Thursday, December 18, 2014

Austin NSA Chapter - A Home for Professional Speakers in Central Texas to Learn, Grow, and Share

NSA Austin Chapter Board and Advisors

A whole day was invested in planning for 2015 with the board of the Austin Chapter of the National Speakers Association.  Our local board gathered to brainstorm ideas to improve the chapter and better serve our members (and guests).  I have been active on this board for five years, in addition to my role on the "board" of NSA XY (a generational "sub-group" that exists inside the NSA).  

I am often asked why I volunteer time to this organization, when I have so much going with my family, running a business, etc...  Some people avoid their industry associations because of it being made up of "competitors".. but I don't see NSA in that light.  I am active because I get so much from my membership than I ever spend in time (or the money).  In addition to being on these boards, I always attend one or two conferences each year.  My ROI is huge and I would never have succeeded as a speaker without this organization.

Often speakers show up at NSA (locally or nationally) assuming it is a leads group.  They mistakenly believe that their presence will lead to new business. That is not what the organization is about (although there are lots of leads shared between speakers after they have established long-term and mutually beneficial relationships).  These people are quickly disillusioned and leave long before they see the real value

Being a professional speaker is a weird profession.  If you randomly selected ten speakers you would find ten unique businesses.  From outside this industry looks like one thing, but those on the inside quickly learn it is very different from the perceptions.  Being part of NSA has allowed me to learn by observation, and to directly share best-practices with others who choose to live in this nutty world of presenting for a living.

(Of course, I always find value in people. If I was a locksmith, I would be a member of the National Locksmith Association).

Several years ago I was approached by a new speaker who was seeking 
career advice. I told her that my involvement in NSA was key in helping me grow my career. I stated the power in having peers and friends who were working in this business.  It is not just about information or buying coaching from a "guru", but instead the real clarity that comes from seeing your peers find success. She pooh-poohed the idea of joining and shared that her "mentors" told her that NSA was populated by amateurs who made no money (not true).  She was convinced she did not need to join because she was already "above" the members of the association.

I recently ran into this person, and she is no longer pursuing a speaking career.  I asked her why not and she replied, "there is no money in it if you are not famous". I mentioned I am earning a living, and still growing my business.  She rolled her eyes in disbelief.  It stuck in my mind how she ignored the value of having "speaker buddies" and was now out of the industry.  This conversation made me appreciate my affiliation with the NSA even more.  


In our Austin Chapter 2015 planning meeting the local board discussed the good, the bad, and the ugly of our group.  We have had many successful programs over the past 5 years, but we still are seeking more ways in which we can provide value to the local community of professional speakers in our region.  Our team walked away with some real "To Do" items for the next year (I am excited), but I also was inspired with a few ideas for my own business.  I showed up to volunteer, and ended up with new ideas that can impact my own bottom line.  

It is nice to have a warm home of friends who help each other learn, grow and share.

Have A Great Day

thom singer

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Thom Singer's 2014 Year-In-Review



How did it get to be December 16th?  Whaaat????  Only two weeks left in the year?  No Way!!??!!

I am a big believer in goal setting, but this year I did not get started right out of the blocks.  I usually spend a sizable chunk of time between Christmas and New Years figuring out my plan for the following 12 months. The targets and areas of focus that I identify help keep me motivated during he ups and downs of the following months. 

My father's passing in December 2014 left me feeling alone, empty, and distracted.  The calendar showed April before I figured out my business groove for the year.  

Overall I had an amazing year.  My sales held steady from 2014 (my best year ever), and I was able to be a little calmer as a solopreneur, in regards to finances, after five years of working for myself. Yet I am not sure how we reached December so quickly.

The clients I worked in 2014 with were amazing.  I had the chance to serve as a keynote speaker or Master of Ceremonies at some great conferences, and the companies who brought me in for training were both engaged and fun to work with on each project.  One of my favorite parts of this year was increasing the amount of coaching I did with individuals (mostly presentation skills coaching and business development coaching).  It is rewarding to see people make changes that has a positive impact on their life.

