold that trust. Your currency with the rest of your team rests on your ability to do what you say you’re going to do and do it really, really well.

Fifth is to have leadership of those teams that essentially serves as a steward of the other four factors, and offers the kind of servant leadership that’s about making the team successful, not making the leader successful. Obviously, there’s a lot within those five factors.

In the workshops, they talk about high performing teams. Like MullenLowe, that advertising agency I mentioned earlier I used to work for.

We also talk quite a bit about the University of Connecticut women’s basketball team that had 111 consecutive victories last year. They had a margin of victory of more than 40 points a game.

You look at a team that even though they have a hall of fame coach, and they recruit great players, so can Notre Dame, Stanford, and a whole host of other schools. Why are they that much better than everyone else?

In many respects, they have a lot of things going for them certainly. But I would argue that among them their peer to peer culture is like nothing you’ve ever seen. As tough as the coach is on the players, the players have high expectations of one another.

They are there to get better each and every day. They set their own standard of excellence. Which is why just being a little better than the next team is not what they’re about. That’s why they win the way they do.

RF: What I’m hearing is that you’ve taken this opportunity to get in front of a group that meets on a regular basis.

But more so you’re looking at what kind of baton this group wants.

Then you’ve not only empowered them with the workshop component, but you’re giving them crazy tools to take back, and empower others with the information.

The value you’re creating is not just a song and dance workshop of three hours, you’re addressing a core need of that audience.

You’re giving them tools they can take back that have a multiplier effect on the information you’ve given them.

I’m assuming the feedback and the value that provides to that group goes back up the chain. That they’re like, that was amazing.

So Vistage calls you back. They’re like, we need you to do that again 25 more times in the next five months.

Is that value you bring that extends beyond your workshop a big part of why you’re able to get paid?

LB: It is. It’s also when we talk about the power of peers.

When I do a workshop for Vistage Group, and a chair loves it, and members love it, what does he do?

He tells all the other chairs, you’ve got to get this guy to come speak to your group.

When you’ve got that many Vistage Group meetings happening, that is one really great source not only of revenue, but of ongoing learning for me all the time.

There isn’t any time I ever do a workshop like that, whether I’m in front of a group of CEOs, key executives, or small business owners, entrepreneurs where I don’t walk away with some nugget of something I didn’t know before I walked in. It’s a real win win in that way also.

The other source that has been fascinating is as I mentioned, I’ve been an adjunct professor for about a decade now.

Many of my students were mid to senior level executives. Now that they know what I’m doing they ask, “Can you come speak at our conference?” That has been a fascinating thing.

With a lot of the writing I’ve had to do this year, and especially with working on the book now, the thing I need to do more of is dedicate myself to looking at other speaking opportunities more proactively than the things I’ve gotten so far.

It has certainly been a good year this year, and I’ve been very happy with that. But I also want to extend the reach of this. Because I see the power of these workshops. I’ve had CEOs who have said, I did your workshop with my team the very next day, and it was like kaboom.

Because what starts to happen is the team starts to realize their happiness, and their success isn’t something they have to look to the leader for, they look to one another for it.

Once they realize they have the power to make themselves happier, make more money, and be more successful and all that, it makes all the difference in the world.

This is where this peer to peer culture among teams starts to be very, very powerful.

I have CEOs come back and say, “This was really helpful for our group.” 

But then I started getting these conversations going among our people about what does it take to be successful here.

How do we build trust?

How do we do the kinds of things the five factors speak to?

It has been super powerful, and people have really enjoyed it.

It’s gratifying to see when you pointed this out, the extension of that. It’s not even just for the people in the room. The point is to make sure that the reach of that content is extended, and that people get value from it beyond that one workshop on that one day.

RF: I love this idea of putting on a workshop, but giving the audience a workshop to do on their own. That creates this long lasting, long tale of them remembering you.

Like you said, somebody does your workshop, and the next day a CEO says, “I ran this workshop with my team the next day.” 

As opposed to if you just did the workshop, and you didn’t give them any sort of action with resources afterward. I think that’s a key part of why they keep wanting you back.

You said you personally need to start being more proactive. Tell me what your thought process is.

If you had no time commitment to writing the book, and you had all this time dedicated to being proactive, and finding more speaking gigs, what are some of the things you would do? So that selfishly we can all look, and in the nicest way copy. What would you do knowing what you know?

LB: With other speakers I’ve talked to about this, many of them flat out say, “Find yourself someone who works in this space who can book speaking engagements for you. Have someone you trust who understands the content well, who knows you, knows what the needs of these groups are, knows the lead times, knows everything about what to submit to these particular conferences and all.” 

Getting some help, I think, is really important.

Because there are a lot of things that I can be working on that speak to the audience. I can try to constantly improve the presentation, as opposed to dedicating tens of hours trying to get on the phone, or sending emails, or whatever, and be knocking out proposals.

Someone said to me, “If you are doing the work of an assistant, you are an assistant.”

