Ryan Foland speaks with Josh Linkner, a high-level speaker, jazz musician, tech entrepreneur, and New York Times bestselling author. Get ready for a whirlwind of tips and tricks for building your speaking business.
Ryan and Josh dive right into some high-level advice for emerging and mid-level speakers. This interview is jammed packed with advice that speakers at all levels can start using immediately. The advice will make an impact on your business and help you reach the next level.
Listen to this podcast to find out:
- Clear and practical advice on the 7 things you need to make money as a speaker
- Why you need a very specific niche as a speaker and how it will set you apart and get you hired
- Whether or not you should consider working with a speaker’s bureau
- Why you need a super-fast response time when it comes to emails and offers
- How to structure your presentation to make the greatest impact
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Ryan Foland: Ahoy everybody. This is Ryan and we are back with another World of Speakers episode.
Today I am super pumped because we've got Josh Linkner. Not only is he a tech entrepreneur/ tech wizard, he's a New York Times bestselling author.
He is an innovation guru and when it comes to speaking, he is in the 1 — that is the number 1, 1% of those keynote speakers out there.
He's probably the one guy that people call when it comes to innovation.
He is harnessing it for companies and he's giving back to the world of speakers with a crazy day bootcamp and support for those that want to emulate his success.
Josh Linkner, welcome to the show.
Josh Linkner: Thanks so much. Great to join you.
Ryan Foland: Absolutely.
To start off, for people who don't know who you are, I want them to know about you in terms of a story that reflects who you are.
Instead of just listing off these accolades, and you have a ton — what's a story from your past that you think represents kind of who you are as a person and what you're up to in the world?
Josh Linkner: I started my career as a jazz guitarist, and I would often take gigs because I was playing music and trying to make a living, and also it's an improvisational art form.
People would call and say, "Hey, I'm looking for a guitar player for Saturday night's thing. We're looking for a little heavy metal influence with some country flair and a bit of classical overtones."
I'd say, "Awesome. I've just been playing that. Sign me up. Let's go."
The reason I bring this up is that for me, what's been the driver of my success, both in jazz as well as a lot of success in business, is the ability to improvise, the ability to make the best of situations that aren't scripted, and innovate in real time.
While I've had the privilege to do that a bit in the world of jazz, I've had more experience actually in the business world: starting, building and selling five tech companies and then launching a venture capital fund and investing in about 100 other startups.
Ryan Foland: Okay, this improvisation, that's pretty hand in hand when it comes to jazz. Would you say that that improvisation is also a driving force in the tech world and in this entrepreneurship?
Or do you feel that there's this regimented path that needs to be followed?
Or is it a combination?
Josh Linkner: For me actually, playing jazz was the best MBA I could have had because those skills are totally transferable, whether you're running a start-up or you're running a larger organization.
The thing is this, in the past maybe the metaphor of leadership was that of a classical conductor, one person standing in the center of the room, the CEO commanding the troops to play the notes exactly as they're written on the page.
It was all about alignment and precision and accuracy.
Today, that world doesn't exist.
Today we live in a world of dizzying speed, exponential complexity, and ruthless competition.
We have to perform at our best with the notes not on the page.
We have to make it up as we go, and so the skills that I learned playing jazz in smoky clubs around the country are perfectly translatable into the world of entrepreneurship and even, larger organizations.
That's what we basically have to do today to win. We have to be jazz musicians.
We have to innovate, we have to improvise, we have to adapt, we have to be agile and that's exactly what I learned from playing jazz.
Ryan Foland: Does that same type of improvisation apply for somebody who is looking at creating a career around speaking?
Josh Linkner: Yeah, I'm glad you asked that. Absolutely.
Funnily enough, being on a lot of stages playing music was a wonderful prep for being on a lot of stages as a keynote speaker.
There are really some elements of that, I think especially in the sales process, when you're adapting to a client’s needs, when you're innovating to their desires and their objectives for sure.
If you just run your script and game plan, I don't think that the speaking world today wants that.
They want custom craft and solutions that are going to benefit their audience and your host.
At the same time, in jazz, you also practice like crazy, and so you practice in your room in the dark so that you shine brightly on stage because you played something, you've mastered your craft.
I think one complaint that I have about the world of professional speaking is that people say, "Well, I gave a great toast at my aunt's wedding, I'm a professional speaker."
I would encourage people to study the craft in the same way a musician works on scales and chords.
