World of Speakers E.106: Mark Willis | Start to Swim Upstream


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World of Speakers E.106: Mark Willis

Ryan Foland speaks with Mark Willis, a certified financial planner, three-time #1 best-selling author, and the owner of Lake Growth Financial Services.

In this episode of our podcast series, Ryan and Mark talk about giving your audience the pathway, showing them different stories, and helping them understand what it means to partner with you.

Tune in for an interview full of ideas and tips on how to validate your speaking style, and a few certain things you should aim to teach your audience. 

Listen to the interview on iTunes or Soundcloud.

Subscribe to World of Speakers on iTunes or Soundcloud.


Welcome to the World of Speakers podcast, brought to you by SpeakerHub. In each episode, we interview a professional speaker and reveal their very best tips and tricks. You'll learn to improve your presentation skills, keep your audience engaged, and learn how to grow your business to get more gigs and make more money. Here's your host, Ryan Foland.

Ryan Foland: Ahoy, everyone, and welcome back to the greatest speaking podcast in history of the world, or maybe it's just called The World of Speakers and I think it's the best because I have fun conversations with speakers all around the world. 

Welcome to The World of Speakers. And today, we have an interesting individual who speaks for money, about money while helping people manage the money that they make, and as a result, probably manages his own money as well. And if I have learned one thing the beginning of each year, it's always great to look at the money that's coming in, the money that's going out, and try to make sure that the following year, you have more money coming in and less money going out.

So I'm excited to get not only some tips here on speaking, but we'll probably wiggle in some, I'm assuming non-financial advice because I don't think we can do that. So this is not financial advice, by the way, but we do have somebody who's a three times number one best-selling co-author. He's a certified financial planner, running Lake Growth Financial Services, and spoiler alert's already there, he's also a speaker.

So everybody, welcome Mark Willis to the stage. Welcome, Mark.

Mark Willis: Hey. Thanks, Ryan. Thanks for having me on.

Ryan Foland: Well, we'd like to kick things off as compelling as possible. So listening to me talk is not going to be it. I want to hear a story, something that shaped you. Now as speakers, we're full of stories, so you're going to have to choose wisely here, but the question is really around a story that comes to mind that you look back and you're like, "Damn, that really changed me as a person. Changed my perspective, changed my life", those are the exciting ones with the thrills or not. What do you think? What comes to mind?

Mark Willis: Yeah. Well, thank you. I've had the privilege of working with clients all over the country to help them in their financial life. Business owners, real estate investors, and even NFL Super Bowl champions, Ryan. 

But most people I work with are just really trying to get a sense of control and manage a sense of certitude agency in their life. I had one guy say, "Mark, I feel like I'm just a tennis ball floating down the gutter of life." And his goal, his aim was to start to swim upstream. I just think that's a beautiful picture of what I try and love to get to do with clients all around the country.

Ryan Foland: Swim upstream in the gutter?

Mark Willis: That's right. Yeah. Hey, you got to start somewhere, man. You got to start somewhere. But taking us back, I remember I was in a dirty hotel room, I was 18 years old and I was with a lady, how's that for a start to a story? Okay?

Ryan Foland: Yeah. Well, it depends. Is this a lady of the night or just a lady?

Mark Willis: Yeah. No, I'm starting it off to... I got to get your attention somehow. So I was 18 years old in a dirty hotel room outside of my college with a lady named Sally May, and for those who don't know, that is the prevailing student loan provider, at least at that time. And I was there as a freshman, not knowing a thing about money, and I was assigning my life away in a way that I did not understand at the time. And my parents just won me in a good college, but it was an expensive private school that we didn't have any business really going to, to be quite candid with you. I'm glad I went. But yeah, seven years later, went through the undergrad in the graduate degree there and stumbled out of that institution with $120,000 of student loan debt shackled around my neck.

Ryan Foland: Ouch.

Mark Willis: And by the way, it was 2008 when I graduated, so a great time to be looking for work.

Ryan Foland: And great job opportunities to jump into that market, for sure, especially in the financial services.

Mark Willis: Yeah, exactly. And I had no background in money and no marketable degree. I didn't get a degree in finance. So it was all up to me and my wife to figure out how the heck are we going to satisfy the beast? I jokingly say I married two women in college, my beautiful wife and Sally May, and I wanted to divorce one of them. And I'm thankfully still married to my beautiful wife and we got rid of Sally.

Ryan Foland: Or at least just pay one of them off enough so that they just go away, right?

Mark Willis: That's right. Yeah, that's right. You got to pay them off. And she sure wanted her rent every month. The man, it felt like a mortgage payment, it felt like a noose around my neck and there was no dangling carrot for student loan forgiveness at that time.

