Ryan Foland speaks with Jeff Butler, a speaker, author and workplace strategist who helps organizations create workplaces where employees thrive.
In this episode of our podcast series, Ryan and Jeff talk about how to approach your craft to find patterns and see what works and what doesn't in formulating your speaker algorithm.
One of the key messages in this interview is how to get booked when there are more speakers than there are engagements.
Tune in for an interview full of ideas and tips on having conversations with event planners who have the budget to be able to afford you.
Listen to the interview on iTunes or Soundcloud.
Jeff Butler: Hey, this is Jeff Butler.
I had a great time talking about how to get booked more effectively in the speaking world, covering specifically how many places you need to reach out to and also conversion rates, actual numbers in there.
Great talking with Ryan.
I hope you enjoy the podcast.
Welcome to the World of Speakers podcast, brought to you by SpeakerHub.
In each episode, we interview a professional speaker and reveal their very best tips and tricks.
You'll learn to improve your presentation skills, keep your audience engaged, and grow your business to get more gigs and make more money.
Here is your host, Ryan Foland.
Ryan Foland: Ahoy everyone and welcome back to another episode of the World of Speakers podcast brought to you and powered by SpeakerHub, the place where you can build your speaker profile, where you can find speaking events and you can connect with fellow speakers.
Speaking of speakers, we have someone today who is a speaker, he's a friend of mine, and he is making a serious impact in the speaking space.
He is a keynote speaker.
He is a workplace strategist and he is a founder of TrinityFix.
Ladies and gentlemen welcome to the virtual stage, Jeff Butler!
Jeff Butler: Thanks, Ryan. I think you're the first person who did the intro and actually clapped.
Ryan Foland: I couldn't help myself, it's just us here.
Speaking of clapping, I was in the Metaverse the other day, I didn't have my oculus yet, which I just set up and I was using the keyboard for all these functionalities.
And I somehow accidentally hit the C button and it clapped.
And I was like, "Wait, what?"
I hit the C button and it clapped.
And so I figured I'd bridge the Metaverse to the real-world hearing clapping.
Jeff Butler: Okay, I thought that would have been copy.
Ryan Foland: No, that would be CMD + C.
Jeff Butler: Oh right, CRTL or CMD.
Ryan Foland: Yeah, but I guess if you see someone else in the Metaverse clapping you could technically copy the clap and do it.
I mean, here we are in this crazy world talking about the Metaverse, we're talking about the speaking industry which has seen its challenges but with challenges there are opportunities.
Before we get into your insights on the art of speaking and your insights on the art of building your speaking business, let's take a few steps back in time to a story that shaped you.
It'll give us a chance to get a little bit more insight into who you are.
Jeff Butler: Could I pick a story that was related to speaking?
Ryan Foland: You could, definitely. That would only be on-brand.
Jeff Butler: Okay, because I thought that you said speaking like outside of speaking so I thought when I was going to the store and I was in elementary school.
Ryan Foland: So you'd be surprised how that story that shaped you still we can weave it into who you are today.
Jeff Butler: That's true, we are speakers, we can spin those things.
Ryan Foland: I mean, life is all about stories, right?
The stories we tell each other and the stories we tell ourselves.
Jeff Butler: Yeah I just read, "The Seven Basic Plots," have you read the book?
Ryan Foland: Not yet but I will get it, "The Seven Basic Plots"?
Jeff Butler: Yeah, but it's a big, big book. I think it's Christopher—
Ryan Foland: Are you trying to say I can't read a big book?
Jeff Butler: I know you can read a big book.
I put this in front of a few speakers and they are like,
"Yeah, 700 pages, no, on like story archetypes, no way, I'm not going to do that."
Anyways, it's good.
All right, story.
I'll have to go for the third week of March 2020.
We both know what that is.
So you just visited me, a couple of months prior, so I was currently stationed in Massachusetts, Cohasset. So an hour south.
And I hosted Ryan at my place which I was basically the property manager for my family, my grandfather, watching his place.
And so, extra room, I had Ryan sitting there, so I was in that house, if you remember, Ryan.
Ryan Foland: Wasn't the room that I slept in the same room that Bob Hope would come and visit?
Jeff Butler: Yeah, it was something like that. It was pretty crazy house.
So COVID happened, things are starting to fall apart.
The third week of March, I remember having 70% of my revenue just disappear in that week.
Getting to speaking, I started speaking when I was, I say professionally because professionally I say is when someone actually pays you to do it, I think everyone technically is a speaker but not everyone is professional.