Similarly, I think that you can learn a lot with that that you are giving a performance and it's got to be tight, and it's got to be not necessarily scripted to the teeth, but you have to be good at the craft.
Ryan Foland: Speaking of practice, just getting a little bit more into your head and your methodology, because starting and selling as many companies as you have, being a musician who is using your words as basically a vocal jazz, when did you start getting turned on to just jazz?
And then, the same question when it comes to speaking as its own musical form?
Josh Linkner: I've been playing jazz, it sounds crazy, I'm 48, but I've been playing jazz for 38 years. I started playing jazz when I was 10. It's been a passion of mine.
By the way, anyone listening doesn't need to like or listen to jazz, you probably have your own passion.
Someone might be passionate about theatre, or sports, or painted art, but I'm hoping that we can all be artists in the world of keynote speaking.
In terms of that, the second part of your question, as a CEO I found myself giving a lot of talks at conferences and industry events, and I always really enjoyed it.
I felt like I was in the groove not only because it's fun, but also because I was able to make an impact on people's lives.
I realized that I was a pretty good amateur, but I figured I’d got to at least become a bad professional.
In the same way that I went to the Berklee School of Music and learned to play music, I took it seriously. I studied with a speaking coach for a good 12 months.
I still to this day, years and years later, I watch tapes of other speakers, I watch tapes of myself.
I study storytelling, I look at the technical aspects of the craft, everything from gesture to posture to vocal intonation.
To me, I try to apply the same rigor and discipline that I had in playing music and ultimately growing a business, to the world of professional speaking, and that has been about 10 years or so in the making.
Ryan Foland: Were you a sports guy at all, dude?
Did you have any sports in your life?
Josh Linkner: Yeah, I was the guy that the sports guys beat up.
I was a music nerd, so no. Nothing wrong with sports, but my passion has always been more on the artsy side.
Ryan Foland: Right. Well, the way that you're talking about the practice and the regiment and the dedication to it, it made me think that you were watching tapes of different teams and analyzing the different plays and coming up with your own playbooks and to that extent.
It's interesting, there's this very tactical piece behind the passion.
What seems ironic is that as you get to a higher and higher level, the technique seems to be more like mystique and you become more natural.
It's like the more technical and the more involved you are in studying the nitty-gritty, the less it appears that you're being technical in the nitty-gritty, you're just that authentic real person who knows what they're talking about.
Did you find that there's an inflection point or is it just this constant moving curve where the more that you're training is to be in a spot where it looks like you’re a natural, right?
It's kind of that Catch-22?
Josh Linkner: It reminds me of the old quote that, “The more I practice, the better I get.”
Yeah, so that's true in sports, in music, and really all forms of professional pursuit.
I would just encourage people to look at it exactly like that, whatever.
If you study medicine, you go to medical school for 18 years and then you work on your craft and you're an intern, and then you're a resident and then you really learn your craft.
I think as keynote speakers, we too often look past that, we'd say,
"Oh, I've got all these cool stories and I can just get up there and chat."
Nothing wrong with taking the first step — by the way, you don't have to be perfect on Day 1, of course not.
I do encourage people to take it seriously as if it was another profession such as law or medicine or something else.
And for me, to answer your question about the inflection point, there have been many but really I'd say it's more continuous and the recommendation that I would have to the listeners is to try to put the you of six months ago out of business, every six months.
For me, I tend to think about it in six months spurts, so I think I'm a better speaker today than I was six months ago.
I hope that six months from now, I put my today’s self out of business. To a degree, it's almost like reinventing yourself each six months.
Now, this doesn't have to mean you need all new content every six months, although keeping content fresh is important.
I'm talking about everything from how you shake the hand of the introducing person on stage to the way that you engage with your body on the stage with the audience, to the way that you have nuance and pauses at the right moments in your storytelling.
I'm always trying to improve and it's not a destination point, it's an ongoing practice.
People practice music or practice medicine, the same thing, we should practice speaking.
No matter how high we get, there's always room for improvement, there's always a way to make a bigger impact on your audience and hosts.
Ryan Foland: Now I’ll attest to that because we had met and you told me about this 3 Ring Circus.
I was introduced to you I believe by Tiffany Bova, but it's a small world and you put together this one-day workshop, which was really eye-opening for me.
If anybody is out there and wants to have their eyes opened as far as the speaking world is concerned, check out the 3RingCircus.com.