Ryan Foland: Could we call it Salimony instead of alimony?

Mark Willis: Salimony. Yeah, that's good. I'll write that down, man. That's great. I love it.

Ryan Foland: There you go.

Mark Willis: So that's the story, that's where it began. It certainly didn't end there, thankfully. I'll give one little last tidbit to this story and then I'll hush. My first day job after my highfaluting master's degrees and feeling so smart like I was going to conquer the world, was working for a property management company, just grunt labor. And the first day on the job, they put me in a brand new apartment building that they had just purchased and were renovating at the time, okay? So we don't know what's in that thing. And they hand me a shop vac and they tell me to crawl under this elevator that had broken, crawl under it, get on my hands and knees, get in there and suck out all of whatever you could find underneath this nasty old, 30-year old elevator. So I have a way of getting into filthy situations and lowering my ego at the same time, so that's where my life started as a financial seeker, let's say.

Ryan Foland: It sounds like it sucked.

Mark Willis: Yeah. Great point. Yeah. The best vacuums always do, man.

Ryan Foland: Okay, so sometimes, we have to suck in order to, I don't know, in order to-

Mark Willis: Come on, you can turn this metaphor around. Let's go.

Ryan Foland: Yeah, we got to make sure that we suck up all of that experience in order to then bag it up and bring it into a spot that can serve better purpose. And whatever is underneath that elevator, maybe the purpose is in the trash, but as you look and if we vacuum up some of your speaking experiences over the next short while here, we can put it into a bag, it might even be a dirty bag because you can get yourself in these dirty situations, but we can hand this off to our audience, they can take it, they can open it. And as soon as they do, there'll be that crazy puff of all of the dust that comes off, but then there's going to be some subtle, amazing little nuggets that we can find and pull in, pull out of there.

Mark Willis: I'm in awe of that metaphor extension. I think you tortured it about as well as you could have done, man. So well done.

Ryan Foland: Yeah, people are used to that here. They're definitely used to it, but they know the nuggets are going to be worth the weight. So if you had to reach into that vacuum bag and pull out and dust off some of the best things that you've sucked up over the years when it comes to the art of speaking your presentation style, the way that you read the audience, the way that you prepare, my only caveat is that if you get too big, too general, too I already know that kind of thing, then our audience is going to think that. And then I'm just going to keep asking why, dig in and get to the nuggets. 

So what's one that comes to mind that you can dust off and talk about from the art of speaking, whether you're speaking about money, whether you're speaking for money, whether you're speaking about X, y or Z?

Mark Willis: Well, I know you're famous for that, so please hold me to it and give our audience as much value as they came for, man. So let's do it. One of my first and most important things I must do is to invite the audience to know that I am both an expert and I am not that far off from them. So even if you notice, the very first thing I said in this interview was the kind of person I like to work with and have had the privilege of working with all around the country, business owners, real estate investors, NFL Super Bowl champions. But most people I work with are, and that I went on and continued on into that conversation. What I'm doing there is I'm saying, "Hey, you might aspire to be X, Y, Z, one, two, three, but most of the people are not NFL Super Bowl champions that I get to work with.

That is true that I have clients that are all those things, but most people just want more control, agency, sense of assurance, confidence that they're going to meet their financial goals. So I'm giving them both something that they can aspire to and also something that they know that they want. And I do that in the first 10, 15 seconds of the conversation or in this case, a presentation. That's the first thing that I do. Then I try my best to also say, "I'm not Hercules here." I had to figure things out. I've had to struggle along with things as well. It's like Gandalf, right? You might want Superman, but you're going to have more of a guide with Gandalf. Superman, I've never really felt that connected to, he's literally an alien from another planet. He seems to be in invincible, and I just don't really... Except for the kryptonite thing, but I really don't resonate with someone who doesn't get hurt.

I would much prefer someone like Gandalf who literally dies. I can follow him all the way to Mordor. And I think that most financial planners, I'll get off the soapbox in just a second, but most financial planners look more like Superman in that they are impenetrable, they've got it all figured out, they don't have any problems with money, they never fight about money with their spouses. I'll tell you the truth, my wife and I, when we first were getting our financial lives together, we literally had to do our budget conversations at an ice cream shop in case we needed some witnesses for the crimes that we were about to commit, right? We needed to hold ourselves back violence-wise, figuring out this money thing was not an easy task. So I say all that to say I really want to have both something that our clients can aspire to, our listeners, our audience can aspire to, and let them know for sure that I'm not Superman, but I am trying my very best and might be a few steps ahead of most of the audience.