Ryan Foland: Yeah, if you speak in public then you are a public speaker, it's a scientific fact that you cannot argue.
I'll save the rest of the rap for later.
Jeff Butler: Yes, so since 25 right, so that was a few years later and to get started in speaking, especially from not having large careers.
It's very difficult if you're younger because it's like a lot of people are way more experienced, they could pull on the different corporate backgrounds.
So how did that go through? So I really thought my dreams of speaking were over because it's like I never lost that much at one period of time.
Ryan Foland: You had an interesting just to trip in a little bit, I mean you had kind of a rock star start. I mean, you made 6 figures I think within your first year. And I was really interested in how data-driven you were and you had this really cool outbound approach and you were firing up all of these speaking gigs. And then the carpet just got swept out from under you. And me.
Jeff Butler: Yeah, and well I think for all speakers, even though on social media they try to act like that's not the case. I'm just speaking the truth because if you do that then the event planners are like, "I don't want to hire this guy who's all mopey." And for me, there's a lot of things that happened there. One is I realized that as a speaker I had to figure out if I'm winning I'll at least keep my entire team, I had to lay off a part of my team there. I had to keep everyone going, I had to get creative. The other one was I had to go back to my roots of computer science which I basically said I'll never go back to again. And it wasn't that I was going to work for someone else, but figuring out how to leverage that into my future which turned out to be a very good benefit. But at the same time, it kind of made me more versatile, my ability of being a speaker also being in the technology background. The big way it had shaped me was that I had no idea on how I was going to bring back already like a company that was sort of like high revenue, low net profit, high expenditures, that was before COVID to low revenue, high expenditures and trying to keep that together. So it was really scary, but I'm glad how scary that was for me because now looking at non-COVID time is it really taught me, like, "Okay, what actually makes money? How quickly do you get paid?" Like more the fundamentals of business that I wasn't really paying attention to. Because when things are nice you don't really know they're nice if they've been nice for a while, right. There's a quote that says, "Tough men make great times makes weak men which make tough times which make tough men," right? Men and women, just people in general. I think that really happens to a lot of business owners on that side. I guess from a business standpoint that was more the take away from an existential standpoint, it was more of you know how bad do you really want to do this, really asking like, "Okay are you comfortable going back to 9 to 5," and my thing was no, but as we both know a lot of people did. A lot of speakers said you know what, this is it for me, this is something that was kind of this nice, easy path but I don't want to go through this grind, and you know it is a grind in some respects. Speakers are amazing and making it look like it's easy. But you know, there's a lot of work into it. Think that we're in the industry that we work our butts off just so we can work more on stage, it's such a crazy thing that we do on there, but there's a complete magical effect to it that's very euphoric and I think that's why we chase that. It's sort of like comedians where they will just get the crap kicked out of them every day. And I don't know if you know much about comedy dollars but they earn way less than us initially, but they can earn way more if they reach the 1 percent than our top 1 percent, so they have a very interesting field as well, but it's probably that effect of being on stage.
Ryan Foland: But it's fascinating how difficult it is for a comedian to find success, for a comedian to actually be funny, for a comedian to actually make jokes that make sense. Their job is to make it look easy; our job is to make it look easy so that it's seamless, but there's a lot of stitching that goes on behind those scenes.
Jeff Butler: A lot of stitching.
Ryan Foland: And what was crazy building up to when everything crashes is that there was more traction, there was an appetite, there were more people jumping into the speaking space.
I know a number of people that made that, "I'm all in," and then things crashed.
So I think it was really pivotal for a lot of us and one thing that resonated that you just said is this question— is this something I really want to do.
And so it was really a great reset, not great as in amazing, but like the great reset.
And I think that we're all going to look back and be like, "Wow, that time really either changed us for the good, for the bad, for the better, however that would be."
Well, let's shift to the art of speaking because I believe whether it's digital, whether you're a 3D hologram, whether you're speaking in the Metaverse, whether you're live in front of 3000 people, there are still fundamental speaking principles that will be timeless.
And I think that in certain times, certain strategies and tactics work better than others, you always see this re-visit just like your book about the 7 different plots, there are more than 7 sorts of strategies for speaking, but knowing all that you know and your stage time and helping other speakers get stage time and watching keynotes, and for all of those listening, Jeff is, I admire his tenacity at finding, seeking, searching data about other speakers.
And a lot of times as a speaker you really only put out publicly what you want, and Jeff goes and finds it and then he analyzes it, and then he critiques it, and then he builds strategies around it.
