Ryan Foland speaks with Tamsen Webster — a messaging strategist, speaker, and author.
Tamsen started off in a corporate job before she found the way to becoming, what she calls, a “professional who speaks”. In this podcast, she talks about how she manages to put the pro in professional speaker.
She talks about the importance of leading the audiences on the right path by giving them the information they need rather than the information they ask for, how to define and improve your message and address specific issues, and most importantly, why being easy to work with can go a long way.
Tune in for some sound advice and some blunt truths about the professional speaking career.
Listen to the interview on iTunes or Soundcloud.
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 to another episode of the World of Speakers.
Today we have a very special guest, a guest with winning glasses although you don’t see, they are bright and colorful and she is ready to talk with you about her experience speaking, about her tips for speaking and about how she manages to gain more stage time.
Her name is Tamsen Webster and she is a messaging strategist, she is a speaker, and she’s an author.
Welcome to the show, how are you doing today?
Tamsen Webster: I am delightful today.
Ryan Foland: Delightful!
Tamsen Webster: It is a good day.
Ryan Foland: I like that.
It’s always fun to think of those words that you choose to use when someone asks you how you are, and I haven’t heard delightful in a while.
So it’s quite delightful.
Tamsen Webster: Well I am glad that I did that, it fills you with delight.
Ryan Foland: Now, is delightful a go-to word for you, is that part of your core messaging? I’m just curious.
Tamsen Webster: It actually is, yeah.
I love things that spark joy, not to get too KonMari about it, but I think that we need more delight in our lives.
And so yeah, I think when it prompts delight I like to make sure that I note that.
Ryan Foland: Well that sounds delicious, and I’m excited to see what we have served up here today.
I first like to start all of these podcasts the same and instead of reading a long bio where we talk about how awesome you are and everybody’s eyes roll because they’re secretly jealous about the traction that you’ve gotten, I want everyone to know that you are human with plenty of stories and I want to pull one of those stories off the shelf so we can just get to know you a little bit.
Tamsen Webster: Sure.
Ryan Foland: If you had to pull one story that I could use as ammunition in the most positive way, not bullets, but just something to have in my pocket if I ever meet someone and I think they might be a good connection with you, I’m like, “Wow, you got to meet Tamsen, this one time she — “ fill in that story.
And if that’s the only story that this person had, what would that story be, that best represents you? No pressure.
Tamsen Webster: I know that’s like such a big ask.
It was my first job out of grad school which in and of itself is a story because I went to grad school thinking I wanted to be an art museum director and yet my first job out of grad school was as a management consultant because I got lured by the high pay of business consulting post MBA.
I actually landed in quite a good place, it’s a place that is still around, it’s called Pritchett, they are a change management consulting firm.
And my job there as a research associate was really to help build out their communications arm of their practice.
So there was figuring out things like merges and acquisitions and cultural reorganizations, and those kinds of things.
And a lot of that comes down to communication.
Now, generally, it was interesting work, but there were a couple of things that kind of got in the way.
One is, tough your listeners may not be able to see me, is that I am brunette, they may discover that I am outspoken and I am generally at this point an adopted New Englander.
And you plant all of that in Dallas, and I’m going to be wildly unfair to Dallas here for a moment, Dallas and I just do not get along. I thank Dallas for the knowledge it gave me, I did not thank it for the 50 pounds I gained when I lived there, thanks to Chimichangas and cheese.
Ryan Foland: Brisket.
Tamsen Webster: Brisket, yeah exactly.
But to me, my time in Dallas and actually a lot of what I do is crystallize in this performance review that I had.
The head of HR, as any place there’s this annual meeting, annual performance review, whatever, the head of HR was this little woman, she was small but round, her name was Miki Grace, I remember this succinctly.
And Miki was a nice enough woman and she meant well, but in this performance review, which started off really pretty well, I thought, she was talking about,
“You’ve got great ideas, you’ve built up this whole thing, the head consultants have such great things to say about you. But — and there were just one or two little things.”
And I was like, “Oh god, there’s always a but.”
But what was so shocking to me was what came out of her mouth the next.
The first of which that I remembered was that I should do my hair.
The second was that I should wear more lipstick.
And the third was that “Sometimes, Tamsen, you come across as cheeky,” she said.
Now, to me, that’s a compliment.
Not the, do your hair/wear more lipstick-thing, that was freakin’ Dallas and even though I do wear lipstick and whatever, I just apparently did not wear enough or the right kind, and do my hair I think was some process of the fact that it wasn’t blonde and shellacked into place.
Ryan Foland: Now to be clear, you’re talking about Dallas the state, not Dallas the soap opera? Because I just want to make sure we’re talking —
Tamsen Webster: Dallas the state, I know, you would think that it turns out very similar.
