We never pick favourites, but some interviews are so flooded with good advice it is hard to not get excited. This is one of those interviews. Ryan sits down with Brian Burkhart, a speaker, organizer, and coach. His unique perspective enables him to share insight into the industry from all sides.
Brian has coached leaders of Fortune 500 companies, TED speakers, Shark Tank contestants, and countless business professionals, helping them communicate and lead. There is specific advice for speakers at all levels, from how to be a speaker who keeps getting invited back to some hard-hitting truths for emerging speakers.
Listen to this podcast to find out:
- How determining and communicating your core beliefs can transform your ability to find the right clients and engage audiences.
- How circular thinking while presenting can make you a better presenter.
- Why the first 75 seconds of your presentation is crucial, and how to nail your intro by connecting with your audience.
- Why conviction and connection are the two most essential elements for pro speakers to focus on.
- How thinking of yourself as a Geiger counter can make you easier to work with and ensure you get hired again.
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I've got to tell you, I just spent some amazing time talking with Ryan about didgeridoos, panning for gold, “aware” with an “H” and all other things awesome when it comes to speaking and presenting.
I sure hope you'll listen in, it's going to be great.
Ryan Foland: Ladies and gentlemen, welcome back to a very special World of Speakers and that is because we have spent the last 15 to 20 minutes making sure that my audio settings are correct so you know that we are here making every effort to be with you right now.
And that is because I have Brian Burkhart on the line.
Brian is somebody who not only is a patient guy, but he is determined to see things through to the end, and he does that by making waves—not just waves as in the ocean, but waves even in the desert.
Brian, welcome to the show. Thank you for your patience.
I'm so excited to pick your brain about the over 50 countries you've been in, the six different ways you make money, one of them being speaking, and your insights into the world of speakers.
Brian Burkhart: Thank you, that is quite an intro.
You're making it out to be a horrible experience and I will tell you that.
I was just sort of sitting along watching you flounder for a while Ryan, so it was kind of fun for me, I will admit in a weird, twisted, sick way.
Ryan Foland: Yeah, and you know what, I tell people that no one cares about your story, they care about how they see themselves in your story.
And you did see me fumble along, but I was like my own mission control talking you through the process.
I'm sure there's a time when you've fumbled through and you're just on the opposite end, you're just there to be able to be supportive. So it worked.
Brian Burkhart: Absolutely. I am there for you, brother, I got you.
Ryan Foland: Awesome.
Well, I'm going to take you being here for me and I am going to use that to my full advantage because I am going to throw you under “the love bus” and I'm going to ask you to be put on the spot to reach into your database of stories, things that have been in your life that you've experienced.
I want you to pull one off the shelf as though it is one wave that is in the middle of this ocean.
What is that one wave that if you were to tell me that story, that story is something that I could share with somebody and they could get a really good idea of who you are as a person?
Brian Burkhart: Wow, that's a great question. I think I have an answer for you though.
Let me paint this picture for you.
First, I am the very perfect description of a middle-aged white guy with the belly and the whole situation working, right.
But there was a time back in the day, and I can remember this very, very explicitly as if it was almost yesterday, I can honestly remember the color temperature of the room, the smell of the space, it was something.
I was running for student council president of Oak Ridge Elementary, which is a little school outside of Chicago, in the Chicago suburbs.
I was in fifth grade, my running mate was my best friend, his name is Jim Lenard, I actually was the best man at his wedding many years later.
Jim and I were thick as thieves and I was going to be the president, he was going to be the VP and this would be in our final year at the elementary school in sixth grade when we would actually hold on this.
But one very distinguishing feature about me, specifically at that time and really I’m not all that changed today, was that I was short.
I'm only 5'7'' now which is actually below the national average, just a touch, but back then I was considerably smaller than most kids.
I can remember the two ladies that we ran against, and I'll protect their identities. One was named Kelly, the other was named Nia, N-I-A which was short for Anthonia.
They went first, they had these matching sort of red outfits on, and then it was our turn.
The whole school was in what was really the lunchroom, it kind of had that stench of bad spaghetti in the air and the bright yellow vapor mercury lights, it was just sort of an awful setting.
But it was time for Jim and I to do our thing, and as I'm running for the top role of president, I was going to lead the speech.
I walk up to the lectern and I grab the gooseneck mic because our principal, his name was Mr.Winkler, that's the real name, he had just spoken to set up, "The next ones up are Brian and Jim, come on up here," in his kind of gruff way.
And so he had left the mic way up high and I grabbed this thing, and you hear that kind of bendy screech as I put it all the way down, all the way down.
The whole school laughs at my shortness.
And then right there, right then, I felt something that actually defined the rest of my life.
That was the first time in my life I really, truly understood the power of amazing communications.
The truth of the matter is that I did a heck of a job.
I was very prepared and I had some natural instincts even at an early age and it went incredibly well.