Ryan Foland: Okay. So I'd like to package things in threes and so what I'm hearing here is that the value of not with them but witha, so with them is what's in it for me and you're saying what's in it for aspirations at the end of the day. I've heard of the James Bond start from Josh Linkner, I've heard of the question start from people, but this is an interesting approach to, it's a spin on with them because it is important to let the audience know. And if you're at a YouTube video, best practice is all right, the first three seconds to hook them and the first six seconds to let them know why they're wanting to watch the rest. Sometimes, the captive audience, they can't leave. But I do think that's interesting, a witha concept so that you're getting out of the gates to make sure that you're saying this is who I like to work with, who I aspire to work with.

And then somewhat flipping that to helping them understand that you're there to give them aspirations. My question is how do you... Now, you follow that by humility and then you follow that by relatability, but it's hard to get a second chance at a first impression. So how do you avoid coming across as somebody who's maybe on the arrogant side or assuming that they're going to be your client or not having this seem like it's a little ploy? You're like, "Why aren't you launching into a story? You're selling from the start." I could maybe make that argument, but what do you think? How do you combat that or what is your experience with that? Is that even the case?

Mark Willis: It hasn't been the case for me. And maybe it's the audience's expectation. I think that the best thing we can do is to quickly establish credibility and also humanity. And if you can do that in the first three to five minutes, you'll do well.

Ryan Foland: So the witha is more of a credibility thing, is that what it is? Because it seemed like when I was listening, it seemed like you're setting the fact that it seemed like an aspirational thing, but... No, they're nuanced but what do you think about the difference between those two?

Mark Willis: Oh yeah. Well, I'd be curious. You're right. I'm not trying to necessarily tell them my chops. You've done a great job of that when you set my intro, when you set that stage for the audience, telling them that I'm a three-time number one bestselling co-author and owner of this firm and host of a podcast and all those things. So I have found that if you try to do your own cred sheet, it's a little tougher. It's awkward, but you can stumble through it. But what I try to do is help the client. They don't care who I am. What they want is what's in it for me and what can I get out of this? And the aspirational piece, what am I trying to become and will this person help me get there?

If I'm Frodo and I've got the ring in my pocket, can this guy in gray who looks funny and has a long walking stick, can he take me to where I need to go or can I even trust him? I mean, I think that's honestly the biggest hurdle that financial professionals have, is the trust factor for obvious reasons, but that's for many speakers, I think trust is a big piece of this. So the relatability and then helping them see that you can take them to where they need to go. I think that's the key for what I try to do. Now hey, am I open to suggestions and improvement? Absolutely. That's what I'm here for.

Ryan Foland: Oh yeah. And the great thing about speaking is just a big mesh pot of all kinds of different strategies and the audience temperament is going to determine what it is and the audience size and the medium and all these things. So it's definitely a Rubik's cube, but I do like that the discussion and clarification that this idea of credibility while letting the audience know that you are there for them and that there isn't aspirational, and it's an interesting word, aspirational because it still leaves it up to chance really, right? There's this, you aspire to be something versus somebody who's maybe more superman direct saying like, "I'm going to get you there", or this is the five steps or the three-step plan, or that which can sometimes come across more aggressive, but caveat a lot of people are looking for formulas or things that they can follow.

So let's skip to this number two, which I wrote down as humble and then you ended up referring to it as being human. I'm a big fan of that. My book is called Ditch the Act and the only way to get ahead in business is to be human. I think that sometimes, speakers and their nerves, they tense up or they put on a suit that maybe they think people might want to see or they're putting on a persona that they think fits the brand of what they think people want to work with. And so talk to me a little bit about how you find your authenticity and how you bring your own human out. You brought the story about Superman and not relating to that, but how would you inspire people to... Is it owning their quirk itself? Is it wearing what they want to wear? How would you inspire others to own that human element as opposed to trying to be Superman?

Mark Willis: Well, I think the first thing is giving them a pathway and showing them different stories and helping them understand what it means to partner with you. In this case, the speaker in the room, or in my case, a certified financial planner. So what does it mean to work with a certified financial planner without just sitting there and reading them your general disclosure form and your intake form for your client paperwork that they might have? But it might be that they have a conversation with you without having a conversation with you. So the audience themself, they are wondering as they're listening to you speak on stage, and I'll speak from my own personal experience as a CFP. I want to help them understand what it means to come to my office, whether that's literally or virtually, to sit down in the room, whether it's in the room or over Zoom, over a Screencast or a Zoom meeting or something.

Are they going to have coffee? Is there going to be elevator music playing? Is it going to be lots of parking outside? What kind of things are we going to talk about? What's the feeling going to feel like? And I have a belief that there are always two parts of our brains. And if you're married, it's either one's one type and the other spouse is the other type. And that is one is a technical, logistical framework and one is more of an emotional feeling outcome framework. And both sexes can be either of those things, but you want to be able to speak to both of those people or both of those parts of ourselves. And so this is where you would might maybe say something like, "Hey, when you come to sit down and meet with me, we're going to be here in this room, I'm going to meet with you for 45 minutes. We're going to go over your current financial goals concerns."

