Thursday, May 31, 2012

2012 ACG Central Texas Corporate Growth Awards

Get your tickets now for the 2012 Outstanding Corporate Growth and Emerging Company Awards luncheon on Thursday, June 14th, 11:30AM-1:30PM at the Four Seasons Hotel in Austin.

Each year this event honors Austin and San Antonio's fastest growing companies.  This year is no exception.  Make your plans to attend. Come network and hear from keynote speaker Robert Reeves - Co-founder and CTO of Datical Software.

FYI.... I will be the Master of Ceremonies for the event!

Have A Great Day.

thom singer

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

8 Tips for Better Virtual Presentations

Presentation skills are important for a successful career.  You are always judged by how you speak and share ideas.  Being able to clearly and concisely get your point across with confidence is necessary if you want to be viewed as an expert.

Presentations, however, are not limited to live in-person gatherings.  Most assume these skills are for "giving a speech" at an internal meeting or industry conference.  But in today's world there are countless virtual meetings that require professionals to join the conversation.  Stumbling on a teleconference or webinar can damage your reputation.

Knowing how to present is critical no matter if you have five minutes or forty-five minutes.  Do not assume that a short talk on a call is less important.  You need to plan for all presentations... even those that are impromptu.

When delivering a virtual presentation, to your peers or as part of an larger meeting, you need to follow many of the same tips for live presentations:

1.  Be prepared.  Winging it is a common cause for missed opportunity in delivering a presentation.  People often assume they know their information, and just begin to talk aimlessly.  It is easy to sound disorganized, especially when you are not in the same room.  People's minds fill in the blanks for what they cannot see, and your rambling on the phone can quickly cause the listeners to lose interest.  If presenting on video your lack of preparation can be magnified.

2.  Keep it simple.  A virtual presentation is usually not the place for complicated theories and explanations.  People already have short attention spans, and that can be magnified when listening to a webinar or teleconference.  

3.  Energy.  Be yourself, but your most energetic self. When there is excitement in your voice, the people on the other end will pick up on that.  Nobody want to be on a call with someone drones on without inflection in their voice.  If on a phone call, standing up and moving around while you speak is a great way to raise your energy level.  Having energy will show itself in a good pace in your voice.  

4.  Tell stories.  4000 years ago our ancestors did not sit around the camp fire and read statistics and share information by spreadsheets.  They told stories.  People are wired to learn and connect by hearing a story.  Make sure that the points you are making are anchored with meaningful stories.

5.  Smile.  There have been studies done with telemarketers, and those who smile while they talk are more connective to the people on the other end of the phone.  I do not know why, but your smile comes through in your voice.  Telemarketing firms actually put mirrors in the cubicles so that those making calls can see themselves smile.  

6.  Test your equipment in advance.   If speaking on a cell phone, make sure your battery is charged and that you have good receptions.  You also want to ensure that you are in a quiet room, as background noise can ruin your presentation.  If using an online connection for a webinar, make sure that you have uploaded all the needed software and that you have the most recent versions.  You do not want any technical difficulties that can be avoided.

7.  Don't tell a joke.  If you are not a professional comedian, avoid telling jokes.  The age old thought that a joke will soften your audience is bad advice.  Telling a joke live is risky, it is even worse in a virtual environment.  If the joke falls flat you many never recover.  You also have to remember that many of the calls you participate in could involve an international audience, and jokes do not always translate.  Humor is a good idea, but canned jokes should be avoided.

8.  Do not dress like a slob.  This one is for webinars.  If the camera is on you, do not show up looking like a mess.  Even if your company is "casual", if you work from home and look like you have not showered in days, it will distract from your presentation.

In our ever-changing business world we are all going to have more opportunities to present in a virtual manner.  Do not overlook the power of how you present, be it in person, on the phone, or web.  You are judged by how you communicate.  Take the virtual presentations seriously and you will find more opportunities!

Have A Great Day.

thom singer

*** I now teach a corporate seminar for groups of 10 or more employees on how to communicate in virtual meetings.  For more information contact me at 512-970-0398.

Monday, May 28, 2012

To Heck With New Years Resolutions - Set Clear Goals Every Month!