But this whole cheeky thing, at the moment it was actually pretty devastating because also I should mention that 50 pounds like also wrapped up into this “performance review” was the fact that, “Oh, by the way, have you ever thought about losing weight?”
And I was like, “You did not just say this to me.”
“And oh, by the way, we kind of prefer it when women wear dresses around here and not pants.”
I was like, “Oh my lord.”
Ryan Foland: Well this little short and round is really throwing you around here.
Tamsen Webster: Oh my gosh, so it was awesome, but this cheeky thing is what stuck in my head.
Because as I said, to me cheeky —
Ryan Foland: Real quick, what was your definition of cheeky prior to this performance review?
Tamsen Webster: Prior to this performance review, for me, cheeky was a little bit sassy, but with kind of a wink and a nod.
To me, cheeky is like there’s a pointedness to it, but it’s like a wink and a nod, it’s kind of a friendly impish quality.
Ryan Foland: It’s like a hybrid sarcasm that’s endearing.
Tamsen Webster: Yeah, I mean I wouldn’t even say sarcastic, it’s just that it’s a little challenging of convention, but in a mischievous way, is what I would say.
Ryan Foland: Now, was there also a humor element to it?
Were there opportunities for humor where you’re sort of somebody who is bringing jokes and elements to it?
Tamsen Webster: Not really, no.
Ryan Foland: Because I used to also see it a little like the word cheeky was just kind of a little joker, a little teasy, a little [joshy] and stuff like that.
Tamsen Webster: Yeah, it’s like I said, impish is what I’d say.
Ryan Foland: Okay, I like that, impish.
Tamsen Webster: Impish. That is not how she meant it.
Ryan Foland: So she, her definition of cheeky was a negative thing?
Tamsen Webster: Oh, absolutely. It was overstepping my bounds, essentially.
It was that I didn’t know my place.
Ryan Foland: So it sounds like that was a substitute word for the word she wanted to use, but was maybe less savvy about it?
Tamsen Webster: She was really direct about everything else, so I don’t know why she wouldn’t have been direct about that.
The thing was that that tension I felt in the moment was, “She thinks this is a bad thing, and I don’t”.
So really at that moment, I was like whose definition am I going to listen to here?
If I’m going to listen to my own definition of it, what does it mean for me, if this is the thing, that the rest of this otherwise positive performance review is building to was like,
“Oh, but you’re cheeky.”
And it was kind of like, “What does that actually mean?”
The reason why I say that in a lot of ways it is foundational because it was in that moment that truly I was like,
“I don’t agree. I can see why you were saying that about me and I don’t consider that to be a negative.”
But what I also took was, the way that I’m wired, was to say that there’s always some reason why that was given as feedback to be worked on.
It was one of those things where, it really in a lot of ways set me on the path that I am now, which is that I think part of what I know I didn’t do well early was that I didn’t understand how to win the war for my ideas.
I was very much set on winning individual battles.
When you’re young and you’re the kind of freshest face in an organization, which I was, so not only was I like a junior person in the form of research associate, but I was also actually young because I went to business school straight out of undergrad and I graduated at 23, so I was young, I was younger than the rest of the research associates by 4 or 5 years and that youthful inexperience played out in the fact that even if I had a good idea I don’t think I was always really great at articulating it.
So in a lot of ways, it’s one of the things that became so important to me partly as a result of that and partly from other experiences I had to say,
“I am fine being called cheeky when it is a compliment but I never want to be called that as a negative again.
What can I do to improve how I can get an idea across so that the idea survives even if it’s not me?
How can I put the idea forward, so then an idea doesn’t fail because I did.”
I think that that story really is what set me on the path to that, it’s like,
“What can I do to make sure that I am not the barrier to my ideas being heard?”
Ryan Foland: Okay so one word that you said kind of stuck out there which I might just latch onto and see how far I can pull the thread, this idea of improving.
And if you look at that word I see prove, it’s almost like you weren’t able to prove your definition of cheeky in the eyes of someone else, and that messaging sort of died at the table.
But the first part of improve is I’m, and you’re taking the responsibility for it, you’re aware, you were sort of put back, but you also were smart enough to go,
“There’s a reason why this is happening.”
And instead of taking that on with yourself and questioning your own integrity, your own values, your own mission, your own vision, you sort of place that on the messaging and how the idea or the idea of you is communicated in that work environment.
Is that right?
Tamsen Webster: Absolutely.
Not to say that I was immediate either, I mean it did rock me and I was like, “Okay, wait a minute, what do I really feel about this?”
