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Three Stories that Attract High-Value Clients

Stories are vital to your business. We spend most of our leisure time consuming stories from TV, radio, newspapers, magazines and the Internet. Marketers tell stories all the time, stories that attract business.

There are three types of stories, that when you tell them, will have eager prospects queuing up. The Value Proposition, the Capabilities Story, and the Origin Story.

The Value Proposition

This is the answer to the cocktail-party question, “So, . . . what sort of work do you do?”

Your answer is in three parts: what you do, who you do it for, and how they benefit.

This may seem simple, but The Value Proposition is built with care. Simply replying, “I’m an accountant,” will send them looking for the hoes-d’oeuvre tray.

“Accountant” is a noun. What you do suggests a verb.   Verbs like: help, coach, train, consult, fix, insure or manage, are much stronger. Verbs evoke images and action. Adding adjectives doesn’t help. “I’m a criminal lawyer” is simplistic (and redundant). “I keep good people who may have done bad things out of jail.” Now that’s a conversation-starter.

The second part of your Value Proposition is who you do it for. This step describes your typical or ideal client.   “I coach salespeople who make high-stakes presentations.” Or, “I show professional speakers how to use advanced acting techniques.” This gives the listener a chance to self-qualify. Any working mother will respond to, “I show single mothers how to master time management.”

The third part is how your clients benefit. A virtual accounting service in LA says, “We’ve combined mobile computing and the Internet to help small businesses run more efficiently.” Or perhaps, “I show physicians how to use an online billing system to improve patient outcomes, increase revenues and cut costs.”

You get the idea.

Carefully script, edit and re-edit your Value Proposition. Cut every extra word and practice until it rolls off the tongue.

Expect one of two responses:

“Oh, that’s nice. I wonder if there are any more of those hot wings. . . ” or,

“Hummm. . .That’s interesting, tell me more.”

If they dis-engage and drift away, that’s wonderful. You’ve avoided a lot of explaining. But if they respond with, “Tell me more,” you know they may have a need you can fill.

The Capabilities Story

Respond with, “For example. . .” and share a recent case, which includes four elements: the problem the client presented; the movie-trailer version of how you worked with them to solve the problem; a measurable benefit; and a reference.

“Well, for example. . . Kim runs a successful financial services company, and recently published a book.  She called because her book has won several awards, and now she’s getting calls to speak at major conferences. She’s smart, articulate, and knows her field, but has no experience as a keynoter. After reading her book, we met at her office to incorporate the key elements into a speech. Then we built a slide deck using PREZI, and included cues to help her remember her main points. Then she came into the studio, where we rehearsed, recorded, and analyzed video of her presentation. Within a month she was ready for the big stage. She received a standing ovation, signed three new clients, and booked five more speaking gigs. You can call her for a reference.”

The Capabilities Story paints a mental movie, where your prospective clients can actually SEE how they could work with you to solve their problem. Each of these four elements is essential. The first establishes your expertise and the sorts of problems you can solve. The middle describes your process. It shows the prospect what it might look like to work with you. The outcome is so valuable that it easily justifies your fee. And the reference gives you rock-solid credibility.

Your Capabilities Story should call out what makes you different or special. Do you travel to their office, use state-of-the-art tools, or provide personalized support? Don’t waste time on elements that are common among competitors.

The Origin Story

This is not a biography. It simply describes a defining event that set you on the path to what you do.  It can be as simple as, “After 37 years on the circuit, speaking in 47 counties, and selling 22 million books, I’ve started coaching other speakers and authors, sharing the lessons learned along the way.”

Or it can be more elaborate. For years, I’ve used this story to open seminars on Guerrilla Selling:

“The ad in the comic book said, “Win a Bicycle.” It was spring of 1963, I was nine years old, eldest of three children of a single mother who worked nights in a factory, and had long ago given up on Santa Claus. I thought it was a sweepstakes, so I tore out the coupon and sent it in.

A week later this box arrived, full of little packets of garden seeds, and a set of instructions. I was supposed to sell them, door-to-door, for 25¢ a pack (which I though was crazy because you could buy the same thing at our neighborhood store for a dime). There was an elaborate script, and all these rules: never walk on the grass, always step back from the door, and always say, “Yes Ma’am,” “No Ma’am,” and “Thank you Ma’am!”

Well I didn’t know any better, so I did everything they said. Dressed in my Sunday best, I rang every doorbell in our subdivision. Then I crossed the busy street my mother told me not to cross, and rang every doorbell over there. By about 2:00 in the afternoon it was obvious I had no future in sales. I hadn’t sold a single pack of seeds.

You know how easy it is to give up when you’re tired and hungry and dehydrated. Taking a shortcut across a vacant field, I spotted a woman in her 30s, sleeves rolled up, hair tied back, tearing up the back yard with a shovel.

“HEY LADY!” I shouted. “You don’t need no SEED for that garden DO YA?” (so much for the script.)

She stopped her work, leaned on her shovel, and yelled back, “Whaddaya GOT?”

“I got EVERYTHING from Asparagus to Zucchini! Whaddaya WANT?”

Of course, her next question was, “HOW MUCH?”


“WHY should I pay twenty-five CENTS? I can buy seeds at the grocery for a DIME.”

That’s when I started to cry.

“Because I’m trying to win a BICYCLE! THAT’S why!”

She bought $9.00 dollars worth.

And what I learned from that one transaction was, cry (well, it works for a nine-year-old). More important, it taught me that people who buy seeds, buy seeds, and people who don’t buy seeds, don’t buy seeds, and that’s just the way it works.

You don’t have time to ring every doorbell. You go up and down the alley and look for that pile of dirt where they had last year’s garden. And if they don’t answer, you go back again, and again, until you get a chance to tell your story.

One lady asked, “How many for a dollar?”

Well I could do that much math. “That would be FOUR for a dollar.”

“OK, I’ll take a dollar’s worth.”

So at the next house I offered, “four-for-a-dollar,” and instantly, my sales doubled. I learned that making a very small change can make a very big difference.

Another neighbor taught an even more important lesson. A white-haired woman in a long cotton dress answered the door, her frail hand trembling on the crook of her cane. She asked, “What’s this for?”

“They’re seeds, ma’m. For a garden. For growing flowers or food.”

“OH, no, honey! I’m too old to keep a garden. What I mean is, is this for scouts, or is this for band, or is this for camp. . .?”

“I’m trying to win a bicycle. Ma’am.”

“I’ll be right back.” She retreated into the house, returned with her purse, and handed me a five-dollar bill.

“Here you go. Give the seeds to a family that doesn’t have enough to eat.”