There are mixed opinions on the practice of setting annual goals or creating "New Year's Resolutions".  Some people achieve great results from mapping out a plan for their year, others feel that it is a recipe for failure.

I have long been a goal setter and each January I come up with a list of targets and a theme for areas of improvement for the year.  Sometimes I have meet my goals, other years I have come up short.  Either way, I find the process of creating targets and using them to assist in my decision making process over 12 months has  helped me advance my career.

The problem for many is that the new year only comes once.  If you fail to coordinate a realistic and actionable plan by the first few weeks of the year, the odds are that you will not do it at all.  Plus, the best conceived plans can easily get derailed by the realities of life (we all get busy).  Far too often when little gets accomplished, the whole plan is abandoned by Memorial Day.  I am writing this post with five months of 2012 already behind us, and many I talk with feel they have been working hard, but they have not capitalized on all their opportunities.  Time is slipping past.

I am also finding that everyone, including myself, is falling prey to shorter attention spans.  A year just seems so long, who can pay attention in January to results for December?

I have begun working with select coaching and consulting clients on creating more short term goal plans (for an individual or company), and then helping them have a laser focus on taking action.  With a whole year to get the ball rolling, it is easy to procrastinate.  With only a few weeks, there is only now. Success or failure depends on today.

The "New Month Resolution" is a term some use to describe this process. The purpose is to create one or two intense goals that require immediate action and can be accomplished in 30 days.  Think of it as the "Twitter of Goal Setting" (short bursts of goals).  Much like Twitter limits the user to 140 characters, this process limits the goal setter to two things they must do by the end of the month.  Yes, other things can be accomplished, but these two goals are a defined priority.

Most people struggle at first to figure out what they should select as a month goal, but after the first month or two it becomes simple to identify what needs to be accomplished to see meaningful results.  Sales professionals often need to set goal on making calls to more prospects, as this is the life blood to their success, but easily skipped when busywork is created.  Entrepreneurs tell me it is the marketing and branding activities they need help getting done.  Attorneys find it is their networking and reputation building that gets forgotten when they are serving existing clients.

Ask yourself these questions:

1.  What do I know I should be doing that I never seem to get done?
2.  Why am I not doing the things that will help me succeed?
3.  If I did this, what would be the short and long term results?
4.  What are the obstacles, real or imagined, that are in my way?
5.  Can I get this done in 30 days?  If not, what part can I get done in 30 days?
6.  Do I really want the success?
7.  Will I take action, or is this just a dumb exercise?

To be successful you must have an accountability partner.  This can be your paid business coach, consultant, mentor, friend or co-worker, but the person must be reported to regularly and they cannot let you slide for lack of action.

Try it for the month of June.  What are two things you know you should do to get closer to your own long term success, but never seem to take action?  Get a coach or friend to help you define the actions needed, and then get rid of all the excuses.  Take action.  June 30th will be here fast.  No time to dilly dally.

Have A Great Day.

thom singer

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Stay You

The Holiday Inn hotel chain is running a national advertising campaign with the slogan "Stay You" (playing off the word "stay" as meaning both remaining and as a hotel visit).  This blog post has nothing to do with the pros or cons of choosing your lodging..... but we all need the reminder from time to time of "be TRUE to yourself".

"Staying you" is important, and there is often a lot of pressure to the contrary.  In my profession as a motivational and educational speaker and trainer I often see many of my peers who build their presentations around a "SCHTICK", or preach values they do not live by on a day to day basis.  Many are proud of the personas and gimmicks they wear like a costume when doing their jobs.  They are being actors, not speakers.

The best compliment I ever received was from a friend who saw me present at a conference.  After the speech he walked up and said "wow, you have created a job where you just get to stand up and be 'Thom'".  He had known me for a long time and felt that my style was authentic to my soul.  His words have stayed with me for years as I have expanded and grown my business.... I try to make sure I stay "me".

In all professions people feel the need to forward a facade.  But there is no reason for not being true to yourself.  Most of the successful people I know are very comfortable in their own skin.  They are confident in their experience, beliefs and abilities.  The best among us are often aware of their faults and are not trying to disguise their short-comings.