And it really wasn’t that moment as a result of all that where I said,
“No, there are aspects to what this person described as cheeky that are actually important to me about how I am.”
I knew from other things and experiences in my life, that sometimes I could come across as overly sharp and other things, I mean, so much of this is just wrapped up in being a woman in corporate America in the early nineties in Dallas, that needs to be said as well.
Ryan Foland: The soap opera, yes, which unfortunately still has some running seasons all over the world right now.
Tamsen Webster: Correct.
And given the timing and all of that is definitely one of those classic examples of the well-known phenomenon that a lot of times women have to guard how do they say something much, much more than sometimes their male colleagues do.
But it’s one of those things where are however negative the origin of it is absolutely what has led me to the work that I do today, which is very much focused on how do you make sure that the idea survives no matter what.
Because it’s the kind of person I am, and it’s the kind of person that I am for, which is somebody or people who serve ideas that are bigger than they are, and people who are willing to make sure that their idea is heard not just spoken.
Ryan Foland: As a woman, knowing that it’s more than just saying it, it’s more than just presenting yourself, you have to be careful about how you’re saying it and even more importantly, how people are interpreting it which gives you the power to be able to improve your message to keep it truthful for you, but still packaged in a way that maybe other people can see that as opposed to just taking it for whatever they think is surface-level cheeky.
Tamsen Webster: That’s right, yeah.
I mean, because when it comes down to communication I think a couple of things to be true: one is that a failure of communication is almost always as much or more on the sender side than on the receiver side and that if an idea is important enough then it’s your job, my job to do the work to get it across.
The second thing I’d say is that it is worth making that check on what are you willing to sacrifice for something?
Ultimately, I decided not to stay in Dallas, because while that may have been useful feedback to me in a way, it was also, everything else was so indicative that there were such cross purposes of values and assumptions and point of view on the world that not only did I leave Dallas, I left that industry and I went back to the arts because I was like,
“I’m not going to do this, I’m going to do what I can to improve myself, to do the best I can with the information I’ve got, that’s on me.
But I don’t need to make it harder for myself by being in a place that just fundamentally doesn’t value some of those elements.”
So it really was so useful to have such in a lot of ways a negative experience so early in my career because it taught me really early how necessary it was to draw lines in the sand and be really clear what about myself I wasn’t willing to compromise on and what I did see as places where it would be worth my while to find other ways to succeed.
So I am happy for it, in the end, but at the moment it was not fun.
Ryan Foland: I love the sand idea, sometimes I’ll remind people that the line in the sand depends on where you stand.
Tamsen Webster: True. And how dry the sand is.
Ryan Foland: Exactly.
And you left the beach entirely to go play on another patch of sand.
So let’s talk about the speaker sand in which you find yourself.
When did you make that transition?
Was it a hybrid where you are working in the arts and you found yourself speaking?
Tamsen Webster: Kind of, yeah.
I mean, I think the first time, I will still say that even though I am a professional speaker, I am first and foremost a professional who speaks.
Yes, I am a paid keynoter, and all of that, it is not my primary business. I see it absolutely is a form of marketing business development.
It is a useful stream of income, but not my primary one.
But my life as a speaker started about 18 years ago, actually.
I started as, depending on which side of the business you come up in, but what is known on the entertainment side of the business as a content speaker meaning that I started speaking on behalf of the organizations I worked for and spoke at in the breakout rooms of association conferences.
So a lot of times the people are juggling to try to get to be at the keynote association conferences forgetting, of course, that there’s this group of folks just churning it out and free noting as my husband and I have come to call it in the breakout rooms with the content that people are actually going to use.
I started, like I said, about 18 years ago.
At the time I was working at Harvard Medical School, that was where I was working and I was ahead of what’s known as development communications.
So what I was in charge of was the communication strategy around the fundraising.
So I helped the fundraisers with their messaging.
Ryan Foland: And I love advancement. I work at UCI as well, University California Irvine, and I’m a big supporter of advancement, but I just love the name, advancement.
It’s a nice way of saying, “give me your money”.
Tamsen Webster: Advancement, which is so opaque to everybody else.
Anybody in the industry calls it an advancement and you always have to translate it so that’s why I’m like, like a development as well, like nobody knows what that means unless you’ve been on the fundraising side of things.
Fundraising, it’s all that it is.
And where it started was that I was head of that initiative there and I had hired a brand strategy firm to help us put the messaging into pretty formats and they like to speak at the association conferences obviously to advance their work and so they brought me on originally as a co-presenter.
And then between that and seeing, this is now again 10,12 years ago at the start of like social, I would see people give talks about some of that kind of stuff and I’m like,
“Really like if that’s the bar I can meet that bar, like as far as speaking.”
