Sunday, April 24, 2016

People Are Difficult (This should not be a surprise to anyone)

Interacting with people is not always easy.  When you are around other humans, it is hard sometimes as we all have our own opinions, experiences, desired outcomes, and emotions.  Everyone has ideas of how they want things to turn out and some people become difficult if your outlook differs from their own.

Being wrong is part of the human experience, and I have come to understand that when socially engaged I do not have to be the smartest in the room, nor do I have to connect my self-worth to my bring right.  This is a lesson that was hard learned.  But my own path has become simple since I know I might be wrong (and that it is okay).

I spent a long time being sad and was full of self doubt in my career.  My own internal dialogue caused me to worry about what others thought of me.  To mask these feelings from the outside I over compensated.  Overall this did not serve me well, but the more I have realized this is normal for many people, the less I needed to behave in this manner.  Everyone is dealing with their own "stuff", and that makes my own issues seem manageable. 

It is common to see someone caught up with issues of self and then they project their feelings onto the social tapestry.  They work to recruit people to their "side" escalate minor things into major ones. You cannot stop this from happening, and everyone knows someone who has done this.  

You have to choose.... accept them (with their flaws) or move on.  Either is a fine choice and there is no way for anyone but you to know what is best for your exact situations. 

You cannot change another person and this is what messes up so many relationships.  We think we can "fix" them and in the end we just increase the tension.  Realizing you cannot change others takes away the power they want to have.  I just shrug and say "oh well" and try to love my friends and family unconditionally.

An outlook that "every interaction is a NOT a competition" is the best medicine.  It has made me happier and allowed me to let go when a friend seems to be undermining something that matters to me.  Reminded yourself that the actions of those around you are most likely more about their own "stuff", and not yours.  

Have a great day

thom singer

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

I Want To Love My Job

A friend told his daughter that he hoped she would find a career where she was fully engaged and thrilled to be part of her industry.  He added that of all their friends, nobody loved their job as much as I did.  He told her to watch the passion I have for being a speaker and master of ceremonies, and how I want to impact those I encounter, and seek out a similar way to work when she grew up.

When I heard this I was a little embarrassed, as I was not sure the my career path is the best example of a road to happiness.  Along the way I made some bad choices and had a few bosses who were awful. I work many days and screamed out loud in my car as I commuted to the office.  I always worked hard, but too often I had my ladder against the wrong wall, or was in a situation where the money took president over my total satisfaction.

Seven years ago I began my career as a professional master of ceremonies and keynote speaker.  Working for myself has been both amazing and frustrating, but my friend is right about how much I enjoy what I do for a living.  I really love my job.

My business is still growing and I believe that I should be doing a lot of things more efficiently.  I am struggling to keep up the momentum that I have created, as competition is everywhere. Meeting planners, committees, and everyone in an association or company has an opinion about who is the right speaker and what is the appropriate topics for their events.  Too often speakers miss the mark, and thus everyone is suspect of who they hire and seek reasons to justify why or why not make a speaker selection.

But if this business was easy, there would be more people working as speakers, because it is truly and awesome way to make a living.  Last week I spoke to a group in the building and construction trade and the planner was such a nice person with a giving soul.  In our conversation after my speech she told me that when anyone she knows is having a tough time she gathers up her nieces and they bake cookies.  She tells the kids that the person getting the treats is in need of "extra love" in the cookies and makes sure her assistants knows the purpose of their baking.  The cookies are a nice gesture, but I was blown away by the message this sends to these young girls in her kitchen.  It is stories like this that reminds me of all the good in the world.

I am not sure everyone gets to encounter as many people as I do in such positive ways.  Those who plan events work hard and have a lot of stress, but in the end they are creating experiences for others, and most planners love their jobs and the meetings the curate.  Being with them, and adding to their attendees experience, means I am surrounded by good vibes.  In over seven years I only encountered one meeting organizer who had a dark soul.  She was like a robot.  We did not see the world the same way, and she did not like me at all.  That is a pretty good ratio: 300+ were wonderful and one was not.  I will take those odds all day long.  Most people I encounter are amazing.