Take a minute to think about this post and share it with others.  Are you staying you?

Have A Great Day.

thom singer

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Law Firm Partner Retreat Speaker

If your law firms is seeking an educational and motivational speaker who will inspire your team and create meaningful conversation on how to navigate growth in your business community.... look no further.

My experience in business, marketing, coaching and consulting includes considerable time working with attorneys.  I worked inside two AM LAW 100 firms in marketing and business development roles, and since launching my consulting and speaking business I have worked with hundreds of lawyers.

Law schools do not teach basic business skills, causing many to mistakenly assume that marketing is not important to a successful practice.  Understanding how  to create a personal brand, network, sell their services, and present themselves to the community can seem "easy", but are frustrating to many lawyers who would prefer to do good work and serve interesting clients.

I will engage the partners and associates in your firm in a way that many have never experienced.  Challenging how they have looked at the power of business relationships, I will leave them better situated to grow their reputation and discover more business opportunities.

More information at  (512) 970-0398.  thom (at)

Have A Great Day.

thom singer

Friday, May 25, 2012

Cool Things My Friends Do - Chad Goldwasser's "Rock 'n' Restock" Benefit Concert

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

Chad Goldwasser and Goldwasser Real Estate are hosting the 9th Annual "Rock 'n' Restock" Concert (Benefiting the Capital Area Food Bank) on Friday, June 22, 2012. (7Pm at the Zilker Clubhouse in Austin, Texas).

Chad, one of the country's most successful real estate brokers, has a huge love of live music.  Nearly a decade ago he began producing this annual concert to take his passion for cool bands and turn it into something that can help the greater community.

I have attended the event for several years, and not only is there always great music (This year featuring Quiet Company and Matt the Electrician), but it is also fun to see Chad both host the event and revel in the fun.

Tickets must be purchased in advance at

***Note, Chad is also my co-author for the book "Some Assembly Required: A Networking Guide for Real Estate"

Have A Great Day.

thom singer

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Conferences Deserve New Ideas - 6 Ways To Put A Spark Into Your Next Event

Conferences matter.  Since the beginning of time man has congregated to celebrate, learn, share ideas and socialize.  The advent of social media does not replace the human desire to be part of a community.  Even the recent years of recession could not stop the most desirable conferences from growing (SXSW exploded from 2009 to 2012).  People want to come together, and when a meeting has impact.... they come back year after year (and bring their friends!).

Some have argued that traditional live meetings are "old school" and have outlived their usefulness, but I disagree.  Boring live meetings that are not challenging the experience of attendees are the problem.  In a recent conversation with an association executive in charge of a large convention, she said "While our numbers are dropping, our board is not ready to try anything new this year".  If not now, when?

We do not need to fully re-invent the structure of meetings.  Venue space, hotel rooms, and other human needs dictate some of the formatting of conferences.  But that does not mean the agenda must look the same every year (fill in the blank conferences) or need to be the same as every other event (cookie-cutter conferences).

Mini-societies are created when people attend an event.  The people in these societies deserve a fresh approach. In fact, many are demanding a new experience, and if they are not getting it they are not returning.  Those who organize conferences and make the final decisions must be willing to try new things in order to discover the opportunity to make people say "wow".

Here are six ideas to consider when looking to create a fresh experience at a conference:

1.  Try new formats.  Do not make every keynote and breakout the same length or even the same format as the others.  In this I suggest more than some with a speaker, and others with a panel.  The2011 and 2012 PCMA Annual Conferences had an entire ball room dedicated to alternative learning styles, small round-table conversations, and hands on learning.  Their "Learning Lounge" was unique, and is being immolated (not copied) by several other associations.

2.  Have shorter speeches (with more discussion time).  The popularity of TED has made the 18 minute presentation very popular.  But that alone does not guarantee a good talk.  Be sure that the speakers are experienced with this format and give people time to talk with each other about the topics they heard about.

3.  Have longer speeches (that are interactive).  Not everything can be communicated in 18 minutes.  Sometimes you need to have master-class sessions that are several hours long.  Be sure the speakers are energetic and interactive, as nobody wants three hours of "blah".  But the right topic and teacher can make time fly in a long format breakout.