I left her porch in tears, because we were one of those families.

She taught me that it’s not always about the product; it’s not even about the price; sometimes it’s just about the story.

Red bikeAnd yes. It was a red stingray, with a sprung fork, high-rise bars and a banana seat. I put so many cards in the spokes it sounded like a Harley.

Four Secrets of Magnetic Client Attraction

magnetIn order to thrive as a speaker, consultant, or coach, you have to be visible. Potential clients need to see you. And they need to see you as a thought leader.   When they experience your skill and expertise, they step forward. Here are four no-cost ways to magnetically attract clients.

1.  Relationship Marketing

This channel requires careful tending. Your Rolodex is your Power Base. (For younger readers, “Rolodex,” was a pre-Facebook way of keeping track of “friends.” Google it.)

Who do you know you could reach out to? Who’s out there who could provide an introduction or a recommendation? Make a list. The Director. The CEO. The HR Department. The President. The Meeting Planner. Reach out to them.

The best list is clients you’ve served recently, who’ve had an excellent experience of you. Reach out to all who’ve seen you work. Their needs may have cycled and they need you again, or they can refer you to someone who needs you now. They experience you as someone who’s invested in a relationship, so they feel comfortable introducing you to others.

Just last week, a client was complaining that she had nothing on her calendar for 2016.

“So why do you think you’ve got nothing booked? What’s your business development process?”

If you can’t articulate that in three or four steps, then you don’t have one.

“Well, I make 25 contacts a week,” she said.

“Good. Tell me about that. What qualifies as a ‘contact’?”

“I call. I leave voice mail. I follow up with email.”

“Then what happens?”


“And how’s that workin’ for you?”

If what you’re doing is not working, then do something, anything else. If you expect your situation to change, then change your process.

I suggested she keep score a different way. As my friend Mark LeBlanc, CSP, says, “Have one meaningful conversation a day. One. Every day. Like your vitamins.”

Keep dialing until you get through to someone. This is the best, most intimate way to strengthen relationships and find new business. They won’t engage until they see your work and experience who you are.

“Can you do that?” I asked.


Twenty-four hours later we were working out the pricing for a new client for three keynotes totaling $24,000.

2.  Educational Marketing

Give lectures and speeches. Lead workshops, discussion groups or training. Teach a class through the local college, continuing ed, or free university. Offer your services in a low-cost, low risk environment so people can experience you. Speak at associations where your colleagues hang out. Share your knowledge freely. Large seminars can reach hundreds of prospects. Small events are more controlled and connected.

The people you can help the most will see you and self-select. They’ll step forward and engage you. They experience you as a teacher, with a wealth of knowledge and experience to share. And the ones who don’t are not ready or not committed.

Every month I offer a full day, “Advanced Acting and Storytelling Skills for Professional Speakers Lab” at our studio in the mountains west of Boulder. This full-day experience teaches speakers how to bring excitement, drama and imagery to the stage using the same techniques as Hollywood’s brightest stars.  You learn fifteen simple rules that add impact to every story, every presentation, no matter what your topic.

By invitation only, it’s limited to six participants, so everyone receives lots of individual direction, personal coaching and group feedback. And I only invite those who have been vouched for by a client. This small-group format gives these guests a unique opportunity to hone and polish signature stories using easy and simple techniques.

Over the course of the day, we get to know each other better. Everyone gets an experience of what it would be like to work with me.

At the end of the day, I explain directly, “This is how I grow my practice. If you would like to continue this conversation, I’d be happy to schedule a 2 hour private session to explore the possibilities.” Then we adjourn to adult beverages.

I have the privilege of choosing the clients I work with, and so do you. About half the group will set an appointment, and of those, I choose one. And I only choose clients who are deeply committed to up-leveling their success. During the intake interview, we explore their goals and ambitions, and the investment. Then I decide if they’re ready or not.

Most engage for a year. Some want help with short-term projects, like editing a speech script or book. At the rate of twelve new clients a year, I easily keep the practice full.

3.  Leadership Marketing

People equate leadership in your professional circles with leadership in your field. For the time and effort it takes, this is one of the most valuable investments of time, energy and imagination you can make.

Attend the meetings of the local organizations that serve your industry: professional associations, network groups, Meet-Ups, chambers of commerce, or service clubs. Get involved. Volunteer. Serve on committees. Meet good people. Do good work. Learn to lead. Step up and run for office. Whatever your most valuable skill, offer that.

Starting in early 2015, I started attending the monthly meetings of the International Coach Federation, Colorado Chapter, as a guest. There I met Dr. Lisa Hale, who invited me to speak. I volunteered to direct traffic at the Fall Conference. And the next thing I know, they’re nominating me to be Education Director.2016ICFCOBoardofDirectors1

Apparently they found out that I had lots of non-profit board experience, having just served as VP of Professional Development for the National Speakers Association, Colorado. So now I have to come up with a year’s worth of keynote speakers, plus added workshops, webinars and salon events.

Now you’re smack in the middle of the most influential network in your field. But what better place to develop a reputation? Coach, consultant, speaker, blogger, or author, you gain credibility by who you count as colleagues. They experience you as a leader, who bolsters everyone’s confidence.

4.  Authorship Marketing

That book inside you is going to have to come out. They can’t see you as a thought leader if they don’t know what you think. Authorship = Authority. So put your thoughts in writing. It can be a speech, a lecture, a blog, a newsletter, an eBook, or even a New-York-Times-Best-Seller-published-by-a-Major-house Dead-Tree-Book.

My friend Cristal had been struggling to write her book for a decade. She teaches teachers lots of new and creative ways to engage students in the classroom. She shows them how to manage conflict and create an environment conducive to learning. She’s been doing multi-day trainings all over the country for two decades.

Her breakthrough came when she realized that she had the book written already. It was in her head. And she’s been testing and polishing that material on stages for ages.

A simple voice-recognition app on her Mac converted her lectures into text. This method has the advantage of capturing your thoughts in your most natural voice, your speaking voice. Then she merged the text with her already-elaborate handouts. The result was a 60,000 word manuscript in two months. And the graphics have already done; they were already in the workbook.

People see you speak or teach, then take your book home. Your voice continues to ring in their ears from the page. They take you to bed. It’s very intimate.

My friend Robin Colucci, “The Get-Published Coach,” just released a new book, How to Write a Book That Sells You. She says, the best best-selling book is the one that draws clients into your practice. She says, “90 percent of your content should be based on your original stories and experience.”

From the book, you can offer the material in different formats: a keynote, a workshop, a webinar, a junket seminar, or even the $10,000-per-person-three-days-on-the-beach-in-Maui.

