I had a long conversation with a meeting planner the other day about whether the audience prefers style or substance in a motivational speaker. The answer is “it depends”.

First of all, it depends on the speaker’s role. It seems backwards to me, but a breakout speaker who is there to give good, actionable content to an audience is actually paid much less than a keynote speaker. At most conferences, they aren’t paid at all.

If the speaker is a name celebrity, an entertainer, or is hired as simply a motivational speaker to pump up the crowd, they aren’t held to the same standards as far as bringing actionable content. The speaker’s role is different.

It also depends on the audience and what they expect to get out of it. I speak a lot to scientists and engineers, and they want actionable information that they can take back to the lab or office and put into action. I’ve actually seen them do it, which is exciting as a speaker to know your advice was taken.

I’ve also spoken to audiences that didn’t want any actionable information. They just wanted to hear inspirational stories, and could fill in the blanks themselves if they wanted to.

This is surprising to me, but then again, I’ve spent a big chunk of my life in Hollywood, where everything is style over substance. Value is in who you know, what kind of car you drive, or how rich or connected you are. What you know takes a backseat.

This is also how many people choose a political candidate. The average height of all American presidents since 1900 have all been close to 6 feet tall. Out of 43 presidents, only 5 have been below the average height. I know some very smart people who say they vote on a president based on their height and whether they look “presidential” or not.

Even in identical twins, the taller one tends to make money money (yes, even identical twins can be different heights based on environmental factors and growth restriction in the womb).

Studies show that university professors who are considered more attractive are rated as better teachers. And females who are considered more attractive by professors will tend to get better grades than females they consider unattractive.

Is any of this fair? Of course not! But as my speaking coach always tells me “The audience is never wrong”. So, how do you know if an audience member wants style or substance?

Well, you could ask the meeting planner. But sometimes they don’t even know themselves. You could even ask the audience, but I doubt you’d get a straight answer.

The best way to handle it is to strive to be the best speaker you can be, bringing actionable content for those who value it, and a little sizzle for those who don’t. In any audience, you’ll always have a mixture of both.

As someone who favors substance over style, I feel cheated by a speaker who is all style and no takeaway content. But not everyone thinks that way.

Speakers who sell the sizzle and not the steak may succeed in the short term, but it’s the speakers who have substance and bring value that will succeed in the long term.

 

 

 

 

 

No matter where I go these days I’m constantly running into someone who says they are a speaker. At the grocery store today there was one person in front of me and one behind me who got into a conversation about speaking. In L.A. you expect to run into someone who is an actor, writer, director, or all of the above on every corner. But speaker? Hmm, what’s going on?

This is interesting because, according to studies, glossophobia, or the fear of public speaking is the number one phobia Americans have. You would think more people would shy away from it, but I get calls every day from people who say they’ve just become a speaker or they want to become a speaker.

Since I’ve been working in the entertainment industry in some form or another since I was a teenager, I look at the speaking industry as being very similar to the entertainment industry. For example, you have a handful of actors who are on the A list, who make millions of dollars, a lot of actors who make a living some or most of the time, and a lot of wanna-be actors who never make any money from acting, who eventually give up and do other things, maybe acting from time to time as a hobby.

This is because the entertainment industry is full of supply, but not enough demand for all of that supply. It’s the same in the speaking industry. Most actors want to be on the A list, making the big bucks, waiting for someone to write a check so they can focus on their craft and showcase their talent. Most speakers want the same thing. I admit, I’d love nothing better than to just show up and get a big, fat check to be a rock star. Who wouldn’t? But the speaking industry, like the entertainment industry has far more supply than demand. It’s a seller’s market. Far more sellers than buyers.

So, that’s the bad news. The good news is that there has never been a better time in history to be a speaker or entertainer. But, just like the entertainment industry, it’s an incredibly difficult path if you’re simply standing in line with everyone else. Personally, I don’t have the patience to wait in that line. For the past 20 years I’ve been writing, producing and staring in my own productions, either with angel investors, my own money, or with small business sponsorship.

When you go the self-funded or sponsorship route, supply and demand doesn’t matter. You find the demand first, then supply the talent. That means finding niches that need what you have to offer and then finding a way to get paid for it.

A good example of this is historical keynote speaker Lord Scott, who bears an uncanny resemblance to George Washington. He not only looks like him, but is the right size and age to portray Washington. Scott has used this to his advantage, booking educational presentations at schools, 4th of July celebrations, corporate events, and churches.

He has also started his own non-profit “We Make History”, putting on historical events on both the east and west coasts. His team now includes over 200 actors, and continues to expand. Scott has found his niche as a public speaker and performer by thinking outside the box and creating his own speaking career.

As a professional speaker how can you create your own career and bypass the supply and demand problem of the speaking industry?