The top 3 differences I have found between speaking in the U.S. and Germany

Did you ever dream about flying to European cities like London, Berlin or Paris for a speaking engagement?

Some U.S. motivational speakers might be thrilled to speak internationally, especially in Europe — to be able to combine a business trip with a beautiful art walk in Berlin or a visit to the Oktoberfest in Munich, while getting paid to speak.

Germany seems to be great for speaking engagements because English is on the rise as a common language, and its economy is robust.

Germany stands out as a European powerhouse, with the continent’s strongest economy, low unemployment, and as the European champion of exporting goods around the world.

I feel qualified to give advice on speaking in Germany and in the U.S. because I am a motivational speaker — a German native — who immigrated to the U.S. six years ago.

Why? I published a motivational self-experiment entitled ‘How to Travel the World for Free,’ and unexpectedly, TV show host Jay Leno called me in Berlin.

Hello Mr. No-Money, do you want to come on my show?

Well, as we Germans tend to express our emotions a tiny bit economically, I agreed with a German emotional outburst of ‘Ok, if you pay for the flight.’

On the Tonight Show I was having a hard time focusing — due to the fact that I was sitting next to Katy Perry who suggested I should become a motivational speaker in the U.S.

Who in their right mind could turn down such sage advice from one of America’s top pop stars?

Shortly after, I googled ‘happiest town in the United States’ and moved to my new mountain home close to Boulder, Colorado, and I’ve been building my career as a motivational speaker in the States ever since.

The top three differences between the USA and Germany when it comes to professional speaking

1. You probably won’t get paid as much in Germany

One of the top differences between the markets is the speaker fee.

Although the income level between Germany and the U.S. isn’t larger than 30%, speaker fees are usually much lower.

Average professional speakers in Germany usually receive about $4K for an event keynote engagement. Corporate workshops usually come in at around $2.5K if you’re not a celebrity speaker.

In the U.S., professional speakers for the same work usually get paid $10K or more.

Why is there such a huge difference for the same service?

It comes down to different cultural values.

I often experience cultural boundaries in terms of spending limits for certain professions in Germany.

A good comparison is the income level of CEO’s and managing directors between Germany and the U.S.

The ratio between CEO and average workforce earnings in the U.S. is more than double that in Germany.

Speakers are not CEOs, but this example shows how Germany tends to keep income levels of all professions closer together with less sky-rocketing salaries for certain individuals.

2. The key topics the two markets care about are different

Leadership is an important topic in the U.S. Roughly 60% of my U.S. bookings are related to the theme of leadership.

It feels that strong leadership is an important cultural value in the U.S: Strong leadership for success!

On the flip side, 80% of my bookings in Germany are related to change management.

I see two reasons for this major difference.

First, Corporate Germany is strong in terms of preciseness, and high-quality products, but traditionally seems to have a harder time embracing change.

The culture tends to be strong in terms of planning rather than making fast changes.

The Online Business Guide Passport 2.0 summarizes German change management challenges as follows.

‘Germans are most comfortable when they can organize and compartmentalize their world into controllable units. Time, therefore, is managed carefully, and calendars, schedules, and agendas must be respected. Sudden changes in business transactions, even if they may improve the business outcome, are unwelcome’.

I’ve seen all sorts of different approaches to change management in Germany, but I agree that the focus tends to be more on planning than flexibility.

And this is great news for change management speakers. You are needed in Germany!

Most of my keynotes in Germany deal with digitization, since this is still a major change management topic in Corporate Germany in 2019.

The monthly search volume for “Keynote Speaker Digitalisierung” (keynote speaker digitization) is shown by Neil Patel as 210 in Germany — one of the major search keywords for speaking topics.

3. Audience expectation

In America, the keynote itself is an art form.

This art form is a mixture of message, content, storytelling, humor, and audience engagement.

To combine these elements perfectly makes for a great speaker.

In Germany, the focus is more on the content. What matters is the message itself: the statistics, facts, insights, the factors that have educational value.

For German speakers who are looking to impress American audiences, you need to work on audience engagement and establishing humor on stage.

Being humorous on stage as a non-native speaker can be a huge cultural challenge, because humor differs around the world. But entertainment is a large factor in how well a speaker will be received by an American audience.

For U.S. speakers, I would advise you to either use SpeakerHub to find bookings, or personal recommendations. Whatever you do, be careful of direct client email marketing. The recent German data protection law updates are very strict, and unsolicited email marketing can result in you having to pay a fine.

Content-wise, there seems to be a great intercultural interest in learning from outside speakers — just use your cultural background and emphasize your competitive edge.

Wrapping it up

Motivational speaking is an exciting and particular industry with its own rules and own beauty. I find the opportunity to travel to different cities, states and countries for workshops and keynotes a great aspect of this work. That’s why I’d always encourage anyone to try to make a name in a second country besides their home market. Although things do take time and need to be figured out, this exercise outside of one’s comfort zone may open many doors:

What you learn from speaking experiences in one country can be brought back and applied in another. An understanding of cultural differences in business, leadership, marketing and humor can greatly improve one’s personal view of the world. My next goal is to start looking at the Canadian market. What will be your next goal?

Thanks, Michael

Bio: Writer, Challenge Seeker, Motivational Speaker

Award-winning travel show host Michael Wigge specializes in documenting incredible challenge stories. How to Travel the World for Free, How to Barter for Paradise (where he turned an apple into a Hawaiian dream home by bartering for bigger, better things) and How to Travel Europe Blindfolded are just three of his seven travel shows. He recently shared his amazing success stories on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and Katy Perry, and also on The Today Show. His TV programs and books have been broadcast and published internationally.

Based on his incredible challenge experiences, Wigge began performing humorous motivational speaking engagements and started CMW speaking and coaching. His most successful corporate keynotes are “Challenge for Change Leadership Success” and “Challenge for Change Sales Success.” He currently delivers presentations in the corporate arena, on college campuses, and for private clients. Wigge’s motivational seminars support employees and leadership to improve their time management, motivation, change management, resilience, and stress management.

This was originally posted on SpeakerHub Skillcamp.

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