And while I was still at the lectern, I remember looking at Jim and he looked at me and we looked at the two other girls Kelly and Nia, and we knew.
It was an absolute landslide, I think they got two votes, themselves.
So it was one of those kinds of things where at that moment it was a very palpable thing.
I knew that I was never going to be, just by size alone, a gifted athlete, I was always bright but not the smartest kid in class, and I had all these sort of general skills — but I had one that really distinguished me.
That was a really unique, formative moment that led to so many different things and so many unique and different opportunities that really, in early age just because I had sort of a prowess and then an affinity to get even better, that it became something that has truly defined my life.
So there you go, fifth-grade student council president. Bam-a-lam!
Ryan Foland: I love that, what a great story.
What I hear out of that that a lot of people might relate to, is that inciting incident, that one moment when things sort of changed.
And it can be in an elementary school setting even, and that your realization was that communication is this great equalizer, it makes you taller and it makes you stronger, it gets you to where you want to go.
I had a similar but different moment, but it was maybe a little more negative because I was bullied quite a bit with my freckles and my white-bleached blond hair, and disappearing to Catalina each summer.
It was only when I took martial arts that I realized that the way that I was communicating without communicating was still communicating.
And when I realized that I could set my shoulders back and stand a little bit taller and communicate with my body, I was like,
"Oh my gosh, it doesn't matter what I say, it's how I bring myself and how I present myself."
For me, that was just a defining moment that I could have copied every single word you said afterward and it's just, you have a great idea and an amazing idea, whoever communicates it the best wins.
Brian Burkhart: That's it.
Ryan Foland: I just see it as just the ultimate tool, so I love that.
Brian Burkhart: I'm glad to hear that you were able to find a way out of the awfulness that is bullying, it's terrible in all of its forms.
But kudos to you for having that realization that even your posture, just that minor way of holding yourself could make a difference, so good job.
Ryan Foland: I'm excited that I got through that, but things tend to repeat themselves.
So there's still bullying that happens in the real world when you're an adult, sometimes your business partners bully you and you don't know that, but at the end of the day, I think communication is a way you can either talk or communicate your way out of it.
Brian Burkhart: This is a big part of our world, right? This is something I get to do every day as I say something that will often get people's attention.
I say that in corporate-speak, especially in the corporate world, leaders have no choice, they have to communicate, whether it's through things like email, the written word, the spoken word, phone calls… you name it.
If you are a leader you have no choice but to communicate to the world around you.
That said, it seems like in every business, those that have that natural ability to communicate well, very often become the leaders.
It's this weird dual sort of multipronged approach where if you can do one great.
And it's really interesting, really, really interesting once people realize that communication is more than just how you put some words together, but how you actually can move people and lead, it can make a huge fundamental difference in their careers, it's a big thing.
Ryan Foland: Yeah, absolutely.
Then you add onto that that the communication isn't really what you're saying, it's how people are interpreting what you're saying.
That's a whole ‘nother meta-level where you can be an amazing communicator, but if you're fundamentally communicating in a way that doesn't make sense to someone else, and there are people who in business-speak do that, they will just speak as though they are speaking to someone who understands them.
So the communication rabbit hole goes deep, but I enjoy talking about it, right?
Brian Burkhart: I want to do that thing, I like it.
Ryan Foland: Now, I have a question for you about communication.
Do you believe that you are just as good communicating with yourself as you are with the outside world?
I ask this because one of the things that I hear from upcoming speakers or people who want to do more public speaking is that, sure, they might have the physical, tactical skills—and we are going to get into your advice on that a little bit—but for them to be able to communicate with themselves, either to believe in themselves or to give them the permission to get out there, how are you with being aware of your emotional intelligence and keeping yourself positive and when things aren't going right and when you're fumbling?
I'm always curious about that, but I think I'd love to get your insights on your internal communication.
Brian Burkhart: I have two thoughts around that, Ryan.
The first one I would tell you is that when I coach people to be amazing presenters, and it's a variety of people that I work with of really, really, really amazing level at this point, the first thing that I do, the number one thing that I start with is something that always catches them off guard, and that is I send them a gratitude journal.
It looks just like a little binder, almost like a Moleskine kind of a thing, but it's specifically printed on the inside about doing a sort of daily, almost like a journaling exercise about the things that you're grateful for.
Just for a way of example, today I remember in mine I wrote down that I was grateful for my Sonicare toothbrush.
It doesn't have to be the big things that I'm grateful for—democracy? sure, but I'm also grateful for things like contact lenses, really!
What's interesting is that when I start getting people down this path of gratitude, they start realizing in a very different sort of way that there's an energy that they can bring to their presentation if they look at it as a really truly unique, amazing opportunity.
Like this podcast, it is not every day that I get to speak to you for a chunk of time.