Josh, if you were to give your high-level overview of the reason why you started that, I think that's what's most interesting to me.
We could talk all day and we will talk about some of the stuff that you're saying, but really, why is it that you started a circus so far into your career?
Josh Linkner: To be clear what this is: we run quarterly one-day bootcamps where we train emerging speakers and even seasoned pros on how to take their speaking business to the next level.
This is all the things that you need to do off-stage so that you get on stage at higher fees and higher volumes.
The reason I did it, Ryan, great question, when I started doing this, I was able to find an amazing speaking coach.
There was wonderful support, high-quality support, on how to hone my craft on stage, but the options of how to learn what to do off-stage were terrible.
I thought the zillion dollar speaker and people who spell the word success with dollar signs, all this cheesy nonsense that made me want to take a shower.
I felt that our industry desperately needed a high-quality relevant, not what worked in 1982 but relevant today, of how to build and scale a speaking business.
I felt that there was such an important need and people would always ask me like, "Hey, I want to do this. How do I do it?"
My partners and I wanted to give back to our community which we love deeply, speaking and bureaus and such, and so we did this, we created a company.
It's a funny play on words, 3 Ring Circus, the number 3, it's sort of being a little bit self-mocking and making, "Hey, it's a circus out there", but it's anything but frivolous, it's quite the opposite.
We take a very serious, disciplined and rigorous approach, and we sort of dissected the world of professional speaking.
How did the decision get made? Why is one person a $50,000 speaker and another one's a $5,000 speaker?
And we take a very systematic approach, and with the help of a small group of people, each quarter we build and scale peoples’ speaking businesses.
Ryan Foland: What I admire is that this is one of, if not the only workshop, bootcamp, sort of organization that's led by somebody who is on stage as much as you are.
I know a lot of people have these workshops and training, like you're saying spelling success with dollar signs, and these people are making money off of telling people how to get on stage — but they're not necessarily on the stage doing it themselves.
So to give our listeners just a sort of a high-level view, what did you clock in for last year from your speaking engagements, and maybe what are you on track for this year. Just to give people an idea of how active you are on stage?
Josh Linkner: Thanks for asking. I don't say this in a boastful way at all. I'm proud of our success, but I'm deeply humble and encourage others as well.
Just to answer your question because I'm very transparent and open, last year I did 163 paid keynotes and my current fee is 35K.
If you do the math, it's well over $4M of speaking revenue.
I don't say that to be boastful at all, but what we've done is we've been able to build a systematic approach to building and scaling a speaking business. Even in terms of inquiries.
Today we get 5 to 15 inbound inquiries every single day.
I'm pretty good onstage. It's not like being self-deprecating, but the stuff that we do offstage is much more cool than what we do onstage.
That's what we like to share. It's this systematic business approach to scaling and really growing a speaking business.
Ryan Foland: Let's dive into this because I've been there in person and I follow monthly webinars, and I've met so many great people, even just from the relationships that I've built there.
It is a very small environment, and it's high impact, and even your production level — it was like you had lighting and sound and all kinds of crazy stuff.
I really didn't know what I was getting into before I went, and I've just been speaking the praises since, and it's definitely given me a direction and a focus.
One of the things that I appreciate is that I like to believe that successful speakers, they're not doing things that everybody cannot do; successful speakers are doing things that everyone can do, but not everyone does.
You brought so many simple and powerful smacks across the face, where it's like, "Wow, you're right, the answer is right there and it's simple." And I think that's really powerful.
Before we get into the mechanics that you teach about getting onto the stage, I want to spend a little bit of time to have you basically share with us some of the top tactical things that you've learned: to beat yourself every six months; to be the best that you can be when it comes to delivering the speech.
Are there any tips that stand out, or things where you just watch somebody and you're like,
"Wow, I wish I could sit with you for a few minutes and just give you a couple of little speaking tips."
What would be the ones that percolate to the top?
Josh Linkner: Like any performance, it's an integrated message between physical performing, and contents, and everything else.
Just a couple of random tips: one thing I think is important is that a good speech is like a good play or a good book, and there's a clear beginning, middle, and an end.
You're taking people on a bit of a journey.
For me that formula is actually pretty simple — if you have a 60-minute keynote, the first 15 minutes or so is about the problem that you're solving.
What's the burning problem that your audience faces for which you have the perfect solution?