I mean, I’d spent a fair amount of time on stages when I was in high school, doing musical theater and things like that and I was like, “I can do this.”
So it really started as a process of sharing the work that I had done with other people who were doing similar kinds of work so that I could help make their job easier, based on the lessons that I’d learned.
And just like I don’t feel like I ever stopped being a change management consultant, I don’t think I’ve ever stopped being that kind of speaker.
Meaning I speak about things that I have developed to make my own work easier and I talk about them so that I can make other people who have to do that same kind of work easier, like it’s just part of my mantra to myself, the first piece of it is to be useful and that really still guides my work, even if I’m giving a keynote, I’m really very focused on not just wowing the crowd but actually changing them, I really want to drive actual changes in thinking and behavior, not just rile them up for a moment and nothing happens after.
Ryan Foland: Well it’s interesting, let’s dive into this a little bit.
Because I think the story really gave us a good idea of who you are and I appreciate you sharing that vulnerable moment but I think hopefully it can empower all the other women who are facing those on the daily being called cheeky when they think it’s a positive and they’re on the wrong beach in a soap opera that isn’t necessarily the right fit.
But the soap opera is going to continue, so it’s about breaking that mold.
But I like how this is sort of over this process you went from your job to what you said here about speaking on what made your job easier, in order to be useful.
From speaking tactics or strategy standpoint, maybe you can dissect that a little bit for us?
Because I find a lot of our listeners are really good at what they do, but they still find struggle when it comes to the topics to speak on, and there’s these the more cliche, I’m leadership or I’m communication, these things, but what you just said seems to be an interesting thread of speaking about what you’re good at and how your job has become easier to be useful.
That sounds like a nice reverse engineer way to get into a top-level topic. Maybe you can explain the dynamics of it?
Tamsen Webster: Absolutely, yeah.
It is foundational to my approach so I love that you keep using thread because I have heard that my approach is the red thread and it really begins first and foremost with determining a question that people are asking for which they haven’t yet found an answer.
There are really 2 ways of going about that, one is you already have an idea and then your job is to figure out how do I establish the utility of that idea, the usefulness of that idea to the audience.
I find this question/answer piece very useful.
If you think of your idea as an answer, then you need to figure out what question is your audience asking right now that it’s an answer to.
Here’s the kicker, it can’t be the question you wish they were asking, or you think they should be asking, it needs to be a question they’re actually asking, a question that would be useful to them to have an answer to.
I would say one of the biggest mistakes I see when people come to me for help to make their ideas more irresistible is that’s one of the biggest things that they miss they are just like, “They should be asking this question,” I’m like, “Yeah, but they’re not.”
So you need to figure out how to tie it to a question they’re actually asking right now because otherwise, they’re not going to be remotely interested in what you have to say because they don’t know why they should care yet.
And you can tell them all the benefits and all the stuff they’re going to get but right now all that was going to feel like it’s taking them off track of something else that’s more important to them right now.
So what’s that more important thing?
I think that’s a very useful way if you’ve already got an idea to go back and say, “What’s the question?”
The other thing to do if you’re looking for an idea if you’re looking for a topic is to say well what questions are out there that people haven’t answered for themselves yet that I think I could answer, based on who I am, what I know, what I do?
I think that that’s one of those things that can come from observing the patterns of your life and it doesn’t come just necessarily from what you do.
So for instance, I have spent 25 years now in marketing and brand strategy, but I think the kinds of questions I know how to answer are how do you close the gap between aspiration and reality.
If you have an idea about a thing but it’s not actually happening, what do you need to do to make that thing real?
Because that’s a question I’ve been answering over and over and over again.
How do you get people to see the power in something, how do you get someone to see enough of power in something to want to actually do something about it, like that’s the kind of question that I’ve been answering over and over again.
And if you start from that perspective sometimes that will lead you to a new answer and a new idea and a new perspective that other people haven’t adopted yet.
Ryan Foland: You said aspiration to sort of reality, but for some reason my mind once I heard aspiration to something, I thought activation.
And you’re looking at it with 2 different fabrics, essentially.
One where you have your answer to a solution, and one where you’re looking for within what you have that can answer the question that somebody already has.
On the having your solution and trying to find the question, one thing I heard I believe it was in South Carolina at some sort of a conference but it stuck with me enough to remember the idea and the reality that people don’t search for answers, they search for questions.
If you go to Google, like I’ve got something I need with my sailboat then I’m going to say,
“How do I do this for this piece on my sailboat?”
Tamsen Webster: That’s right.
Ryan Foland: And if we think about that, that’s how we go out there and search for information we’re not saying I need this part.