I can look at this on my calendar as a task of,
"Oh man, I've got to take 45 minutes and talk to Ryan and do a podcast that may or not be listened to."
Or I can have this overwhelming energy of gratitude, this incredible grace, and go into it and realize it's an incredible opportunity.
So one is task-oriented, the other comes from a really cool gratitude place and you see it as an opportunity.
That internal dialogue is very real.
I can tell you that before any opportunity that I get to stand in front of people and do my thing, I very much go through a mental exercise of, "Wow, be grateful that these people..." (and sometimes it's thousands) "...are going to be in a room for up to 60 minutes or longer to listen to what I have to say.
They're making a conscious choice to be there with me, to listen to the words and ideas that I have. That is something.”
If you look at that in that sort of energy of gratitude, man, it can change everything.
Ryan Foland: Well, I am grateful that I asked that question because it's super insightful, and I think so much focus is put on how we're communicating outside, but just the simple value of communicating internally, I think you really laid it out there.
I like this idea of a gratitude journal, and the nice thing is you can probably turn any of these number of notebooks that you have stacked around, that people are giving you for free, they can turn into a gratitude notebook.
Brian Burkhart: Yeah, the thing that I send to people is by no means the only way, believe me, a piece of scrap paper, just start noticing, reminding yourself of all the amazing things in all of our worlds.
I mean, believe me, we all have a very long way to fall and hit rock bottom, and so it's truly one of those kinds of things where the littlest thing can put you in the right mental state.
Ryan Foland: No, I think that's amazing.
Okay, so we know that at least in elementary school you were short, but it didn't hold you back from being tall.
I think humor is a big part of who you are because you took that initial [screeching sound] you got people to laugh and you realized that if you get people to laugh you get them to learn.
So I imagine there's a slight hint of self-deprecation that you're not afraid of doing, which I think is a strength.
Brian Burkhart: Humor is an interesting thing when it comes, especially in corporate presentations, I teach this a lot, that humor can often do more to you than for you.
I always say that if you are a funny person (and you know if you are), lean into it, and if you're not, then don't, because more often than not bad things will happen.
And so the kind of humor that I bring to the party is often in some well-conceived stories and some examples, I show a lot of things that are very much humorous.
I like to get people to laugh and to think but I realize that my kind of humor is—I'm kind of a smartass, I'm a bit of a pain.
It's often in a good way, but I know it, and so I try to stay away from the trouble areas and zoom into the things that are going to work well for me.
But having that self-awareness is mission-critical when it comes to humor.
Ryan Foland: Yeah, and if you think about it, self-awareness is what you attained when the microphone was initially grabbed, self-awareness about gratitude, self-awareness about how you present yourself, about being aware of the gratitude of the opportunity.
At the end of the day I think you are one of the most self-aware guys that I know at this point so your EQ score is probably off the charts.
Brian Burkhart: Well it's interesting.
I'm capable of screwing up so many things, I make so many mistakes on such a regular basis it's hard to believe as a business owner, as a guy who does a lot of different things, it's astounding to me how frequently I screw the pooch.
But the one thing I know I do pretty well is I have pretty good self-awareness, it's certainly been good for my marriage, I'll tell you that.
Ryan Foland: Yeah, but that just goes back to communication at the end of the day.
And that's what I'm hearing here is that to be a public speaker, to be a professional speaker it's not just about the stage.
Because you're good at self-communication, because you're good at communicating with your wife, you're probably really good about processing and communicating emotions.
You are losing things and messing up and making mistakes—which we all do.
But it's that self-awareness that allows you to communicate with yourself.
And then your awareness of that probably translates to the stage to where you're talking to these corporations and they are resonating not only with the message, but with how you were probably pretty transparent about how that message plays out; either in your life, with these different stories, with these funny situations.
Brian Burkhart: No doubt about it.
I'll tell you it's interesting because you sort of teased this at the very beginning.
I've been very fortunate, I've been able to travel to lots of really cool, exciting, interesting places around the globe.
And certainly one of my favorites is Australia, I've been there I think six times.
Ryan Foland: Nice.
Brian Burkhart: And that instrument that's very Aboriginal, it's called the Didgeridoo
Ryan Foland: [Both make didgeridoo sounds]
Brian Burkhart: Exactly, that one.
I remember probably the first time, I'm not sure it was, it might have even been the second or the third, I really don't know, but early, one of my first visits there, and they have them in different spots, even right by the opera house in Sydney, there are these guys there cranking away on their didgeridoos. It's pretty neat.
I kind of got interested, and so I started talking to one of the guys and he told me that the thing, the key, the way it works is what they call circular breathing.
And so it's in one nostril and out both nostrils, out their mouth, in this constant circular motion.
And that struck me, I don't even remember when. I was coaching someone about presentations when I thought,
"Man, that's what we need, we need circular breathing, really circular thoughts."