Then that middle section, let's say that's maybe 35 or 40 minutes, that's the core of your talk, which I find works really well if it's centered around a numbered list: “The five keys to brilliant customer service’ or “The three most important things to maintaining a healthy lifestyle”.
And so a numbered list is good because it provides markers to the audience, they can sort of follow along.
And then the last piece, the last five or eight minutes or so, that's the closing and that's the big finale.
It's handing the baton back to the audience, allowing them to take the next step and really giving them a next step that they can take to put these ideas into action.
So one thing is structure, which I just described.
Another quick tip is that speakers often blow the two biggest opportunities.
The biggest opportunity is like a fireworks show.
Think about the last time you went to a fireworks show, the beginning was brilliant, it captured your attention, and the end of it was the big finale.
But as speakers, we do the opposite — we load all the great stuff in the middle and we come up on stage with basically verbal throat-clearing like, "Oh, hey, it's great to be here. Nice to see you. What a beautiful venue."
And then we end with, "Alright, that's all I have, any questions?"
I would say to any speaker to think about the beginning and ending as your most important spots, the point where you're going to deliver your best content.
Can you imagine showing up to a Rolling Stones concert, and you're ready to go and Mick Jagger walks on the stage and says,
"Hey everybody. It's great to be here in Dallas. I hope everyone's had a nice ride in today. I hope you're enjoying your day. How's it going?"
Of course not, they open up with one of their biggest hits. They grab your attention by the throat, and that's what we need to do as speakers.
Think hard about how you start and how you end.
The last thing I'll say is choreography.
This is a very technical thing.
Many speakers they get amped up, it's great, they've got a lot of energy and they sort of pace around the stage like a caged animal.
The audience have something called mirror neurons, which means how the speaker is behaving is how the audience feels.
If you're off balance and you're pacing around the audience, even though it's subconscious, it feels like they're off balance as well.
Ryan Foland: For that off balance because I think it's a great point, I love the caged animal, I'm just imagining that right now, just pacing back and forth.
But how do people get rid of that, or what do you think the root is?
Why is that behavior there, and are there some tactics that you help people to overcome that?
Josh Linkner: The reason it's there is because you want to be energetic and you're moving around and all this stuff, it sure is well-intentioned.
But the best speakers harness that and are more deliberate about where they are on stage at any time.
Here's what I do.
Here's the hack.
I find three points on any stage — firstly, in the center and as close to the audience as possible, I'm trying to get close to them, almost right at the edge of the stage. That's my main spot.
And then a spot to one side, about a third over to one side, also very close to the front of the stage. Finally a similar spot on the other side. Those are my three spots and that's it.
I will spend most of my time planted firmly in the center of the stage because the audience feels me, I'm close to them and my points are much stronger if I'm standing still, planted, or even taking a step toward the audience, rather than bouncing all over the place.
But then throughout the talk, I'll go over to one of my other markers that's on the left side, and that way I'm getting close to the folks on that side of the room.
Then I'll maybe go back to the center for a bit. Then I'll go over to the right side little spot.
And so basically for me, it's deliberately traversing between Point A, Point B, and Point C in a purposeful way as opposed to just letting your feet bounce all over.
Ryan Foland: Now in that respect, are you looking at your actual script?
When you say choreography, are you charting it out so you know where you're going to be at each point?
Or is it more that you have these different spots on stage that you know elicit reactions and sort of communicate physically and it's just a jazz move in the moment or are you really kind of saying,
"Alright, while I'm talking about this I'll be here...and XYZ."
Is it more fluid or is it more sort of schedule?
Josh Linkner: For me, it's more fluid at this point, but that being said, maybe if someone is practicing, they could schedule it out.
Story number one, you tell them from the center of the stage.
Story number two, you walk the other post.
Story number three and four you come back to the center of the stage.
Story number five you go to the other side.
There's nothing wrong with that.
Ryan Foland: Okay, I dig it.
Now, when it comes to resources for individuals to create their own practising regimen, you have so much experience when it comes to practising, your jazz regimen, and you're speaking regimen.
Do you have any tips as far as practising routines, or are there certain ways that you encourage people to practise a speech knowing that that's a big part of it?
Josh Linkner: Yeah, a couple things.
One is videotape yourself as much as you can, and watch it back even though it's painful because you'll see and feel what's going on.
Of course, if you can get in front of a live audience, great.