Tamsen Webster: That’s correct, yeah, sometimes you are like, “Where can I find this part,” yeah.
And that’s one of the things that yes, this is why the framing as a question to me I found just the most effective, most efficient way to get quickly to that — many people have heard of this like,
“What problem do you solve?”
The problem with that advice, however, is that a lot of times we end up solving a problem that we know somebody has, but it’s not the problem they think they have.
You have to solve the problem somebody thinks they have before you can solve the problem they know they have.
And the only way you’re going to get a sense of what problem they think they have is to think about what questions they’re asking right now, what are the symptoms of that that they’re trying to take care of.
Because we’re not trying to — this is kind of a random example, but it’s like recently I’ve had a lot of things to the pandemic and poor ergonomics, I’ve had like a lot of pain in my neck.
I know the cause of that, at least the way that a lot of doctors think it is, I don’t even want to admit it but like at the ripe age of 47 I have pretty severe arthritis in my neck and that is this “cause” of it.
But the symptom where it started is like why does my neck hurt and how do I get my neck to stop hurting?
And the thing is it well if you can just go to the surface answer which is well, you’ve got arthritis in your neck you’re lead to, as I was to say,
“A doctor will go, ‘I’ll put a shot in your neck and we’ll just numb the nerves and you’re not going to have pain’.”
But then after a month, the pain came back, why?
Because we didn’t do anything about the arthritis and we can’t so where did the arthritis come from?
The arthritis came from the way that I sit and the lack of mobility in my neck, so we didn’t actually, we actually permanently lifted the pain was to go deeper.
But you can’t start with someone saying, “If I’ve got pain in my neck,” the first thing is not going to be like, “Well, do these exercises,” right, the first thing is, how do you stop the pain and then you back up into those deeper things.
I think that’s one of the things that I encourage more speakers to think about which is particularly since there’s so much competition around as you said, things like leadership, communication, and sales, if you don’t go deeper than the surface problem or the surface topic, then it’s really hard to stand out.
And so the more that you can say, “I solve this specific question, I answer this specific question, I answer how to get your sales teams to perform to their potential,” not just, “I speak on sales.”
Or, “I help people overcome their fear,” or, “I help millennial women get over the obstacles that are in their way.”
Well now I have, like as a potential meeting planner that’s going to hire you, that’s way easier to say,
“Do we need a leadership speaker or we do we need a speaker that’s going to help us develop leadership at every level?”
That’s like a different, you’re just at a totally different place.
I think that the real key to that comes back to that what questions are they asking, because if you say to a potential meeting planner or meeting organizer, “This is the question I answer,” it’s going to be way easier for them to go,
“You are the speaker for us because that is the question we’re trying to solve right now.”
Ryan Foland: Yeah, I like that.
One thing that I look at in a derivative of this is figuring out what people want and then giving them what they need because it’s not always the same.
If you can find out what they want then you can deliver what they need, so if they think they need a sales speaker and in talking with a meeting planner you can uncover that they want to sales speaker but what they really need is to answer that particular question, you can morph your message to make sure that they feel like they’ve got those checks in the boxes.
Tamsen Webster: Absolutely.
I mean and you still need to deliver them what they need, you need to say, “Okay, in order to help your sales we need to answer this question instead.”
But that’s why it’s so important for you as a speaker to be able to back that up.
And the thing is, to the point that you were making earlier, Ryan, I see so many speakers who just have an answer, they’re like, “I’m going to speak to you about this method or this model,” or, “I’ve got this phrase that pays,” but you try to scratch deeper than that and there’s not much there.
And so a way to know that you might have that problem would also be to look at how well did you weather the pandemic.
Because the people who I could see, who had actually depth to their content where there is actually deeper thinking than, “I’ve just got 3 points,” and some awesome stories that I tell in my keynote, the ones that were actually really able to sustain and even to grow were the ones that were like,
“Okay, I had been doing this keynote, but you know what, I’ve got all this other content that’s behind that. So now let me talk about this other stuff.”
And if you don’t have like a second and a third layer to be able to go to about your content, it doesn’t even mean that you have to be a consultant or any of that, but it’s like the ability to go to that deeper layer is what is going to show up in a higher quality keynote.
That doesn’t come unless you’ve done some of that hard work of not only coming up with a new idea and a new answer but going back and figuring out what question were thought and then building a super solid case that connects those 2, that says,
“This is why this is the right answer to that question, based on what you, the audience believes to be true.”
Ryan Foland: Somebody that comes to mind is Marcus Sheridan, are you familiar with him?
Tamsen Webster: Oh, I love Marcus, we’re good friends. We’ve been friends forever.