So I am now to the point of when I'm on stage speaking, there is one half of my brain that is very much engaged with the audience, focused on my content, and yet there's another half in that same kind of circular pattern thinking about things like,
"Do I have their full attention?”
“Am I absolutely using the physical presence of the stage?
“Am I doing everything I can to keep up the engagement level and the contrast between words?"
I'm going through some of that coaching side of the equation while simultaneously going through the presentation itself, that circular motion has taken some time.
That is not easy stuff, that's not 101 level that's like 500 level.
But for the presenters who are really, really able to do that, it makes all the difference.
Just having that awareness is big, but certainly being able to do it on the regular, it's something.
Ryan Foland: Wow, okay, so you are the didgeridoo of speaking, that's it, like boom, that's so powerful.
Brian Burkhart: I'm now going to change my website and all my promo material, “Brian, The Human Didgeridoo.”
Ryan Foland: I love it, people who listen to my podcast regularly, they realize that we come into these shows with no agenda, and I just ask a question of a story from your past and that sparks the first chunk of conversation.
And this has been so much fun to see where this went from you grabbing the microphone as a short person about to get elected to a public office, sort of, to like 360° breathing with the didgeridoo.
And it's a bit odd but it really comes 360° full circle, so I'm actually getting little goosebumps on it because it's just that, that alone, like every time I see a didgeridoo I am going to think about this.
I find myself on stage, I was just in Ghana and I was speaking and it's like being aware of the content, being aware of the performance, and there is this like I don't know whether it's specifically left or right brain, but it is circular breathing all while speaking.
Brian Burkhart: No doubt.
Ryan Foland: This is a great transition into the speaking tips portion of this. We kind of already were there.
So what would be the best pieces of advice that you wish you had to make your initial campaign speech in elementary school that much more effective?
Now, we know that you already won, but where would you start with people?
I mean, I know you coach people, but what are some of the things that you can share with people where they're just going to be like, "Oh my god, that was amazing."
Brian Burkhart: These are, of course, huge questions. There are only a billion ways to answer.
Ryan Foland: Only.
Brian Burkhart: Only a billion.
I would tell you that this is, again, the stuff that I do on a very regular basis and so this is what I do with my best clients, is I tell them about sort of this essential must-have, and it always comes around content first.
I'm specifically speaking around business and corporate sort of life when it comes to presentations and speaking.
So many people get this wrong, and I am kind of flummoxed about why, because it's actually fairly straightforward.
The first thing that everyone needs to do is begin their presentation with a core belief, and it's the kind of thing where you and I talked about it, you said it in the open and while we kind of make it as a bit of a joke or even just a tagline, when I say, "I make waves," so it's things like,
"Brian, what do you do for a living?" — "I make waves."
That's a core belief, that means every action that I take, everything that my team does, all the stuff that we do, it's about being just a little bit different than everybody else.
We are not going to follow the well-worn path, we're going to make some waves.
How that actually comes together, the things that generate income for us, we'll get to that eventually, but every great presentation needs to begin with that really well-honed, easily codified, super simple, clearly stated core belief.
After that you have to answer three simple questions, and these simple questions are not easy, they come from Aristotle, Plato, and Socrates, the ancient Greeks, the biggest fans of communication theory that have ever existed, because they wrote it, they talked about ethos, pathos, and logos, that's a little difficult as we kind of look at today's day and age.
If I said, "Ryan, I need more pathos in your presentation," it just doesn't translate, right?
What those guys have that we can use today is answering 3 simple questions:
What do you want the audience to know? (That's know with a ‘K’)
What do you want them to feel?
And then what do you want them to do?
So if you can get that amazing, really clear core belief early and then very succinctly and powerfully answer know, feel and do, you will be effective no matter what.
Now, you may not win a gold medal at the end for being the best orator of all time, but effectiveness will be all but guaranteed.
The crazy part is, for so many people that present, they don't answer those three questions. They will often live in the category of know, again with the K, it's all the data and the detail, that's the easy part.
But proactively making sure that there are a variety of emotional quotient elements built-in, and then perhaps more importantly than anything, give people homework.
Give them something to do, and it could be as simple as get curious or look up a website or think, those are all do's, but very typically those 2 last things are left to chance.
And so there's my number one tip and trick, core belief, KFD.
Ryan Foland: Boom, if my microphone was not attached to my desk right now, I'd drop it, but that would really work against me right now.
So that being in honor of you, like when somebody else drops their mic for you, then you know you're doing good.
Brian Burkhart: Alright, cool, I'll take it. I'll take a good mic drop.
Ryan Foland: So I have a couple of things I wanted to dig into.
One, I like how you said "my best clients."
I think that's an interesting sort of, again, pointing back to your awareness, we all have clients, but there are certain clients that maybe we mesh better with, or that take the advice, and then try and see if they can run a little bit more.