And so of all people, you were like the researcher due diligence and you just like sniff out everybody's speaker skills.
So I'm curious, of all the things you've seen and all of the experiences that you've had, what are some of the most valuable speaking tips from a presentation standpoint that you can share with us, in today's day and age?
Jeff Butler: Okay, so not business development, that’s later.
Ryan Foland: No, we're going to jump into that after this.
Jeff Butler: Okay, yeah, oh gosh, presentation standpoint. I'll talk about what I did. I think each person is different in terms of the development process.
There are certain things Ryan that you do on stage that I don't know if I'll be able to emulate because I have a certain style and you have a certain style on there, so I'll talk about some of the things that I found to be the most useful for me personally to improve my speaking ability.
Ryan Foland: That works and then we'll just cheat and take what we like for ourselves.
Jeff Butler: Yeah, awesome.
I think I disclosed this strategy to you before, Ryan.
Essentially what I will do is my biggest thing when I was starting out was I was charging $5000, $7500, $3000 something around there and I wanted to know how good was the talk of someone who's charging 20K to 30K.
I just wanted to know what that looked like.
So what I did is I went on to everywhere I could find online and I broke down the top speakers out there.
I went on the bureaus, I went on an NSA site, Pass, people who won awards, and I basically wrote a list of 40 people who are really good at speaking.
I found speeches by each one of those people and I downloaded the speeches, so I didn't have to go online and I played the speeches.
And what I did is I wrote out the entire presentation and bullet points so I would have 3 pages for 1 presentation.
And what I did is that I looked at the content.
Where were they going, was it a story, was it a point, was it a laugh?
What was the sort of breath of what they were covering?
And I did that for each speaker.
And this took months.
But I really wanted to know, am I really crappy at speaking and that's why I'm not being able to get a lot of money?
Is it something of a big difference from the speakers who are up there?
And looking at those I started to see patterns.
I started to see, "Okay, they open this why, or they close that way."
Or it's someone who might be a lot more comedic style like Jason Dorsey on there, who would be able to do things on the stage that other speakers might not be able to.
You're able to see different styles and what you particularly liked.
And so what I did from doing after those 40, I would find speakers that I really liked more than others.
Then I would find 5, 7 keynotes from them online because someone posted somewhere, and I would do the same thing.
So then I would see how that speaker changed their style over time, and the weird thing is I would watch, this was a big eye-opener for me, I would see the same keynote from someone like Daniel Pink that would suck.
His first time or second time giving it, it would be awful.
But he would go to Inbound or where we hung out, and he would destroy.
And I was like, "Why is it so much better?"
It's like well that's how it starts.
You start off with that framework, you give a talk a few times for a book, and then you give it again, and again, and again, and you start pulling different pieces of the content, pulling a joke there, putting one there to the point where you have this set of 60 45 minutes that is just every minute just has something powerful in it.
And it really does well, but it didn't start that way.
That really helped me understand the evolution of a speaker in terms of how they actually develop over time.
But it also showed me the different pathways and techniques that certain speakers deployed and things I didn't like but also liked.
I thought it was very rare in speakers to actually have humor that hits.
What's funny in our space is that when someone like a speaker is mildly funny the crowd actually laughs pretty hard but if you go to say a stand-up or like a comedy cellar and drop that same joke— no one would laugh.
They would be like, "Dude, that was the corniest thing I ever heard," right?
It's training wheels for us, compared to what comedy could do.
So when you have a comedian going to a corporate place they can tear it up because that's what they do.
I started to see that a lot of speakers didn't utilize it but a few that did and I said, "Okay, what if I wrote a joke every 45 seconds or every minute?"
And I did that.
And like 20% of the jokes worked, so my presentation was funny but I had so many bombs in it and I could improve it quite quickly.
And the weird part is, Marianna basically said to me at some point in my speaking career is like "You know Jeff, you're actually pretty boring of a speaker."
And she meant that because I was talking like an engineer I was like, "Here's the problem, here's a solution, here's the 4 point strategy that this Ph.D. person developed."
It's like yes, but how do you actually put that into a format that people actually want to digest?
And I had a real hard time coming from an engineering background to the speaking world because I knew people who are way smarter than myself and this topic seemed really dumbed-down and I couldn't figure out why did the topics in the speaking world for keynotes especially seemed very dumbed-down content-wise.
Ryan Foland: They weren't very dense, you're saying?
Jeff Butler: It was very light and I'm like, "Why is that the case?"