For the past six months I have been writing a one-man-show that can be used in place of a keynote.  The message is about finding creativity and more satisfaction in career and life. It is a keynote in the fact that it is both content rich and motivational, but is presented in a way that will not be what audiences expect.  This "play" is a unique way to tell a story and share ideas for success with business and association convention audiences.

Most planners will never take the risk of putting a professional speaker on stage as an actor who is playing a role.  However, some will (I am already talking to a few adventurous meeting organizers who like the thought of an out of the box show).  When it all works together we will have more fun than anyone could imagine at a conference.  Imagination does not have to lay dormant in you work either.  I am living proof of this.  One does not have to leave a corporate job to work as a solopreneur to find this level of excitement and joy at work.  It is just about being open to the idea of loving your job.

The friend who told his daughter that he wants her to enjoy her career as much as I do is right.  I want that for my kids.  I want that for everyone.

Have A Great Day

thom singer

Monday, April 18, 2016

My Experience at the NSA CSP/CPAE Summit

Last weekend was the National Speakers Association "CSP/CPAE SUMMIT" at the Broadmoor in Colorado Springs.

The small (77 people) conference was a series of mastermind discussions in large and small groups with other Certified Speaking Professionals (CSPs). I had the honor to be the co-chair (and the master of ceremonies) for this event.

(Do not think for a minute that being up in front of a crowd of speakers is not scary. Speakers are a tough crowd. I will admit to being a little nervous about this one).

Even with responsibility in the running of the event, I still was able to participate in the conversations about trends in the meetings industry and ways to impact our individual businesses. The list of things I need to be doing differently is very robust.

We had several video interviews with experienced meeting professionals who talked about how the business of meetings is currently undergoing major changes, and what this means for the speakers they put on stage. Association and corporate events are facing lots of pressure to reinvent the experience they are delivering for attendees, and the speakers are intimately integrated into that experience.  We all need to be having this discussion no matter what industry we work in, as change is always going to happen.

We also heard from a university researcher about what motivates people to participate in group situations.  His area of study began with decline in participation in some churches, while others thrived.  However the data matches closely with the Meetings Industry.  Talk about having to look at the world differently, this guy was a highlight of the whole weekend.

There was candid discussions about how speakers need to modify our delivery, marketing, audience engagement, and interaction with the planning committees as the new rules for events looms on the horizon. Nobody wants to be Blockbuster in a Netflix World.

I was reminded by being part of this event that is is a good thing to be involved in your industry association (no matter what you do for a living). Engagement can have deep value when you get past your own "self" and "ego" and become part of a community.  Volunteering showed me a whole new side to the organization and many of its members.

An association, like any group, will have a variety of people and a wide-range of personalities. I found that when I remember that I am not the smartest person in the room the best ideas come my way.  Being open to a variety of points of view is key if you do not want to feel like you are always fighting an uphill battle.

A higher understanding and respect for those who plan events also became evident.  Spending a year working on The Summit with my co-chair and the NSA Staff person (who is amazing) was an eye opening experience. There is so much to do to ensure a positive culture at a multi-day event, and there is no way any event professional will please everyone.  You have to find your vision for the whole experience and move ahead the best you can.  

The CSP / CPAE Summit allowed me to grow as a professional speaker and as a person. I was inspired and challenged both in my role as co-chair, but also as part of the tribe of CSPs. There is a lot of gratitude inside me for the people who were present at this conference.   While I am sure that different people had any number of personal experiences, I hope they all feel inspired from this gathering.

Have A Great Day.

thom singer

Monday, April 04, 2016

Eight Tips for Solopreneurs

April 1, 2009 I was laid off from my corporate marketing job.  This was the height of the great recession and my employment options were non-existent.  On that day I decided to follow my dream of self-employment and begin my creating my own career path that would not tie my job status to someone else's company.

