Picking the Perfect Professional Speaker with Katrina Mitchell – Episode #20
Evan Hackel sits down with Katrina Mitchell, CEO and Chief Match Maker of SPEAK!, to discuss tips on finding the perfect speaker for company events. Learn what to look for when speaking with potential guests, as well as red flags to consider during the selection process. You can connect with Katrina on Twitter at @SpeakFranchise – View Infographic
Announcer: Welcome to “Training Unleashed.” The show that will help you design and deliver training that’s off the chain and will make a difference. Now, here’s your host, Evan Hackel.
Evan: Welcome to another edition of “Training Unleashed.” Today, we are honored to have Katrina Mitchell with “Franchise Speakers” to talk to us about how to utilize professional speakers for conferences, conventions, meetings, as well as breakouts. Before I let her say hi and tell us about her, I wanna tell you why I have her here on a training podcast. If you really think about training in its simplest terms, training is everywhere, in every single thing we do. And training isn’t just about what the training department does. And it’s about consistency and consistent messaging. Conferences and meetings are huge training opportunities. And who you use and how you utilize them, as speakers at these events, make a big difference. So, that’s why I felt this was really an important topic to talk about in the area of training. So, anyhow, Katrina, welcome. And if you could tell us a little bit about yourself and how you became specialized in focusing on speakers, and particularly franchise.
Katrina: Thank you. Thank you for having me, Evan. It’s a pleasure to be here. I had kind of an interesting start in that I was actually a franchisee. That was my entrée into franchising. And as a franchisee, when I attended our annual conference, it was critically important to me that the content was meaningful and useful and gave me applicable tools to bring back into my business for the following year. So, really very focused on content. When it was time for me to sell my franchise and I was wondering what to do next, it just kept coming up that there might be an opportunity helping other franchise brands really deliver meaningful content for their franchisees, business tools, techniques, strategies that would help franchisees grow their businesses. And so the “Speakers Bureau” was born, actually, the only speaker’s bureau in the world that focuses exclusively on the franchise industry. And it’s really our niche, it’s our area of expertise and specialty. And we are passionate about helping franchisors create amazing experiences for their franchisees.
Evan: Which I think is totally cool. And I think that because you focus on a industry that you’re able to give relevant help more than anyone. But I wanna assure everyone listening who’s not a franchise because I don’t want you to turn off, that the basic principles we’re gonna talk about apply whether you’re a manufacturer or a distributor or whether you’re any company hosting any kind of event at all. It’s pretty obvious that who speaks makes a difference. What are the keys in choosing and selecting a great speaker that’s gonna make a difference? What do the good speakers do that’s different?
Katrina: Yeah. So, I think that, probably, the first thing, Evan, is really having your sonar radar out and the very first conversation with the speaker. And find out are they actually asking intelligent questions about you, about your organization, about your theme, your learning objectives. What speakers have you used in the past? Have you appreciated, enjoyed them? [inaudible 00:03:43] that useful? Was it not useful, and why? And really digging in. That presenter, that speaker should be really, really curious about what you want to accomplish. We have a policy in our firm to stay far, far away from anyone who calls us up and starts telling us how great they are, and all that. Because my belief is the way they treat us will be the way that they’ll treat our clients. And we only wanna work with professionals who are keenly, authentically, and deeply interested in helping their clients create change.
Evan: I can tell you from my own experience that we have hired famous speakers, and they had been the most difficult to deal with. And just little things like meeting with, like, your Advisory Council or your special customers. You know, they don’t wanna do those type of things and they give speeches that could be given anywhere. So, I’m biased. But what do you think about celebrity speakers and, you know, are there some good ones. How would you find… When would you recommend them?
Katrina: So, that’s really a great topic, Evan. I also have a bias around celebrity speakers. When we get clients who call us and ask us to help them secure a celebrity speaker, my first question is, “That’s great. We can absolutely help you with that. And why? What’s the rationale and the reason behind that?” And really ask them to dig in deeply and find out do they want a celebrity speaker to serve the event or serve the audience? Or is there, you know, another ulterior motive? I often say when we’re talking about celebrity talent, you mostly will get much less, and pay a lot more. And what I mean by that is you’ll get less customization, you’ll get, you know, they won’t be interviewing employees, or franchisees, or dealers, whatever your model is. They won’t go the extra mile to really connect authentically. They won’t customize. Oftentimes, it’s a canned speech presentation. You know, they were a war hero, they were a athlete, you know, a celebrity athlete, or a rock star. Whoever it is that they’ve gotten that status, they don’t really care about what the client needs and wants. They have their presentation and they go out and deliver it over and over again. And I want to just quickly… I don’t want to ramble but I wanna give you a quick example. We had a client several years ago, merging brand about 80 units, who had called me and said, “Katrina, I’m so excited. We have $70,000 to invest in talent,” which is big.