They will pay fifty percent more, or even double, if you’ve written a book. Clients experience you as an author, and therefore, an authority. Someone they can trust.

And I don’t mean a skinny piece of junk. The formula is six-by-nine trade paperback, 160 pages, perfect bound, glossy, non-curl cover, printed in color. Three Sections. Twelve chapters, plus back-mater, with your photo featured prominently. Cover price, $29.95. Sell them all day for $20. Everyone’s got a $20 bill.

And you can get them printed on Amazon Create Space for $3 each.  Do the math.

There’s never been a better time to be a writer.

  • ### –

Deep Evaluation Guarantees Results

One of your most powerful guerrilla marketing weapons

As an expert entrepreneur, you’re offering keynotes, lectures, seminars, workshops, webinars, coaching or online training as part of your practice. (If not, you should.)

And if you’re like me (and I know I am) you probably have delegates fill out some sort of evaluation form (and if not, you should). You might even compile them into a spreadsheet and run the averages, and maybe even graph how they trend over time.

You’re still missing one of the most powerful guerrilla marketing weapons available.

What is Deep Evaluation?

Guerrillas evaluate their work on 5 levels, and follow through to verify that their clients are receiving real value. It’s the secret of repeat and referral business, and the key to effective marketing.

Level 1 – Did they LIKE it?

These are the “smile sheets” you see at the end of most seminars. Typically delegates rate the trainer, the content, the venue, even the food, on a 1 to 5 scale, something like,

I thought the trainer (pick one)

  1. Really pissed me off
  2. Is a complete idiot
  3. Was OK I guess
  4. Was RILLY terrific
  5. I hope he marries my sister

News flash! This data is meaningless.

I know a professional speaker who’s been using the same feedback form, printed on 3×5 cards, for more than 20 years. He’s compiled statistics from more than 1,000 presentations, and rightfully claims a “4.8 out of 5” average rating.   Of course, naive meeting planners might find this number compelling. But if you dress nice and tell a few funny stories, you can make any audience LIKE you, at least for 45 minutes.

Besides, it doesn’t matter if they LIKE you. If you’re challenging their assumptions, pushing their buttons and making them deal with their shit, they may just hate your guts. That’s why the client brought in an outsider.

During a customer service audit for a Las Vegas casino, the VP of Sales walked out in a rage and resigned. The CEO (my client) had been trying to get rid of this guy for months, but couldn’t push it through HR.  HE was thrilled.

Level 2 – Did they REMEMBER it?

My dear friend Patricia Fripp, CSP, CPAE, says, “Dharling, there’s no use going anywhere they didn’t remember you were there.”

Savvy trainers TEST their audience for comprehension and recall, with multiple quizzes right after, or even during the program. Online Learning Management software typically administers a quiz after every 15-minute module, and you can’t advance ’til you pass. In most live events, the speaker seldom bothers. A forced show-of-hands, asking, “As a child, how many of you had parents?” doesn’t count. (BTW, this question will typically produce a 75% response. Yes, I have tested it. )

People tend to remember the first point you make, the last thing they hear, and the most unusual story or example. Typically an audience will forget 40% of your content within 20 minutes, 55% after one hour, 62% after 9 hours, 70% after two days, and 73% after six days. After 30 days you’re lucky if they retain 15%. So make your content memorable with stories, examples, images, iconographics, mnemonics, and emotional stories.

Testing for retention has another advantage; it can be an effective review.   Email a quiz, or better still, use an online tool like Survey Monkey to insure that they REMEMBER the main points.

Level 3 – Did they USE it?

It’s wonderful when they LIKE you; even better when they REMEMBER your content. But it’s of no real value until they USE it. Your impact is measured by your ability to change behavior, and if nobody bothers to apply the “3 Traits of Top Leaders” then your keynote was just expensive entertainment. For the same fee they could have gotten Garth Brooks.

Contact your client within a week, or 30 days at the latest, and ask, “How did you apply the “6 Strategies of Effective Customer Service.” Did they actually change the outbound recording on their voice mail, as you recommended? Have they re-written the brochure to highlight benefits instead of features? Did they stop answering the phone, “Hello, what the hell do you want?” Build your program around specific, actionable items that they must complete, tied to a deadline.

Bundling a few weeks of Accountability Coaching into the package is a sure-fire way to guarantee that they will make the changes. A weekly phone call, or even a guilt-trip email, is usually enough to nudge them along. Otherwise, like nuns, they slip back into the same old habits.

Level 4 – Did it WORK?

OK, they really LIKED your engaging and entertaining program. You’ve helped them REMEMBER the content with quizzes and tests. And you’ve kept in touch to make sure they USE the new skills. But did it WORK? Just because you’ve given them what you believe is sound advice, it might not work at all. It might have been inappropriate for their industry. Structural obstacles, corporate culture, or even a rogue CEO can sabotage your solutions.

No matter who’s at fault, if it didn’t WORK, you need to know, and you need to know why. You may be peddling obsolete or ineffective advice.  Clients revere you as an expert, so you have a fiduciary obligation to make absolutely certain your council is sound.

Level 5 – What was it WORTH?

If they LIKE it and REMEMBER it and USE it and it WORKS, that’s just swell. You’ve lived up to your reputation as a guru. You can cash the check with a clear conscience. But you’re missing a tremendous opportunity. How much value did your training, coaching or consultation produce? Did they save a bundle by re-negotiating the supply chain? Did they see an increase in sales, or a big bump up in customer satisfaction? How much was that WORTH? Find out. If you’ve been following up, keeping them accountable and tracking results, this should be an easy calculation.

My friend Heather Lutze is an international speaker and expert on “Findability,” how to get your website found by customers who are ready to buy. She recently attended a 5-day seminar taught by Callan Rush on “Magnetize your Audience.” When she told me the registration fee was $10,000, I thought she was throwing her money away.

At the beginning of Callan’s seminar, she gave everyone $25 in singles. Then they had two minutes to pitch an offering to their group that they could buy using only these bills. Over the course of the five days, every participant was required to develop an offering, analyze the benefits, and write a script. They were organized into teams with a coach to refine it, then presented it to the rest of the attendees. Whoever sold the most was declared the winner. They repeated variations of this exercise several times. The finalists were given a half-hour to pitch a real offer using real order forms. Not only did Heather win the competition, but by the end of the workshop she had enrolled six people in her new Findability Profits Lab at $1,997 each, earning $11,982. She had earned a 120% return on her investment before she left for the airport. Callan Rush can sleep well knowing that her techniques are effective, and she’s genuinely helping other professionals grow their business.