So I just want to give you kudos to being aware that your experience with clients, it has variety, and that you can drag a speaker onto a stage but you can't make them drink the Kool-aid, and I just picked up on that, I thought is that on purpose or was it a slip of the tongue, do you always use your best clients as examples?
Brian Burkhart: Oh no, not at all.
My book, it's called "Stand For Something," goes into this in great detail.
Ryan Foland: Okay.
Brian Burkhart: The reality is that there is this notion, especially for people like me who own our own businesses and generate our own income, that everyone can be a great potential target.
Well, that's just a big lie.
You don't have the skillset, the bandwidth, a variety of things. More than anything you don't have the same beliefs—and this is going to sound silly, but the idea is really to try to find people that believe what you believe, to work with those people.
I need things like the kind of food you eat, the music you listen to, your political leanings, you name it.
And if you think about it from that perspective of political leanings, it's almost impossible to find someone on the left and someone on the right and say,
"Find something to agree on".
There is almost nothing that can be done to find that middle ground anymore.
And so business is the same way. I have some clients that I mean no matter what we do, we can go over budget, we can go long and be delayed, it doesn't matter, as long as we believe the same things, we're good.
I have other clients and I can give the best service, the biggest discount, the most amazing final product—and it just doesn't feel quite right.
And so in those kinds of situations, I like to jettison them. I will scrape them off the side of the boat because we don't believe the same things.
So my best clients are the ones that absolutely believe what I believe and vice-versa.
Ryan Foland: And what I think, what I believe is an interesting connection is that that's how you started your conversation, only to shortly talk about how the first and most important thing to speak about is your belief.
This really ties that back into this idea that you're not for everyone.
The more you can narrow down who your ideal audience is and get them to understand what they need to know, what they need to feel, what they need to do, that really ties in big.
Brian Burkhart: This whole notion of waves, this is a very big deal, and I think about it from the standpoint of things that I do on stage all the time.
I always start with my notion of making waves, that core belief is how I begin every presentation.
And at some point, whether it's later, in the middle, at some point, I'll say,
"There's a big chunk of you right now that no, you do not want to work with me," you've already thought, "Oh, no, the last thing I want to do is make waves."
“There's another chunk of you that is very intrigued, and yet at no point have I told you how, you don't even really know what, you certainly don't know my back under my team, and believe it or not, we haven't talked process, price, etc, but yet somehow, someway, just by sharing that core belief, that simple notion, you're intrigued.”
And you see people nodding up and down in a positive, affirmative fashion, like, "Yes!"
And so it sounds insane, but the best brands, the ones that we all know, love and trust— those companies do an amazing job of telling the world what they believe, what they stand for.
The ones that are a little more "Meh" they do a lousy job of telling.
And so it's a big deal.
Ryan Foland: But the ones that are a bit more “Meh” and maybe the speaker is a bit more like general experts, you have less likelihood of landing harder with the right people.
Brian Burkhart: No doubt about it.
Ryan Foland: Alright, so we've got time for one more of the billion speaking tips and tricks.
I really love starting with the belief, getting people to know something a bit different and getting them to understand how to feel and do.
What's one other if you had like, all right, you have a certain amount of time and the time is up! What's the final buzzer that you can help leave our listeners with today when it comes to the tactics of speaking?
Brian Burkhart: And again, I'm going to stick with this world of business communicators, and so that asterisk is important here.
I would tell people that the rule that I like to be with a big, hard object over people's head from time to time, is 75 seconds at the top.
What that really means is I want people to fully connect with their audience, I don't care if it's an audience of 2 or 2K.
Before you ever click a single button and worry about a single slide, I want you to actually be a human being first.
Far too many people think that presentation and slides are synonyms, they are not.
You need not worry about visuals, they are an afterthought.
Oh, by the way, Ryan and I are having a great conversation right now and there's not a single slide present.
You need not have slides dominate, and so many people make that first, and that's wrong.
I make this rule, I want you to come out and connect with the audience, talk, be human, have a story, find a way to make that connection happen for 75 seconds before you're allowed to touch a clicker or any kind of device to put any image up on the screen.
Ryan Foland: I like that a lot.
The book I just wrote is "Ditch The Act," and on the back of it, the very top big letters say "Be Human."
And again, if you don't get that buy-in and if you don't get them to see you as a person, you're missing that.
But I love this concept of a 75-second sprint, a speaker sprint to show you're human.
I've got a few friends who do this, James Taylor comes to mind.
He travels, speaks all around the world.
I think that's a great check-in-a-box for people to make.
Brian Burkhart: Absolutely.
And you know it goes to a very important, if not one of the most important points of connecting and presenting and speaking, and that's the notion that the best communicators have two C-words that always emerge, and those two C-words are: “Conviction” and “Connection”.
Conviction and connection.
And you can think about even this topic of speaking, it's pretty clear I think to people that would listen to you and I, Ryan, that we have conviction around this stuff, this matters deeply to us; it is our life's work, it is a big deal.
