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[SHOWNOTES] Ian Altman, Grow My Revenue: Invest in your attendees and they will invest in you – ECEO010

[SHOWNOTES] Ian Altman, Grow My Revenue: Invest in your attendees and they will invest in you – ECEO010

Listen to the full podcast episode HERE

You are a growth strategist. Can you elaborate on what that means for the audience?

For a lot of businesses, they’re really good at what they do, but they don’t necessarily understand what are the levers that drive growth for their business. A lot of what I do is help organizations modify their message and their strategies so it triggers growth in their business, rather than just a lot of activity.

Because the premise of our podcast is that events should really be looked at as a part of an organization’s growth strategy and be one of those levers, how would you suggest companies do that more effectively?

I think that the mistake that a lot of organizations make is they run an event, and they think the whole idea of an event is to sell stuff at the event. The reality is that you want to look at your event as a way to build community. If you build a community of people who say, “Wow! I look forward to this event every year, because I’m connecting with other like-minded people,” then it creates stickiness to the business itself.

Whether you do that internally with employees or as a nonprofit doing it with their constituents, it still creates that sense of community that ties everybody together. The extent that you do that, then you start building these entities that are filled with people who are just raving fans. They tell everybody, “These guys are great! I met all these great people!” And now another vender who offers the same things as you from a products standpoint doesn’t offer that community, so it’s no longer apples to apples.

When you’re in that moment of the event, how do you leverage that community to ultimately support that growth strategy?

Part of it is fostering an environment that supports that community. Basically, if your whole event is structured around “Come to this session and that session, hear this pitch, hear that pitch,” people don’t build a sense of community. If you start looking at it from the perspective of “What is in the best interest of my audience? How do I create value for this community that I hope forms?” then all of a sudden, people will see that and say, “Wow! They’re doing stuff that’s in our best interest, even if it’s not in theirs.” It’s kind of like the same premise of if you have happy employees, they create happy customers. If people take care of their employees well, those employees take care of their customers well. If people take care of their clients and attendees well, those people will become fans, and there’s kind of this law of reciprocity that says, “Wow! These guys really looked out for me. How do I now look out for them?”

Tell me how that ties into influence.

The people who host events are generally the thought leaders or the leaders in a space. If you’re attending an event, that’s fine. If you’re speaking at an event, better. If you’re hosting the event, well, you must be the expert. In terms of influence… If you host a great event, you all of a sudden now are seen in a totally different light than everyone else. People will say, “Wow. This is somebody who I want to aspire to be like. I want to be part of their community.” That creates that level of influence. Now, as long as you’re doing things that are integrity-based, and you’re looking out for your attendees’ best interests, then there’s a great likelihood they’re going to follow your suggestions based on that.

How do you sustain that after the event successfully?

The other thing that I see people do is they’ll have an event, and they focus everything on what they’re going to do at the event, and often times as a speaker what I’ll ask is “What do you want people to accomplish six months after?” I get this blank stare. “I don’t know. We haven’t thought of that.” Part of it is thinking beyond the event.

If you think a few steps beyond the event and say, “How do I want people’s behavior to change? What do I hope to be able to deliver to the attendees in terms of their capabilities, accomplishments, those sorts of things?” Then you’re in a position where you can actually make that impact down the road. If, after the event is over, you say, “Hmm, what can we do to make this sticky,” it’s too late. Six months before the event, you want to think about what happens six months after the event. If you’re thinking about it six minutes after the event… too late.

How do these concepts, strategies and content align with your books?

Same Side Selling is all about figuring out where you can make the greatest impact and then working from a point of integrity on delivering the best results for your client. At an event, if you’re thinking “How can I get this out of it? How can I attain these things for me personally as the event organizer?” you’re probably missing the boat.

If you say, “What would create the most value for my audience and attendees?” if you deliver on that promise, the rest of it all will take care of itself. I’m not saying you can’t host an event and say, “The way this is going to be successful is if we generate this much revenue, but we forgot to charge for it,” that would be a problem. If instead your goal is “I want to create this level of community. I want to serve my audience this way,” then by doing that, you’re going to build that community, and then it creates that stickiness. It creates that level of influence, and people will be more inclined to do business with you.

Effective selling, I always say, is about uncovering the truth. It’s not about persuasion or coercion. If you host an event and say, “Here are the issues we’re going to be addressing at this event,” people that care about those issues are going to show up, and if now you’re seen as a thought leader in that space, when they want to solve those issues, who are they going to go to? You.