And here's a fun trick — instead of video, let's say you have your iPhone with you and you're giving a speech, even if it's a small speech, not a big deal, use your iPhone and record the audience.
In other words, stick it somewhere on stage in a corner and aim it at the audience. Film the audience and you can hear yourself speaking and watch the audience's reaction.
There's nothing more real and naked and powerful than watching an audience responding.
That joke that you thought was awesome and you look at that audience and three-quarters of them are checking their phone — you know what, it sucks to see it, but you'd rather know it now so you can learn and adapt and grow.
Ryan Foland: I dig it. I like that, and then if you have a video of yourself as well, you've got the double deal there to see both.
I want to spend some time on essentially the outline, some of the things you talk about in the 3 Ring Circus.
Essentially, it's an entire curriculum that's based on helping you behind the scenes to get more chances at that on stage.
Kind of just going through that as a loose guideline, one of the first things you talk about is the importance of “The Vision”, “The Big Why” you called “The North Star” and all that to that extent.
How important is that and do people really miss that step or do they just not dig deep enough to it?
What is the purpose of the vision when it comes to getting on stage?
Is it as simple as you need to know where you're going to go to get there?
Josh Linkner: It's a good question.
For me, in any pursuit by the way, not just speaking, the more clear you get on your destination, and the more clear you get on your current starting point, the easier you'll be able to route the course.
You'll start to figure out where to course-correct along the way if you have a clear sense of the beginning and the end.
The best analogy I can use, Ryan, is a puzzle.
Let's say you and I were going to do 1,000-piece puzzle and we dump all the pieces on the table and then you throw away the box cover.
That would be one tough puzzle to do.
That box cover, which is a crystal clear picture of the end state, your vision, allows you to figure out, "Okay, this yellow piece goes here and this red piece goes there."
The exact same thing with a speaking career, and really again, any pursuit in life.
The more clear you are on your box cover the more you're going to be able to figure out where to put the different pieces.
Ryan Foland: Gotcha.
A lot of that has to do with picking a lane and basically having that unique positioning.
One of the things I appreciate about what you've done for me is really pushed back to that single lane, right?
How do you convince people to really, really hone in on that?
Because again, you want to maybe speak on multiple topics, but you keep reining people in to that one thing and for it to be something that is unique.
Because in the industry, is everybody sort of just saying the same, and is that why you need to stand out?
How many people can talk about leadership?
How many people can talk about customer service?
It seems like you go deeper than that and you just keep asking “whys” to figure out that individual lane.
That seemed to be a huge takeaway for me, but do people just not pick a lane and is it still an issue that is keeping people from more chances on stage?
Josh Linkner: Yeah, good question. There are two questions in there.
The first one is on picking a lane.
Here's the problem — in the world of highly-paid speeches, they want experts; they don't want generalists.
If you say, "Hey, dude, I speak on leadership, and customer service, and innovation and finance, and HR, and workplace practices, and health, and wellness, and meditation".
It doesn't work. You cannot be an expert in all things.
What the world really wants is deep expertise. Instead of being a mile wide and an inch deep you got to be a mile deep in an inch wide.
The first step is, you cannot be all things to all people because the world does not accept it.
No bureau is going to embrace that, and you're going to find yourself doing fewer speeches at very low fees.
If you really want to drive your speaking business, you've got to pick something.
Pick what you're absolutely passionate about and what you're best at and go super deep in that.
Let's just say it's customer service, just picking a random example.
Now that's an area that buyers understand, they say, "I want a customer service guru "
Now within that lane, and there's nothing wrong with that lane by the way, there are other big categories such as leadership, as you point out, or innovation, or generational workforce stuff, or future of work. I mean, there are a few big lanes.
Once you've selected a lane that people understand then you have to find what makes you unique and different inside that lane.
If you're like, "I speak about customer service and I just talk about the five principles of customer service" that's sort of a yawn because so does everybody else.
On the other hand, if you spent 30 years working at Disney, and your whole speech is about making magic, the “Five principles that Walt Disney used for customer service”, then it's sort of interesting because you've got your unique twist on it, or it is a quasi-unique twist anyway on the lens of customer service.
The first step is to pick a broad category lane and stick with it, then go deep.
And the second one is find something where you are unique. Where someone couldn't pull your name off and stick a different speaker's name on and have the story and the deliverable still hold true.