And what I realized is that the audience drives the content not the speaker, looking at enough speakers.
And I used to think that people in the speaking world are just going easy not hard core data, but then I realized, being in front of enough audiences you start pulling up data and facts and like facts are important, data is really important on there, but it's how you deliver it which is really important and that style from going through all the talks, it tends to become a lot more of a theatrical thing than an actual quantitative analysis of some industry problem on there, that's more for boardroom stuff but for the actual keynotes they drift in that direction.
And that was another thing that I learned through looking through all those different speakers.
So I know that was probably way too, I guess fast, not fastidious, but I don't know.
Ryan Foland: I like the word fastidious.
I don't know what it means, but you definitely did blow through a lot of stidiouses fastly.
I want to dive in just a couple of divestonians into these.
Jeff Butler: Sure, divestonians it is.
Ryan Foland: So humor that hits.
What I'm hearing is that in the patterns that you saw from some of the more successful speakers, they utilized humor, but they weren't necessarily funny right out the gate.
It took time to experiment, it took time to feel out the audience, it took trial and error to get that 20% to a higher degree, correct?
Jeff Butler: Right, right.
Ryan Foland: But what I'm hearing is you can't be funny unless you try and sometimes if you try to be funny you're actually not funny but they might actually laugh anyways, it's just kind of a gamble, essentially.
Jeff Butler: You won't be funny right out the gate.
I mean few people are born with that, but I'm trying to speak for someone, most people which is, you don't really know what's funny so you have to test a whole bunch of stuff.
Ryan Foland: And when in doubt you just makeup words and hopefully people laugh and think that's funny.
Jeff Butler: Oh yeah, I remember the first time I made my first joke I ever had, and it was basically I was rifting, I get kind of mad sometimes as you know Ryan, I'll start going off on something.
And I said about my background, I said, "Yeah, I worked at Nokia back when you were cool."
And then the crowd laughed.
And I was like, "Why was that funny?"
Because I was being serious.
I was literally thinking they were cool at the time that you could throw a Nokia phone at someone who's trying to assault you on the street.
Ryan Foland: It was like a brick, yeah.
Jeff Butler: You could throw it in a washer and it would survive and you know it's like it'll survive apocalypse along with cockroaches right.
They were really durable products.
And I heard the audience laugh at that, and I was like, "What in the hell was that?"
So I had to go back and I wrote it down.
And so every time I gave that same spiel, the audience laughed but laughed differently in different places.
And did laugh differently depending on how fast or slow I was talking.
And that's what kind of gave me an idea for, "Okay, different audiences react to different jokes differently."
Like there are certain jokes that I've put in about millennials on there that if you have a very conservative older let's say blue-collar crowd they'll just holler about like certain jokes.
I once had a standing ovation from a millennial video that I had at one event and others were like, people were like, "Yeah, that was funny."
But I didn't get a standing ovation for it.
Ryan Foland: So what I'm hearing is that in an effort to entertain the audience knowing like you said that the audience determines the content, that you're not going to hit them all, but you have to go up and you have to swing a little bit.
And the humor was one of the ways that these higher-paid top-notch speakers were getting across, and they're not killing the audience with data or facts, they're actually playing to the audience, playing with the audience so that it is more of an entertainment and not like a forced feed reader's digest here's all the information take it now.
Jeff Butler: I broke it down to more factual arguments, stories, jokes and I tried to see that split.
And what I found is that from a content perspective, I was well more advanced than I needed to be and then from an entertainment storytelling side I really lacked that compared to the other individuals in the field.
So more right now me talking about humor is just such a weird thing learning about it because it seems like you go up there and you're just funny, but it's like actually, you're not.
The reason why the pros are able to land those jokes it's because they've been telling them for 10 years.
Ryan Foland: Right, little tweaks here and there and they are just getting—
Jeff Butler: You're just like, "Hey I want to make the audience laugh," boom, drop a joke.
And I remember like it was Christmas, someone was asking about what I did so I'm like, "Oh, let me see if this works," and just dropped 5 different jokes from my presentation in one conversation, each time they were laughing.
I'm like, "Damn, that's so weird."
But you have to discover those.
You have to write your own humor, it's not like you can pull— I can't say her name, but you can't copy jokes of other people, you can try but I just you have to have it in your own style.
I'll never be able to jump on the stage and run away from a bear like you did.
Ryan Foland: And if you haven't seen my first TedX Talk, it's called "How to not get chased by a bear" and that's what he's talking about.