And you don't do this all at the very end of the presentation. You're doing this almost as little seed thoughts as you're having the rest of your presentation. So you're giving your content and you're not teaching too much, which we can talk more about. I think most presentations, it's too much didactic teaching, but what you're doing is mostly like, "Hey, so I was meeting with Susie and Bob the other day and we were sitting down in my office and we were having a cup of coffee and we were having a conversation that just was going over some of their financial goals", which is something I like to do with most clients. And then you carry on with the story with Bob and Susie. So what did I just do there without doing it? I just told them-

Ryan Foland: You set the stage.

Mark Willis: I set the stage. Exactly. Yeah. So I told the audience what it means to work with a certified financial planner, what it feels like, what it looks like, the logistics without necessarily hard selling them or anything like that.

Ryan Foland: And for people who do sell from stage, and maybe they're a certain type of consultant or a social media specialist or that they're there to speak on their expertise at an industry conference, this is an interesting setting the scene not just to show credibility, not just to be humble through storytelling and share that you're somebody who came from a place of debt and a place of negative, of literally sucking the bottom of what everybody is most fearful of, which is underneath each elevator that we ride in, and that these things now position you for relatability. But I like this addition of painting the picture or setting the stage in a way where you're not showboating, you're not saying this is what it is like to work with me. You're using it as an intro to a story. And then you even mentioned parking when you're doing that. So I was thinking, how would you incorporate that? Because there's some of these elements like you dropped in the coffee and the plush seats and I assumed that they were plush. You probably could have said plush or something, but it left it up by imagination.

Mark Willis: I didn't use the word plush, Ryan, but here's that... That's the beauty here. You started to imagine on your own... I didn't use the word plush, I don't think. I mean, you could go back and listen, but I don't think I did.

Ryan Foland: But I want to know how plush your seats are. I want to know if I'm right.

Mark Willis: Yeah, they better be plush.

Ryan Foland: How plush are your seats on a scale of one to 10?

Mark Willis: Yeah. No, let's say-

Ryan Foland: On a scale of one to 10. Let's be real here.

Mark Willis: Can we make it a 12? Because I like those overstuffed leather seats, man. They're great. Yeah. No, you're exactly right. I think you've hit the nail on the head. What we want is just, we want something that is episodic. It's not a long diatribe, it's a specific zap into a conversation, a relatable conversation that helps your audience know that you're both extraordinary and ordinary at the same time that you can solve their problem, whatever their problem is. The problem of too much student loan debt, the problem of how do we overcome this problem of paying cash for our cars or going into debt to buy our cars or whatever the issue is that the financial planner is there to address.

Ryan Foland: Yeah, fill in the blank of the service that you would provide. And especially for these informational speakers and people who have books and who are speaking to these different topics and themes, I've heard so many case studies, I've heard so many, "Look at where this person was, I brought them from here to here using my five-step, my 10-step, my three-step, my two-step, my whatever step", but just the addition of explaining how those interactions happened or as a result of meeting online and in person or as a result of this, I'd love to meet my students at a certain space or place or something. It's just a little bit that sets up people filling in those dots. And one thing, when I do teach about storytelling, one of the things that I love to share is helping people understand where the story is? Who is there?What is happening? What sounds are there? What the smells are there, the senses?

Because as humans, when we walk into an environment, unconsciously, we identify where the nearest exit is, we determine whether it's hot or cold. We look at making sure that we're not stepping on anything. We know where the walls are so we don't bump into it, and it all happens almost instantaneously, like you know how high the ceiling is. And then once you're comfortable with your surroundings, then and only then, your brain's like, "Okay, wait, who's talking? Who am I supposed to pay attention to?" And so helping to set that scene but in a way so that they can see themselves in your story, I think is the human part.

And you can do that without touting success. I love teaching about how people don't care about your success. If you actually say that you're Superman too much, you're going to be not like them, right? And they might not tell you, they're going to back away and you'll lose people because they just don't relate to you, but people care about how they see themselves in your story. And if you're describing the couple that's sitting, they'll think, "Oh, this guy works with couples."