Ryan Foland: I was speaking in a general communication sense, and even being reintroduced to Nick Morgan at your shop and reconnecting with him, the same kind of focus is like what is that one thing for me, it's this 3 1-3 method that I've got.
Nobody else has that. That's what I seem to be the most passionate about and since going to your workshop, I've sort of put that front and center.
It's really been fascinating to see that concept of the lane. Then, the particular car that I'm driving in that lane and that nobody else seems to have the key to it.
That's definitely helped me out a lot.
Are there any thought exercises where you help people through any type of drilling down or process that you help them to discover?
Because going from customer service in general, or leadership in general, how do you get people to find that uniqueness?
Josh Linkner: The thing I would first recommend you do is list all the things about yourself that are different and unique.
When I say unique, it doesn't have to be like you're the only person out of 7 billion on the planet, but just mean that you're not totally in common with everybody else.
My previous example about Disney, yes, there are other people that have worked at Disney. But not every customer service speaker has worked at Disney.
Anyway, make a list.
So in my case, I'll give you a quick example.
I'm from Detroit. That's something that's interesting. I'm an innovation guy.
Okay, that's not that interesting in and of itself, but that's my category.
I'm a jazz musician. Well, that's pretty cool.
Wait a minute. I've started building five tech companies. That's kind of neat.
Oh, I've started a venture capital fund and I've invested in a hundred startups — wow, that's kind of different.
Sometimes your difference, your core difference is the intersection of a few different things that are not unique individually.
For example, other people are from Detroit, other people are jazz musicians, other people are innovation experts, but if you combine all those three, I'm the only guy that I know of that meets all three of those.
I would encourage people to just list out all the things that are sort of unusual and different about them and then see how you could assemble those in a certain way and tell a story around them that nobody else can.
Ryan Foland: I like that.
It's more of the intersection of these individual parts that make you unique than trying to find and search for that one particular moment because that one particular moment might not be there and that's what creates the difficulty in doing that.
Josh Linkner: Correct.
By the way, just to reiterate, the term unique doesn't mean you're unique with every human on the planet but in your category.
There are other people from Detroit that speak, I'm sure, but not one that speaks on innovation necessarily.
Again, look within your category at what makes you.
The other thing I would tell people to do is think about it in the context of what's the transformation that you create for your audience and your host. In other words, a great keynote is about the audience, not you.
You are simply a vessel to help elevate them, to help change their lives, to help change their business.
When you think about your uniqueness, think about how you are changing the audience. If they show up at 9 a.m. and you leave the stage at 10 a.m. with a standing ovation, how are those people different as a result?
Try to frame your uniqueness in the context of the transformation that you create.
Ryan Foland: It's good reverse-engineering right there.
Speaking of reverse engineering, one of the things I was fascinated with at the 3 Ring Circus was meeting people from the bureaus, and they were all pretty high up, and that was really my first exposure to the bureaus.
I've been kind of a non-bureau speaker, I didn't really understand it. I didn't maybe really care to understand it.
But you really opened up my eyes that, at the end of the day, it seems as though the way you're seeing speaking, it's more of a risk management for the person that's hiring you.
I'm curious for you to maybe dive into that a little bit and then this idea of bureau ready is something that I think is key.
Because that's what I'm doing right now, is getting bureau ready based on that conversation.
Josh Linkner: I saw statistics recently that 70% plus of speeches that are sold over $15,000 are sold through a bureau.
As a speaker, you have to make a choice.
There are people that don't like bureaus, I don't understand why, I think they're amazing.
But you're going to limit your business if you choose to take that route.
The way I look at it is that your bureaus are the greatest thing ever.
Think about it like this, every morning they fire up their fishing boats.
They use their own bait, they use their own tackle, they use their own expense, and gas, and then go out and bring you back a beautiful, delicious fish and they just asked for a little piece of it in return.
If you look at it like that, you want as many fishing boats out there casting as many lines in the water as you possibly can. The greatest thing ever.
If you want to be serious about your speaking business, in my opinion, feel free to do what you want, my opinion is that you want to be friends with every bureau you can, and make them win and profit so that you can as well.
Anyway, we actually have five of the biggest bureaus as official advisers to our project 3 Ring Circus.
Watching the Speaker's Bureau, Harry Walker Agency, Premiere speakers group, WWSG which is Worldwide Speakers Group and Speak, Inc. are all our official advisors.
We've also had representatives come to every bootcamp.