$3.6 Million

Recently I got a call from Bob Purvis, CEO of Purvis Industries, a bearing services company based in Houston. They had invited me to conduct a half-day seminar on “How to Sell More at Higher Prices” for 200 Service Center Managers. We brought in a video crew and sent the edited DVD to all 600 employees.

Bob called to say, “We’ve just had our first $10 million dollar month since 2007, and we’ve increased our gross margin by 3%.” That may not sound like much, but 3% of $10 million over 12 months equals $3.6 million in new NET PROFIT. It was the difference that kept them out of bankruptcy, and saved more than 1,000 jobs.

Once you find out what it was WORTH, now you have a real-life success story to share. And when you can deliver value like that, they’ll never flinch at your fee.

Seven Deadly Sins of Sound

bad sound
Have you ever sat in an event where the sound was just AWFUL? Too loud? Noisy? Unintelligible? Do you have problems with noise or feedback? Does the video blow everyone out of their chairs?

When it’s right, no one notices; when it’s wrong, everyone suffers. Sometimes you hire an expensive AV company, and it’s STILL bad.  Here are the seven most common audio mistakes meeting planners make.

#1 I won’t need a microphone.

NEWS FLASH! It’s not for the presenter. It’s for that 54 year-old guy in the back who moonlights as a drummer. Any audience larger than a boardroom table is a large group. The presenter will have to strain to fill the room, and the folks in back will have to strain to hear the message.

Always supply a microphone, even for small breakouts, and insist that everyone use it. Ask presenters for their preference in advance; livelier or hand-held, corded or wireless. Professional speakers will bring their own, and we’re happy to share. If you go wireless, include a corded backup. It can double as the mic for the introducer or emcee, or put it on a long cord for audience participation.

#2 We can just plug a mic into the wall.

This leaves your presenter with no local control. The house equipment is locked up in a closet somewhere deep in the bowels of the hotel, and nobody knows how to adjust it. Laptop-based video, live Internet demos, sound effects or music in the program will require a mixer to manage multiple inputs. Ask the AV supplier to patch a small, portable mixer between the inputs and the house, even for a single microphone.

And when the AV crew hides it under the stage behind the skirts, (“because the wires are ugly”) ask them to move it to a table just off to the side, where your presenters have easy access.

#3 This stuff is expensive, so it’s a good place to economize.

The speaker’s rider specified a wireless lav, so the client sent a guy to Radio Shack with a $20 bill. Then they borrowed the stereo system out of the VP’s office, and tried to fill a three-thousand-square-foot space set classroom style for 100. You can imagine.

You’ve spent thousands of dollars pulling this meeting together. People have traveled thousands of miles to attend. Insist on pro-grade sound equipment. If you do a lot of meetings, buying a few key pieces: a mic, a mixer, a couple of powered speakers, will be a good investment.

 #4 The speakers in the ceiling will be just fine.

Why do hotels spend millions on renovation, and then put ten-dollar speakers in the ceiling? Even the good ones are low-fi, and when you push them they distort.

A pair of powered front-of-house loudspeakers on stands, like Mackie SR450s, have enough muscle to be heard loud AND clear. FOH loudspeakers draw attention to the front of the room. That’s where the action is.

#5 The front-of-house speakers will be adequate.

Even when using a pair of FOH loudspeakers on either side of the stage, run a second output to the house system in the ceiling. While they may not be great, they will help fill in for those of us sitting in the back. Turn OFF the ceiling speakers in the section just over the stage to prevent feedback.

 #6 We’ll put the FOH speakers in the corners out of the way.

The FOH loudspeakers should always point AWAY from the microphones. Otherwise you’re asking for trouble. I’ve also seen them set way out on either side of the stage, against the walls (“because that’s where the electrical outlets are”). The correct placement is just in front of, and at the corners of the stage, turned in slightly to point toward the audience. Keep the sound with the picture.

And don’t skimp trying to get by with just one FOH loudspeaker. When the presenter moves to the opposite side of the stage it’s like a weird ventriloquist act.

#7 I know it’s bad but there’s nothing I can do!

The setup guy said, “Don’t touch anything!” Then your keynoter arrives for a sound check and it’s just not right. Most speaking professionals are intimately familiar with the tools of our trade. You can trust them to make the appropriate adjustments.

Moving the master sliders up or down a smidge can make a dramatic improvement. Trust me on this, you won’t break it. Walk the whole room and listen. Experiment with the “High-Mid-Low” EQ knobs. Eliminate feedback by cutting highs. Eliminate rumble by cutting lows. Bring out the presenter’s voice by boosting the mids just a bit.

Never leave the fate of your show in the hands of a hotel houseman who’s a master of folding tables. Take the initiative and insist on great sound.

For a free MP3 of his how-to-sound-great workshop, just send me an e-mail:


“When we give our lives a roadmap, our deep intellect will eventually navigate a course to it, even if it’s hidden away, deep beneath some distant sea.”

Eye Chart

We were just about to board the dive boat when I noticed the sign: “NIKONUS 35mm w/strobes, $75/day.” You mean I can rent a pro-grade underwater camera for only $75 bucks? Sign me up! The dive master gave me a crash course in underwater photography as we motored out to the reef,and when we returned from Nassau and developed the film, I was in for a shock.

Earl Nightingale had it right when he wrote The Strangest Secret. “You become what you think about.” A friend gave me this cassette when I was a sophomore in college, and it changed my life. It made me aware of the internal chatter in my head, and all of the negative, discouraging things I had been saying to myself. That’s because I grew up in an abusive, dysfunctional family where I was told I’d never amount to nuthin’. My mother mocked me for wanting to go to college, and she was shocked when I won a scholarship.

My dorm roommate thought I was nuts. I started reading affirmations from a deck of 3×5 cards. Out loud. After nearly flunking out my freshman year, The Power of Positive Thinking turned me into a deans-list scholar. Then one day the psychology professor was lecturing about a study that suggested that most of our thinking takes the form of pictures, and that memories are stored and retrieved as pictures. That got me thinking.

A speed reading course had already taught a technique for remembering lists by turning them into pictures. For example, let’s say I needed to go to the store and buy toothpaste, beans, rice, coffee, sugar, bread, cereal, and bananas, I could conjure up a picture of a chimp with bad teeth, wearing a baker’s hat and eating a banana, while holding a mug full of corn flakes heaped with sugar, sitting on two burlap bags stenciled “RICE” and “BEANS.” You get the picture.