Mark Willis: I think it's a great way to vet your own speaking capability to count how many people, after your speaking is done and the show's over, how many people came up to you and said, "That same thing happened to me." I think that would be a great way to validate your speaking style. If you're speaking too extraordinary, if you're speaking like Superman, they're going to say, "Wow, what a great speech. That was incredibly moving. I love the stories. That was an amazing... You saved that person from falling from a five-story building. That's incredible." Well, okay, I want to hear more people say, "Mark, that same thing happened to me." I want after conversation. That's, to me, is the picture of success of a good speech. Now if I was trying to move a nation, if I was a president or something, maybe I would have a different goal, but my aim, personally as a speaker, is to get people to come up and have a conversation one-on-one where I get to listen to them about how it's also been their experience, but they struggled with tons of student loan debt or X, Y, Z.

Ryan Foland: Yeah. Well, I am still sitting on my student loan debt, so I heard that story. I'm like, "Salimony, terrible. Every month she gets me."

Mark Willis: That's right. Salimony.

Ryan Foland: So I just want, because I was intrigued about this idea of teaching too much and so I want to give you a small challenge of how can you describe in a minute or less, like Toastmaster style, more than a minute, but less than two minutes because I think we could have a whole episode on this, but what's the prime juice when it comes to people teaching too much?

Mark Willis: The prime juice? Give me a bit more context.

Ryan Foland: So you mentioned that, just as an aside, that people teach too much and you said that typically, presentations have a way too much teaching. And so I think that's an interesting thread to pull, but from a time sake, we can't pull a whole yarn or a whole spool of thread. So just for fun, as a speaking exercise. And are you familiar with Toastmasters?

Mark Willis: Yeah.

Ryan Foland: So big Toastmaster fan and Table Topics is a great way to practice extemporaneous speaking. And so you have to speak more than a minute, but less than two minutes. So there's a window there and there's also a mystery word that you have to add in. So I'm going to do a mystery word and the mystery word, the phrase is, as parking... Because I want to see if you can whittle in parking, just as a keyword, to a Table Topic question of why it's bad if people on stage teach too much. Do you understand the prompt now?

Mark Willis: Okay, yeah. So the prompt is two minutes or less talking about why there's too much teaching in presentations and somehow squeeze in the word parking?

Ryan Foland: You got it. Okay, here we go.

Mark Willis: Love it. Thanks for this. This is the stuff I love about your shows, man.

Ryan Foland: Action.

Mark Willis: Yeah. All right. So you're teaching too much. What is it you need to actually convey? There's only a few certain things you need to teach your audience. As a financial planner, I can get stuck in beta standard deviations and other random calculations with spreadsheets galore on the screen and no one pays attention. 

What do I need to say? I need to teach them that what I'm saying is something that other people, and specifically their other financial advisor, is not saying. That's the first thing. I'm saying something that other people are not saying. Number two, I need to teach them why there is an urgency. And number three, I need to teach them that why, what I talk about the answers to their really big questions that they had when they walked in tonight. So that's the three things that they were thinking about. Their pain, their concerns when they were parking, their car and getting into the room to hear me speak. They had these concerns financially. And now, I'm here to tell them why I have the answers. That's the only thing I need to do as far as teaching.

Ryan Foland: All right. And you'd literally hook, congratulations, I was waiting for the parking. You slip that in there. And do you want to guess how long that was?

Mark Willis: I don't know, a minute and 45 seconds maybe?

Ryan Foland: It was actually a minute and four seconds.

Mark Willis: All right.

Ryan Foland: So it's funny, it's just a good time and spatial awareness. And one thing I always like to geek out on from sharpening my own speaking acts is to try to be able to speak extemporaneously, but understanding exactly what 30 seconds is or exactly what a minute is, especially even from a podcasting perspective. And you understand sometimes, we get excited to speak too much. So it's like I need to say this in 10 seconds, but actually thinking about it, saying it and recognizing when 10 seconds is up, it's truly an art form that you have to continue to practice. So good job there.

Mark Willis: Yeah. Well, Abraham Lincoln said it best. He said, "If I..." Was it him? No, it was-

Ryan Foland: It was claimed to be him. And if he had six hours to cut down a tree, he would spend five hours or so sharpening that axe.

Mark Willis: Oh, yeah. Well, I'm sorry, I was thinking about John Adams, I think he's... I forget now. Maybe it was one of these presidents.

Ryan Foland: Okay, so another tip here for speaking is if you're going to use a historical reference from president, just make sure you know who it is.

Mark Willis: Yeah. Well, it was Abraham Lincoln who says, "Why does everyone keep misquoting me on the internet?" I think that was Abraham Lincoln.

Ryan Foland: Yeah, that was good.

Mark Willis: Yeah.

Ryan Foland: Right next to the statistics that all statistics are actually not accurate as well.

Mark Willis: But the original quotas I was going for and then failing on the author was, "If I had had more time, I would've written you a shorter letter."