Becoming a professional speaker and master of ceremonies was a long-time dream, and something I had planned to eventually pursue. With a young family to support, making such a leap seemed too scary, but with no other employment options I began to build my own solopreneur existence, and I have never looked back.

As the job market continues to be awkward, there are more and more people who are making the move to being solopreneurs (some by choice, others by circumstance).  This is not an easy existence, and while I have worked hard and had some great opportunities, each day I start over at the bottom of the hill.

I have learned a lot in seven years.  Here are the most important lessons I have discovered, and are paramount to what I am helping others understand with in my "Cool Things Project" group coaching program.

Eight Tips For Solopreneurs

1.  You are in sales.  No matter what your product or service, if you work for yourself you are responsible for revenue generation.  Sales is the life-blood of every business, and to lose sight of this is a recipe for failure.  Doing good work is not enough in our noisy world.  Anyone can access social media and claim credibility in your industry, so thinking reputation alone will generate new business will limit your future.  Invest the time to learn about sales and marketing skills, and then take action.  Selling is hard work (that is why sales professionals in the largest companies earn so much money), so be ready for the time and effort you will have to put in to generate results.

2. Most friends in your network will not help you.  We are taught at business seminars that all opportunities come from people, and thus we falsely believe the people in our networks will refer us business or hire us to serve their company's needs once we launch our company.  The reality is that most people you know are not thinking about you or your business.  While people generally intend to help others, the reality is many of your friends are too caught up in their own day-to-day lives to remember you are trying to build a business.  Do not expect a huge line of people who will be active in supporting your efforts.

3.  A few contacts are worth their weight in gold.  While not everyone will be a recourse to help connect your business to success, there will be some people who will move mountains to see your find new customers.  These rare souls who go out of their way to refer you, promote you via word-of-mouth and social media, and who buy your products (sometimes when they do not even have a need for your service) are to be cherished.  The weirdest part is that the people you think will be your supporters often will disappoint you, and the most random friends will become your champions.  

4.  Get involved in your industry association.  Solopreneurs are busy, and often they feel they do not have the time or the money to participate in their industry trade groups.  I found that my involvement with the National Speakers Association to be the key to my success as a speaker.  It is not that my membership in the association got me any direct business, but my activity exposed me to information and to other people who were living their lives in the business.  Having friends who are successful in your area of expertise means you do not have to reinvent the wheel.  

5.  Watch your expenses closely.  Too many who come out of corporate jobs are used to large budgets and not experienced being the person who has to pay all the bills.  I have seen too many solopreneurs who believed that spending a lot of money on websites, coaching, database programs, marketing videos, and other expensive services.  I spent as little as possible on everything when I was starting out, and would upgrade to higher levels as I could afford it.  This meant that I did not always have the best of everything (and often used other providers who were just starting out), but it also meant that I was realistic about cash flow and kept the expenses in check.

6. Say "Yes".  I find a lot of small business professionals and solopreneurs who are obsessed with protecting their time. They skip networking one-on-one or do not attend events with the rationalization that they are wasting time by not buckling down and working. They worry about their calendar to a level that they are missing out on opportunities.  While most people you will encounter will not become valuable resources, some will have the ability to change your future.  You cannot pre-judge events or people, so make it a habit of saying yes to being involved with others and over the long run it will pay off.

7.  Make sure your family is on board.  Being a solopreneur often means you do not get to shut the door to work.  The concerns over stability and money can be overwhelming, and if your spouse and children are not part of your journey, it will create problems.  While some people have their significant other active in their business, this wont be ideal for everyone.  Regardless of if they work with you or not, you have to keep them in the loop as to how things are going.