Evan: For that size organization.
Katrina: It’s big. And she said, “And we want this person.” It was a celebrity personality. And I said, “Okay. That’s great. And I’m gonna go to work, and we’re gonna secure him. And I’m gonna get you all of the relevant details for him. And at the same time, I’m gonna run a parallel options list, based on what I would suggest for your learning objectives, your theme, and your culture. And I want you to see what you can get for that investment.” And ultimately, we ended up helping them with an opening speaker, a closing keynote speaker to wrap up the event. Three extraordinary breakout trainers who really brought actionable, applicable content to the franchisees. And it was a wow convention for their franchisees. And we didn’t go with a celebrity. And so I think about that case of like, “Oh, you know, I guess there a few times that a celebrity is the right choice. I just don’t really know when that is.”
Evan: I think that people that choose celebrities choose celebrities because they think they’ll bring more people there. But to me, and you talk about this so I’m stealing your words really, it’s really about what you want to accomplish, right? It’s really about your goal. And are you better of having a few extra people there, but not getting the main points across, or are you better off having somebody that’s gonna customize something, and really deliver a message that matches the theme and the end goals and end objectives? And I think you don’t… I mean, there are some exceptional celebrity speakers that really will deliver really great content. But I think they’re few and hard to find.
Katrina: Yeah. I agree. I agree. And oftentimes, to your point, I think that you mentioned earlier, there’s a lot more headache, there’s a lot less ease and flow. It seems like the higher the fee and the more celebrity the presenter, the more attitude goes with it. And in our firm, we actually have a “No-Diva Policy,” which cracks everybody up. But the truth is, we’re not gonna work with a diva. And one of my, not a speaker we placed, but, you know, one of my really significance stories that demonstrate this kind of behavior is there was a speaker whose writer was five pages long. He was a $50,000 speaker. He’s quite well-known in business circles, written many books. And one of the items in his writer was organic fruit and room temperature mineral water at soundcheck. And guess who didn’t show up for soundcheck?
Evan: The speaker.
Katrina: I find that just rude, right? It means that I am all that, so if I put myself in that kind of egocentric position and say, “I am so special that I require all of these things, three pages in my writer. But I don’t have enough courtesy and graciousness to honor the client.”
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Evan: I’m gonna give you a story, I think, maybe even top that. We had a famous football player. He’s on TV now as, you know, a commentator. You would think he’s the nicest guy in the world. And his writer, he had several things, one, no autographs at all. Secondly, he needed his own special green room with a big screen TV, and this is back in the days where big screen TVs were not, not cheap. And so he shows up at the social event and he goes, “How come there’s nothing here for me to sign? How come there’s no papers? Where’s the table? I love signing signatures?” And he made us look like jerks. Then he never went to his green room. He got in his limo and he said, “I need to clear my head,” and drove around town. I was literally introducing him, not even knowing if he was backstage or not.
Katrina: Those stories, like, our clients share so many of those kinds of horror stories with us. We actually have a naughty list. And, you know, it’s kind of… We have it tucked away and hidden and when something come’s up, we’re like, “Yeah, no. We’re not gonna work with that individual, nor subject our clients to that experience.” But, yeah. It’s jaw-dropping for me. When you think that you’re investing, you know, especially when you get to the celebrity level, you’re investing $30,000, $40,000, $50,000, $60,000 or more. And who’s the client here? Like what? Who’s the client?
Evan: Now, one time we had a good experience, and I guess you would say this person, at the time, a lot of our younger listeners is not gonna know who this is, but I’m sure, you will. Tom Peters. So, Tom Peters, excellent speaker. And of the things he speaks on is the importance of women in business and how women are becoming dominate customer… Not becoming. What he said was, “We’re all marketing to men and women are making all the buying decisions,” right? And we had a franchise, actually, it’s a cooperative floor covering stores. And so the idea was to get people to understand the importance of focusing on women. So, he was fulfilling as an expert, and validating our message that led to our training, which was to make our selling process much more customer-focused, and less masculine. Because our selling process before that was much more like, “Okay. You open, ask a few qualifying questions, and you close. And here are the five, you know, if this, that, then close, that kind of stuff, to where we wanted to switch to be more female-focused. He was a great speaker because his expertise led to our learning objective.
Katrina: Right. So, that leads back to your original question is like, what, you know, what are the deciding factors in looking for a speaker? And I think that, probably, the best place to start, again, is with the end in mind, meaning that if you think about, you know, as a client if you outline, you’ve got your theme and you’ve got your learning objectives, and everything is tying back to that. And you look at what are the things that you wanna accomplish at this event, then you’re working on your speaker to enhance that, to re-enforce that, to really deliver that message home, the theme, and the learning objectives. And so that’s really… We oftentimes will get a call from a client who’ll say, “I want a speaker.” And I’m like, “Great. We can help you. Tell me what your…” “Don’t know.” “What’s your theme?” “Don’t know.”
