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My Experience with the National Speakers Association – thus far

When I joined the National Speakers Association and attended the conference I didn’t know what to expect. I don’t fundamentally view my world as if I’m a speaker. I don’t believe that my primary calling in life is to keynote conferences. However, when I reviewed my speaking last year, I realized that I was in front of crowds publicly about 50 times. Effectively I was in front of a crowd for an hour every week of the year. That isn’t the distribution of the talks, they come in clusters where I’ll speak four times in two days as was the case at SPTechCon in Boston last week. (My first keynote was fun as I got to involve my son.)

However, while I get paid to speak, I certainly don’t get the stratospheric speaking fees that some notable speakers get. I’d love to get Bill Clinton’s speaking fees, or Michael Jordan, etc. Given that many of my talks are for SharePoint Users Groups where I get paid in pizza and the occasional gas card, I certainly don’t get paid in a meaningful way for every talk I give. I do, however, enjoy sharing, as those who have seen my talks can attest. So going to a group whose mission is to help professional speakers become better was at least a little bit intimidating.

Luckily the NSA has a program – the buddy program – run by Michael Goldberg which pairs experienced conference goers with first timers. My buddy was Karen Jacobsen. It worked out great since the conference was in Indianapolis – my home town – and so I was able to provide some ground transportation and some suggestions for things for Karen and her son to see and she was able to introduce me to her friends in the NSA. Karen hails out of New York so I got to meet many of the New York chapter of the NSA’s active members. It was great to meet so many helpful and friendly people.

So between the introductions from Karen, the first timers reception, and the fact that the conference was in my home town, I was about as comfortable as I could be in a new environment. Because of that I could turn my observations up to 11 and really try to figure out what was going on.

Perhaps the most striking observation is that no two people seem to do their business the same way. Some of the presentations preached focus in what you do (Peter Sheahan) while others (Connie Podesta) preached generalization. The odd thing is that everyone who was on the platform seems to find a way to make their business successful. It was truly interesting to me to see some folks who swore by having additional products and others who had no use for them, deferring to additional consulting, coaching, training, or mentoring opportunities to drive their revenue engine.

Off the platform I met a wide range of folks. Some were “starving artists” who weren’t sure what they were going to be when they grew up and were clearly not making it in the speaking business. (I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up either.) Others were looking for contacts – I’ve gotten a call or two already. Others were successful in their business and were looking to become better – or to share what they’ve learned. I met someone displaced by the financial industry downturn and someone who does forensic engineering. It was definitely a cornucopia of different folks who were available to meet.

The presentations were some of the most amazing I’ve seen. Robert Fishbone launched the conference with the assistance of the drum line from Center Grove High School. He had everyone standing and “shaking their booty” – and absolutely fired up to be a part of the conference. Jeanne Robertson‘s talk was a delightful mix of Aunt Bee and Lucille Ball. I can say I’ve never seen anyone execute with such precision. Her stories were entertaining and funny. Her stage presence was flawless. My improvisation course taught me the importance of establishing the place for everything on stage – and I saw her execute that with mastery. I should say that all of the main room speakers (and all but two of the breakouts) were very compelling – so the fact that I’m not calling out others shouldn’t diminish their value – it’s just these were completely over the top. (One short note, Sally Hogshead is getting her own post as a part of my book review of her book Fascinate.)

I can say that I used some of what I’ve learned already. Brad Montgomery suggested using the audience to move you from one point to the next. His idea was to find someone in the audience and ask them to help. At a key point they would ask the obvious question – or at least it would be obvious that they were setup to do the question. I adapted this to have my son ask a prompting question from one topic to the next in my keynote which was met with applause – for him.

I’m also looking forward to the connections I made. Roger Courville and I are scheduled to speak next week – so I can learn more about his experience with the training market – and his thoughts on how I can capitalize on the things I’m already doing. (Roger is an expert in virtual presentations.)

Ultimately I’ll be sifting through the presentations and notes I took for weeks if not months trying to filter down the fountain of information I got into the pieces that are uniquely applicable to me.

I should also say that the benefits of the membership, including the Voices of Experience (VOE) CD (seriously, this needs to be a private podcast) has already been valuable. I believe I’ll be making special participation coins to give to the audiences where I’ve spoken – and where folks have participated. I’ve got some big ideas spurred on by a VOE talk.

It’s been a good ride thus far with the organization and I’m excited to see where the journey leads next.