One of the most contentious issues among professional speakers is whether or not to customize their talks.
Having discussed this with speakers in the past, I find we all tend to fall into a few ‘camps’ around this issue:
Some of us won’t customize, for a variety of reasons (that we’ll be addressing below).
Some will customize but for a drastically higher fee, believing that the extra time investment warrants it for their business model (also discussed and dispelled below).
And then there are some of us that customize every talk for every audience.
Before I tell you which camp I, and the other speakers who are taking active control of their speaking business fall into, let’s look at the issue of customizing from the seat of the only person who really matters in all of this – the folks responsible for hiring us to to speak at their events.
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The View From The Top
As we’ve discussed before, events are not held to justify bringing in a professional speaker to entertain an audience – they’re held to achieve outcomes for that audience. Keeping that in mind, someone tasked with finding and hiring a professional speaker is looking for the person who is most likely to achieve that outcome for their audience.
While there are some conferences and events that are solely concerned with filling seats (thereby justifying a ‘celebrity/#1 bestselling’ speaker with name recognition), I’ve found most events are more concerned with helping their audiences achieve an outcome or change (and we’re tracking this data across hundreds of events). That means the gig will go to the speaker who can best demonstrate their ability and willingness to help that audience achieve a specific outcome.
Keeping that in mind, it makes sense that for the majority of events out there, decision makers are looking for speakers who are familiar with the specific challenges of their audience or are willing to adapt their content to that industry. Simply delivering a stirring presentation might inspire but it will do little to produce lasting change. Therefore, the business goes to those speakers who have a depth of experience in the industry of the audience they’re addressing or willing to adapt their content to be as applicable as possible to that crowd.
So Why Don’t More Speakers Customize?
If customizing a talk is that valuable and is such a differentiator to an event organizer, why don’t more speakers make it standard practice? It comes down to two reasons – they either don’t know how or they know how and don’t believe it will make enough of an impact to justify their time.
We’ll solve the first reason in this blog, but the second reason is worth addressing now – many speakers believe that to customize their content at the level that warrants a ‘customized’ speech, they’d have to rewrite the entire talk and that’s simply not the case.
OK, How Do I Customize To Convert?
For many speakers, customizing their talk is a moot point because they’re mainly concerned with getting the gig in the first place! Great news – being able to customize a talk will often get you the gig before you ever map out your speech.
After a lot of sales calls, I began to realize that if I didn’t have the brand recognition of a big-name speaker, I had to bring in other value differentiators that would cause an event organizer to consider me alongside those big-name speakers. Customizations fit the bill nicely, because so few speakers are willing to take the time to do it or build it into their baseline keynote fee.
I tee up my ‘customization conversation’ during the sales call by first understanding why the event is being held. Until I know what outcome an even planner is seeking, customizations, shooting fire out my eyeballs or whatever other thing I do during my talk won’t have context or value. Once they’ve told me why the event is happening, I ask the person I’m speaking with, “Have you ever brought in a speaker that gave a canned talk/one you could tell they’d delivered word for word in the past?”
If that event organizer has hosted more than one event, they can likely respond “Yes! And it was awful!” (I know that because those are the words I hear every time I ask that question.)
At this point, I can say, “Me too! And it is awful. Because you said you were trying to achieve X and you want to get the most value for your budget, I build more than 60 references to your industry and your industry’s challenges. Do you think that would be more valuable than the ‘canned talks’ you’ve had in the past?”
Of course the answer is yes, and note what that question flow has achieved. I’ve just structured a question where an event planner admitted I will bring more value than a speaker they’ve hired in the past. From that point, it’s easy to move the conversation closer to me sending over a proposal and them locking me in for their event.
So How Do I Customize?
We’ve mentioned it before, but as part of every keynote talk I prep for, I am interviewing members of the audience before the event happens (my event planner is my point of contact for audience names and contact info). I’m asking them how the problems I address appear in their industry. For instance, millennial turnover in a manufacturing facility will come with different stories than turnover in a franchise. I want to know how that problem looks to the audience I’m going to be addressing so I can reference it from the stage, and these ‘interviewees’ are great sources of humorous stories that resonate with the audience – because these folks will be in the audience themselves!
Leveraging Customizations After The Event
One of the chief challenges of professional speaking (or any service industry) is being able to quantify results. Many speakers search for their entire careers for objective ways to track results because they know how impactful that will be to justify the impact they have at events and to leverage in future sales conversations.
You’ll never guess what becomes an objective way to quantify impact – yep, customizations.
I review the recordings from every talk I deliver on the flight home and listen for every customization to that event’s industry and bring those numbers to my post-event debrief. Event planners are always impressed when a speaker customizes from the stage and even more impressed when you can quantify all of your customizations. Do this often enough and you’ll find yourself with dozens of customizations per talk.
You better believe I’m bringing that number into my next sales conversation, and you better believe it makes a difference in an event planner selecting me as their next speaker.
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