How does that tie into establishing at the outset what those metrics are of success, what the ROI is at the end?

It’s critical, but sometimes people look at ROI a little bit differently. “I want to see how many things we sold at this event.” Before I started my first business, I worked for this company that was a mainframe-based company, and I was running their client server division, which was basically a fancy word for PC-based stuff. We had this big annual conference, and on day one, there was a line 20 people deep at our client server PC-based booth, and all the other little booths that we had were empty.

The CEO came to me and said, “We’ve got to totally change this, because too many people are focusing on your stuff.”

“No, what we have to do is realize that that’s an indicator of where people have interest, so we need to focus our efforts there, because that’s what people care about.”

“No, but I want them to buy this other thing.”

When you have an event, the first thing you want to do is make sure that you are observing and listening to what’s going on, because if those are your potential customers that are all of a sudden expressing interest in something you don’t serve, then who’s the fool at that point?

That’s a good point. I would suggest that most people don’t do this: interview their stakeholders and potential attendees, whether they’re a nonprofit or a corporation, and finding out what would be of value.

Yes, what would make this time well spent and a great investment for you? It’s interesting. As a keynote speaker, often times what I’ll do is I’ll offer to do a survey of their audience in advance, and you’d be amazed that people will say, “We already know what people want.”

And then I get the survey back, and they’ll say, “No, no, that isn’t what they want.”

And I’ll say, “No, no. 40% of your attendees responded, and 85% of them listed this as a top priority.”

They’ll respond: “I don’t think that’s it.”

And I will insist: “I’m telling you it is, because this is what people are asking for! It may not be what you thought they wanted, but they’re actually telling us what they want to hear about.”

It’s funny, because there are a wide array of topics that I talk about, but if I survey people in advance and say, “What do you most want to talk about?” I’ll start my keynote and say, “We sent the survey out to everybody. Here’s what the response was. 84% of you said you really want to learn about this topic, so I’m not going to cover that.” Everyone laughs. I go, “Of course, I’m going to spend most of our time on that. Is that OK?”

And people say, “Wow! This is great! This keynote is tailored exactly to what I care about.”

I usually make a joke that says, “If you’re one of the people that didn’t respond, then by definition, this session was great, because you didn’t ask for anything!”

One of the things that I found fascinating in one of the conversations that we had is not everybody in the audience need to be there, that you’ve got to be kind of discerning from the perspective of the host of an event or of a client in general. What makes a good client?

A great client is somebody with whom you have a connection. There’s a fit, in essence, between the challenges that they face or their goals and what it is that you can deliver. The best client is a person who really appreciates what they can achieve through working with you.

For example, the person who says, “Look, I want to put on an event. I don’t want it to be that good. We don’t really care if everything goes off perfectly. If it doesn’t look totally professional, we don’t care,” that’s not your ideal client. You tell those people, “Good luck.” I speak at some of those events, and I think, “Oh my God!” People don’t necessarily understand all the crossing the T’s and dotting the I’s that make for a great experience.

Similarly, in any sort of business, in any sort of event, what you want to think about is not “How do I cast a wide net and get as many people as possible?” but instead “How do I attract the right people to achieve my goals and to best serve them?”

There’s an event called Mastermind Talks that’s run every year by this guy named Jayson Gaignard out of Toronto. Jayson holds it at different places around the country and does some really innovative things. They curate a group of about 100 people for their event. They get, I don’t know, 400 or 500 people who want to attend the event, and he curates and matches up the right people, and it’s about a $5,000-a-head event, but the people who come there want to be there, and he makes sure of the right match and fit between personality. They do a ton of work setting it up to make sure that the right people are there. Those events, people come back and say, “Oh my God, it was the greatest event ever.”

It creates value for both sides?

Yeah, there’s an event that I’ve run a couple of times with a couple of other speakers, Marcus Sheridan and Joey Coleman, that we call the Remarkable Growth Experience. Same thing, we target 100 people. We would say, “Look, if you’re going to come, bring a team of 5 people. Otherwise, don’t come.”

Some people will say, “Well, I think I’m just going to come, and then I’ll share it with my team.”

We say, “Don’t do it, because you’re going to spend a lot of money. You’re going to come back all excited, and your team is going to look at you like you’re nuts, because they didn’t experience this for two days. Don’t do that.”

