Turning the Corner
NSA/NC Speakers Recount Key Turning Points in their Careers
by Craig Harrison, NSA/NC Board Member
As professional speakers, the road to success can be long and winding. We try so many avenues. Some offer shortcuts, others result in detours. Then there are the comfortable cul de sacs we end up in, that ultimately leave us isolated, and the dead ends that leave us demoralized. Sometimes it's only upon arrival that we learn that there were faster, less congested, or more scenic routes to our destination. But at any given moment do we really know where we are along the way?
Sometimes it's only in hindsight that we can identify "turning points" along the way: pivotal decisions, key contacts, twists of fate, special events or new strategies that have helped us turn the corner. Recently various members of the NSA community were asked to share their turning points with us. The responses were fascinating, and offer both insight and reinforcement for us all as we trek down the road to success.
Who's In Your Corner?
For Roseann Sullivan, turning the corner came from the realization she had what it took to be a big-time professional speaker. This came, in part, through encouragement from some industry heavyweights. Years ago Roseann had been given advice the noted Hotelier Bill Kimpton. He told her "if you want to be great at something, find out who is at the top and offer to carry their lunchbox. Observe them, watch their mannerisms, listen to how they talk, see how they act and observe the way they carry themselves. To be successful you should shadow the stars."
Years later Roseann applied that advice. With her focus on business communication she identified Jerry Weissman, founder and president of Power Presentations, Ltd., as the best at what he does. Known as the king of the road shows, he customarily receives $30,000 a day for helping start-ups talk to venture sources on their way to IPO. Roseann wrote him a letter asking to shadow him for a day. Though he receives hundreds of such letters he took a liking to Roseann and eventually they connected. He reviewed how Roseann operated and shared some insights of his own. Roseann put herself in a position for others to help her, and they did.
Getting to the Next Level
For,Aldonna Ambler, CMP, CSP, last Novembers guest presenter from New Jersey, there have been a number of magic moments along her road to success. Shes been in business for 28 years, though her evolution as a speaker came more recently. Shes now been speaking professionally for 12 years and sums up her speaking career this way: "This field has two fees free, and a lot!" It was a huge decision for her to say "no" to free speeches. She used to get calls for educational speaking. A bank would call looking for a lunchtime speaker. For Aldonna, a big turning point came when she received corporate sponsorship for a road show involving multiple cities and multiple engagements. She did 27 Ball Atlantic shows with an average of 250 in the audience. She didnt have to promote these gigs, and many leads came from her exposure. Looking back, that tour helped Aldonna turn the corner.
Feedback from the Masters
Sheila Murray Bethel CBC, CPAE, is in her 22nd year as a professional speaker. It was in her 15th year that a turning point occurred for her. She, Zig Ziglar, Denis Waitley and Tony Alessandra did the first ever "Sales Rally" in 3 cities in Australia with Australian speaker Alan Peace. Big crowds of 7,500 and more attended their presentations. She asked Zig and Denis to critique her presentation. Their advice was a major turning point in her career. Her stories at the time were good, but too long. She didn't keep her content as organized as it could be. Zig and Dennis were both very kind but firm in their suggestions. She also took copious notes of their style, voice, body language and content during this tour. As a result of their feedback she came back a 100% better speaker.
Advises Bethel: "study the greats and then adapt (not adopt) what works for you." She adds, "we all need someone who is better than us, has more experience and/or has been in the business longer, to critique us. A good dose of reality keeps us humble and growing."
The Power of Being Unique
Many speakers on the rise model themselves after others, only to find out belatedly that their strength lies in their uniqueness. Such is the story of our chapters most recent Certified Speaking Professional, board member Michael Lee. "From the first day I stepped onto the playground in grammar school all I wanted to do was belong. Other kids made fun of the fact that we were the only Chinese family in the neighborhood." Much of Michaels early life saw him wanting blend in with those around him. But Michael came of age and began to treasure that which made him different, and thus unique as a speaker.
"I have finally discovered that being different is an asset. Instead of being ashamed I now celebrate my gift of uniqueness. I have very little competition when someone wants a program on some aspect of diversity. In addition, as a speaker the main benefit of being Asian is that while people may not remember last years keynote speaker both the meeting planners and audience almost always remember me!"
Michaels advice: "We are all different in different ways. Forget about becoming the next great motivational speaker and concentrate on developing a unique message that no one else can deliver. Not only is there less competition but you can command higher fees because you virtually own the market. Above all, be yourself. After all you are the message. Thats the power of being unique."
Master Your Specialty
Sue Dyer, MBA, has been in business for 15 years yet she only began speaking professionally in 1992. She believes "you have a clear vision, identify your niche, and then penetrate it deeply!" Sues specialties: dispute resolution in construction. Sue recognized her lifes work is that of serving as a neutral partner and as a peacemaker.
Along her road to success Sue turned one corner when she realized she was more than what she did. "Speaking is the delivery mechanism but its not the end all." Sue delivers whatever her clients sought, whether negotiations, facilitation of meetings, or issues resolution. By specializing Sue has made great inroads in her field. She has worked so closely with key clients that she has gotten them to change the way they do business, literally writing line items into their budgets and contracts for the types of services she provides. Her book on dispute resolution among partners also paved the way for much of her current work.
Re-igniting Your Passion
Knowing yourself can be a big key to success. When you are doing the work you love, its no longer work. Consider how NSA leader Dr. Patricia Wiklund turned the corner recently. A 20-year member of NSA, Pat has experienced many turning points, ranging from an extended illness to an economic downturn to her most recent changes. She had written a book about her personal challenges, and had been doing the nationally publicity circuit: Oprah, Phil, Leeza, 20/20, Maury. She had been doing almost all government training, required courses for people who didn't want to be there on topics she wasn't passionate about. Said Pat, "to be truthful, I didn't want to be there either, and it showed, in my attitude, life satisfaction, and dealings with friends and family. All in all, not a great time."
She decided to take some time off to evaluate where she really wanted to be and what she really wanted to do. An eight-month sabbatical involving travel soon extended to two years. Pats turning point came in part as a result of some tough love from the woman who introduced her to professional speaking. Patricia Fripp told her "get up, get moving and stop feeling sorry for yourself." According to Pat, "that did the trick. I went to a Sacramento NSA Chapter meeting a couple of weeks later."
Looking back on the doldrums she fought herself out of, Pat recounts "it came from making the decision about what I wanted to do and being willing to do what ever it took to make the life I wanted happen."
Pats advice: "In retrospect it seems so obvious: Talk and write about what youre passionate about. And most importantly, be willing to do what ever it takes to make that happen."
We often hear stories of professionals taking more control. Ironically, for Rita Risser, JD, CSP, the key to increased success came from letting go. A professional speaker since 1982, speaking full time since 1990, Ritas turning point came from realizing that as great as she was other people could also do her programs quite well. Rita now has four trainers working for her, works as much or as little as she pleases, and will gross over $1 million this year. Something she never would have been able to do if she was the only product!
Its Your Turn
As dedicated professionals we make strides each day in the successful pursuit of our speaking careers. Yet the progress can appear uneven. Turning points can come at any time and, as you read, in many forms. So use your friends, mentors, and support system of cohorts and colleagues for assessments, reassurance and support. Continue to come to our meetings for the platform presentations and the backroom banter too, and take advantage of our professional development workshops. Read and contribute to SpeakerNet, and may the corner you next turn be the one to lead you to new successes.
Past NSA/NC chapter president Craig Harrison marvels at the many stories of experienced members of the NSA/NC community.