8.  Help others.  Be the person who is actively working to be a catalyst for success.  Find small ways to serve other solopreneurs in their journey to build their businesses.  While they wont all return the favor, never keep score.  Find ways to promote the businesses of people you know, even some in the same industry.  Every action you take is a brick in your reputation, and those who work for more than self will find more people will do the same.

Have A Great Day

thom singer

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Interactive Presentations At Conferences... Have We Gone Too Far?

Have we gone too far with speakers forcing the audience members talk to their neighbors every seven minutes?  Is touching your neighbor's elbow really and saying "you can do it" what adult learning is all about?  

While interaction and audience engagement is paramount to learning and the retention of information, is it the magic bullet to make keynotes and breakout sessions awesome? If the speaker is not skilled at leading discussions and creating an engaging atmosphere, their talks become choppy and the activities become forced. 

Interaction for the sake of interaction is not necessarily creating better learning environments. There is so much more to being effective than scheduling times to make people turn to their neighbors and bare their soul. While I am not disputing the value of having the audience involved in the learning, my own experiences as a student have shown that a passionate and enthusiastic teacher is also important.  While we in the meetings business are talking a lot about audience participation, we need to have higher expectations of the speakers we put on stage. Experience presenting, a desire to impact the audience, and a passion to inspire are often overlooked in the selection process.

A speaker who captivates an audience does not have to follow a pre-set path of interactive games. Sometimes it seems committees are less interested in the skill of a speaker if he has submitted a well written learning objective filled proposal. 

I was recently in a convention break-out session where the speaker had the audience fill out a worksheet.  The speaker, to encourage full disclosure in personal answers, told the crowd to write down whatever they were thinking.... and that she would not make them share their answers with their neighbors.  The whole room burst into applause (I mean honest cheering), as every other session at this event was more about chatting at tables than hearing from speakers.

Is it possible we have gone too far with the need to make every talk be about sharing from the crowd?  Could a happy medium be what people really want in their conference attendee experience?  Before you attack me for asking this question (and as I write this I can feel some experts dismissing my thoughts because the do not agree with their own beliefs), ask yourself if we have not seen other concepts become hot trendy issues that later level out to the reality.

I am not saying "no interaction" (please do not think that is what I am writing about), but instead get speakers involved early to understand what this means and work with them to create activities that help their overall presentation be memorable.

My own memories of learning while attending conferences come from a level of excitement and energy from the teacher / speaker and their commitment to the audience (think back to high school - which teachers made a difference in your life? I bet they were the ones who were them most committed to helping you succeed). 

I like audience engagement exercises, and use them in my own talks, but this has become the buzzword in the event world.  A meeting organizer recently asked me how many interactive activities I would have in a 45 minute keynote?  My answer of "one or two, depending on the talk" (remember, this is the kick off keynote at 8:00 AM, not a workshop) was answered with "we require all speakers to insert an activity every seven minutes or we will not hire them.  Ummmm, what?  I asked a few more questions and she said her boss attended a seminar the month before and learned this would improve their event.  Not sure one way or the other, but I think the issue is deeper than games in the talks.  

Let's all work together to set the tone for conferences where people learn more and have positive experiences that lead to them coming back year after year.  Creating powerful learning experiences takes more than telling your neighbor they are a winner. There are many variables that go into creating an impact as a speaker, trainer or other person who is ready to teach. Engagement activities are just part of the very complicated answer.

Have A Great Day

thom singer

***Thom Singer is a professional master of ceremonies and keynote speaker.  He is known as "The Conference Catalyst" for how the way he sets the tone for corporate and association events. 

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Hire a Sales Speaker

Why hire a sales speaker for your next event?

Sales is the root of all success regardless of your industry.  When the topic of sales is ignored or avoided we are short-sheeting the success of our the organization.

Too often people who are planning agendas for corporate, legal, or association events shy away from the idea of putting sales and marketing on the main stage.  They make excuses as to why this topic is not right for their audience, and lean towards keynotes by celebrities, economists, innovation experts, or any pancake stack of technical industry-specific speakers.