People say, “You could have had that event for 1,000 people. Yeah, but it wouldn’t have been the same experience.” It’s not always the number of attendees; it’s more the impact you can make on those people.

On my podcast, I’ve interviewed a number of people who attended the remarkable growth experience, and in many cases, they’ve doubled their business in the 18 months following the event. Well, that’s a huge impact. That’s pretty cool. But if we had 1,000 people, we might not have found anybody who doubled their business in 18 months, but there’s a half a dozen of them that who said, “Wow. We implemented the stuff we learned, and here’s the result we got.” That makes us feel good.

That brings up another thing. You talked about raving fans earlier, and now you’re talking about getting these testimonials, for lack of a better word. How are you cultivating those testimonials to then support that next event or that next thing that you’re doing?

In some cases, it’s people who volunteer. In other cases, we’ll build private groups on either Facebook or Linkedin for people to stay connected afterwards, because remember: if I’m building a community, then it doesn’t end at the last hour of the show. The community keeps going forever.

For example, Michael Port runs a program called Heroic Public Speaking, and he’s got a Facebook group for anybody who enrolls in it, and that thing goes on forever. There’s some private Facebook groups online for speakers, where we all connect about different events and what went well and what didn’t. It’s kind of funny, because the people who don’t execute stuff well all of a sudden can’t understand why they can’t get the top speakers for their event. It’s because we’re all talking, going, “Yeah, this is a train wreck. You don’t want to work for that one.”

If you’re in a fortunate position where you can pick the events that you do, you want to focus on the ones where you can have the greatest impact, and if you show up and all the technology has gone sideways at an event, really, does someone say, “Oh! I bet you the engineer screwed that up.” When the session bombs, they say, “Oh, that speaker was horrible.” If someone asked them later, they say, “Why were they horrible?” “Well, it was really just the slides were bad, the audio wasn’t good,” but all the other stuff is behind the scenes, so when those things work well, we’re incredibly appreciative of the team putting it on, and when they don’t, that’s when you need a restraining order.

It’s so interesting, because you have this very unique perspective. It’s kind of this trifecta, right? You’re a speaker, so you deliver content from stages at events, you host your own events, and then you attend events to expand your own growth, etc. Any thoughts about that triad?

You know what? It’s just a constant learning experience. Every time I attend an event, I’m thinking, “Oh, that’s a great idea,” or “We have to make sure we don’t do that.” I become hypercritical of our own events, because if something doesn’t go exactly right, I think back, “Man, that happened to me once when I was an attendee, and I hated it. I can’t believe we just did that.”

Are you incorporating in all that you see, all that you read, all that you do yourself, what techniques around about learning are you thinking about in hosting your own events, or even in making suggestions to event organizers around? “Hey, listen, having you up here for 3 hours doesn’t make any sense.”

Exactly. There’s a lot of time that I and the people I work with spend time on, thinking about how people learn. We all know that some people learn by seeing, some by hearing, some by doing. For example, every time I speak, I try to incorporate each aspect of that, because otherwise, the people who aren’t auditory learners and you’re up there speaking, they’ll say, “Yeah, I don’t get it, because I have to actually be doing something to learn.” The other people who are more visual learners, if you go up there and you have no slides whatsoever, they’ll say, “Yeah, I don’t get it.”

But the mistake that some speakers make is they somehow believe that their audience is the only audience in the world who can actually read content on the slide and listen to them at the same time, which can’t happen. You sat through my sessions, and I think if I speak for an hour and a half, there might be 15 words total across all the slides. There isn’t a lot of text, but it’s more the image that is a cue for that visual learner to say, “Oh, now I remember that. I saw this, and here’s what I saw.” I usually do some interactive things, where the audience will connect with each other, because that helps further build that community.

Talk to me about the notion of a lot of event organizers get intimidated by having activities or hands-on activities for large audiences. Can you shed a little light on how you’ve done that well or seen it done well?

Yeah. Here’s the thing: it requires skill and it requires planning so that the speaker says, “Yeah! Don’t worry about it! I have this figured out.” If I was an organizer, I would say, “Really? How are you planning to do it?