We always have four or five speakers bureaus agents come. We've had people from Eagles, and National Speaker's Bureau, and everywhere in between.
It's wonderful because we share how the bureau relationship works, how speakers can really connect with those bureaus to build their business, and how they can make it a win for everybody.
I'll just tell you something when you pay a commission to a speaker's bureau, they are not taking anything from you. They're adding to your business.
The best way to think of it is if they're taking a little piece of it, it's like you paying them for the next gig.
Ryan Foland: I like that. The amount that you're giving them for the gas and for bait is basically for them to go fish for the next one.
Josh Linkner: Heck yeah, absolutely.
Ryan Foland: How do you know when you're bureau ready?
You really dug into that, but if you are going to give a high-level, I like this idea that you really do have the one chance to make a first impression.
At what point are speakers ready to make that impression?
Josh Linkner: Well, it's a little bit of a tricky question, but you need at a minimum a few core things.
- You need to have professionally shot photography.
- You need to have a website that's really good and clear.
- You need to have tightly written speech descriptions and a very well-written bio.
- By the way, not a resume, a bio, for speaking.
- You need to have a high-quality video so they can see you in action
- You need to have a fee schedule that is coherent and clear.
- Also some testimonials.
Those are the ante to play. So if you don't have those seven things, don't even call a bureau.
On the other hand, as you talk about getting bureau already, that's a wonderful thing that emerging speakers can focus on, is getting those seven things in place, in action, ready to launch.
Because to be taken seriously by a bureau, or even a serious meeting planner who's going to pay a high fee for your work, you need to have those seven things.
That's just the way our business works.
Real quickly again — professional photography, video, testimonials, a high-quality bio, a beautiful website, speaking topics, and clear fee schedule.
Ryan Foland: One of the things that stuck out, and I've actually shared this with a few people about the speaker's reel in particular.
You put out a question, you said, "All right, everybody", I don't know if you asked us to close your eyes, but in my mind envisioned, you're like,
"Close your eyes, everyone. Now imagine, what you want to be paid for a keynote; it could be whatever it is, find that number in your mind and visualize it. Okay, open your eyes," and you're like, "That is the minimum amount you need to spend on your speaker's reel."
You heard this audible gasp because everybody wants these high speaking fees, but to make that connection, just even a baseline, if you're willing to invest as much as you want to make on one speech on your speaker's reel, that's real, that makes sense if you think about it.
Is that kind of a standard that you came up with, or is that just a thought experiment to get people to really understand the investment it takes to put together something for that type of level?
Josh Linkner: Yeah, so your speaker's reel is your single most important tool to sell speeches.
If you are great on stage but your reel was shot with someone's iPhone, it's all grainy, you're just never going to sell a speech like that the way you want.
The rule of thumb, which is not from me actually, it's from one of my good friends and amazing Hall of Fame speaker, Sally Hogshead, is that if you want to be a $20,000 speaker, you should spend $20,000 on your video.
If you want to be a $50,000 speaker, go spend $50,000 on your video.
And you know what, that's a lot of money, and you say, "Gosh, I don't know," but think about any other business.
Again, if you're a professional, and you were opening up a dental clinic, you would have to buy equipment, you have to set up the dental office.
And this is the same thing for you. This is the most important investment that you make in your speaking business.
In the video, you have to be at least as good in the video as you are on stage if you really want people to take you seriously.
I don't mean to be blunt about it, but again, I see too many people they say, "Oh, I just want to be carted off to fame and fortune, but without doing the work."
It reminds me of that old quote that, “Everyone wants to go to heaven, but no one wants to die to get there.”
There are some sacrifices and investments that are needed if you want to be performing at the biggest stages at the highest levels.
On the other hand, and now the upside of it, there's a wonderful case for return on investment.
If you spend $20,000 on your speaker video and you're currently a $10,000 speaker, and not only do you raise your fee at $20,000, but you do 20 more speeches a year.
It’s an absolutely massive return on investment on what you spent for your video reel.
It's not a sure thing, but it's the closest thing to a sure thing. Invest in a great video.
Ryan Foland: I like that, the closest thing to a sure thing.
Tell me a little bit more about the process of raising your fees, or even maybe some advice for people to find out what their baseline fee should be.
I was impressed with that discussion and it really got me thinking about increasing fees and finding that as part of that sort of growth process.
Josh Linkner: Yes, the fees thing is tricky.
Here are a couple of suggestions:
First of all, if you go too low, you may not be taken seriously.