Conviction is often easy.
The Connection part, however, is something that people think, "If I'm just in a really strong state of mind and I tell a great story— " no, you've got to be human to connect.
And so it's this notion of really finding communication excellence through both conviction and connection, and knowing which side you might need to amp up.
Some people may not have a whole lot of conviction on the topic, but they might be able to connect really well, okay?
Then you've got to spend some time getting closer and deeper into your content—that's the conviction side.
Ryan Foland: And the one quick question on all of that is, when you're talking about this connection, I'm going to assume that this connection is in the element of being human, it's not just sharing the good, but it's sharing the good, the bad, and the ugly.
I just want to make sure that people know that being human doesn't mean being the best version of yourself as a human, but it also means just being a bit vulnerable, and I'm curious if you agree with that as part of it.
Brian Burkhart: I couldn't agree more.
In fact, I always talk about showing off your ugly bits.
It's one of those things where we learn a lot of what not to do, right.
It's one of those kinds of things that by showcasing the flaws, the foibles, the things that we get wrong as human beings, as business leaders, as just people, that's the stuff that really makes you amazing at connecting.
I would tell you that that's probably as good a piece of advice as anything we've talked about: Show your bits.
Ryan Foland: Show your bits, show your ugly bits. It's all good because we have all got ugly bits, let's admit.
Brian Burkhart: No doubt.
Ryan Foland: Alright, well let's transition to the business side of speaking.
This is great, we now have a couple extra tips and tricks, we understand that belief is important to lead with, we're not for everyone, but we've got a circular breathe into the didgeridoo so that people who hear the sounds that we make even if they're odd, they resonate and then sharing that we're human right out the gate as well.
But how do you monetize that?
How have you found success?
I know you make money in more than one way, and I also like that we're 30 minutes into this conversation and people might be like, "What does this guy actually do?"
I love that, for me, it's really about the problems that you're solving, and then you do a lot of stuff I'm sure, but give us a little background on how you've turned your passion for communication into the something that allows there to be a monetary component to it.
Brian Burkhart: I think there's a lot to this.
And I might say a few things that perhaps could upset a few people. I make waves, so that's just okay.
I would say that the thing that strikes me first and foremost, this was maybe 8-9 years ago at this point, I still lived in Chicago at the time, and I was really focused on jumping into this in a much more powerful, focused way.
And so I decided to enroll in the National Speakers' Association’s “Speaker You”.
And I can remember on the very first night we got to the first break and I walked up to the instructor, who was a really good guy, and I said to him, I said,
"Please tell me that this gets better, please tell me that the quality of the information as well as the people, that this is going to get better."
And he was sort of gobstruck by what I said and he said, "No, this is actually really good right now, we're looking really solid."
And I made a point to myself right there to basically say, "I'm going to stick this thing out if for no other reason than to know what not to do."
And this is going to be bad, Ryan, please don't come find me with pitchforks people, but there are a lot of people who really want to make this a big part of their career.
Well, I really want to play quarterback for the Chicago Bears, but it is not going to happen.
I was struck at this NSA thing by how many people are really not great.
And while you may want it, and you may have the ability to eventually get there, to command real dough [money] you've got to be something, and it's just not for everybody.
And it's not just the ability to stand and deliver, but it's really to have that great content that moves people, that has something that people find value in.
Having that awareness first and foremost I think will serve people really well, so they're not down some rabbit hole of chasing a career path that may not be there.
So that's one, and I know that sounds terrible, and so I'll try to make it seem less horrible.
Ryan Foland: No, no, I agree with you and I think that sometimes the information that we don't want to hear is the best information for us to hear.
I appreciate you making sure that people know whether or not speaking—they would be the best client when it comes to speaking.
Brian Burkhart: Right.
I'll give you some examples, I've had 10 teams that I prepped for “Shark Tank” and there were a couple of them, it was slam dunk they're going to get a deal, no doubt about it.
I had a woman, she was great, a really, really great lady, and I said to her, "There is not a chance that you get a deal, you're going to be laughed off the stage."
And she was just shocked by the notion that I would throw that out there like that—and of course, that's exactly what happened.
And it was one of those kinds of things where just having some hubris and some humility and some self-awareness about where you're at is a really good things for tempering expectations.
That's not to say you can't get there. People have all kinds of abilities to grow. I don't want to diminish anyone's light at all.
But to know where you're at at any given moment, that's a really good thing, no doubt about it.
Ryan Foland: Alright, so I'm famous for making up words on the spot here, so I just have a new word for you.
Brian Burkhart: Let's hear it.
Ryan Foland: And it's actually a word you used but it's a different type of spelling.
So we spell self-awareness S-E-L-F and then A-W-A-R-E-N-E-S-S, whatever it is, right?
