These days, Liz Wiseman – author of Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter – is a successful consultant and professional speaker. But before launching her new career, for 17 years she was an executive at Oracle Corporation, serving as Vice President of Oracle University and the global leader for Human Resource Development. In other words, she was in charge of hiring professional speakers and trainers, giving her unique insight into the process. Here are three pieces of advice she learned over the years, and which she applies in her own speaking practice today.
Your value lies in shaking things up. “When I was head of Oracle University and often bringing in speakers and guest faculty for our executive development programs,” recalls Wiseman,“I looked for people who were provocateurs. I found that the greatest value of outside speakers wasn’t a function of their specific content or their presentation ‘polish.’ Their value came in rattling the collective mindset of our leaders. In essence, their presence and their willingness to challenge the dominant logic of the organization gave people permission to think differently.”
You must understand the needs of your buyer. “Speakers often forget how much risk the ‘buyers’ are taking when they bring them into their company, put them on a big stage in front of their most senior leaders and give them a microphone,” says Wiseman. “If the outside speaker bombs either by being off-message, misreading the audience or being disrespectful, it can do serious damage to the credibility of the conference organizers and the senior executives.” If the speaker can strike the balance of simultaneously reinforcing the key ideas the conference organizers are trying to send, while also provoking new thinking, they’ve accomplished their goal and proven their worth, she says.
Focus on results, not fees. Wiseman can’t recall ever booking a speaker who cold-called. “We usually went on a talent hunt when we had a problem to solve,” she says. World-class experts, of course, often charge high speaking fees. The real question she’d ask herself was “how would our CFO think about this?” Wiseman had to endure his wrath when she proposed booking one high-profile speaker for a series of engagements totaling $200,000. “The CFO’s face turned purple and his blood started boiling when I first told him,” he says. “But when I talked him through the value, he listened and then agreed.”The most valuable speakers don’t just do a hit-and-run for hefty fee, says Wiseman. Instead, they help the company solve a pressing issue. As business author and strategist Geoffrey Moore once told her, “You have to ‘staple yourself’ to a problem.” That’s why, in her own work, Wiseman focuses on teaching and giving people tools to solve the underlying problems plaguing the company.
Are you a professional speaker (or an aspiring one)? What strategies have you found most helpful in building your practice and delivering great work?
Dorie Clark is a marketing strategist who teaches at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business. Learn more about her book Reinventing You: Define Your Brand, Imagine Your Future (Harvard Business Review Press) and follow her on Twitter.