So what I'm hearing is that it's really about discovery and what I think is the biggest takeaway here, and no offense, but you're not known as the funniest guy, but I like the conversation just led to humor in your exploration of how to discover humor.
And you did that by looking at data.
And this goes back to your data-driven engineer mind.
So if you're a speaker out there, I challenge you to look at your keynotes, to look at the recordings that you have of your talks and see if you can look at them in somewhat chronological order; notice what's working, notice what's not working and then experiment.
That's what I'm hearing from you Jeff, right?
You did this trying to search other speakers but you could easily take this and put it on yourself to really analyze, right?
Jeff Butler: Yeah and a great way of doing that is most people have presentations and so basically having say a separate sheet where you have all the slides what your points are on the major ones and then whatever jokes or sort of stories you have, after the presentation reviewing it, pulling out maybe 10%, 20% of your weakest material and point out better material in those areas on there.
And you have those sheets that basically carry, they mature over time.
I use a Google doc and so you can kind of track the history of that, which is nice, but it's a really good way of monitoring the progress really easily and improving your material.
Ryan Foland: Ladies and gentlemen, the Jeff Butler digital research approach to your own craft to find patterns and see what works and doesn't work to formulate your speaker algorithm.
Now you do it in Google docs and type it, I had Sarah Wise on here who is an amazing speaker and I've seen her do a lot of multimedia and she shared with me that she structures her talks with post-it notes that sounds very similar where she'll have a joke or she'll be, here's a story, here's a fact, here's this, and so she actually can lay them out almost like in a timeline.
It sounds like it's the same thing where you're taking these elements and you're just readjusting and rerouting them.
Jeff Butler: Yeah, it sounds like the technique she's using is for writing a new presentation. Mine is, I'm more trying to say how to actually have your entire presentation in a digital written format that you can go back and revise over time.
She's probably going to go back and say, "Okay, what is she going to do after, she's going to go back and look at our material and say what worked, what didn't work.”
Well, when you have your post-it notes on the wall, you can technically but what if your next talk in 2 months, of that same one, like what do you do, leave it on the wall for 2 months?
It's a little difficult.
But yeah, I think we definitely are employing similar techniques, I just find sticky notes a little bit cumbersome.
Ryan Foland: I understand and that makes sense for your personality.
I love my sticky notes everywhere.
But could we apply this same research-driven approach to the digital presentations that we're seeing these days?
Jeff Butler: No.
Because the feedback loop is hard to track.
When a presentation is in person you're watching the audience possibly more than you're speaking because you need to know when you're supposed to pull back, pull forward, do I need to energize them, am I too much on there so you're watching them.
Digitally, that's hard to engage.
I know your digital game is 99th percentile of the speakers out there, it's on a whole new level if you want to look at the digital game, look at Ryan Foland's, it's insane, and I mean that as the biggest compliment I can give you.
Ryan Foland: The good insane, I got it right. I see what you do here.
Are you trying to be funny, is that what you're doing?
Because that's funny.
Jeff Butler: Okay, good, you're laughing right, there you go.
Ryan Foland: When in doubt, call somebody insane, it'll get them to laugh.
Jeff Butler: Perfect.
A little Freudian slip there.
So that's the harder part though.
So what I would do to engage the feedback is I would have polls in my presentation every 10 to 15 minutes and sort of quizzes of what we've covered.
It's a technique that I learned from my university that was looking at retention of material and I found that if you do have those periodic quizzes every 10 to 15 minutes, retention kicks up by 20, I don't know the exact number but something like 20, 25%.
So I learned that from the university.
I put that in my presentations and for virtual I can see how much the people engage in the comments.
Now there are so many more variables in there, I can't give a strong gauge of what's good and what's not, as I would be in person.
Because if I could see everyone's screens, awesome, but I can't control their environment like I don't know if they're losing focus because my talk is poor or it's because their baby started crying.
Ryan Foland: Right.
Jeff Butler: I don't know.
Ryan Foland: So in the digital world there are maybe too many variables to get as accurate of data when you're trying to find out what's going on?
Jeff Butler: That's correct, yes.
Ryan Foland: All right.
Well, you've heard it here, take a computer programmers' approach to evaluating your speeches and other speeches knowing that there's going to be some form or factor weirdness when it comes to the digital.
But what I think whether it's digital or in real life that you're analyzing this idea of looking to see what works and understanding that things will improve over time I think that's pretty sage advice for the stage, so I thank you for that.
Let's transition to building your business to getting onto more stages because I know you're still helping people do that.