The launch of the "Cool Things Entrepreneurs Do" podcast was a major surprise.  I did not plan on hosting a podcast, but while at the National Speakers Association annual conference I was pushed to interview 50 people over the following year.  The concept was this effort would expose me to new ideas and people.  Instead of interviews for this blog I made a knee-jerk decision to try a podcast. The amazing part is how in such a short amount of time it has become the BEST networking tool I have ever seen in my career.  In just a few months I have already found new speaking business, and been exposed to other opportunities that never could have happened without the podcast.  

Still, I made some mistakes and failed to win some accounts that could have been win /win situations.  Even when one studies relationships as part of their business, it is still easy not gel with everyone you encounter.  My industry is heavily about perception, and it is difficult to change a first impression. I am learning to listen better, and to say "yes" more often to ideas that take me out of my comfort zone. 

This year I looked for ways to begin letting go of my own unjustified opinions of people. The more I have found that others can be wrong about me, it has become clear I am probably wrong about those I judge too quickly.  A huge life lesson to realize this personal shortcoming.  It came about with the repair of an old friendship from college that was lost over misunderstandings.  A simple "I'm sorry for my part" lead to the beginnings of a new friendship that I hope continues to rekindle.  

I was also reminded the power of "Forever Friends" when my family shared two different trips with close friends from my youth (from kindergarten, high school and college).  There comes a time when these relationships transcend friendship and become family.  I am grateful to have many of these people in my life, and I am working harder to never take them for granted.  

My wife and kids were, as always, the highlight of the year. I enjoy seeing the kids mature into teenagers, as it is fun to hang out with them and do things like eat in nicer restaurants, see higher levels of movies, and talk with them about the realities of society, business, politics, and life.  I appreciate that they are reaching the ages where we can have more meaningful conversations. Hanging out with them is fun.  For my birthday the four of us went to a nice steak house for a long dinner.  On my wife's birthday we ate at a French bistro. Again for Christmas Eve we will visit a nice place and make it more than a meal, but create a shared experience.  It is great to be able to bring the kids along and enjoy each other's company. I look forward to more opportunities to see them grow into young adults (Yikes, the oldest leaves for college this year).

2015 brings with it new challenges, and the familiar "re-set" of my sales goals.  My little solopreneur effort has been a lot of fun, but I no longer feel alone, as I have a tribe of other speaker, consultants, writers and podcasters who have become my sounding boards.  It is going to be a fun ride.

I never could have done this without the people in my life who have always believed in me (especially my wife, who clearly does believe).  I have some regrets, but they are few (is that a song?).  I am excited about the new plan for the coming year, and will certainly be fighting the good fight each day.

Have A Great Day


Monday, December 15, 2014

Meetings Business and Learning From Each Other

I am honored to be part of the "Meetings Industry".  The people who work in this business are wonderful souls, hard working, helpful, and entrepreneurial.  

Each month I write an article for the MPI (Meeting Professionals International) Texas Hill Country Chapter Newsletter as a way to serve my industry.  I am a proud member of this chapter and of MPI.

This month's article is about how people in this business learn from each other:

http://www.mpithcc.org/index.php/community/musings-on-meetings/118-learning-from-others-in-the-biz


Learning From Others in “The Biz”

     
The meetings business is great because of the people. The vast numbers of professionals it takes to produce successful events, including planners, hoteliers, venue operators, transportation companies, caterers, speakers, entertainers, etc., means that we are all constantly exposed to smart individuals – that means we should always be learning.

We can all learn from one another. There is value in the friendships we create across the different types of businesses that populate our industry. With each conference we can and should discover new ideas and knowledge. While I invest a lot of time with other speakers (I'm active in the National Speakers Association and have a mastermind group with four peers who share best practices), I also know that those who work in other disciplines in the meetings business are some of the best people to turn to when trying to find ways to improve my business offerings. As a speaker it would be easy for me to only think of meetings from the viewpoint of the conference agenda and how I fit into the meeting. But the more time I spend with other friends in this industry, the better informed I become in understanding what makes a great meeting and how my little piece fits into the whole.