Ryan Foland: And I actually use that in emails all the time because I type really fast. I also geek out on typing. And the more speed at which I can type, my keyboard is on a musical instrument and my gosh, my fingers are just on fire sometimes and I don't have the time to really think it through. All right, time to transition. This is the part of the show where we talk about how you use the stage to build your business. And for anybody listening, I will encourage them to draw the parallels, the parallel parking between being a financial advisor and being a blank advisor, a brand advisor, a social media advisor, a fill in the blank advisor. And that's what I love about this as an art form and a business, is that what works for you could totally work for me if I sell widgets or sell sailboats or things like that. So tell us what comes to mind from the things that have worked the most so that we can translate that to our businesses.

Mark Willis: Emotional stories, I think. Some key thing that you want your listeners to feel.

Ryan Foland: So that builds your business? That's a business builder?

Mark Willis: Oh, well, good point.

Ryan Foland: That feels like a section before. We're moved on to tangible things that you're doing to move the business needle to get more, book more clients even or to book more stages kind of stuff.

Mark Willis: Yeah. To me, the point, and this is a business model, my reason for traveling across the country to speak on stages is so that I can have those off the stage one-on-one discussions and get contact information to speak with individuals about their personal goals and to help separately on other stages where I'm speaking more to financial professionals. My aim there is to, again, have an offline one-on-one conversation with them off the stage to help them in the training programs and the success systems that we've built for the financial professional. So those are the two different purposes for speaking for me. I don't sell my books often. I don't see them as my primary product. My product is my financial planning for clients and my training for successful financial professionals.

Ryan Foland: Okay. So what tactics do you use to increase the number of post talk conversations? That is an interesting threat to pull because as a default, you end up... It even batters on the space or even if there's something, somebody comes right behind you, sometimes in a session, literally people are mopping you to talk and there's not enough and there's a line and the next speaker's supposed to start so they're trying to usher you out. Talk to me through some tactics around how you have gotten better at achieving that goal, which is a business builder.

Mark Willis: We put a QR code on every handout where they can go right to my online landing page and can sign up to be on my calendar so that they don't have to rush the stage, that they can have a one-on-one meeting with me over the phone over the next two weeks.

Ryan Foland: So you physically give a flyer?

Mark Willis: Yep.

Ryan Foland: What happens in a digital situation?

Mark Willis: I'll put it on the screen. It's the first slide and it's on the footer of every slide and it's also on the last slide.

Ryan Foland: And that's to a link to your calendar?

Mark Willis: Yep. And so typically, I'll say, "Here's the title of my presentation." The second slide is, "Here's how... If you are in a hurry and you can't stay for the whole thing, please take a picture of this code and you can meet with me after." And then I go into my presentation. Then throughout, I'll say, as I'm dropping candy in the lobby as I say, is I'm really giving the very best part of the conversation.

Ryan Foland: Dropping candy in the lobby?

Mark Willis: Yeah.

Ryan Foland: I like that.

Mark Willis: As I'm giving the very best of the presentation, I'll say, "If you want more of this, this is just a taste of what we're able to do for our clients. Here's where you can reach out to me."

Ryan Foland: Because you're not going to teach too much. You're not going to give the whole bag of vacuumed goods.

Mark Willis: No, that's right. Yeah. You can't do that in even a 45-minute presentation. No. You want to give people an emotional story, teach them just a little bit, teach them why there's a sense of urgency, teach them why you believe you can help them with the problems they had when they were parking that car coming into the presentation that night. So yeah, you want to give them a couple of ways tactically. And so yeah, the QR codes have been helpful, especially post-Covid. Folks hated those QRs before Covid. I still hate them out of just personal, just I think they look ugly, but the new ones now, they can put your logo right inside the QR code and that's cheesy and chintzy and fun at the same time.

Beyond that, I'd always bring a buddy or two who can help man the table if there's going to be a table and can help coordinate the crowds and even put a line up if there needs to be a line of people who are going to talk to me afterwards. So we have a logistics crowd control/man the table person. And generally speaking, we have iPads where folks can go to our table and sign up on our calendar right there as well.

Ryan Foland: Flyers, QR codes, buddies and more. I like it.

Mark Willis: Yeah, that's right. A little bit of organic, little bit of digital.

Ryan Foland: Now, do you know what QR stands for? Just a little random pop quiz.

Mark Willis: No. Tell me.

Ryan Foland: You want to take a guess? Just, I mean, I think this is-

Mark Willis: QR.

Ryan Foland: Okay, so I'll give you a hint. What, is it fast or slow?

Mark Willis: Quick response I guess. Yeah.

Ryan Foland: Yeah.

Mark Willis: All right, cool.

Ryan Foland: There you go. So I think that's so funny because people, we use it, we know about it, but we don't know what the QR means. And so this isn't just to throw you under the bus, this was to help throw you under the bus, we'll call it the love bus. So everybody else who hears this episode, they can be like, "Hey, do you know what that means?"