Our debate coach taught a variation of this technique, called the “loci method,” to organize important facts by visualizing a walk through the rooms of a house. This trick was popular in ancient Greece for memorizing long speeches and texts. It worked for Aristotle.

One afternoon, Denise, my wife-to-be, was working on a collage for an art class, and it occurred to me that I could put pictures together to represent my affirmations, and this might even be more effective than just words. So we each started building a scrapbook of things we’d like to have, places we’d like to go, and things we wanted to achieve in our lives. The format was simple: a cheep ring binder filled with plastic sleeves where you can slide in the pages. We cut photos from magazines and pasted them together into pages that represented our dreams and goals. We were too poor to afford a television, so we jokingly called our project “TomorrowVision.” We kept these books on the night table, and we’d review them together just before going to sleep when our subconscious mind would be most impressionable.

Years passed, and after a time we fell out of the picture-book-on-the-night-table habit. So much for applied psychology. We both had busy professional lives, then a son, and then another. We still followed the discipline of writing down our goals each month, and keeping a To-Do list in a DayTimer. But I completely forgot about TomorrowVision until I developed the film from Nassau.

Queen Angle and scuba diver

The photo from the magazine included in my TomorrowVision scrapbook

One of those early life goals was to learn to scuba dive. This was represented in my scrapbook by a half-page underwater shot, torn from a magazine, of a diver with a big colorful fish on a reef.

When I was invited to teach a series of seminars in Hawaii, we seized the opportunity and registered for pool classes, and finished our open-water certification in Kona. It was many trips, and many, many dives later that I rented that underwater camera on a whim.

As I was flipping through the dive pictures, I couldn’t believe my eyes. There was the fish, the SAME fish (which I now recognized as Holocanthus ciliarus, the Queen Angel). I called out to Denise, “Darling, do you know whatever happened to those old visualization notebooks we used to have?”

“Look in the pile of books under the bed.”

Queen Angel

The Queen Angel that I photographed on our dive in Nassau

There it was. The picture in the TomorrowVision book looked as if it had been shot on the same roll of film.

Shock and surprise faded into deep satisfaction as I flipped through these pages. These images that had once represented life-long goals had already been realized: our home in the mountains in Colorado; writing a book; sailing the tropics; skiing with our boys; kayaking in Alaska; teaching at the University; cycling around Ireland; speaking in Mexico, Europe and Australia. I held in my hands a virtual scrapbook of the past ten years of our lives. The music from “Twilight Zone” started playing in my head.

Dr. Maxwell Maltz taught us that, “Your subconscious mind can not tell the difference between an actual experience and one that is vividly imagined.” By looking into our future through our TomorrowVision, we were programming our brains to seek out and recognize opportunities, large and small, that would bring us closer to those goals. Looking back, it seems as if those events were inevitable, because even our most incidental daily decisions were informed by deep, subconscious intent.

Over the past 30 years, leading experts like Louise Hay, Anthony Robbins and Depak Chopra have spoken passionately about the power of creative visualization. It’s no longer viewed as a mystical phenomenon. Today you can even buy an affirmation app for your iPhone. Psychologists and neuroscientists are looking deep into the brain, and can explain in scientific terms exactly how this seemingly magical process works.

I recently read how competitors in the World Memory Championships use variations on these same visual imagery tricks to perform mind-boggling feats, recanting long strings of numbers, like the mathematical constant pi (the record now stands at more than 80,000 digits) or memorizing the sequence of a shuffled deck of playing cards in less than a minute (30 seconds is the new Four-Minute-Mile). MRI scans of the brains of these mental heavyweights shows them lighting up areas normally used for visual recall and spatial navigation. The evolutionary explanation is simple. Presumably our ancestors found it particularly useful to recall where they found their last meal, or the way back to the cave.

The same mechanism allows us to remember our future, and then automatically steer around life’s obstacles until we arrive. The life we’ve lead has been extraordinary beyond my wildest dreams. I have only one regret; what if I had kept up the discipline by changing out my TomorrowVision pages as each goal was realized, replacing them with new images and loftier goals? What more might I have done?

Today that old ring binder is sitting on my desk, awaiting a new set of pages, and I’ve included these two extraordinary photographs for your review. This simple technique can help you achieve your goals and live your dreams as well. Here’s proof that when we give our lives a roadmap, our deep intellect will eventually navigate a course to it, even if it’s hidden away on a reef, deep beneath some distant sea.

Coke in a Can

10 Guerrilla Selling Tactics to Sell at Higher Prices

Coke in a CanYou’ve done it.  You buy a can of Coke® from a vending machine for a buck. Order that same Coke in a restaurant and it comes in a glass, with ice, and a straw, and it’s $3.75. Are the glass and the ice and the straw really worth $2.75?  Apparently.  People do it all the time, and never whine about the price.

Here’s a list of ten ways you can bring more value to your offering.  Find three that you can apply right now.

1. Quality

People will pay more for quality.  The Maytag repairman isn’t just lonely.  He’s old and lonely.  Show your prospect that the lifetime value of your offering is far superior to your competitors’.

2. Service

People will pay more for superior service.  Why do you think people pay twice as much for a suit at Nordstrom’s then they would at Men’s Wearhouse?  They value the service – expert tailoring, multiple fittings, free monogramming – and all this makes up for the additional money they will spend.

3. Authenticity

Authenticity means the real deal – the genuine article.  At the Louvre Museum in Paris, you can gaze upon what is perhaps the most famous work of art in the world: Leonardo Da Vinci’s portrait of Lisa Gherardini del Giocondo, commonly known as the Mona Lisa.

For all the hype, it was quite a disappointment. The painting hangs alone in a large hall in dim light, cloistered behind thick plates of bullet-proof Lexan.  And it’s small; only 21 x 39 inches.  Mrs. Gherardini has not aged well over the past 500 years. The paint is cracked and the colors are smoky and faded.

However, scientists have analyzed the pigments and digitally recreated this masterpiece just as it would have looked standing wet on Da Vinci’s easel in 1506.  The reproduction is ascetically superior in every way, and you can buy the poster-sized print in the museum gift shop for only twenty Euros, while the original, of course, is considered priceless.

4. Stability

Company stability means a company that’s been in business since the landing at Plymouth Rock.  Do you tell the story about how your Grandfather came from the Olde Country and started the business with his brother and cousin in the back of their barn?  You share that history because people put a high value on stability and longevity in business.  No one wants to be a beta test.

5. Reliability

People are busy and when they find a vendor they can count on, they buy from them again and again. How do you demonstrate to your customer that you’re reliable?  Does someone answer the phone on a second ring? Do you show up for appointments exactly on time?  Everything you do (or don’t do) sends a message about your reliability.