For example, if I’m sending people off to do an exercise for 5 minutes, there’s a few components to it. First, I’ll say, “Listen, I’m going to trust all of you. We’re going to do this exercise for a total of 5 minutes. I’m going to put a timer on the screen. At the end of 5 minutes, I’m going to do this. You’re all then going to replicate and mimic that same thing, and it’s a message for all of us to stop the activity and focus back up here,” so that before the activity starts, I’m telling people, “Here’s how it’s going to end, and here’s how you know when it’s over.”

The worst thing is when the speaker says, “OK, everyone go off and do this,” and then they’re standing on the stage going, “Hello? Hello?” They’re trying to catch someone’s attention, and at that point you’re already lost. It’s similar to the notion of “How do I create an impact six months later?” If you’re just thinking about it at the time, if the way you’re bringing everyone back together, you’re just thinking of when they’re not there, you’ve got a major problem. You have to plan in advance. It requires a certain level of skill.

There are times where newer speakers will say to me, “I was thinking about doing this. What do you think?”

“I wouldn’t do that yet. You need to have a little bit more command of the stage so that when you say, ‘OK, everyone, back up here,’ they’ll do that.” I’ll do things interactively, where I’ll bring someone up on stage, and we’ll roleplay something right off the cuff.

Someone says, “Oh, that’s so cool. Should I try that?”

My answer is, “If you’re asking me, the answer is no, because if you’re thinking ‘Should I?’ the answer is no. If you know you can pull it off, great.” I’ve done this hundreds of times.

They’ll say, “Man, what if someone threw you a curve ball.”

“Then I shouldn’t be on stage.”

As you pointed out earlier, content from the stage really makes or breaks events—the deafness of the speaker, the agility, all these kinds of things. What are some of the things that you would suggest event organizers or event CEOs think about as they look for speakers and look for content deliverers out of their own organization or elsewhere?

I guess the biggest thing is the question I always ask is “What behavior do you want to change through this session?”

Usually people go, “Oh, I don’t know. I mean, we just wanted someone to speak about sales, growth, business trends.” Whatever it is they’re asking me.

I’ll say, “OK, so let’s say we speak about that. What do you expect people to do when they get back to the office? What do you expect them to do the next day? Next week? Next month? How will you know six weeks out whether or not this was successful?” If you can define all of that, then now you have objectives, so you know what you’re trying to accomplish.

I’m speaking at an event in about a month. I said, “What are you trying to accomplish?”

They said, “Well, we have people who believe that the only way we can win deals is based on price.”

I said, “OK. How will you know if it’s successful?”

“If our people are discounting less coming out of that.”

“OK, great.” So, I have a whole session that’s built around how they in the room… This is a small group of senior executives, basically presidents of lines of business for this multibillion-dollar company, so they have their 20 division presidents all coming in to talk about this. Basically, my session is not like a typical session I would do. It’s “How do you make these decisions? What are the decisions that you’ve made based on price, and what are the ones where price isn’t even one of your top 3 parameters?”

What they’re going to realize is “When the stakes are high and it’s really important, I don’t care about price. But when it’s just kind of a commodity, I care about price.” Great. So, what does that tell you? Well, that means that now when you present your ideas, you want to make sure you’re focusing on the highest value for your client, otherwise you’re going to get beat up on price, but they need to discover that on their own. If I just told them that, they would say, “Yeah, I don’t buy it.” But once they experience it themselves, then it’s more impactful.

Is that an experience you put them through, an exercise?

Yeah. In that sort of audience, I’ll put them through an exercise.

Now, there are exercises that I’ve done where people say, “Look, I saw you do this with 50 people, but how many people can you do it with?”

Not that exercise that I described, but there’s this certain exercise I’ve done, where I’ve done it with thousands of people, and the organizer says, “I saw you do this at one place, but you couldn’t do that with our event. It’s 2500 people.”

I say, “Yeah, we can.”

It’s funny, because I was doing an event, actually, in Washington, D.C. I did this event where it’s a very interactive thing, where everyone needs a partner, and they’re doing stuff together, and it’s not something that’s talking. It’s an actual activity interacting with somebody else for about 5 seconds.

The organizer said, “Well, this is really risky. I don’t see how you could possibly do this with this many people.” I guess there were about 2,000 people.

We started it. I set the expectation of when it was going to end. Everybody was laughing, having a good time. The organizer comes up to me afterwards and says, “I just can’t believe that you got all 2,000 people to do this.” And then they were right back there.

And I bet it was a highly rated session as well.

It was highly rated, because it was fun. People were laughing, having a good time, but they also learned something, and those people who learn by doing got something out of it, too.