Ryan Foland: His book “They ask you answer” is really, fundamentally the second part of what you’re talking about where if you want to find a solution, whether the pool business goes out or not, find out every single question people are asking about pools and answer them and your life will sort of connect with those people.
So I think that it’s super powerful and we forget to go outside and to go deeper to those questions.
I think it’s a great reminder that your speech topic should answer a question, that your speaking category should have questions underneath the surface that uncover why you are a topical check in that box, top category speaker.
Tamsen Webster: That’s right and it’s important to have the big bucket, right.
Because meeting organizers, bureaus, agents like that’s where everybody starts.
Ryan Foland: That’s what they think they want, right?
You have to be that right.
Tamsen Webster: Right.
You have to be able to say, “Yeah, okay this is my sales talk,” or, “This is my leadership talk,” or, “This is my innovation talk.”
And then be more specific, within that we need to be able to talk about, one of my clients Sarah Ross, yes, she’s a leadership speaker, but with the work that we did together we got very, very clear on the problem that she solves, the question that she helps answer is how leaders can effectively manage the stress of being a leader.
And her answer is kind of increase their leader what she calls a leadership capacity.
Again, it’s kind of the same thing, like if you’re trying to solve, if you’ve got a very specific problem in your house, let’s say you’ve got a leaky roof you could go with a handyman or you could go with the person that’s like, “I’m the roof leak specialist.”
Which one are you going to hire?
Well, both of them could probably solve your problem but you’re going to feel much more confident about the decision when someone is doing the thing that you’re asking for.
I know that’s scary, particularly to less experienced speakers to say, “Oh my gosh, but if I’m not focused I’m not going to get hired.”
Because it’s the people who are incredibly specific that are the ones that get hired, because anytime they’re talking to somebody else who says, “You know, I’ve got this problem,” they’re like, “I know exactly the person.”
Because there is a person that comes to mind about solving that particular problem.
The way I often frame it is that the narrower you focus, ultimately the broader your reach will be, if for no other reason than that kind of narrow focus allows you to be so clear and so expert on that thing that nobody else can touch you, eventually.
I mean, some of that’s time, as somebody who used to be the youngest person in the room it’s like awful to me in a way that it’s like I’m not that anymore, but there are certain things that really do just come with time.
You can speed that up by doing the extra work but I find that the more that you can focus, the more powerful and more profitable the speaker you will be.
Ryan Foland: You are preaching the choir here, I tell people if you’re for everyone you’re for no one, and all of this resonates really well.
So let’s bring it home with maybe understanding all of the dynamics of getting the questions behind the keynotes and all of that, how have you found the most success in gaining more stage time, putting the pro in the professional, getting people to pay you.
What’s maybe the one top tip that you can leave us with here?
Because I think really the meat and potatoes of the value of this conversation are challenging people on making their messages to improve their messages so that they can prove that they have substance behind what’s going on behind the scenes?
So with all that flash-forward, we’ve got it, what’s the one thing that you found the most success within gaining more stages, gaining more fees, you know the professional side of getting paid for the speaking?
Tamsen Webster: It was funny, the Jane Atkinson, who does a lot of work with speakers in sales, and so she asked us on a very similar question on her Facebook page the other day.
She framed it this way, she said, “What makes the difference between a really successful speaker and somebody who’s struggling in their speaking business?”
There were lots of people who were like, “Mindset,” and “Experience,” and whatever and I came in with, “Be easy to work with.”
Ryan Foland: I love it.
Tamsen Webster: Honestly.
I think it’s really undersold how being professional in every exchange, like your professionalism as a speaker shows up in every exchange you have with your audience and that can start on your website, how do you come across, is your website easy to navigate, is it clear what your message is, is it clear that you speak, is it clear how to get in touch with you, is it clear what your topics are, is it clear what you look like and act like on stage?
Is it easy for them to find that stuff when they reach out to you, is it easy for them to get in touch with you, does someone contact them right away?
How much of a primadonna are you about, “I only present from my laptop,” or, “I won’t send you slides in advance.”
I’m like, “You know what, you want the sides in advance, I’ll give the slides in advance. Totally fine. You want me to present off of your machine? Again, I will totally do that.”
My job is to make sure that I can deliver my best talk to you in whatever your constraints are.
Because they are stressed out about this and the more that we come swarming in with like, “I only do it this way because that’s the way,” like no, no you’re giving an excuse because you’re working on that talk up to the last freakin second and you’re trying to borrow every last little bit of time, don’t lie to yourself.
And to quote my friend and colleague Laura Gassner Otting,
“You are not that important, you just aren’t”.
I am of the opinion that we are entirely too protective of our IP (Intellectual property) I know people who like to freak out when they’re like,
“Oh my gosh they are going to record it,”
I’m like, “Record it, share it, I don’t care, get me out there.”