We've even got you connected with Andras at SpeakerHub to talk about even if there's synergy there.
But the world has changed and it continues to sort of become— it's continuing to be a challenging environment for speakers.
So how are you navigating this New World?
How are you building the speaking business?
How do you help others build a speaking business?
For those who are like, I want this to work but I can't get it to work?
What does Jeff say?
Jeff Butler: Yeah, Jeff says a lot. The first thing is—
Ryan Foland: See, that was funny.
Jeff Butler: Now you're watching everything I'm saying.
Ryan Foland: I am, I want to be data analyzing.
Jeff Butler: Good, thank you. I like to process more from an engineering perspective.
So the first question I'll ask someone is,
"Okay, so in your speaking business what is the one thing you're trying to solve if you're trying to get more speaking engagements?"
Just off the top of your head.
I think we've talked about this.
Ryan Foland: Yeah and then do they have an easy time answering that question, because when I ask people similarly, I think there's nothing more important than understanding the problem that you solve but there's nothing more difficult than communicating the problem that you solve.
Jeff Butler: Right.
So from yours, it's more of the side of the communications standpoint.
I guess I probably should have framed it more of a marketing standpoint, like in the world of marketing for speaking what problem are you trying to solve?
And the thing you're trying to do is get in front of or having conversations with event planners who have the budget that can afford you.
You maximize that variable, you'll be booked more. Just through a law of numbers. How you get to that can change.
I know people who write books, I know people who go to networking events to do that.
I know people who do LinkedIn strategies to do that.
I know people who are spending over $100,000 a year on Google ads to do that.
They all come to that area.
So the technique that I use is just one of those areas to get to that point.
I think most people can agree if they're going to get booked more it's going to have that one common variable regardless of the approach that they use.
Ryan Foland: And that's the meeting planner?
Jeff Butler: That's the meeting planner, yeah, whoever, it's basically the qualified individual, meeting planner, event planner, yeah, program manager for the actual event.
So then the next question then becomes how do I get to that point?
There are a lot of different ways to approach it, but I always like to look at it from— there are 2 ways you can take this.
One is why would you care about this in the first place, why don't you just have a great talk that you give one time, and if you give it that one time people are going to love you.
Here's why— if you sit down with someone like a plumber and you are their business coach and they're hiring you to bring them more business and coach them on getting more business, are you going to tell them to become a better plumber or figure out how to get better in the job of using referrals?
You first have to get clients in order to get better.
Ryan Foland: Hm, this goes back to the first few speeches you're seeing with even some of the highest-paid people, it wasn't that great but you're saying they got on stage to have that opportunity.
Jeff Butler: Yes, you have to go on stage to get better and I knew that I would be taking free gigs, a couple of hundred bucks, $1000 here and there in order to get those reps.
Once I had the reps, then I could worry more about referrals from there.
The weird thing is that some people in our industry propagate this idea that if you give a great talk it's going to bring you all the business.
That is inherently not true and here's why.
People say, "Well if you get 2 new speaking engagements for everyone talk, that's a great number."
Is it really?
That's 2 to the end which means if you give one talk you would then get 2 talks and then for those 2 talks you get 4, and for those 4 you get 8.
That means you'll never have to market again for the rest of your life. If you look at the top speakers in the world, are they marketing?
Yes. Okay, they have the best speeches, they have the best brands somehow they still have to market, which tells me that the referral rate is not that high.
Ryan Foland: And I would agree because if you're at an event where you're paid to be there, the audience isn't necessarily a bunch of markets, they are not necessarily a bunch of event planners that are looking to do their own events, they might see you and be compelled to like mention it to their boss but guess what their boss already hired you to be there in the first place, is that what you're saying?
Jeff Butler: Yes that's what I mean.
And a lot of people including myself kind of fell for that when people are like, "Here, let me be your speaker coach and work on your speech all day."
We love to work on our content all day, we love to do that but getting on stage so your content is like okay, sold, but if you can't do that what's the point?
So you at least have to have some sort of marketing side, that's the first thing I would tell speakers.
The second is don't be surprised if it's hard and here's why.
Ryan Foland: That was funny, I like that.
Jeff Butler: Thank you. In our space, as you know, most people who market services are like speaker commission services say oh it's so easy to be on stages here's the top clients that I have who are killing it and of course, you look on their Instagram they're like crying because of the pandemic fun.