I think that you touched on a big point. It’s making sure that people are getting the value and then connected to those three things that you talked about.

Yeah, it’s engagement. I mean, the thing is that you can have a Nobel Laureate get up and speak and have it be totally ineffective, and you can have somebody who doesn’t have a lot of subject matter expertise be highly effective by how they deliver from the stage. If you get somebody who has a lot of expertise who can also engage the audience, that’s where you get the homeruns.

If you think about it, you’ve seen many speakers. There are some who are masters of the subject, but just can’t deliver from the stage. It’s kind of funny, because the people who can deliver great from the stage and are kind of light on content often get rated well. Then there’s a small subset where people say, “Man, that was a lot of fun, but it was totally packed with content.” That makes me feel good. It’s actionable, and you had a good time.

The president of one of the speaker bureaus said when he gets a speaker reel, what he does is… Let’s say someone sends him an 8-minute segment. What he does is he basically makes 16 little 30-second slots, and as he listens to or watches the video, every time there’s an emotive response by the audience, he puts a tick mark. He says if he ever sees two continuous segments without a tick mark, he doesn’t want that speaker, because if within a minute, you don’t have an emotive response from the audience, then you’re not engaging them. They’re on their cell phones or looking at something else.

How do you derive that emotive response? Is it by tapping into those three things?

Well, it’s tapping into those three things. It’s also by… It’s a whole number of issues.

Is there a magic button?

Well, no. There’s no great secret to it, it’s more a combination of spending a lot of time thinking about the arc of your presentation and the stories that you tell and where you inject humor without looking like a comedian and making sure it’s authentic and responding in engagement with the audience and having different medium.

You’ve seen me speak, and there’s times where I include a still photo, and there’s time where I include video, and there’s times where you’re interacting with other people. At any given part of the session, though you know where we’re going, you don’t necessarily know what’s coming next, so you have to be engaged, because you don’t know what’s coming. The person who speaks in a monotone, the person who doesn’t change their tone at all, you just kind of get lulled off to sleep, and it’s like, “Are they still talking? I think so. Don’t open your eyes.” That’s it.

As I’m sure you have, obviously you’re helping clients vet speakers, but there’s time where I’m speaking, and I’m watching the two-parter speakers, and there’s two thinking. One is “Oh, this poor audience. They’ve got to listen to this.” Then I think to myself, “OK, I think it’s good that I’m going after them, instead of them going after me, because it’s just…”

There are some speakers I know who are amazing, and I think to myself, “Man, I don’t know if I’d rather be following them or them following me, because they’re really talented.”

Given the perspective that you have—again, you produce events, you attend events, and you speak at events—any thoughts around how they should be laid out? Timing or what that experience should be?

I think the best events… Once again, if we get back to this idea that the purpose of the event is to build engagement with your community, then part of it is structuring events and activities that help them connect with one another. If you’re kind of shuffling people from place to place to place to place, and they don’t have, in essence, either unstructured time or structured time around connecting with each other, then every happens to be in the same room, but they don’t know each other.

Instead, what we want to make sure of is when people leave, they say, “Wow. I built a connection with somebody. In fact, when I go back to the event next year, I hope they’re going to be here.” Now they’re selling your ticket for the next event to each other, because now they come in groups and say, “Oh, so-and-so has to come, too.” It just builds that environment that people want to show up at.

I think too many events either say, “Look, the way we’re going to pay for this event is we’re going to have sponsors, so we’re going to have a sponsor slot, and the sponsor gets to sit up there for 30 minutes and give a sales pitch.” It’s almost like the organizer say, “But no one’s going to know.”

Everyone knows. It’s like the bane of everyone’s existence.

When we put on our event, we had no sponsors. People said, “You guys could have made a fortune. People would have loved to have spoken to a room full of CEOs.”

“Yeah, I know, but we’re not doing it, because it’ll make the event suck for everybody.” If it’s important for us to make the extra money, we’re going to charge more for the ticket, but we’re not going to have a sponsor for this, because that’s not what we’re trying to achieve.

If you have a sponsor and you say, “Look, as long as you craft a story this way and that way that delivers value and isn’t pitching your stuff, we’d love to have you. But we need to see your session in advance. Here are the things that are acceptable, and here are the things that aren’t acceptable.”