Evan: I want them to be happy and motivated.
Katrina: Yeah. I want a motivational speaker. And I know, Evan, you and I are, you know, we sing to the choir when we talk to each other about this because we’re both so passionate about it. But, you know, there are so many high-content, actionable, like, really important, significant business tools available through a variety of speakers who also, by the way, deliver in a very motivating, engaging, and dynamic style. So, that’s what I’m sifting, and sorting, and looking for for our clients.
Evan: And sometimes, not sometimes, maybe many times, less expensive than somebody’s got a big name, but doesn’t really have the craft of speaking and is not gonna customize.
Katrina: Yeah. And to your point, it’s really interesting because a lot of CEOs will be reading a particular book and there’s, you know, maybe a really super innovative thinker who’s got great written content and oh, my goodness, gracious, dry as toast on the platform. Like, just because they can write and they can innovate it, doesn’t mean they can deliver. So, just because someone’s a well-known author doesn’t mean that it’s an engaging presentation by any means. So, that’s also something I think to pay attention to.
Evan: You know, I had an experience once with a speaker where we sat down and we had an hour-long meeting about the company. And this is what our objectives are of the meeting. It’s really important that when they hear you speak that they don’t think you’re just a speaker, it’s almost like you’re a consultant to the company. You know the company that well. So, what you’re saying, you know, it’s important [inaudible 00:15:22] and the name of the company, and here are our goals. “I’m gonna do that for you. I’m gonna do that for you. I’m gonna do that for you. I’m gonna do that for you.” Gets out, delivers a speech, never makes reference to a single thing in our briefing. Never mentions the company’s name, never this, never that. We paid the guy a lot of money and I [inaudible 00:15:39], “I don’t understand it.” We had [inaudible 00:15:40]. “I got nervous.”
Katrina: I got nervous.
Evan: I got nervous.
Katrina: I got nervous. And you’re a professional and you’re getting paid $40,000, $50,000, $60,000. You better figure out how to get over your nerves. Sorry, that was caustic.
Evan: He was canned, right? He didn’t know how to customize a speech because that would require him to be light on his feet and to think and do that. And there are speakers, I know you do this, this is what you specialize, that think on their feet. That can really make a presentation about the person.
Katrina: It’s an individual conversation with 200, 300, 3,000 people, whatever it is. I like to say when we’re talking to a new client, I always kind of explain our position in this way. There’s two kinds, in my mind, there’s two kinds of speakers in the world. There are speakers who have done something. They’ve written a book. They’ve, you know, won a Super Bowl. They’ve done something that’s significant. And they’re on the platform because they feel like they are all that. So, they get up there and they say, “Well, I’m this, and I’m that. And I did this. And I’m all that. I’m really great. And I’m smart. Look at me, I’m up here and you’re not.” And those speakers are sucking all the energy out of the audience into themselves. And the reason that they’re there is because they… it feeds their ego and they feel special. And the kinds of speakers that we’re placing, and we’re sifting, and looking for, and searching for, seeking out, are the speakers that do exactly the opposite. These are individuals who are so compelled to share. They have a heart of a servant leader and they are so compelled to share the knowledge that they have gleaned through their hard-earned, you know, lessons, their mistakes, their successes, that they want… They’re passionate about helping the people in the audience succeed in whatever arena that is. And when you’re sitting as an audience member, when you’re sitting in that audience, you can feel that. People will walk out of that session going, “He was talking to me. He gets me. Oh, she really understood what it’s like to be me. Wow, I got so much out of that.” Those people, those audience members are not on their phones. They’re not, you know, leaving the auditorium. They are on the edge of their seat and they are just waiting for the… And it’s just an energetic flow. It’s either going out, or it’s coming into the speaker. And I am only looking for those folks who are passionately serving that out.
Evan: I’ll tell you a story because it happened today when we were breaking up, we were… We’re actually physically together. Normally, when we do these, it’s over the internet. It’s very rare. And that’s because we had a conference, interestingly, a speakerless conference.
Katrina: Yeah. But it was facilitated masterfully by you.
Evan: Thank you. And this guy comes up to me, and he said, “I was so excited to come to your event,” he said, “because five years ago, you spoke with the IFA, and you talked about the importance and the key in franchising was engagement. And it’s so resonated with me. And our franchise system was so in trouble that we took what you said and the ideas you gave is our mantra. And we turned around the business because of that.”