RF: That’s a very key point. Because you want to get out there, hustle, and go track down conferences, get your applications in, and find a call for speakers. But if you do the job of an assistant, you essentially are the assistant, and it lowers your status.

LB: I almost don’t even want to frame it that way. Not only will they do it and free me up to do other things, they’ll do that better than I could do it anyway. I try to think of it more as a real partnership, rather than something that’s below me.

It’s just a question of how do I go about spending my time in a way that is going to be the most valuable for everyone overall.

When we speak about pieces of advice, Lewis Schiff, who is the Founder of the Business Owners Council I think made a great point. I think this is really helpful for speakers, or for anyone doing anything. He said, “So many people follow their passion, and they feel like the money will follow.”

He said, “What you do is follow your passion, but then follow the money." I think that was really brilliant.

What you do is follow your passion, but then follow the money.

Because the idea is to find out who are the people that want to pay for what you love to do, and to focus your energy and time on those particular groups, audiences, organizations, whoever it happens to be.

You’ve talked about this many times in terms of having some real focus. The more we try to be all things to everyone, the more we’re going to mean nothing to anyone. I think there’s an aspect of that too, that when we imagine how do we grow our speaking practice, for example, I think that’s a big part of it.

RF: There’s an amazing documentary I was just turned onto. It’s a four or five part series called The Defiant Ones.

It tracks Jimmy Iovine and Dr. Dre on their two different paths. It’s basically about the history of hip hop, Interscope Records, and everything.

There’s this one really powerful moment where one of them says, “Do you know the reason why horses have blinders on? It’s because if you look to the left or right, you’re going to miss a step.” 

Then it shows this crazy racehorse crash. That image stuck with me.

I think the idea of being focused on a topic, people will automatically think of you, and you’ll be top of mind for that niche. Versus one of many topics that you try to say you speak on. You’re a perfect example.

You’re so niched into the peer group space.

You’ve even written a book on it.

You’ve got a second book coming out.

 If someone were to want someone to speak to a peer group, you’re going to be top of mind. I think that’s a huge piece of the puzzle.

This is good. I’m motivated. I’m going to get my assistant out there who can do a better job than I can of wrangling up some opportunities. I’m going to leverage the people I have to see if I can get into some of these little CEO groups.

I am forever traumatized watching the Olympics from now on thinking about the Baton Theory. But I think all of this is great stuff. Again, it was a pleasure having you today.

Any final thoughts for people who are inspired to become part of this world of speakers? Traveling around the world, or locally, sharing what they have with everyone. Any thoughts of wisdom, or final pieces of advice?

LB: I would say if you can be fearless about getting your audience verbally, and even sometimes physically involved in your talk, you’d be surprised what you can do.

Ryan Foland with Leo Bottary - Quote on being fearless  - World of Speakers Podcast (Blue-Grey) _ Powered by SpeakerHub

Very quickly, and I won’t get into the explanation of it like I do in the CEO workshops. We do an exercise where I have the participants thumb wrestle each other.

You can imagine what that’s like. You think, oh right, these CEOs are going to thumb wrestle? They turn into eight-year-olds faster than you can possibly imagine. It’s the funniest part of the workshop.

Then they realize the larger point about the thumb wrestling exercise. I say they should deliver this, and get their teams to do it. I say, “In the spirit of the fact that you would never ask a team to do something you wouldn’t do yourself, get up.” Everyone gets up, and they thumb wrestle.

It’s a ball. It’s the funniest thing. Yet it might be something you’d be hesitant to do, because it’s like really? They’re going to laugh me out of the room. Oh no. They’re way into it, it is fun.

Don’t be afraid to get them involved, and have a little fun at the same time. You’ll get a really great benefit from it.

RF: Excellent. If somebody wants to connect with you online, what’s your favorite platform for them to do so?

LB: Certainly my website, and my LinkedIn profile. I always invite people to connect with me on LinkedIn. I always enjoy meeting new people, and learning from them on LinkedIn.

I certainly am active on Facebook and Twitter as well. But if people can connect with me at, or look for me on LinkedIn, that would be great. I would love to connect with them.

RF: Awesome. We’ll put all that stuff in the show notes. Leo, it has been a pleasure. Hopefully, we’ll see each other soon, whether it’s in Portugal, a CEO group, or around the world somewhere, somehow. I will then officially challenge you to a thumb wrestling match!

LB: Awesome. I look forward to it.

RF: Thanks Leo. This is Ryan Folond. You are listening to the World of Speakers where we help you learn the tools and tricks to become a world class speaker. If you want to find more podcast episodes, it’s easy. Got to This is the Ginger MC, and I am signing out. Goodbye.


A bit about World of Speakers

World of Speakers is a weekly podcast that helps people find their own voice and teaches them how to use their voice to develop a speaking business.

We cover topics like what works versus what doesn't, ideas on how to give memorable presentations, speaking tips, and ideas on how to build a speaking business.

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