If you’re going to get up there and try to sell from the stage, it doesn’t work. In one of these speaker groups on Facebook, someone just noted that they had hired a friend of mine to speak at this event, and I think his fee is $25,000. They had a free speaker, through some organization or whatever, who was going to speak before him for an hour session. The person went an hour past the hour. The person spoke for 2 hours.

He turned to this friend of mine and said, “Hey, you had a 90-minute session. Can you cut it to 45 minutes?”

Think about the irony of that. Someone is saying, “Hey, we’re going to save money. We’re going to have this guy for free. Now the person we payed $25,000 is going to cut his presentation for 45 minutes, so we can accommodate this schmuck during whose speak people were walking out of the room.”

You ask yourself, “How did this happen? How did this thing go on for 2 hours?” Someone should be shot.

You talk about that connection, engagement, all of that. What are some of the ways that you’re seeing that happen at events that you’re finding really great ways?

Well, in some cases, people will use technology, but sometimes the technology can backfire. I’ve seen places where they’ll say, “We’re going to have a live Twitter feed,” so people are going to tweet out. Guess what? If you’re sitting there tweeting, you’re not paying attention to what’s going on. Here’s the irony: people are interacting via Twitter, but they’re not interacting with the person sitting next to them. It doesn’t make any sense.

Now, if you can create environments where you say, “Listen, here’s something we’re going to try to do together.” If you almost do teambuilding activities with attendees, then people get to know each other.

Michael Port and his wife Amy run this event, I think I mentioned, Heroic Public Speaking. They do it typically in Florida, and one of the activities that they do on day one is they put people in groups of eight to work through some stuff together. I don’t think their expectation is that each participant is going to get a ton of really constructive feedback from the other seven people, but I will tell you that when I went to their program, there are seven other people who I’m in regular touch with who were part of that group, because now we all connected with each other there. We spent a half hour together. How much time is everyone spending? Four minutes?

Right. This is actually really interesting, because in a format, let’s say, we’re a nonprofit, and we’re hosting our annual gala. 90% of the people there you’re not really connected to. Maybe not 90%, but a good percentage you’re not connected to, because they’re guests of. How could you apply that? How do you create an activity at a dinner table at a formal gala?

Let’s say it’s a nonprofit at some charitable organization benefitting children, benefitting homelessness, something like that. You might even say to people, “Look, one of the things I want to do is I want to give you 5 or 6 minutes for people to share stories at the table about how something we do has impacted you personally.”

People now communicate, “Oh, this one thing! I’ve got to tell you this story.”

Then you don’t say, “Who has a great story?” You say, “Who has someone at your table who told a great story you think other people should hear?” A few people raise their hand, and you say, “OK, what was the story?”

“It was so-and-so. Can you tell the story now?”

And now everyone at that table hears it, everyone else hears the story, and now they go, “Wow. That’s really impactful.”

And you’ve also engaged the entire audience at that point.

Exactly. Now everybody is engaged. When I’m moderating an event, I suggest something like that, and they’re like, “Well, what if people don’t have any stories?” Everyone’s got a story. There’s always a story.

Now, if you say, “Talk amongst yourselves,” and you don’t give any structure, then you’re going to get lousy responses. It’s all in how you facilitate that that generates that engagement.

I think you’ve just kind of blown up a mystique. I think people get very nervous about doing those kinds of things in those environments, but I also believe they work. People like to engage.

Some of the icebreaker stuff is kind of pointless. “Introduce yourself and where you’re from.” Well, they’ve probably already done that when they sat at the table, so really?

But if you say, “Hey, share a story about something that really impacted you associated with our organization, or something that you did that you felt like you gave a little and you got a whole lot back in return.”

Someone is going to say, “Well, you know what? I donated this one thing, and I participated in this, and then I went, I saw this child, and now he’s doing great. I get emails from him.”

Everyone else is sitting in the room going, “Man, I want to have that experience.” Then if you time it right, now you do the silent auction. People are just throwing out money!

There was a fundraising event that I attended. All sorts of options. We’re all driving things up, and certain people say, “You think that’s a good deal?”

I say, “Well, that’s not the point. It’s a charitable event. No, that bottle of wine isn’t worth $1,000, but we know that, so it’s OK, because it’s benefitting this charitable organization.”

At one point, they used live technology so that as people were making donations… They said, “While you’re sobering up, you can go on this app, and you can write in any donation.”