4.  Hire speakers with unexpected topics.  Too often planners are nervous about topics that do not match directly with what the audience might expect at a conference.  However, some of the best attended breakouts at technical conferences can be the "soft-skills" topics.  Do not be shy about keynotes that do not seem to be a fit, as a variety of information is what challenges the mind to find the connections.

5.  Host unique meal gatherings.  Look for ways to make the happy hours and meals different.  The 2012 TEDx Austin event had five different restaurants cater lunch and had 5 unique "restaurants" set up in the dining area.  Attendees were pre-assigned an area, and it was a the most unique dining experience I have ever witnessed at a conference.

6.  Host unique off-sites.  Get the attendees away from the meeting venue for an educational or social adventure.  This is more than just hosting a party at another venue, but instead taking everyone on a hike to a picnic or some other un-expected but engaging activity.  Remember to take into consideration people with special needs, so that they are not excluded from participation!

7.  Give people something extra.  If you tell them there will be six ideas, make it seven.  People love a bonus, and when your event delivers more than they expected they will feel great about it!

Trying something new involves a risk.  It might not work out the way you had hoped, or could not be well received by your attendees.  But no risk means no reward.  If you do not make an attempt, then you are promising people a routine experience.  Those who are scared to take action are telling their attendees they do not deserve "wow", but instead are destine for "blah".  Everyone deserves WOW!.

Have A Great Day.

thom singer

Thom Singer is known as "The Conference Catalyst". He works with meeting planners and conference organizers to set the tone for a meeting. His presentations educate, inspire and motivate attendees to engage deeper in the event and make meaningful connections.

Sunday, May 20, 2012


My publishing company, New Year Publishing, is hosting a promotional deal with which allows you to download a free copy of "Some Assembly Required: A Networking Guide for Graduates" FREE on Kindle.  This offer is good for Monday and Tuesday only (May 21 and May 22, 2012).

The book is a perfect for anyone who is about to graduate from college (or recently graduated in the past few years), as networking skills are essential over a lifetime.  The job market is still tight and recent grads are concerned with finding their first job or making a move to a more fulfilling career.

If you have a Kindle, jump over to and get this book (and enjoy reading it!!!).  If you know any college students, new grads, or others.... send them the link!!!

Parents with recent grads should definitely want their kids to read this book!

Everyone likes FREE STUFF -- Especially when it is this book!!!

Have A Great Day.

thom singer

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Facebook Is A Tool (But How Long Until It Is Yesterday's News?)

Facebook went public on May 18, 2012 (Yesterday).

Mark Zuckerberg and others with stock options certainly had a life changing event, but overall nothing changed for most of the world. Yes, his company has had a huge impact over the past few years, but where will it find itself in when this week is in the history books?

In our social media crazy world the tools are changing all the time.  Today Facebook is on top, but will they remain a leader or will some other entrepreneurs come up with a new-new thing that will make us forget Facebook?  When Netscape went public in 1995 it set off the boom that changed Silicon Valley and made the internet a household utility, but it did not last forever (not long at all in the big picture).

Our society loves social media tools, and Facebook is one of the leaders.  But social media does not replace or recreate human-to-human relationships.  It is simply a tool.  New tools are always being created and those that make it big eventually become common place or are replaced.  It was only 110 years ago (barely more than a single lifetime) man learned to fly.  Now we hardly see airplanes as revolutionary technology.  I was on four planes this week alone.  Before airplanes we took trains.  I have not been on a train since I was a kid.

People need people, not digital links.  While we are spending a lot of time lusting after the newest apps, there are people around us who could bring real opportunities.  But we ignore them and instead check Facebook on our smartphone.  This is true everywhere that people gather.  The "Phone Zombies" walk the streets, offices and convention hallways oblivious to what could come from face-to-face conversations.  We are so into what is happening somewhere else, we do now pay attention to what is happening around us.

I predict that some enterprising Generation Y entrepreneur will create a movement toward noticing the people who are in the same room.  We call it "networking" or "connecting" in today's language, but this guru of human interaction will give it a new name and the masses will embrace it as if meaningful conversations were revolutionary.  The pendulum will swing back and we will once again have discussions that do not use digital tools.