6. Social or Ecological Values

Do you recycle? Do you use recycled paper in all your packaging and correspondence? Are you running alternative fuels in your fleet?  These issues have become more and more important in recent years.  Seventy-eight percent of consumers said they would pay $2,000 more for a car that gets 35 miles per gallon, even though that only makes economic sense if gasoline is in the range of $4.00 a gallon (that’s more than I pay for wine!).  Meanwhile, the Prius was voted Number One Most Ecologically Sensitive Product of the last decade.

People routinely pay hundreds, even thousands of dollars for a nick-knack at a silent auction raising money for a scout troop, church group, or political cause.  At this year’s Cigar PEG celebrity auction, the three-day elite speaker coaching package I donated raised $22,500.00 for the National Speakers Association Foundation.

7. Delivery

This is why you pay fifteen dollars for FedEx instead of 52 cents for first-class mail. People want the product in their hands immediately.  Whether it’s delivering a customized pen in less than the time promised, or completing their project a week ahead of schedule, people don’t just want what they paid for when it’s expected, but BEFORE it’s due.

8. Financing

Even Time Magazine, offers “Three easy payments of $9.95.”  So, when you have a good customer who’s shopping for terms, you can say, “Well, we can give you 2% net 30, or 90-days net. Take your pick.”  This also proves to the customer that you value them enough to be flexible on terms.

9. Local Sourcing

Eighty-two percent of people surveyed have consciously supported local or neighborhood businesses.  People like to be a part of a community, and will pay higher prices to support local vendors.  Need proof? Compare prices at your local farmer’s market with those at a big-box store.

There’s a two-pump garage and gas station in the tiny Colorado mountain town where we live called Carl’s Corner.  I’ve been buying gas from Carl for more than 20 years, and my wife is always giving me a hard time about it.  She says, “Why buy gas at Carl’s when we can get it cheaper at the Conoco in Boulder?”

“Because we need more than just gas,” I remind her.  “We need Carl.  We need him when we have a flat.  We need him when we have a dead battery.  We need him when we slide off the snowy road and get stuck in a drift.  We even need him when we run out of gas for the grill.  And if we don’t keep his garage open, then we won’t have a mechanic in the canyon at all.”

10.  Fun

Regardless of what someone is buying, or how much they pay, they want to have FUN and feel good about their purchase.  How can you add a fun factor so your buyers enjoy the experience and keep coming back?

You’ve seen this guerrilla tactic in action if you’ve ever bought fish at Seattle’s Pike Street Market.

What can you use from this list to justify your higher price?  Many of these are things that you’re ALREADY doing, but not taking the proper credit.  Make certain that you explain ALL the aspects of your product or service that makes you more valuable to your customer.  Focus on your uniqueness and what you bring to the table that your competitors are ignoring.

This is only part of a list of 31 Reasons Customers Will Pay More.  Watch the new seven-part video, “Guerrilla Tactics to Sell at Higher Prices,” at:



25 Essential Items for a Professional Speaker’s Carry-On Bag

After 30 years as a Professional Speaker, I presented a two-day Guerrilla Selling seminar recently in Nairobi, Kenya, where I was reminded of the importance of being self-sufficient on the road.

Africa is like a whole other country, and it’s hard to find stuff.  The same could be said of Lincoln, Nebraska.

Every Professional speaker should take responsibility for their own comfort and equipment, and always be prepared for the inevitable catastrophe.

The Professional Speaker’s Gig bag should contain:

  1. Your laptop computer
  2. A dedicated power supply that stays in your bag.  (I recommend the universal Targus AC70U.)  Leave the factory one at your desk.   That way you’ll never make the mistake of forgetting to pack it. And you won’t be too disappointed when you leave the universal one behind at a venue.  You can get another at most any office supply box store.
  3. Your own PowerPoint controller (I highly recommend the Logitech Professional Presenter R800, which includes a green laser and a cool timer that vibrates to tell you when to shut up. )
  4. A small portable mouse (a cheap one works fine; you won’t be using it that much.)
  5. Copy of your install disk for Microsoft Office for when you’re sitting in a Kinko’s at 2:00 AM and need that obscure printer driver.
  6. A 4 gig flash drive for backing up your presentation, and another for using sneakernet to transport it to another platform. Better still, carry a second backup  in your pocket or purse. It will save your show when your laptop dies or is stolen out of the meeting room while you pee.
  7. Portable travel alarm clock with a display that you can read from across the stage.  (I also recommend the free iPhone app NightTime for its  big red-number display.)
  8. Portable digital thermometer, to settle the argument between the hotel engineer and the whining guest who insists it’s too cold.
  9. Fully loaded iPod, with royalty-free music that you can play during walk-in and breaks in your program, plus news podcasts, a movie and a favorite TV show or two.
  10. iPod/iPhone USB connector cord and AC adapter/charger
  11. A spare pair of Apple earbuds so you can listen on the plane
  12. A stereo 1/8″ (mini) phone to 2 mono 1/4″ phone send return (insert) cable so you can plug the iPod directly into the sound system (ask the guy at Radio Shack).
  13. Noise canceling headphones (I highly recommend the Bose Quiet Comfort 15’s.  They sound much better, and are a great comfort when strapped in next to the inconsolable crying baby.)
  14. Three or four spare AAA batteries to power your remote and headphones.
  15. Package of 2 spare Duracell 12V batteries for the wireless mics, even when the hotel supplies them. When they go dead, it’s always in the middle of your show.
  16. Package of Halls Honey Lemon Cough Drops (the Cherry ones make your tongue look weird)
  17. Pack of chewable Pepto Bismo tablets
  18. Package of Imodium AD (for when Pepto Bismo doesn’t help)
  19. Melatonin tablets. The absolute best herbal remedy for jet lag. Take two an hour or two before  sleepytime.
  20. Blindfold (for airplane sleepytime. Also handy for terminating unwanted conversations with annoying seatmates. You can buy them in most airport shops, but they hand these out in first class, so ask the cabin crew for one on your next long haul.
  21. Copy of your room setup instructions. The hotel will have lost the one you sent ahead. Trust me on this.
  22. Copy of your standard introduction, printed in 24 point type. Your introducer will have forgotten the one you sent ahead. Trust me on this too.
  23. Color copy of your passport (and applicable visas)
  24. Color copy of your drivers license (enlarged 2x)
  25. A crisp $100 bill (series 2000 or later; some overseas hotels won’t accept the older ones). Hide it in a pocket or fold of your computer bag. This can bail you out of a lot of trouble almost anywhere in the world.