The more that people can know about myself, the more that they can see what I do, the more that they can talk about it, do it, fee integrity, I don’t have it, it’s totally fine.
Because again, let me be clear, from my business model, keynoting is not the only thing I do, it’s a form of marketing and business development, so your mileage may vary but it really comes down to in my mind, be easy to work with, show up early, communicate, communicate when you land, show up at the tech rehearsals, give them what they want, deliver a kickass talk, absolutely, make it easy.
If that means you need to hire someone who’s better at that stuff than you are to make sure that that’s being taken care of, then it is worth it.
By the way, if you’re worried about, they’re like, “Oh my gosh I don’t make enough money to do that,” trust me, if you hire somebody you will figure out a way to make enough money to make sure that that person’s getting paid for.
It always works out.
Be easy to work, I guess I’m a little passionate about that.
Ryan Foland: I like it.
It sounds like you if you are giving free notes that translates to feed notes, eventually, it’s not about chasing that almighty dollar.
I think that’s a good point because I really, I guess I get a bad taste in my mouth when I see a lot of speaker coaches advertise the speaking profession solely in terms of how much money you’re going to make.
I see speaking as a path to open up sort of Pandora’s box when it comes to working with you or getting to know you, or liking you, establishing a longer relationship with you.
And yes, fee integrity is very key, it’s something I work on and try to have that hard line and I’ve grown to that, but I think we all can start off of that as free notes, and we can all give free notes along the way.
Tamsen Webster: I still do, yeah.
I mean, let me be clear like I don’t for the same kind of talk, I said no to a gig earlier today where they were asking for a talk for half my fee, and I’m like, “I can’t do that”, they can’t make it up with book buy, and I was just like, “I don’t have time to do it at that fee.”
But it’s one of those things where it’s like if I had time to do it at that fee, I would do it at that that fee, I’ll contrast that with another person who again, in this case, it was an industry that I have a lot of history in, higher ed, I know they don’t have a lot of money generally in higher ed, it’s strategically useful for me to be in front of them, it’s in January and so the question I asked Jen, who’s my right hand, I said just,
“Can you tell me statistically that weekend they’re asking how often have I booked gigs on that week?”
And when she came back and she’s like, “You don’t usually have a gig,” I’m like, “Fine, then let’s do that one,” because that was actually useful to me.
And on that one, I am willing to take half the fee, even though on a different inquiry earlier today I was like, not on that one/ yes on that one because I’m not going to give away the middle of September or early October date for half my fee when that is very likely to be taken up with a full paying gig at some point.
So I think that I’m with you, getting like ranty about speaker coaches that are like, “Oh, you’ll make X amount of money,” because a) those are the outliers, it is super easy to like look at the big money makers in the business and go,
“I can be like them”.
Actually no, you can’t.
This is a bell curve and I’m not saying you’re not capable of it, but the realistic probability of it is low, first of all.
So make sure you’ve got a plan B, make sure you’ve got other ways to make money.
The second thing I would say is your desire to be on stage does not entitle you to a speaking career.
Just because you like it and you have fun out there is not enough, like it’s just full stop, not enough, you have to have something that’s actually of the value of use, you need to care about your audience, you need to care about them more than you care about yourself.
Which brings me back to be easy to work with.
I mean, it is not about you.
Yes, you are the conduit of this idea, and yes, you are the embodiment of it, but the minute you start thinking that it’s about you, is the minute that you’ve got to balance all wrong.
That’s what this is really about, because the audience that hires you, it’s the audience that decides whether or not you’re valuable, it’s the audience that will talk about you afterward, it’s the audience that will sink or swim your future career.
Because back to Jane’s question, if you are a jerk to the audience or to the meeting professional, word gets around pretty quickly.
And it doesn’t matter how good you are on stage, if you’re an absolute jerk you will eventually stop working because of it.
Ryan Foland: I almost think I can bring it back to your initial story to where that performance review person is the audience and sometimes it’s not the best fit and that’s okay, but there are plenty of beaches to play on, plenty of audiences who are HR that’s going to give you raving reviews, they’re going to keep hiring you back.
I think it’s kind of an interesting nice full loop to our conversation, from something that was very negative but gave you the perspective to make sure that your message lives, and that there’s value so that when that next review comes up which all the audience are going to be giving their feedback as an HR review at the end of the day, they might say you’re cheeky but these days it’s probably taken as an enduring term and that’s why they continue to bring you back and your cheeks to the stage.
Tamsen Webster: Exactly.
Yeah, I mean it really does come down to that, Ryan.
It comes down to you can be a speaker or you can be a communicator.