This does not mean we will discard social media.  It will simply take its place as a tool we use to advance relationships.

People matter, and we can link to strangers all day long,.... but it is those with whom we really create mutually beneficial and long term personal relationships that we will remember on our deathbed.  I do not imagine anyone reaching the end of their life asking to to scroll their Facebook status update stream one more time.

What do you think?

Have a great day.

thom singer

Friday, May 18, 2012

Cool Things My Friends Do - "You According To Them" - A New Book by Sara Canaday

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

Congratulations to my friend Sara Canaday who is releasing her first book this month!!!

"You According To Them: Uncovering the blind spots that impact your reputation and career" is a guide for those who seek to navigate their path toward more success in their career.  

There are many books of career advice, but Sara's unique perspective makes her the one to turn to if you are looking to go to the next level.  She draws on her years of corporate experience and research to not only explain WHY smart people can end up with stalled careers, but also HOW they can fix the problems (or avoid them in the future). The timing for this insight couldn't be better, given today's increasingly competitive work environment.

Sara is a corporate trainer, consultant, professional speaker, and career coach.  She is also the president of the Austin Chapter of the National Speakers Association.  I have had the pleasure to know her for several years, and I am very excited to see her complete this project.  

It is very cool to see a someone you know and respect accomplish great things.

You can pre-order her book at or at

Have A Great Day

thom singer

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Networking Shortcuts for Career Success

There are no shortcuts to career success.  It takes time to building long-term and mutually beneficial relationships (the kind that lead to real opportunities).  Those who are serious about developing better careers cannot "fast-forward" the steps necessary to establish a lasting reputation in their business community.

People ask me about the credibility of the latest "gimmicks" that business gurus are promoting.  They want to know if the investment matches the outcome.  The answer is "who knows.... it is up to you!"   Most programs on the market that teach career success have good ideas, but there is no way to achieve results than doing the work.  You must do the pay attention to the "job" (do good work) and to the "networking quotient" (establish connections that are meaningful).

We live in a world where everyone seeks shortcuts.  But for people to really know you and what makes you great... you need to invest the time to show them by your actions.  We can "know" someone superficially by reading their online profiles,.... but that does not mean we have a two-way trusting relationship.  If the goal is just to be "known" then the relationship is one sided.  You have to "know" the other people back.  People only care if they think you care.  Following a celebrity online is nice, but it is not a friendship (They do not know you back!).

Forget the gimmicks, shtick, and shortcuts.... make your strategy one of "Choosing People" and you will never be sorry for your efforts!

Have A Great Day.

thom singer

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Choose People

I was in a restaurant with my dad and two of my older brothers. We were laughing and having fun, when suddenly a gentleman pulled a chair up to our table and sat with us. He inquired if we were a family, as he was struck by the amount of fun we were having telling stories and laughing. He then pointed toward his nearby family. Everyone was on their smart phones- playing games , texting or checking Facebook. His wife and three kids had not even noticed he was gone.

He looked at my elderly father and wondered out-loud if he would have engaged conversations with his children when they were grown…. Or if they would only communicate electronically? He wanted to be part of a party where people spoke to each other at dinner.

Social media and digital communication have taken over society, and the tools we now use bring along many advantages to create and cultivate in-person and virtual relationships. But it is also causing disconnections in human to human interactions.

The family of the man in the restaurant was not an anomaly. People in the same room regularly to choose to communicate with others who are miles removed. Those sitting with us seem not as interesting as those far away.

Attend any business conference and you will see the “Phone Zombies” roaming the halls, actively checking-in online, while being checked-out in person. Nobody talks to strangers, or even those they already know, as they are all busy reading screens.

Does our social media obsession undermine the ability of people to make meaningful connections? It can when we forget that on the other side of that “link” or “Friend Request” is a real person. If connecting is about the numbers instead of the development of mutual understanding, then it is all a cold fa├žade.

We have to remember to “Choose People” in our social media crazy world. This means keeping the phones in our pocket or purse when we are with others and advancing the use of spoken conversation.

All opportunities come from people. When we choose not to be engaged we are leaving behind opportunity.