I’m like, “This is a good way for me to donate without it being so obvious what I donated, because I’m not looking for credit for this.” I’m thinking it’s going to make the tote board, and the tote board is going to go up.

“Here’s how much we’ve raised at this point,” and then the screen shows, “And thank you, Ian Altman,” and then the number is a different number.

Everyone’s like, “Oh,” and I was trying to not get credit for it. I just wanted to do something that’s nice for this organization.

That actually brings us to technology as a question. What are technologies often used at events? Some successes? Some failures?

Sometimes it’s successful. Sometimes you can use live polling, so you can get feedback from people. Often times, for example, I’ll do events where…

You just don’t want your name there, though?

Well, it depends, right? I think the idea of Twitter feeds and stuff is distracting, because then, once again, people can either read what’s on the screen or listen to the speaker, but not both. If you’re putting words up there, someone is missing something, so I’m not a big fan of that.

But for engagement, you can have people either on their phones or through some other technologies, some other audience response system, to say, “OK, look, if you’re in this situation, which one would you be motivated by: A, B, or C?”

People respond, and you go, “Wow! In this audience, 68% of you said B. Research actually shows that 94% of people respond to B, so I don’t know what’s with you people.” It can kind of be fun.

Sometimes, the technology, like I said, will backfire. All of a sudden people are like, “Wait! It’s working on a connection.” So, you’ve got to test the heck out of it. If you’re going to use technology, you’ve got to make sure you test it.

Often times, I think, where people don’t make enough use of technology is prior to the event and after the event for further engagement. That idea of a private Facebook group, of, “Hey, by the way, here’s a site. If you want to share when you’re arriving you can coordinate with other people at the event. It’s only open to people registered for the event,” and that’s where you can coordinate Ubers in from the airport or whatever.

People go, “Oh, that’s kind of cool!” And now you connect with other people.

You are then creating that engagement from in the pre as well as in the post. In just thinking about CEOs and planners, and thinking back to you as a growth strategist, what should they be thinking about, back to that original question, to make their events more profitable? Outside of creating value for the audience, what should they be focused on? That’s nonprofit and corporate potential.

It’s funny. If you’re trying to make your event more profitable, there’s two angles to it. Part of it is if the way I measure profit of my event is how many people are paying to attend, then I have to deliver the right value. Sometimes, we often joke as speakers where someone says, “Oh, we don’t have the budget for that for the speaker,” and actually they’re looking to pay the speaker less than they’re going to pay for coffee at the morning break.

Most of us would agree that the difference between a great event or not a great event probably has less to do with the coffee and more to do with the speaker. In some cases, it’s making sure that you’ve got good alignment between what you’re trying to accomplish and who you’ve got on stage.

Sometimes, we’ll also see for events where they’ll say, “You know what? We’re going to have one of our executives moderate.” And as you and I well know, there’s a big difference between a skilled professional who has experience moderating and an executive who says, “Oh, I can do this.”

For example, there are some people where someone’s talk begins at the introduction, so someone will say, “I’m just going to wing the introduction,” and the speaker is thinking, “OK, well if you don’t cover the stuff in my introduction, then I have to cover it, and if you didn’t cover it, and I don’t cover it, then people are going to say, ‘Why am I going to listen to this person?’” It matters.

If someone knows you well enough, you say, “Yeah, I trust that you’re going to get this right.” There are some fellow speakers I know where I’ve attended events, and they say, “So-and-so is going to wing it,” and literally they’ll say, “Well, you know, one of my buddies, Ian, is here. Is it OK if he does the intro?” “Yeah, I guess that’s fine,” and then I’ll intro them, because then I know it’s going to get done right.

The real key is that you know not only what you’re trying to accomplish, but how you’re going to get there. Meaning if you say, “I want it to be more profitable,” how would it become more profitable?

If the answer is “I get more attendees,” then how do I create value that draws more attendees?

If the answer is “I have more engagement in my community,” what behaviors drive that?

If the answer is “I want my employees who are attending to be more engaged and achieve better results,” then what aren’t they doing as well that you hope they do better? If you’re constantly focused on “What behaviors do I want to change in my audience—whether it’s employees, whether it’s constituents, whether it’s customers, then you’re set up for success.

If you go there saying, “We’re going to have this event, and good stuff is going to happen,” it rarely does. If you plan it out, then good things will happen.