But you talked about where you are and so it's like self-awareness but throw an H in there so it's self a-where-ness.
Brian Burkhart: Hello! I like it, Ryan, it's a good one.
Ryan Foland: And it's like are you self aware?
No, no, no, are you self a-where? Like with an H.
So do you know where you're at?
You will be laughed off the stage, and if you know that, that's cool, but let's just have a heads up.
So there you go, not only be self-aware but be self a-where.
Brian Burkhart: That is good, I dig that, I do.
Ryan Foland: I like that, okay, cool. Maybe that's your next book or maybe that's the one we write together, who knows. We are fast-friends now
Brian Burkhart: I'm in, you got me.
Ryan Foland: Self a-whereness.
Okay, well I need to stop laughing and be aware that I'm having too much fun now.
Let's get back to we're now in a happy spot for those people who are self a-where and they are questioning whether or not speaking is for them, this is a good feeling for you to have if you're like, "Oh my gosh, that might be me," it might be you—and that's okay.
But what are some of the things that, when it comes to this world, of getting real dough?
Brian Burkhart: I'll tell you this is one of my favorite little equations when it comes to this world of getting dough. It's the 1 to 20. 1 to 20.
I would say that for every one hour of paid speaking gigs, it takes 20 hours of mining, that's a lot of digging and that's a lot of dirt to dig through.
I think that number goes down as you get more and more into it, but to begin in an earlier stage of really getting paid decent money to go speak, I'm going to stick with my 1 to 20 equation.
Ryan Foland: Okay, so I want to dig into that a little bit because I like this analogy.
A good friend of mine Michael Houlihan started with his amazing wife or partner Bonnie Harvey, they started “Barefoot Wines” and I just love their story.
And one of the things he talks about is in the gold rush it wasn't really the gold diggers who made the money, it was those who were selling the picks and the shovels.
I always come back to that, so this made me think here to dive a little bit deeper, for every 1 hour of paid speaking there are 20 hours of mining, so I am thinking gold mining — what are your thoughts on the picks and axes that you have to buy in that mining process?
One was the speaker you went to, somebody else might buy the speaker program, somebody else might do the coaching over here.
But what are some of the picks and shovels that you have found to make that 20 hours more effective, to lower that?
Do you use a certain type of software, is that a CRM? What are your picks and axes for the mining?
Brian Burkhart: I would say number one and this is certainly probably two because they go hand in hand, is you've got to have a ridiculously powerful, completely professional, not made by your nephew who's 16—you've got to have a banging website and that even means a domain name, like you can't be, "I speak about stuff.com", it's got to be real, and then part of that site you need a killer demo reel.
Want more on this topic?
It can't look like the last time you spoke was in 2004, you've got to have the look and feel of a contemporary, available, professional environment that is easily translated by simply hitting click and we see it happen right there.
And it should live on something like YouTube, so we go,
"Yeah, this person knows a thing or two, they're normal."
Those two things website and video, number one, by far. That's the biggest pick, shovel, pan you name it, website and video, by far.
Ryan Foland: Yeah, actually I think it's a pan, to be honest.
It's a pan because that's sort of a holder, right, and then you go out there—okay, so the pan is the website, let's say that the speaker reel that you can feel, that's easily translated, would that be a shovel or a pick?
I think it's the pick because you don't use the shovel until you have the pick, right, the pick is the sharp point, you just smash the rocks with, and then you use a shovel to get what you smashed up.
Brian Burkhart: It could be.
And I'll tell you one thing that we're going to see what kind of metaphor you can come up with for this one because this is so real.
So you teased this, that I'd make money in 6 different ways, by far the biggest thing that helps us generate income for my businesses is we produce events.
And so I have this really unique role as a director-producer, and then also as the guy who takes the stage, I see this from all sides.
So one of the things that I've done to really set myself apart from others is I am the most flexible speaker known to man.
I might be booked to do 60 minutes but if the conference is running 22 minutes behind, I'm going to do what is it 46, I can't do the math. I mean, it's really—
Ryan Foland: Yeah, real. We all didn't want to do the math hoping that you'd do the math, but you admit it. You're human.
Brian Burkhart: Exactly.
I can't do the math, I'm a communicator, not a mathematician.
And so like where people say stuff like "We really want you to use the house computer and it's in PowerPoint," but I typically do mine and I'm in keynote, what I say is,
"Great, PowerPoint it is. You want me to dance a little longer, you need to kill a little time? Great, I'm your guy, I'll go 68 minutes,"
Whatever it takes because what that creates is a legion of stark raving fans.
I have so many people that say, "Oh my goodness, Brian was unbelievable, he was the best presenter at the conference, he made such a huge difference, I loved working with him."
Those things really all of a sudden affirm you've got the chops.
And so if it's a meeting planner or a CMO or a VP of sales or someone that is looking at a variety of people to choose to speak, if all of a sudden one has a bunch of people who are saying, "This guy is the guy," that could be the thing that tips it for you.