Nancy Vogl, owner of Nancy Vogl Speakers Bureau, agrees. She has spent decades working to connect speakers to the right events and has found the key to success rests in the relationships she has forged over the years. These relationships have proved to be critical not just in regards to winning more business, but in overcoming the ups and downs that all business owners face over time. The turbulent economy, 9/11, and the changes in the meetings and speaking business have thrown many of us curveballs, but Nancy Vogl keeps adapting. "We have so many resources in the meetings industry, people I can turn to for guidance and advice ... there is no excuse for not being successful," says Vogl. "With all we can learn from each other, and the number of supportive people who are always willing to share ideas and best practices, this industry keeps me energized and growing."

Stormi Boyd, CMP, CMM, the director of professional services at Red Velvet events adds, "I find it very rewarding to work with other event professionals. In this industry we work so closely together that you develop real friendships. This makes it easy to quickly call on each other for advice." Boyd says she often reaches out to hotelier industry friends for guidance and insight into policies and contracts, even when their property may not be directly impacted. "And the relationships work in the opposite direction as well. I was just recently utilized by a director of sales as a test subject for their newest sales associate. The fear of the new sales associate making mistakes with potential clients was mitigated because she was able to 'practice' with a live person who regularly produces events."

Boyd recommends finding a mentor in the industry, but not necessarily in your same function. Her mentor is in the audiovisual business and has far more years in the industry. "I can reach out to my mentor for just about any question that might come up. The ability to receive reliable advice and answers quickly can be a game changer in the life cycle of an event."

As we go into the New Year, take the time to review your network and determine if you have established the right relationships to ensure you have access to those who can help you learn and grow in 2015. The good news is that almost everyone in the events business is friendly and will be happy to help you if you reach out to them.


Thom Singer is known as "The Conference Catalyst," a speaker who mixes meaningful content with a high energy presentation style that results in audiences gaining new knowledge and taking action on what they have learned. Thom is also the host of the "Cool Things Entrepreneurs Do" podcast. He can be reached through www.ThomSinger.com or (512) 970-0398.

Have A Great Day

thom singer

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Recipe for Real Referrals: John Corcoran - Referral # 1

In 2015 I want to find ways to make a real referral every week. 

Maybe more often.  I am still figuring out how to make this real.  

Fortunately I come across awesome people all the time.  My career brings me into contact, directly and indirectly, with great souls who are doing interesting things.  I already write "Cool Things My Friends Do" and host the "Cool Things Entrepreneurs Do Podcast", but not everyone is my friend, nor can I have everyone on the show.

Alas, I have no idea how I will refer someone each week.  I am not sure that simply blogging about them is enough.  I want to really connect people.  But for now I will start with the blog and see how it goes.  I have found that "doing" makes things happen.    

My first referral is NOW (why wait until the new year??).  But here is the thing... I don't really know this person.  I just want to refer him for some greater reason.  I simply enjoy his podcast. 

After enough shows I falsely feel we are friends.  But his show is good, and he interviews real people doing real things (not just GURU's).  He is not a person who only highlights those up the ladder (I am sick of those people), he talks to all types of people without pre-judging what they bring to him.

I have been deep into the world of podcasts lately (because of the launch of my own show, "Cool Things Entrepreneurs Do"), and lately I have been listening to John Corcoran and "The Smart Business Revolution Podcast".  I do not know John, but since I have been listening to a lot of shows, I have come to respect him.

If you are looking for a good podcast filled with real and actionable business ideas.... subscribe, download and review "The Smart Business Revolution".  So many podcasts are hosted by people for whom I quickly lose respect.  A friend and I listen to similar shows and share the "ick-factor" when it is discovered.  It is almost a game to find a show that at first seems inspiring and then discover the host is a fraud or a "taker".