It's all weird because people try to make it easier but I also was affected by that, I'm like, Okay, I know my speech material, I've seen my ratings, I have pretty decent ratings, I have good branding considering my brand, I've been on TEDx, I spoke at companies like Google, Amazon, LinkedIn, I'm pretty, I'm okay.
Not amazing, I'm okay. Why is it so hard?
Running in the data.
If you look at the amount of speakers who are represented by bureaus it's around 25000. The amount of paid engagements, or the amount of engagements that we have, we have a sample size of around 20000 engagements, some of the larger places that have engagements go up to around 50000, I'm talking about in one year.
The amount of ones that are paying in there is 60 percent. From that 60% the ones I have bringing in speakers who might be charging more than $10000 it dropped to something around 15%.
So you take 15%, something like 20 or let's say 100000 will be nice, you have 15000 engagements for 25000 speakers.
Ryan Foland: Where the job of those representing bureaus is to book people in those spots and they are motivated for the top spots because they're commission-based, and so you're saying there's this feeding piranha frenzy over those big—
Jeff Butler: Yes. There are more speakers than there are engagements, in that respect.
That was a big epiphany to me when I was building TrinityFix, I'm like, "Oh my gosh this makes complete sense."
Because it's way easier to throw up a site, do all the stuff and there are events that are happening on there.
Ryan Foland: And it's easier to create a speech and say you're a speaker than it is to get on the actual stage.
Jeff Butler: Yes. So you have all these kind of weird effects.
So know that it's a wonderful place to be in, but most speakers don't get booked that much.
That's why you have NSA where they have like their top 5 every year their call of fame speakers, they get booked maybe 100 times a year, that's like the top of the top, right, those are people who are killing it, they are doing a great job, they really got their stuff together for their speaking business.
So my point being is it's going to be difficult from that standpoint from a mathematical perspective because most people when they think of speaking engagements, they think of money.
There are a lot of speaking engagements out there, a lot of them don't have money but the main thing is knowing okay those are what the numbers are.
Now how do you actually do that?
Well, there are a lot of different routes.
The reason why I chose email outbound and going directly to event planners is because I'd rather just cut the whole process of inbound or pay-per-click ads, I'd rather just go directly.
So I've done the common approach of collecting data on the event planners and having employees that will go and reach out and pay you.
You have an event, this topic, just speaks on this, you think this is a synergy if so, let's chat.
Ryan Foland: So you just go, and straight after the one common thread that you need in order to get booked on the stage and that's connecting with that planner, so you're using an email and a marketing approach to get to those out on the phone?
Jeff Butler: Yeah, call yeah, whatever those 2 main channels.
Sometimes LinkedIn, sometimes even text messaging on there, which is wordy enough does have some effect but it's hitting this.
Ryan Foland: But you end up getting them on the phone? Like the phone is not dead?
Jeff Butler: Exactly, that's the main thing, it's solving the one how do I get to that one point.
Because I could sit back and write a book but I spend then 6 months which doesn't guarantee that it will get you in front of someone.
I'd rather just go straight to the source.
Most people don't have the stomach for that, which I totally get, it's not easy to be told— like in the beginning I was being booked for 1 out of every 105 engagements I was reaching out to.
Ryan Foland: So you got 104 "no thank yous" until you got that 1 yes.
Jeff Butler: Yes, but I had myself, few other people, my team and I did enough of knocking on those numbers to break 6 figures in the first year.
A lot of people wouldn't want to be doing that, but I knew I could just do more of that, that was working to get to that endpoint, and then the brand was stronger now it's a better ratio like for instance the amount of gigs that we quote on there to what we close is around 18 percent.
So if I call $100000 worth of business we close about 18 percent of that.
Ryan Foland: Interesting.
All right so if we take Janet Jackson 2 steps back to then take 1 step forward that's what we're talking about.
So we were all shaped by March 2020 when we realized how real the pandemic was going to really impact our speaking business.
You had to completely pivot and look at what was benefiting you to know how you can benefit all of these speakers who were in the same boat, better scrapping to make a full-time professional career out of it work.
Jeff Butler: Right. Looking at your engineering degree and the same type of tenacity that made you find sequential speeches from some of the most successful speakers, you looked and found the incremental improvements, these little fine-tuned tweaks, humor being one example and there could be a number behind that, but the takeaway is that the opportunity for them to be on stage was the opportunity for them to improve their speech.
And so instead of focusing on hiring the speaking consultants and getting your keynote so that it's just ready to go, I am hearing that it's better to spend a lot of that time and effort and energy to get onto the stage, get in touch with an actual event planner to then get up there, and I've heard in a few different versions that if you get hired by a planner and you're okay, it's okay. If you're good, it's okay. If you're freaking brilliant it's okay.