Mark Willis: Well, do you know why they call it a 401k?

Ryan Foland: That's because, oh, let's see, because you're... It rhymes with my money goes away.

Mark Willis: It's 401 not okay. Yeah, no, it's the section of the tax code, 401 subsection K is where they wrote in the tax deferral nature of the 401k. Do you know how old the 401k is? Then I'll get back to your questions.

Ryan Foland: 401 years old?

Mark Willis: A good guess. Yeah, it's actually so young, it's not even old enough to retire yet. It's only 40 years old this year. The first 401K was in 1982. Today, as of recording, it's 2002 or 2022. So we're just talking about a middle-aged dude with a dad bod, called it 401k. And it's a giant experiment, man. It's a giant experiment. We're all living through it. So anyway, back to presenting and conversations.

Ryan Foland: No, that's interesting. So one fun, I mean, we're already off topic. So something I learned the other day, do you know how to tell the difference between a crow and a raven?

Mark Willis: Oh, I can tell you this. It's a matter of opinion.

Ryan Foland: Yes.

Mark Willis: I'm a dad, man. I know these jokes.

Ryan Foland: All right. Well, if anybody's curious, they're going to have to look that one up, but that was a new one. And so I'm just using my stage here to practice.

Mark Willis: Love it.

Ryan Foland: Okay. I think what I'm liking about your strategy is that it feels like it's strategy. And when I think strategy, you actually have a purpose of why you're doing it. So much of the time as a speaker, especially as you're starting off, your focus is on the stage, but your literally focus is on what happens after the stage. And that truly is something that is the butterfly flap that might make a huge difference between you now and you in five years, aside from the people you meet in the books you read. But so much effort goes into getting on stage, and I think it sometimes blindsides us with the amount of work that we should be doing to make sure that once we are off the stage, we are maximizing that experience. And so this idea of flyers, super old school, but I don't know.

And with QR code, you literally could make it into a little square, probably even a square business card or something super easy that has a little bit of texture to it and it's nice. And then the idea of a virtual reminder as your second slide, giving them a heads up if they need to leave early because always, people are dropping off. So giving them that call to action before you've even built trust, but that's part of your initial stage of setting those aspirations. You're giving them something to grab or grasp onto. And at the end of the day, they're trying to grab onto you and your time. So the fact that you have a QR code on every single presentation slide, I like that because you're leaving the opportunity for people to grab it if they want. And again, it's just back to your time and your calendar.

And that seems to be nice and strategic. The fact you've got some people there, which is great to help crowd control. So I can see how that has built a significant amount of round swell to where you know why you're up on stage speaking, it's to build and grow the business. Okay. Now final piece of advice, and we can do another two-minute Toastmasters Table Topics, but I'm curious, your best financial advice for a professional speaker. And keyword that you have to throw in here just for fun, let me look at my notes for some inspiration, is lake.

Mark Willis: Just the word lake? And my prompt is the best financial advice?

Ryan Foland: Your best advice for a professional speaker who maybe hasn't thought about the financial planning's aspect, they're just hand in mouth, getting off stage, doing it, build their business, listen to this podcast, growing but what would you tell a professional speaker?

Mark Willis: Well, if it starts with like most businesses, your business did not get just a 401K that just dropped out of the sky. I'm going to just assume that, that you didn't just wake up, start your business as a public speaker and all of a sudden, you just got your retirement plan from the mountains, right?

Ryan Foland: And if anything, it would be an SE... What is it? Self-employment retirement fund.

Mark Willis: Sep. Yeah. Simplified Employee Pension. And those are not dropped out of the sky either. And if you did that, good for you for thinking long-range, but I'd like you to start asking yourself, "Hey. One, retirement's coming anyway. Whether you like it or not, 60% of people are forced into retirement. Whether they want it or not, 60%, either their own health or they're caring for the health of a loved one, forces them into their own retirement before they're ready." And the other question is, have you looked into what you want your money doing for you? So my advice is to journal, this is free. You don't have to call a fancy CFP to talk about this. You can grab a journal, answer this one question, what do I want my money doing for me? And another side prompt to this is get a magic wand out of your desk drawer, because I know you have one, wave that magic wand and create on paper a brand new financial product. I don't know what it's going to be. I don't know what kind of characteristics it's going to have.

Ryan Foland: Interesting. Whatever it will be, it will definitely be Ginger.