Evan: And I’m just sitting here being… I mean, other… they attended the event. I never had any idea who this person was. And to hear, you know, this is what you want as a speaker is a speaker that that’s what they want. They want people to leave and make a difference and an impact from that because, for me, when I speak, that’s all I’m speaking about. I’m there, I wanna help everyone. I want people three years, four years, to say this person made such a difference in our business. It was transformative. Because that, to me, is what the whole point of having a messenger, who can really speak and stir the emotion of people to get and embrace the idea.
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Evan: I’ll mention something, it’s a little off the topic of speaker, but it’s really on the topic of speakers if your goal is to get people to come, invest in entertainment. Like, one of the big issues in a lot of conferences, people leave early. So, we would invest in a band, we had Three Dog Night once, they were amazing, and not crazy expensive. And the last evening, we’re having the last event, this band is playing. And so the bang we got was people stay to end, and more people came because of the band. But that’s a different purpose than a speaker. And, you know, if you wanna spend money to attract people, then do something like that where it’s gonna be entertaining and fun. But that’s totally what its purpose is. Totally what its purpose is. Just out of curiosity, do you do opening acts? Do you help people hire opening acts?
Katrina: Yeah. Absolutely, yeah. We do. We do speakers, trainers. So, speakers, we consider any kind of general session keynote speakers. Trainers are much more tactical, typically used for educational workshops, breakouts, pre-event intensives where someone will go in and they’ll have, like, a half day that’s a deep dive into social media marketing or whatever that is. Entertainers. So, for awards night or, you know, opening celebration, and MCs. We’re pretty passionate about the value of MCs, especially when the event starts to get really big, you know because there’s a lot of reasons to leverage the talent of an MC.
Evan: They can make a big difference.
Evan: MCs, I think, are great. So, first off, not every speaker you have is gonna be a professional speaker, right? You have people speaking about programs and things like that.
Katrina: Yeah. Subject matter experts, internal people.
Evan: MC really helps break it up, keep people in the room, keep the energy level high. But one thing I’ll ask you but if you offer this or not, we did this before speaker coaches for our staff. In fact, we went so far is… We actually opened a chapter of Toastmasters in our office and had weekly Toastmaster meetings.
Katrina: I think that’s brilliant. I think that’s brilliant. We talk to franchisors about that all the time, because oftentimes, they’ll look at the budget and they’ll not want to… They won’t have budget to invest in outside talent for every category. And they want to have their internal people presenting because the internal team has more in-depth knowledge of whatever that role out, whatever that program is. But oftentimes, there’s people that have the knowledge don’t have the platform and the delivery skills. And it’s not interesting, and it’s not engaging. And they don’t know how to do it. So, having some outside training. We have several professional speech coaches that we work with, and we recommend to franchisor clients and co-op clients. But, yeah. I think that’s a brilliant, brilliant idea.
Evan: And if you think about it, forget the conferences. Your staff and having the ability to speak intelligently, precisely, and motivationally when they’re talking to customers, franchisees, whoever is important. That’s why the investment in Toastmasters, which by the way, was a very small investment, but helped everyone have more confidence speaking, even if they never were on the platform speaking.
Katrina: Yeah. It’s brilliant. That’s a great idea. Can I steal that?
Evan: Of course you can. The whole program is about stealing stuff.
Katrina: Okay. Great. Thank you.
Evan: The premise of the show, and I don’t know if I got into this is that people undervalue training. Some companies don’t do it. I had a great conversation with a billion-dollar company, massive training need, spoke to the guy, “How big is your training department?” “One person.” Follow up two weeks later, call, he’d been fired. You know, where’s the value? And yet, the opportunity in performance improvement. And then when they sometimes spend money, they underspend and they do it poorly. And then training gets a bad rep. And great training, that’s what “Training Unleashed” is, we unleash great training. You improve business. You improve metrics. In this case, you’re unleashing great speakers, who are amplifying the message and amplifying the training and the goal that you want. I never thought about the word “amplify” in this content, but that’s really what they do, is they’re amplifying all the other things that are going on. We are running out of time. One last question, if you had to give people one tip, what would that one tip be?
Katrina: I think I’ve probably already said it a few times because it’s a constant undercurrent for every conversation I have around this, which is start with the end in mind. So, go into your speaker selection, knowing what you want your audience members to be taking out of the room. So, you know, don’t get the bright shiny object syndrome. Just what do you want them to learn? Now, let’s go find a person who can do that, who’s gonna match our culture. Who, yes, has those learning objectives that can help deliver that message and fits within our desired investment level. So, those three moving pieces.
Evan: Those are great ideas. Thank you so very much for being on the show. Thank you all for listening in. If you wanna learn more about Katrina, she is right in the description, and how to reach to her. And thank you for being on the show.
Katrina: Thank you so much, Evan. It was absolutely my pleasure.
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