And so I'm of the belief that having that really engaging, easy to work with, "I will fix problems" attitude goes a long way.
No primadonnas allowed.
Ryan Foland: Awesome. And I have the analogy for it, and I'm curious about what you think.
This is actually a really weird sounding word but it's real and maybe you've heard it, maybe you haven't. It's called a Geiger Counter.
Brian Burkhart: Oh I know Geiger Counter, it's like a nuclear reactor thing, right?
Ryan Foland: [makes a Geiger Counter clicking sound] It's the guy at the beach with the headsets on, they are like searching for stuff, okay.
But what it makes me think of is that you have this sonar self-awareness at the end of your hand or whatever and you sense like beep, beep, beep,
"There's an issue or there is a problem here or an opportunity, that's exactly where we're going to go."
The other miners who don't have a Geiger Counter are just, "Dude, I am going to dig right here, this is what I'm going to do, I'm going to dig until I find it."
And you're like, "No, there's gold in them thar’ hills, so one of these tools is to find out where and being able to be agile."
So how's that? Does that work?
Brian Burkhart: That's pretty good.
And I'll tell you, this is very, very real so the conferences that we work on, I mean some of them have thousands of people, think like every guest room and every ballroom at the Bellagio in Las Vegas is booked, these are big conferences we work on, and we are in charge.
And we'll get all these different presenters coming and going and there's always that handful of people that you wanted to say,
"Dude, do you realize this is not all for you, it's actually about the audience?"
Because they come in at the eleventh hour with all of these requests and needs and they just make it harder on the conference organizers, not easier.
And it's the conference organizers, those are the people writing the reviews, so those are the people helping to get you pushed into the next,
"Well, we've got another conference in 3 months, Bob was great then, he'd be great here and now too."
I mean, you've got to remember that those people are so important, and if you don't have that Geiger Counter working you can really push things in a bad direction.
Ryan Foland: Dig yourself into a hole, how about that, as a speaker—
Brian Burkhart: Bam, there it is, Ryan, we're done!
Ryan Foland: Yeah, well hey, I have my Geiger Counter inspired by some guy I met who makes waves and is self-aware, not only starting with what he believes in but focusing on the people who believe what he believes in to make sure that he can get them to know a little bit more than they might now after they talk with him, but making sure that they understand how to feel about it, giving them practical advice on what to do.
So this has been a lot of fun, Brian, and I'm really excited that we had a chance and I'm grateful that we got to, not only for us like selfishly, this is just you and me, but think of all the people that also were involved the conversation, so I'm grateful for them as well.
Brian Burkhart: Well I hope it helps in any way possible if I could do a shameless plug, if you want to know any more about me, check out my main company's website which is Square Planet, think Round Earth, squareplanet.com where you can check out my book on Amazon, it's Brian Burkhart's "Stand For Something, The Power of Building a Brand People Authentically Love."
Number one bestseller on Amazon in 5 categories.
Ryan Foland: Dang, and what's your, are you on social, and if so what is your favorite platform for people to engage with you on?
Brian Burkhart: I am really bad at social. I have a group of people who are far better that help in all kinds of ways and we do lots of things in both Instagram and Facebook.
I actually like Twitter a little bit, but I also don't do it very regularly, but it's all basically under Square Planet or Brian Burkhart.
And I'm not great. LinkedIn is easily my best one, I go to LinkedIn every day. Everything else, not so much.
Ryan Foland: Alright.
Well there you have it, connect with Brian on LinkedIn, grab his book, I'm going to do that right now.
Make sure that you are self-a-where and remember the aware is A-W-H-E-R-E, where you are be aware of where you're at and don't dig yourself into a hole.
Brian Burkhart: There are so many wordplays that we can have on this, in 10 more minutes.
Ryan Foland: We're just going to transcribe this and this will be the book that we co-create.
Brian Burkhart: That's a super great idea: Ryan and Brian, we're here.
Ryan Foland: And I get confused for you enough,
"Hi I'm Ryan," "Oh, nice to meet you, Brian." "No, no, no, Ryan." "Oh."
But hey, I would not mind being confused with you based on the short amount of time that I've gotten to know you.
Brian Burkhart: Are you making short jokes, Ryan, is that what that was right there? Oh, no, sorry.
Ryan Foland: I see what you did there. We are ending right where we started, but I'm excited to have this be the first dot of a series of dots, and maybe someday we will share the stage, who knows.
Brian Burkhart: I'll be blessed, I look forward to it.
Ryan Foland: But until that day, let's get on with our day.
Everybody, thanks for hanging out, make sure to connect with Brian. Great stuff, buddy and we'll talk to you later.
Brian Burkhart: Thank you so very much, Ryan, I do appreciate it.
Ryan Foland: Adios everybody.
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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