Mark Willis: Yeah. Just design for me, like you're Jerome Powell, Federal Reserve chairman. You get to just wave that wand and create a brand new financial product that can have any kind of characteristics, that can have infinite returns. It can be tax-free all the time, it can be a private and unavailable for people to sue you and take it away from you, it could be used as collateral, it could be funded whether you put money into it or not. Just write that list of the best characteristics for money and then go to your financial guy or gal or call me, if you want to, and we'll look for the things that most closely associate itself with those characteristics, that list. Too many people do it in reverse. They just get handed their 401k, they get handed a bunch of credit card debt, they get handed a Roth IRA or some crypto because they thought it was cool, and now, they just got all this stuff in their backpack weighing them down.

I think for a lot of speakers, it's tight early on. You need access to capital, you need liquid cash, you need to be able to go on big, extended trips. A lot of time in the airport or virtually speaking, you got to market yourself with a lot of cash outlay. So locking all that money up in a Simplified Employee Pension or a 401k or a SEP IRA is not always the best deal. Where was it written that you have to tie your money up for 20, 30, 40 years?

There are other financial tools that do not lock that money up that can be used for retirement but still be used today for your business growth and more because your business is very likely your greatest investment because you have the most control over it and can hopefully see the most yield. So that's my basic advice, is to write down that list of things that you love about money. Even if you think it might not be legal to write all this stuff down, it is legal to write down your thoughts. Believe me, at least in this country for now, you can still write your own thoughts down and then go look for the financial plan that most closely associates what you want.

Ryan Foland: And then after I meet with you, I'll take that piece of paper journal, I'll crumple it up into a ball, we'll go down, we'll throw it in the lake and then we'll watch the ripples that it creates.

Mark Willis: Oh, lake. Lake, yeah. Yep. I got off on my soapbox there.

Ryan Foland: That's okay. You were also a minute and 36 over as well, but who's counting? It's okay, we're having conversation. It's okay.

Mark Willis: Yeah, that's right.

Ryan Foland: Well hey, speaking of getting your time, I don't have a QR code to visually or auditorially share with people. So how do people get in touch with you, Mark, if they want to talk about speaking, if they want to talk about financing, if they want to talk about journaling? What do you think?

Mark Willis: Well, if you're sick and tired of getting the same old financial advice from your oh so average financial pundits on the radio or on the TV or worse, the guy who or gal who's charging you a fee to work with your money and lose it, especially this year, I can help. You can reach me at, kickstart with Mark, with a K, .com, and we can chat about your situation, see if I can be a good partner, a guide for you. If you want your money to be as peaceful as a lake, go to

Ryan Foland: Awesome. But I actually heard in a recent podcast in my Good Jibes Podcast, my Sailing Podcast, somebody who was talking about Lake Michigan and I was just naive and I was like, "Oh, that's got to be pretty mellow" and they're like, "No, the Lake Michigan can be crazy." So I think lakes are a good analogy of your finances. It can be rough or it can be smooth. I think we all want that smooth lake, but the tide that continues to rise.

Mark Willis: Mm-hmm.

Ryan Foland: Well good. This is fun. I feel like I've learned some stuff and that means everybody hopefully has as well. And I think that this episode totally sucked. A lot of good stuff up from the bottom of that elevator that we're all riding because we're all out there dropping stuff and it's fun to suck it up and put it into a package that works. And I can see how this is working for you, so thanks for your time today. And for those of you who want to learn about the new financial program called Ginger K, which is coming out soon on my journal near me, you can always connect with me if you're interested on how I teach people about storytelling. If you want to learn how to build a brand and ditch the act so that you can be yourself and still have people actually want to do business with you, you can find more about me online. And I know, Mark, you've got a cool URL as well, but mine is If you remember my name, Ryan, like Ryan Lion, that Ginger Lion, you want to find me online, it's

So hey, it's all about being creative, making it stick. And if you want to talk after the stage, then just come find me down. And if there's a line, my buddies are going to help to corral them. And worst case, just scan this QR code in front of you. We'll talk to you soon. All right, thanks, Mark. We will talk to you soon. Somebody will.

Mark Willis: Great stuff.

Ryan Foland: All right, we'll see you everybody. Oh, and wait. Before we go, I have to be gracious and thank who we're powered by and that is SpeakerHub. If you're a speaker and you're not on SpeakerHub yet, you're missing out because it's a place where you can profile you as a speaker.

And Mark, we're going to get you set up with the VIP so we'll get you on there. That means if somebody wants to book you, they can just go to SpeakerHub. 

If you're a speaker on SpeakerHub and you want to search for events and call for speakers, there's an engine for that. You can build your one-pager, you can create a little button or bug for your signature. All kinds of cool stuff. I'm a big fan. I'm there as well. 

And you can find that also through, 

All right. Mark, we're now out of here. We've done what we need to do. We'll see you out on the lake or in a parking lot soon.


A bit about World of Speakers

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

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