Over the past few weeks (and many of his episodes) I have come to decide that John Corcoran is not icky.  The real deal if you like business podcasts.  I think you can feel good with this show over the long run.  

Check it out.

And now pay it forward:  Go and publicly refer someone else.

Have A Great Day

thom singer

Saturday, December 13, 2014

What is the CSP and What Should Event Organizers Know About It?


Since earning the CSP designation in July 2014 (Certified Speaking Professional) I have witnessed several people roll their eyes, scoff, and dismiss the importance of the certification.  I am always shocked when people knock things that are important to others, especially when they do not really understand what they are saying.  We live in a world where personal opinions trump facts in the minds of many.

Mostly these jabs come from other speakers who are not part of the National Speakers Association and do not qualify for the designation.  One person recently told me "NSA and the CSP don't matter to anyone.  Meeting planners don't care if a speaker supports their industry groups".  

Huh?  Meeting organizers and association executives are the ones who care the most.  Many conferences are hosted by associations, and many of those who work for these groups have achieved their own CAE and CMP designations.  

These professionals do care about (and respect) those that have earned their own industry designations (like the CSP).  We work in an industry that is made up of many areas of business (associations, organizers, hoteliers, catering, transportation ,etc.. ), and there is much respect between the different industry groups that make up the meetings industry. 

While it is true that a speaker wont be passed over for not having a designation or belonging to NSA, many planners applaud those who are committed to the dedication it takes to earn such a certification.

A quick search showed 23 certifications that can be earned by professionals who serve in and around the meetings, association and hospitality industries (there might be even more).  These include the CMP, CAE, CPCE, CSP, CRME, CHA, CFBE, and the CGMP.  All of these are bestowed on those who are committed to excellence in their portion of the industry. 

Why should anyone care about the CMP?  Does it mean one speaker is better on stage?  

Nope,

Speaking an art form, thus it is too subjective to judge without seeing a presentation.  So what the CSP shows is an individual who is committed to the profession of speaking and thus the meetings industry.  It highlights professionalism and longevity, which are too things that are hard to quantify from a website or brochure.

I am proud to be a member of the National Speakers Association and to have earned the CSP.  I work hard to help promote the organization and this designation.  I see no harm in adding this to the list of accomplishments in decade long speaking career!

As we launch into the new year, I am self-proclaiming January 2015 as "Promote the CSP Month" and I am challenging the other 600+ professional speakers who proudly hold this designation to do something to educate others about this wonderful certification.  

If you want to know more about how to find someone with the Certified Speaking Professional designation (and what it really means to you), reach out the the NSA at www.NSASpeaker.org.

Have A Great Day

thom singer


Thursday, December 11, 2014

Stopping The Judgmental Ways


There is an epidemic of being judgmental.  

I want to stop this in my own life.  While I cannot change how other people behave, I do have control over my own actions. Being a seeker I am always trying to tinker with myself and learn from my mistakes.  I continuously seek ways to improve.  I have delivered many blunders in my life, and there will be more, but I try to view my own shortcomings and grow past them where I can (sometimes it is difficult).

When people judge me, and especially when they are wrong, it hurts.  Yet I catch myself judging others and jumping to conclusions far to easily.  I am not clairvoyant and have no clue what someone thinks or feels, and I want to stop filling in the blanks from my own imagination.

I mentioned this while giving a speech recently.  The feedback from the audience was interesting.  It resonated with many who hate being judged, yet knew they are fast to draw fast opinions. 

Apparently this is a topic I need to explore. 

Anyone know how to become less of a judge and more of a person who is open to the greatness that others bring?  Have you ever judged and then changed your mind?  How do you deal with that?  Are second chances something you give and get in life?

Have A Great Day

thom singer 

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Lessons from Fraternity and Sorority Life


We can learn from many different people and in a variety of places.  
Too often our perspectives can make us think that our own industries are the only place to find inspiration.  However, the best entrepreneurs are observers and always seeking fresh points of view.

