Why the Speaking Industry Needs a WakeUp Call!

Ok, this might be a post many would tell me not to write, since I’ve recently been sharing a few humblebrags about paid speaking events I’ve been booking recently. But as you might have learned from a post I wrote earlier this year, “Will the Real Social Media Leaders Please Standup,” I care much more about leading and inspiring change than sticking with the status quo because of my personal success.

But here’s the thing, the speaking industry — like the social media industry — is changing. And rather than embrace that change, those leaders, brands, and speakers who are watching it happen in every aspect of the business world are instead closing ranks. They’re taking a “we’re an exclusive club” mentality, shunning transparency, and adopting an “it’s always been done that way” way of thinking.

The speakers aren’t to blame, the sponsors aren’t to blame, and the event professionals aren’t to blame. We the attendees — we’re the problem! Those with a “Millennial Mindset” are still attending, tweeting, amplifying, and praising these events and speakers because ultimately hope to be a member of that “Good Ole Boy’s Club.”

Time to STANDUP rush the stage and BE HEARD!

I’ve had some amazing opportunities to travel the world and speak to members of the military, high ranking officials in the pentagon, software developers, emerging startups, business leaders and more.

The funny thing is I’ve been doing that since 2005, and I’ve always received feedback like: “We need more people speaking who are actually doing.” or “We need more people who understand us and talk with us, not at us.” So, if the attendees who are paying for conferences and travel have wanted this for years, why hasn’t it happened?

Events like Ignite Talks, Tedx, and the amazing Tedtalks have heard this rallying cry and embraced it with tremendous success. Why are these talks so successful? Why do they go viral on YouTube? Why do I have on my bucket list to one day go from watching a Ted Talk Live (which I was able to do last fall) to owning that stage and standing in-front of those red letters?

Because we are living in a digital time where we crave authenticity and are inspired by people who not only are doing great things, but to whom we can relate.

The people doing Ted Talks are real, authentic people, exactly like those of us in the audience and watching online.

Why haven’t industry events, company events and the large keynote stages been filled with these same authentic, relatable people? Hell if I know, but I will tell you this, I’ve had numerous authentic leaders, mentors, and friends ask me for help and advice on breaking through some of the red tape that I’ve been very fortunate to cut through.

Unfortunately, I haven’t had an answer for them. And as someone who prides themselves on being transparent and preaching the power of “WE > ME”, I’m done keeping my mouth shut and falling in line with the big names in the speaking industry, while people who are smarter and better speakers sit on the outside looking in. Here’s the thing I’ve been speaking at events since 2005 but so much of that was representing a brand who sponsored an event with a speaking spot of the brands choice. That was great and I was blessed but now as an entrepreneur, I don’t want to speak at an event because I like the attention or because someone paid for the spot. Thanks to tools like Meerkat & Persicope not to mention webinars and digital events, I have plenty of opportutinies to motivate my community and share my story. So for me I want to speak at events where I’m able to inspire change, share the stage with others who believe in the power of community and know that I’m not wasting the audiences time or my own.

A must read blog post from the team at Inbound was posted this week: “How to: Land a Speaking Gig at the Conference of Your Dreams” This blog post is going to provide some amazing tips, tricks and truths about what it takes to become a speaker today. I’ve told everyone I mentor and work with to bookmark it, and reference it often.

Something that jumped out at me after digging into my Evernote eight year diary of speaking, attendee and event lessons I’ve learned was this: It’s the community and the attendees who are left out of the decision making process. Speakers should get paid, no question, but the other question becomes: Do you pay for speakers sponsors want to align themselves with, or the ones your attendees and community want to hear from?

Now, I run a Media Hub company that pays the bills by signing sponsors for podcasts, twitter chats, video blogs, and influencer content, so I believe in the power of sponsorship. But why and what a sponsor invests in must change, much like their marketing, sales, and social media strategies much change. The focus must shift to how I can help my community, how I can build trust with my customers, and what I can do to build the authentic relationships that will ultimately decide if a company or person will do business with me. Those sponsors who invest in our community events aren’t spewing sales messages or forcing their leaders on the community. Rather they’re are supporting what we are doing because they understand by supporting and investing in the community they’ll not need to spew sales messages, the community will want to do business with them.

Trust & Invest in Your Customers & Community!

My friend Jay Baer talks about the need for brands to give away their content and insights, and to focus on doing and providing whatever they can to make their customers’ lives easier. Well, event professionals, conference organizers, speaking agencies and sponsors — it’s time you took the same approach. Focus less on what name would look good on the marque and more on listening to your community. Put people on stage that your community can relate to, who are authentic, and who are already trusted by the people who will be paying for those tickets to attend your event.

GaryVee at SXSW (I took this one)

So what does this mean for those big names speaking at events every week? The ones that that get it, like Gary Vaynerchuk, Simon Sinek, Jay Baer, Ted Rubin, Peter Shankman, Kare Anderson, Bryan Kramer, Tamara McCleary, Ann Handley, Tony Hsieh, Chris Brogan, Andrew Davis, Marcus Sheridan, Kevin Spacey, to name a few are going to continue to crush it and provide endless value. What makes them great?

They are authentic, they are real, they embrace change, and are listening to their community. Yes, many have written books or sold companies to focus on speaking, but what they haven’t done is spew the same old message or become disconnected from what brought them to where they are today. (See Gary Vaynerchuk picture, taking selfies, listening and engaging every single person that watched him present at SXSW this year!)

I recently launched a new podcast called iSocialTalks, and my mission is to interview leaders like these to discover what makes them unique, and also what things in their lives changed or altered their career paths and led them to create the great personal brands they have today. My podcast has a selfish angle, outside of the sponsors who want to support those who are doing great, I want to study, learn and help share with my community why these people embrace change, what they’ve done in their lives that keeps them motivated and hopefully it will inspire others to do the same.

Enough Talking About Change It’s Time to Lead it!

So, why am I writing this? What am I hoping will happen? Well, I believe the future of business is built on brands and leaders investing in and understanding their communities. Like with my podcast, I believe our time is much better spent promoting and amplifying people we think are doing great things.

So my call to action is this: If you’re reading this post in agreement, make an effort to promote, share, and amplify those doing great things. Make sure your voice is heard by spending your money on events that care about community and provide speakers their audience will relate to.

If you’re a speaker, sponsor, or event organizer reading this, and you feel as though I’m calling you out, (I promise this isn’t directed at any one individual) then here is your chance to CHANGE. Listen to your community, ask them for feedback, and ultimately ask yourself…

If I was attending this event would I sign up to hear myself speak?

Do I want attendees talking about what big name they saw? Or attendees talking about how the event and speakers made them feel and how it impacted their life?

Do I want to be a leader and inspire my community or do I want to hold my community back so I can be on top a little longer?

What speakers are your favorite? Who would you love to see at an upcoming event? Leave those names in the comments below so those event organizers and sponsors reading this post have people to reference that the COMMUNITY wants to pay to see!

Originally published at millennialceo.com on April 16, 2015.