All of the above are important issues, and some speakers who fall into these categories will "wow" an audience (some wont, but that is a different discussion), but if we ignore sales we ignore the future of everyone in the room.  All organizations need to educate their people as to the value of cultivating new and repeat business if we care about job security for everyone.

Sales is the oldest profession (yes, sales).  Without paying customers there is no company, law firm, or association.  One would thing businesses would realize this and champion "sales" to all, but they do not.  Too often law firms pretend they are not like other companies (they are, they need profits or they shut down) and act like sales is not to be discussed.  Non-profits proclaim that sales do not matter in their world (they do), but ask any CEO of an association and they will tell you if they numbers don't add up, people lose their jobs.  Sales are key to the future no matter what you do for a living.

Those whose job descriptions do not involve responsibility for the bottom line can stick their head in the sand, but that is limiting for the whole organization.  The smartest organizations will help everyone realize how they can impact sales, even if their role is internal.  The elephant in the room at almost all events is that sales matters to your audience.

Finding the right speaker who can take an often scary topic (yes, sales is scary) and make it relate to the crowd is the hard part, but not impossible.  Talk to the speakers you are considering and ask how their topics can be related to sales, or seek out sales speakers and look for how together you can customize your message to meet the needs of your audience.  Sales should not frighten people, but inspire them about growing the organization.

Have A Great Day

thom singer

*** Thom Singer is a professional master of ceremonies and keynote speaker. 

Sunday, March 06, 2016

Keynote Speaker Canceled - What Do I Do?

Keynote Speaker Canceled?  

The first thing to do if you found this post because you are in a situation where you speaker canceled is to call me at (512) 970-0398.  Maybe I am available to come and speak to your event, or maybe I know another experienced presenter who can fill in.  

The key is not to panic.  There are lots of things you can do that will still allow you to have an awesome event that will have a lasting impact on your event's attendees.

While it is rare that speakers cancel, this does happen from time to time.  While there is no excuse good enough for the meeting planner, I have known of speakers who have had travel issues with airlines. weather, been in car accidents, gotten the flu, calendared the wrong date, or had a family emergency. Life happens.

A speaker no-show is more common for small groups that are not paying the presenter or use local executives for their program.  Professionals make their living serving the client and will move mountains and part the oceans to be at the event.  Because professional speakers work with meeting planners everyday they understand and respect all the nuances that go into executing a meeting.  Also, professionals (especially those who are active in the meeting business and who see speaking as part of that industry) often have friends who are also speakers. A good reason to work with those who are active in the National Speakers Association is that they will have access to thousands of peers. 

I have seen events of all sizes scramble at the last minute to fill an open slot in their agenda.  Below are four things you can do if your speaker cancels at the last minute and you have tried calling me (or someone) to help you find a replacement. 

(These apply for both local business club luncheons or a large multi-day industry conferences):

1.  Always have a Plan B.  I have worked with several organizations who have my phone number on speed dial in case of a need for a last-minute speaker.  While you might not think this would be something that would happen very often, I have filled in seven times in the last four years (last minute can mean a few days in before the event, several hours in advance, or once I was pulled from the audience to deliver a 45 minute keynote).

Savvy professional speakers also have a network of industry friends they can recommend who can step in at the last minute if a problem occurs. While you never want to get that call from your speaker saying they are too ill to speak to your audience, if they have already found a fantastic solution it will make your day much better.  (Speakers who are members of the National Speakers Association can tap into this network no matter where in the world they are scheduled to speak).

2.  Look to your event agenda, past speakers or future speakers.  A multi-day industry event will have a full docket of speakers who will already be present.  Look to see whose program could be up-graded from a break-out to a keynote.  If it is a break-out session you need to fill, see if the keynote speaker has more information that can be delivered as a "booster shot" to those who might want more following his or her main stage program (some speakers will charge you for the extra presentation, but most will be happy to step in and help you out in your time of need).