Ian, good stuff. It makes me think as I sit here I’ve got to bring you back, so we can talk about the speaker aspect, because I think you could shed a great deal of light for the event community on that aspect, too. What should the event community be looking for when they’re thinking about a speaker?

By the way, I’ll give you the quick answer on that. The quick answer is that very often the organizer thinks in terms of “How can I pay less for this speaker?” As a speaker, what I always think is what you should be asking is “How can you help me create more value at my event?”

For example, when I speak at events, what I’ll often suggest is, “Look, if you’re going to do a book signing, here’s my suggestion. Why don’t you talk to one of your sponsors and suggest I do the book signing in their booth?”

“Is there going to be enough room?”

“Here’s what you’ve got to understand. The sponsor wants to bring people to their booth. If I come offstage and say, ‘Look, the sponsor has provided a copy of my book for each of you, and I’ll be signing it in their booth,’ while there’s a line of 100 people to get their book signed, they’re sitting in their booth.”

What will happen is someone says, “Well, gee, we only have this much budget.”

“No, no. If you really think about this, that sponsor who’s paid a quarter of a million dollars for their booth will happily pay $20,000 to ensure that everybody shows up at their booth. Now the speaker fee is largely covered just through their sponsorship.”

Sometimes people just completely miss the point on that. It’s funny, because the speakers who are most likely to discount their fee are probably not the speakers you want anyhow, because those of use who are busy enough, if someone says, “Oh, I have 80%, but I don’t have 100%,” we go, “OK, I can recommend somebody else,” because we don’t need the work. What you’re going to get is the person who needs the work and says, “OK, I’ll discount it.” Well, why do they need the work? Because they may not be that great.

Let’s face it. Like anything else, there are different levels in any industry, but the difference between people walking out and going, “Wow! That was amazing,” is often… If you get the top-tier speakers, you get that wow effect, otherwise you get, “Yeah, that guy was pretty good.”

And what you talked about, too, was that if you can have the expectation from an event perspective, then the speaker is going to engage in a conversation around what value they can bring outside of just the content. And that’s huge!

Yeah. It’s remarkable to me how often people have never thought about it when I say, “What are we trying to accomplish? What behavior do you want to change?”

“I have no idea.”

I’m like, “OK, isn’t that everything?”

On that note, what’s the summary? What’s the lesson we should walk away from as an audience?

The lesson is that it’s all about engagement. It’s engaging the community. It’s engaging around people’s outcomes and how you want them to behave differently. If someone just sits up there and speaks, then basically you want to think of it as the audience just lost an hour of their life that they’ll never get back.

If instead they’re engaged and they’re a part of it, and now you leave them with actual things to do, then you might actually achieve results that pay for themselves a hundred times over, but if it’s just kind of…

One of my articles in Forbes says, “Should you hire a speaker or a magician?” or something to that effect. Basically, it’s like, “Look, if all you’re trying to do is entertain people, then hire a magician or a juggler, because they’ll be entertaining, and it will cost a whole lot less. But if you actually want to accomplish something, then you want to get someone who is skilled who can deliver that sort of capability.”

Great, great stuff. Any resources that you might suggest to the audience? Your articles are always great. You want to talk a little bit about that?

I write a column every week in Inc. and Forbes in their digital editions, and actually, this whole notion of building a community, in my podcast, Seth Godin was a guest, and we talked about this idea of building a community. Seth said any smart business, what they should do is take 5% of their profits each year and allocate that to running an event that they don’t even charge their customers for. They just bring all likeminded people together.

Then people will learn that “If you want to go to that event, you’ve got to be a customer of theirs,” and then people will want to be a part of that, and now when your competitor comes to the client and says, “Oh, you should start buying our stuff,” they go, “No, no, because then I won’t get to go to the event.”

That is brilliant! Everybody, listen up to that one, because that’s a great idea. That’s for a corporation, that’s a nonprofit, that’s an event company. I mean, it doesn’t matter what it is.

If you go to my site and just type ‘Seth Godin,’ you’ll get that podcast episode.


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GUEST: Ian Altman

Ian Altman is a multi-bestselling author, strategic advisor, and internationally sought speaker on integrity-based sales and business development. A successful services and technology CEO for two decades (value beyond $1B), Ian draws on years of success and research on how customers make decisions. You can find Ian’s weekly articles on Inc.com and Forbes.com. He is the host of the weekly podcast Grow My Revenue Business Cast. Discover more at IanAltman.com.

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