Ryan Foland: And you can be a professional speaker or you can be a professional who speaks.
And a lot of times I find that people really want professionals who speak as opposed to someone who might just be a speaker but less connected with the ground floor, the roots, with the boots on the ground.
Tamsen Webster: Yeah, and that’s another thing.
And I know and have as very dear friends people who are essentially only keynoters.
And I’m not wired that same way because I cannot speak about a thing that I am not continuing to do.
It’s useful for me like I love being able to constantly see where new questions are arising and new challenges are evolving.
But it’s a different kind of thing, like I said, I think there is a difference, to me the difference between speaking and communicating is making sure that what is spoken is received and acted on.
I will take being a professional communicator, or a professional who communicates professionally any day over being a speaker.
And that’s not a diss on people who are speakers, but I think that that’s particularly earlier in your career really if you’re at any kind of inflection point in your speaking career, that’s a decision that you need to make is that are you out to wow the crowd or are you out to change them.
My goal is always to do both because that’s the standard that I want to meet, I don’t want to just wow the crowd, I want to change how they see the world, not just in that moment, but afterward, because that’s where real change happens.
I don’t feel like if somebody’s not still thinking about something that I’ve said I’m not practicing it 6 months later then I haven’t done my job.
And frankly, I wish that’s when they sent evaluations about speakers, like in the moment people are going to fill out those smile sheets based on how much they like lunch as much as anything else.
I want to know what the audience thinks about 3 months, 6 months later, what do they remember, what ideas do they remember, which ones are they actually putting into practice?
Because those are the speakers that can actually effect change and those are the ones that I think are fundamentally worth it.
I think what we’re going to see as live events come back and because of the rise of virtual events and all of that, I think there’s going to be a lot more pressure on showing return for the investment in a professional speaker, it’s going to be the speakers who either have already done that work or are actively doing that work now to make sure that their ideas actually turn into action, that those are the ones that are going to be the most successful long term.
Ryan Foland: So did you win the war for your idea, and forgive me for being cheeky, but maybe we call you a keynotocator?
Tamsen Webster: There you go, a keynotocator. I’ll take it. That works.
Ryan Foland: All right.
Well hey, I appreciate this insight, the passion, the cheekiness, it all worked out and it was very delightful at the end of the day.
Tamsen Webster: There you go.
I love how you bring things back, Ryan, it is evidence of your listening, which is lovely, and not a lot of people do it.
Ryan Foland: Well I want to listen to how we can connect with you on the World Wide Web.
So you’ve got your book, you’ve got all kinds of crazy content, you are keynotocator that is ready for hire.
Full price, no half price, don’t get the wrong impression here.
But how can people find you, follow you, connect with you, check you out, all that kind of stuff?
Tamsen Webster: The best way to get in touch with me is I am the only Tamsen Webster in the universe so I’m not difficult to find so, TamsenWebster.com, however, is the hub of all things Tamsen.
That’s where you can find information on my book, on my speaking, and sign up for my newsletter which is what I’d most love people to do, because I try to make sure that that is useful every week as well, so just real practical advice on how to improve your messages, how to make your content stronger, how to make your ideas irresistible.
Ryan Foland: And how to find the questions to answer that people think they want but you know what they really need.
So thanks again for your time and your insights, your energy, and your cheekiness.
I’ll say you’re the cheekiest person I’ve interviewed in a while, and it’s great.
Tamsen Webster: That’s fabulous.
I will take it, like I said, I decided there and then that I was going to take it as a compliment and go look for places where cheekiness was valued.
Ryan Foland: Well it’s valued here on the World of Speakers.
And so if you found this not only cheeky but beneficial to you, then share it with some of your speaker friends or people who are upcoming in the speaking world.
We always need those younger spots to fill on the stages in which we just simply can’t fill them all.
So I believe in abundance there’s room for everybody up on the stage all around the world.
And as Tamsen said, in this new era there’s a lot of competition so make sure that you stick out by being really good at what you do and caring about your audience more than you care about you.
My name is Ryan, you can find me and all things Ryan at Ryan.online, talk about easy and we will see one another episode soon.
Tamsen, this is great, I hope to share the stage with you sometime.
Tamsen Webster: I do, too. Looking forward to it, Ryan, someday.
Ryan Foland: Someday soon.
All right, we’ll talk to you then.
Tamsen Webster: Take care.
Ryan Foland: Adios.
A bit about World of Speakers
World of Speakers is a bi-weekly podcast that helps people find their own voices, and teaches them how to use their voice to develop a speaking business. This special series of episodes has been created to help speakers navigate the coronavirus crisis.
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This was originally posted on SpeakerHub Skillcamp.