All this, and more, fits neatly in my IBM Thinkpad’s little backback. Not only has it saved my skin, but it’s rescued more than my share of other speakers as well.

Guerrilla Author Getting Better Every Day

“So, how ARE you?”

People often use this greeting without thinking, even when they don’t really want to know.

I didn’t realize exactly HOW often until recently. And lately, I simply say, “Better! Getting better every day.”

See, last Fall, while helping a neighbor with his roof, I took a nasty fall. Broke my back. Crushed my left foot. Broke my left arm so bad it required surgery. It now has enough hardware in it to set off the airport metal detectors. I spent a month in bed, a month in a power wheelchair, and another month learning how to walk.

Business flatlined. We canceled an eight-city tour for Oracle. That set us back fifty grand. Then there were the medical bills. Denise had just been laid off, so she stayed home and played nurse. I lost my hard-won chair with the Boulder Big Band. We almost lost our house. The pain and financial stress were awful, but the outpouring of concern, support and help from colleagues and friends was astonishing! There were cards and letters (and even checks) from people all over the country, all of them asking, “How ARE you?”

“Better. I have good days and bad days, but today, I’m better.”

The injuries are healing, slowly. It will take several more months to regain my strength and energy. But soon I’ll be back out on the road again, better than ever.

This experience has healed more than just the broken bones. Without realizing it, I had become jaded and bored with my work. I was tired and flabby. I was frustrated and impatient and short-tempered, until a moment of carelessness knocked me flat.

The restricted diet made me drop 20 pounds. Long days in bed gave me time to think. The time with Denise made us closer. As soon as I could type again, I started a new book. As soon as I could pick up a pair of sticks, I started practicing. I soon found ways to coach and help other speakers.

Now I laugh more and complain less. I’m more patient, less driven. Therapy and exercise made me stronger. My body and spirit are both lighter. The experience has deepened the love for my family, friends, colleagues, and even total strangers who were so generous and helpful. The coaching I’ve done has make me a better speaker. Focusing on time and grove has made me a better drummer. Bureaus are calling and bookings are up! I bounce out of bed feeling grateful and eager to greet the day.

The most important lesson in all this is that we must ALL work at getting better, all the time. Every day. Even when we’re not broken. Competition is fierce, and unless we work continuously to improve our products, our service, our marketing, our skills and our relationships, we can lose it all in an eyeblink. Being good, even really good, is not good enough. We have to get better.

So, THANK YOU for asking! I’m better. Better every day. And in more ways than I could have ever imagined.

–Orvel Ray

Guerrilla Selling – How Performance-based Compensation Drives Sales Through the Roof

How to Manage and Motivate Your Sales Team

Any behavior which gets rewarded will tend to be repeated. So we advocate paying close attention to how employees are rewarded for performing (or not performing) the various aspects of their jobs.

Performance-based compensation is nothing new. Commission plans for salespeople are common because their productivity is so easy to measure. But small business tends to eschew these compensation plans thinking that “we’re just a mom & pop store. We’re different.” In the competitive environment you’re faced with today, you have no choice. You must use every management tool available to maximize your marketing firepower.

Guerrillas are not only intolerant of non-performers, they lavishly reward their stars, setting ever-higher standards for the whole organization. The problem is how to reward your people appropriately, particularly if they’re not directly responsible for easy-to-measure activities like sales revenue. Some simple guidelines can put this powerful management tool to work for you.

The foundation of an effective performance-based compensation plan is a set of clear and specific goals for your organization as a whole, for each functional department, and for each individual employee. These goals must be objective and quantifiable. For example, “Increase walk-in traffic by ten percent, or to 650 shoppers per month, by the end of the year” or “achieve an average rating of 4.5 of 5 on monthly customer satisfaction surveys.” Subjective factors, like attitude or good work habits might be included in review criteria, but if you can’t measure them statistically, you can’t use them as a standard for performance-based compensation. Then devise methods for gathering data to measure progress (or lack of it) toward these goals. What you measure is what you get, so inspect what you expect.

The advantage is that it’s easy to calculate: punch in, punch out, so much per hour. The disadvantage is that it doesn’t motivate.

Commissions can be computed on the gross sale price (good), or the gross profit margin (better). One important factor to consider when designing a compensation plan is that it must be simple. Paying commissions on straight gross sales is easy, and if you put the table below up on the wall in the break room, everyone can quickly estimate what they’re earning if they know the overall gross margin of the store.

Do not pay commission on any gross margins below 13%. If they’re selling at less than 13% margin, they’re giving away the stock and putting you out of business.

Generally, the lower the gross margin, the easier the product is to sell. So guerrillas recommend paying commissions based on gross margin, to reward your sales people for working harder to maintain higher profits, not just sales.

Commission Based on Gross Sales:

Overall Gross Margin % of Gross Sales
on Sales for the Month Paid as Commission

All above 27%…………………………………………… 2.8%
26.0 – 26.99……………………………………………… 2.6
25.0 – 25.99……………………………………………… 2.4
24.0 – 24.99……………………………………………… 2.2
23.0 – 23.99……………………………………………… 2.0
22.0 – 22.99……………………………………………… 1.9
21.0 – 21.99……………………………………………… 1.8
20.0 – 20.99……………………………………………… 1.7
19.0 – 19.99……………………………………………… 1.6
18.0 – 18.99……………………………………………… 1.5
17.0 – 17.99……………………………………………… 1.4
16.0 – 16.99……………………………………………… 1.3
15.0 – 15.99……………………………………………… 1.2
14.0 – 14.99……………………………………………… 1.1
13.0 – 13.99……………………………………………… 1.0
Less than 13.0%………………………………………… none

Basing commissions on gross margin rather than gross sales is harder to track, but it motivates salespeople to sell higher-priced and higher-profit items, accessories and extended service contracts, as well as to follow up with prospects and customers for referrals.

Commission based on gross profit discourages discounting. It can also produce competitive rivalries between salespeople, (which is not necessarily a bad thing).

Commission based on Gross Margin:

Overall Gross Margin % of Gross Profit
on Sales for the Month Paid as Commission

All above 27%…………………………………………… 15.5%
26.0 – 26.99……………………………………………… 15.0
25.0 – 25.99……………………………………………… 14.5
24.0 – 24.99……………………………………………… 14.0
23.0 – 23.99……………………………………………… 13.5
22.0 – 22.99……………………………………………… 13.0
21.0 – 21.99……………………………………………… 12.5
20.0 – 20.99……………………………………………… 12.0
19.0 – 19.99……………………………………………… 11.5
18.0 – 18.99……………………………………………… 11.0
17.0 – 17.99……………………………………………… 10.5
16.0 – 16.99……………………………………………… 10.0
Less than 16.0%…………………………………………… none

Of course, you have to adjust these percentages to your business and your market.