Recently I was a "Featured Speaker" at the AFA (Association of Fraternity / Sorority Advisors) Annual Meeting.  This is a group of professionals who work on college campuses and for the national offices of fraternities and sororities.  I was impressed with dedication these people have for their profession and to serving the college men and women with whom they work.  The conference had a strong vibe of energy from the people who care deeply about their industry.

Fraternities and sororities regularly deal with issues that are similar to those that perplex entrepreneurs; risk management, recruitment, budgeting, public relations, philanthropic efforts, goal setting, conflict resolution, etc...  My own experience in a college fraternity was very much like being part of a start-up.  We were a young chapter of a big organization (I am #66 in the roll book) with ambitious goals to grow something bigger than what we had found when we joined.  I learned many things in this organization that I use daily in my life as a business professional.

In the most recent episode of "Cool Things Entrepreneurs Do" (Episode 26) I interview several attendees at AFA Annual Meeting about what can be learned from the Greek Life experience.  While I sometimes hear people say fraternities and sororities are relics from the past, the reality is these organizations are discovering new ways to teach leaderships skills to a new generation.

The Greek System is known to many only for the negative situations that play out in the movies or on the news, but there are many positive experiences that members of these organizations encounter that have constructive effects of their lives.... during college and beyond.


Have A Great Day

thom singer

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

I miss you, Dad


Today marks one year since my father passed away at age 99.

He was born in 1914 and witnessed many changes in the world (he was born only 11 years after the Wright Brothers flew at Kitty Hawk).  He served in WWII.  He remembered so many changes in technology and how we communicate, that new advancements never surprised him.

I am not yet the age that he was when I was born (he was 52 when I came along).  That minor mathematical statistic brings with it some interesting perspective, as he lived a whole life before I arrived, and yet remained active up until his late 90s.  It reminds me that I have so much to experience still to come.  Hopefully my future has a long run ahead, and I strive to be like him in many ways.

He was a great dad.  My brothers and I not only love him, but we liked him, too.  He was patient, supportive, understanding, steady, and encouraged us to become our own men.  

The thing I most remember him teaching me was to "be slow to anger and fast to forgive".  I have found that very few people have received that advice.  Too bad.

One year is a milestone.  This is a sad one.  But I smile when I look at my family and the legacy my parents left behind.  

Have a great day

thom singer

Monday, December 08, 2014

Cool Things My Friends Do (Week #120) - Hal Speed and Computer Science Education Week / Code.org

Each week on this blog I enjoy highlighting some of the cool things my friends do in their personal and professional lives.

This weekend I bumped into my friend Hal Speed and learned Computer Science Education Week starts today [Dec 8th].

Hal's son and my daughter both attend the same high school, a magnet school that draws some of the smartest kids from all across Austin. The students at this school have the opportunity to pick and choose from many computer science and computer programming classes. However, other children in our city and across the country do not have such an opportunity.

After realizing that many schools do not offer computer programming classes and seeing the number of programming jobs available, Hal started volunteering with Code.org, an organization that believes every student should have the opportunity to learn computer science. He's also working with the local school districts to implement Texas House Bill 5 which now requires every high school in Texas to offer computer science (WHAT???  Texas only now, in 2014, is requiring high schools to offer computer courses???  Ouch!).

This week, Code.org has a goal of introducing 100 million students to computer science with a fun, interactive tutorial called the Hour of Code. It's so easy anybody can learn and there's no previous experience required. Throughout the week, students will also be chatting with high-tech celebrities such as Bill Gates, Sheryl Sandberg and Usher, checkout the videos here.

With so much of our lives impacted by technology and software, learning the basics of computer science has become an important skill to have in the 21st century and for the jobs of the future. 

Kudos to Hal, and others, for all the work they are doing in this area.  

Have A Great Day

thom singer