If it is a local business luncheon, look at your list of past speakers you have had over the last two years and see if you can bring one of them back for an encore presentation.  Since they already know the audience and the venue, they might be comfortable filling in with little notice.

Additionally, maybe a future speaker would be willing to come in and do his talk early.  Some people might not be able to do this from a preparation stand-point, but asking is always a good idea.

3.  Create a round-table lab.  Your audience is full of brilliant people.   Select two or three topic questions that are cutting-edge and involve timely issues.  Get someone on the board or planning committee to be the Master of Ceremonies and explain openly and honestly about how the speaker could not be there.  Next proclaim this to be a fantastic and unique opportunity to crowd source knowledge and best-practices.  Make the audience the heroes.  Then share the discussion topics, having each table elect a discussion leader.  Every few minutes the MC will encourage a new question be bantered about at the tables.  During the last 20 minutes of the meeting each table reports to the whole the best thoughts shared in their group.

4.  Make it a networking opportunity.  Turn the speaker-less meeting into a "Networking Speed Dating Bonanza" by encouraging people make more contacts.  Extend the reception time, and once seated for the meal have everyone introduce themselves around their table.  When dessert is served encourage everyone to move to a new seat in the room.

A main reason people attend business events is for the "networking opportunities", and most meeting planners admit that no matter how much time they schedule for people to mingle, they do not do a good job of it.  Make this open time powerful by facilitating introductions and connections. 

Leadership is paramount to success in this situation.  If you confidently communicate to the attendees that the meeting will still have an equal or greater impact, then they will follow.  If you are timid about the changes to the program being positive, then they are lost.

If you found this article from a search while you are in a panic... I wish you luck, but I am confident you can and will find the right solution for your event.

Have A Great Day

thom singer

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Don't "Network" At a Conference.... Bad Business Advice

A piece of advice given to someone going to a conference on an association group chat just struck me as bad advice.  The person said:
"My advice is to be simply real and connect with others as human beings. Don't "network"."
I am not being a jerk or the word police, but the way we use words matters.  "Networking" means creating and cultivating long-term and mutually beneficial relationships. There is nothing in the actual definition that is about being salesy, schoozy, or manipulative in connecting.  However, people have taken to using the word in negative ways to get attention for their points, and it has created a problem in how we teach people to get ahead.

Without thinking through the point of "Don't network" one could make all kinds of career mistakes.  What the well meaning advice giver meant was that people should not look to pounce like a hungry sales wolf on everyone they encounter.  Being pushy or too verbose about your product and service is sure to limit results of connecting at events.  However, when your goal is long-term and mutually beneficial relationships, then asking questions, listening, and helping others will prevail.

Don't let a misuse of words take you off point the next time you go to an event.  Don't be a pushy sales driven and self-focused fool.  But network like crazy.

Have A Great Day

thom singer

Sunday, February 07, 2016

9th Annual Fundraiser for the Kate Singer Endowment for Cranio-Facial Research

For the 9th year in a row our family is hosting a fundraiser for Cranio-Facial Research at Dell Children's Medical Center.

As many of you know, Kate was born with a condition called Sagital Synostosis, and required surgery to rebuild her skull at age six-months. At the time there was no Dell Children's Medical Center in Central Texas, thus we had to search outside of our community to find the right doctors who would operate on Kate and give her a fresh start in life. Since the opening of Dell Children's our family has supported the hospital with regular donations and the hosting of this annual fundraiser. 

We celebrate Kate, now age 14, each February by raising money to help others who are born with Cranio-Facial abnormalities. One might think that a small donation does not matter, but over time these fundraisers and our contributions have grown to over $50,000 at both Dell Children's and Rady Children's Hospital in San Diego.  Your support of this effort is making a lasting impact.

Thank you for your support of this great cause!  Learn more about our efforts at

Have A Great Day.

thom singer