Bonuses can be paid on a monthly sales quota, or on reaching a target profit margin. The whole sales team can qualify for a bonus for reaching a collective goal. Managers often receive a bonus for exceeding key performance targets. Some retailers offer year-end bonuses, but these are not really very motivating. Bonuses are more effective if they cover shorter cycles. People need to be able to envision their progress, either on a regular report, a reader board, or a United-Way-style thermometer.

An acronym for “sales promotional incentive funds,” spiffs are paid for specific sales events. Some spiffs are funded by manufacturers to move specific SKUs. Or they can be paid by the store for selling an unwanted, obsolete or damaged item.

Guerrillas never allow the manufacturer to pay spiffs directly to their salespeople because you want the credit for paying the reward. Also, you don’t want the manufacturers to control what products sell on your floor. You need to manage that mix based on your niche, your identity and your business model.

Sales Contests
It’s important to include all the support people, the back office, the warehouse, cashiers and delivery.

You can run a sales contest on any number of metrics. First Sale of the day, Biggest Ticket of the day, Most Line Items in an order, Most Orders written in a day, Order with Highest Gross Margin.

You can also run contests on product knowledge. Devise a simple test and give a certain sum for every question they get right.

The best sales contests combine performance with an element of chance. For example, every qualifying sale wins a ticket dropped into the hat, then a weekly drawing determines the winner of a cash prize, a merchandise prize, or the trip for two to Hawaii. The more you sell, the better your odds of winning.

An effective variation is every qualifying sale gets to draw a playing card from a deck. The best poker hand at the end of the contest wins all.

Wiltshire TV, in Thousand Oaks, California, has developed an unusual variant of Bingo. Each month, each square on the bingo is assigned a different product. Instead of letters and numbers, their Bingo card is laid out with brands across the top and model numbers down the side. Sell a qualifying product and you mark that square on the card. Sell any five qualifying items in a row, and BINGO!

LOTS more Guerrilla Retailing strategies in our book, Guerrilla Retailing – How to Make Big Profits from your Retail Business. Order it today on Amazon.

How to Select a Professional Speaker for Your Next Conference, Convention or Sales Meeting

Selecting the right presenters can make or break your event.

The good ones see themselves as part of the larger team, and will share their wealth of experience to insure your overall success. The bad ones see themselves as the star-of-the-show, with little consideration for the needs of other (often non-professional) speakers on the program. Use these 10 guidelines to screen the mountain of material that your speakers or their bureaus will send you.


A professional speaker should engage, educate, motivate, and entertain, and in that order of priority. Unless this event changes your peoples’ behavior in some measurable way, you’re wasting their time and your money. New skills, new information, and new insights produce new customers, new sales, and increased profits.


Wouldn’t you rather take advice from a published expert, who has invested the time and effort to thoroughly research their field and write a book, or two, or three? Ask for autographed copies. And beware of vanity press imprints. If a major New York house published their books, you know they’re the real deal.


Beginners often pirate others’ examples and content, sometimes even telling a story as if it had actually happened to them. I recently heard a meeting planner complain, “If I hear one more cliché out of this guy I will scream.” If you’ve heard it before, so have your people.


Are you looking for an academic expert (who may put your people to sleep) or a stand-up comic (whose act could play a nightclub)? Don’t settle. Look for a pro who can engage AND entertain, delivering powerful content with passion and pizzazz. After all, you want your people to remember the point, not just the punch line.


If a speaker is going to presume to tell you how to run your business better, they better understand your business. Select a speaker who will take a personal interest in your industry, your company, and your people. Will they visit your office, review your collateral material, shop your competition, or spend a day riding with your salespeople? Will they fly in early to attend the whole conference? An outsider’s insight may prove priceless. A real pro is a quick study, and will customize until they sound like they’re from home office.


There are two conferred by the National Speakers Association: the Certified Speaking Professional (CSP) and the Council of Peers Award of Excellence (CPAE). The CPAE is an honorary designation, a lifetime achievement award, while the CSP requires a minimum of 250 presentations over a five-year period, for at least 100 different clients, at a substantial minimum fee, and must be renewed every five years. The CSP is your assurance of the highest standards of professionalism and excellence. An elite group of veterans hold both.

Technical Mastery

The days when a speaker could stand behind a podium and just read from notes are long gone. Top pros supercharge their speeches with multiple multi-media: computer animation, upbeat music, sound effects and video. And they bring their own computers, projectors and microphones. (BTW, this can save you a bundle!) After all, when take your car to a mechanic, don’t you expect them to use their own tools?


Does a live person answer the phone when you call? Successful speakers travel constantly, but are always accessible through their staff. They use cell phones, voice-mail and e-mail to keep in touch. The real pros check both at least twice a day, and respond promptly, personally.


They did include a video didn’t they? The pros all have at least one; or two, or more. Ask for the what-you-see-is-what-you-get version, shot live, unedited (except perhaps for opening trailers). And while the WYSIWYG take may be technically flawed, anyone can look good in front of a studio full of friends.


Are they coming to your area? The pros get around, and will gladly arrange for you to sit in. If that’s not an option, interview them by phone. Think of it as a live one-on-one audition. Ask them to advise you on a particular challenge or business issue, then ask yourself, “Does this sound like the kind of advice we want our people to hear?”


You should never have to ask for them. A professional will automatically include them in the press kit, along with a client list and multiple testimonials. Read the letters. Look at the dates; are they current? Check references on their LinkedIn profile as well. Then call at least two.


What will your people take away to help them recall and implement what they’ve heard? Can your speaker provide a textbook, a workbook, a cassette or two, an action list, a checklist, a laminated wallet card, or a free web e-zine. Some of these “extras” should be included in the fee. Can they post their handouts and PowerPoint slides on a web site for download? Ask. These minor extras add major impact and multiply the take-home value of the message.


Worry less on what the speaker will charge; worry more on what your people will get. Does the fee include pre-event consultation, research, customization, travel time, travel expenses, handouts, workbooks, AV equipment, pens, markers or other supplies? A bad program is no bargain. If you’re investing half a million dollars to host a conference, you can’t afford a dud.

On the other hand, most pros will leverage their preparation by doing multiple programs. Stretch your speaker budget by asking for combined fees for a keynote, plus multiple breakout sessions, VIP receptions, panel discussions, etc.