If I told you, "Hey, I've got a Ferrari to sell you and it's only $10,000," the first thing you'd say is, "Well, what's wrong with it?"
People tend to equate fee and quality.
If you go too low, your meeting planners won't take you seriously, nor will your bureau friends.
But the best way to set a fee is this — first of all, ask around, maybe some friends or others in the industry kind of get a feel for what the fee might be.
It doesn't have to be exact.
Let's say you think, "Gosh, maybe I could be a $15,000 figure."
The next step once you have a just a baseline idea, go on bureau sites and search for $15,000 speakers in your category.
If you speak on millennials, go to Washington Speakers Bureau, or Kepler, or Premier, and search for millennials speakers and put a budget range of $15,000 and go check out your competition.
Be honest about it. Look at their website. Look at their bio. Look at their video. Look at their photography. Look at their speaking descriptions and say, "How do I stack up?"
If you think that you crush them you probably have a good fee.
If you think that they crushed you, maybe you need to look at a different fee.
The simple tool that I would recommend is, once you have a sense of a fee and look at others in your category at that fee, if you think that you're going to win objectively against those people 50% or more of the time, you're at a good fee range.
If you think you're going to all of a sudden, "I'm going to be a $35,000 speaker," and you come and look at my site and you look at others at $35,000, and this is not a judgment as a human being, but we're just more advanced and more professional and more experienced, and you say, "Gosh, I'd lose every time in a competitive shootout," then you're at the wrong fee range.
Again, find others in whatever fee range you're considering, carefully explore the competition, ask yourself honestly and ask other advisors, can you win 50% or more of the time at that fee range?
If yes, youve got a great fee. If not, go lower. If you're going to win 100% of the time, go higher.
Ryan Foland: Gotcha. Great practical advice and I love the simplicity of it and the insights and it's done nothing but sort of give me more focus on what I'm doing.
If somebody wants to check out the 3 Ring Circus, or they want to join, what's the best route?
Just point them at the website?
Josh Linkner: If you want to check out the website, it's just the number 3 and then 3RingCircus.com and then we're just being a little playful and we didn't want to be called the zillion dollar speaker or something cheesy. It's 3RingCircus.com.
Ryan Foland: One thing I will attest to, and that you hold as one of your competitive advantages, is the freakish response time. Maybe we can end with that.
Why is it so important to have a freakish response time? Because literally, you're a busy guy, but you do get back freakishly quick and how important is that?
Josh Linkner: It sounds so obvious, but it's so important. I've talked to bureaus about this.
Here's the thing. Let's say they have a client. Let's say it's a big client, Coca Cola.
They've got their big meeting coming up and they asked the bureau, "Hey, give me some ideas for this, who's available."
If the bureau knows that I respond in 3 seconds and someone else responds in 3 days, guess who they reach out to first?
It sounds so obvious, and like in most industries being responsive is the ante to play, but in our industry for some reason speakers or maybe it's their egos, I don't know what, but,
"Oh, well, I'm only going to respond on Tuesdays to inquiries, and I'm going to run it through my 5-part matrix and I need to talk to my team."
All this nonsense, and guess what? You lose — the fastest person to respond sometimes literally wins the game.
Simple mantra for you, and we use it too, make Jimmy John's look slow.
Ryan Foland: Awesome.
Well, I love Jimmy John’s and I'm going to be Inspired every time I see them, and I will channel my inner Jimmy to make sure that I get back quicker than not.
Josh, I appreciate the time, I am super inspired by what you're doing, and I'm definitely looking forward to returning to the 3 Ring Circus because there are people I met who come back to this thing regularly because the information is that valuable.
Those who are curious about taking things seriously. Not a step up, but probably like an escalator elevator, check it out because what I appreciate, Josh, is that you are speaking about what you are doing and you're not just speaking about hypothetical things that you're not doing yourself.
It's grounded in reality and I appreciate all the help that you are providing to people and even just great connections of people that I met there. I'm continuing to be in touch with them.
So gratitude sir, and enjoy your day.
I'm excited for everybody to learn more about you.
Reach out to Josh. Check it out, join the circus, and be freakishly faster than Jimmy.
Josh Linkner: Ryan, thank you. Thanks for doing this podcast, for helping the industry that we both love, and continued success to you and all the listeners today.
Ryan Foland: Alright buddy, we'll talk later.
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.
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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