But if you suck, it sucks for them, they might lose their job and so you just have to be good enough for an insurance policy to make sure that you don't suck, right?
Jeff Butler: Yeah.
Ryan Foland: But then with each stage, you get better and better and you see these people that are successful rising to that top, they've got the stage time.
So channeling a data-driven approach with 104 nos for every 1 yes, you are realizing and grinding through the fact that this is not easy.
It is not something that just sort of lands in your lap, and in this new digital space I think that's really, really the case.
Because now you have everybody chasing after these digital events that don't really have the money, but maybe we can look at that as an opportunity to get better at our speaking.
Jeff Butler: Yeah, and to expand on a few things you said.
I don't want to bash a speaking coach who specifically coaches people to speak, I am more just saying when you're starting out that is less of a worry than actually getting to the stage.
If you get to a few stages and get them on the calendar, then I say okay, maybe not call up the $10000 coach, maybe you go to the chamber of commerce or Toastmasters and you find the best person in there to coach you for a little bit. I wouldn't worry about that until you have a lot more money coming through or consistency.
Because what I have seen from the vast majority of speakers is that they have a good talk but they don't have good business operations in order to get themselves booked consistently.
That's the big thing that I would say. It's just the prioritization, I would say.
I don't necessarily say they're all bad, I've hired speaker coaches on different points in my career because I figured out the getting booked side.
Ryan Foland: Good clarification.
And I think the main takeaway, I am not trying to say that you're trying to bash speaking consulting businesses, but what was really taking I think the front stage of this conversation is that stage time is important to improve your skills, and at the end of the day, this is not easy and I think that we have our own new set of challenges but I think you just got to be bullish on where the market is running.
So digital is here, I am excited to get my hologram, I am excited to speak in Metaverse, I am excited to jump into all this, I've got my oculus ready, I was doing a tour of some Metaverse spaces to speaking with Mitch Jackson just yesterday and yeah, it's a crazy world.
But what is not crazy is that it's difficult, it will continue to be difficult, and for those people that actually put in the work and do not completely fall off the train, I think that there is room for those people as we continue on.
Jeff Butler: Yeah, and to add a positive note on this because right now people are thinking, "I have to go through 104 nos for 1 yes."
Ryan Foland: We're depressing everybody.
Jeff Butler: No, that's not what it is. In the beginning, it's going to be a lot more lopsided like that, but as your brand progresses, you'll be able to charge higher fees but also your conversion rates will improve in terms of how many you reach out to.
And on top of that, you get better footage, you get better pictures on your site, your social media brand will improve over time.
And then eventually a few people will start reaching out to you.
Like I had a large— actually, I could say the name, I think, Lexus reached out to me recently, I didn't get the deal but I can quote Lexus a heck of a lot more than I can a nonprofit that I am reaching out to.
That starts to happen as the brand improves.
So the money comes in, then you can invest it in branding or reinvesting into your speaking business or the outbound approach, but I am more just kind of pointing out like hey, there is a cycle to it and over time it gets easier and easier but it's not like it's going to be that way forever.
It will improve.
Ryan Foland: The future is bright, the future is amazing, the future has stages in mind.
Well, Jeff, thank you for your engineering-based insights, it's always fun to connect, and I am excited to see you on stage live whenever that happens in the real world.
Maybe digital before then.
But if somebody wants to reach out to you, learn more about what you do for speakers, do some research on you, what's the best way that they can get you?
Ryan Foland: Alright, well thank you, Jeff, I appreciate it and for all of you out there, don't be dismotivated, or unmotivated, that's for making up words here.
Use this as an opportunity to see that we all have struggled through these changes, we're all being shaped as speakers as we go through it, but don't give up the fight, it's a hard fight but it's a fight worthwhile to get up there and share your insights and inspire people to do whatever it is that you're doing to help solve the problem that they have.
Jeff, I appreciate you being here in episode number 99. Feels good, we're almost at that 100.
Jeff Butler: That's great.
Ryan Foland: And I'm sure that the first few podcast episodes, just like speeches, were probably not the best, but now we're getting good, hopefully.
A bit about World of Speakers
World of Speakers is a weekly podcast that helps people find their own voice, and teaches them how to use their voice to develop a speaking business.
Connect with Jeff Butler:
Did you enjoy the show? We’d love to know! Leave us a review on iTunes by following this link.