Have A Great Day

thom singer

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Speaker for Austin or San Antonio Meeting

Lately I have been seeing more inquiries from meeting professionals who are looking for a keynote speaker or breakout presentation for company or association meetings in my local market.

These conference organizers find me via a search for motivational and educational speakers who live in the Austin or San Antonio area or they inquire to speakers bureaus about who lives in Central Texas.  Some seek ways to save on travel expenses while others prefer to have speakers at their conference who have ties to the community and can provide a local flavor in the presentation.

In most cities local companies often prefer to hire speakers from outside their area, as there is a perception that "the definition of an expert is anyone with a boarding pass".  But national conferences being held a destination city are seeming to be looking for more local speakers.

(That being said, I do sales skills training and presentation skill training classes for many local businesses).

I speak all over the United States (and have presented in three other countries), but do enjoy the opportunity to work close to home.  It allows me to continue my mission to reach more audiences with the "Conference Catalyst" program and spread the message of "Choose People In A Social Media Crazy World" while not spending too much time away from my family.

There have also been several times when I have been contacted as an "emergency speaker" to fill in at an event where the scheduled speaker became ill or missed a flight.

Speaking in my local market is a win / win situation.

For more information, visit or

Have A Great Day

thom singer

Monday, May 14, 2012

Does LinkedIn Matter?

I was recently the speaker at a business event.  After my talk (about the "Power of Business Relationships") one of the executives in the audience asked me "Does LinkedIn really matter?".

She was the executive director of a non-profit.

My answer was "Only if you might ever want to find another job or collect any donations from donors to your organization".  Oh... "or if you ever plan to hire anyone".  Or "if you are an active part of your business community!"

You should assume that everyone with whom you meet is looking for information about you before the appointment. This is not stalking, but instead a way to seek ideas for things and people you may have in common.

I also recommend that you never go to a meeting without reading the other person's profile!  The little nuggets of information you obtain might be all you need to forge a meaningful conversation that leads to a more successful meeting.

My explanation to her included that it only matters if it matters to one other person who is looking for information about her (either to hire her, or because they are interested in her non-profit).  When people seek information and it is difficult to attain, they are filled with joy... they are frustrated.  When those who actively use LinkedIn as a research tool discover someone is not present (or has a lame profile), they often think "out of touch".

If you are sure that nobody will ever seek information about you via LinkedIn, then it does not matter.  But for that one person to whom it does matter.... well....... what impression are you sending?

Your choice.

Have A Great Day.

thom singer

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Conference Speakers Need A Back-Up Plan

While speaking at a business retreat this week the power went out in the meeting room in the first two minutes of my presentation.  While the electricity came back quickly, the AV equipment was not very cooperative after the reboot.  I had no slides as the projector was not communicating with the computer. While the meeting facility team was scrambling to solve the problem, I had to continue my conversation with the audience.  The communication that mattered was the dialogue with the audience!

Fortunately I often speak without slides, and since my speaking style is built around storytelling, I was able to keep going without hesitation.  The talk took a different direction, but was still on message. After ten minutes the technical difficulties were resolved and I returned to the planned presentation.

I had witnessed a speaker earlier this year bomb her talk because her slides would not advance, and I took note after her disaster to prepare myself for how to respond should I ever encounter a similar situation.  (The sad part for her was her whole talk was her own personal story- it involved no statistics, graphs, charts, or other technical information.  There was no need for her to fall apart when her PowerPoint was gone).

Contingency plans are important for all those who work in the meetings industry (not just the speakers).  The experience of everyone in attendance relies on so many working parts, that any one piece that does not come together can drain the energy in the room.  Couple that with the short attention span of most people, and they will mentally check out the moment they sense something is not going right.  The whole meeting can flop when something goes wrong.  

Having a "Plan B" is a great idea for everyone in any industry.  Those who have considered what can go wrong and how they will handle the bumps in the road are often those who are seen to "think fast" in the face of adversity.  I am not sure these people are thinking faster than anyone else.  Having seen the problems in advance, and knowing how to resolve them, simply means they are prepared.

I was a Cub Scout and a Boy Scout as a kid.  Their motto of "Be Prepared" is one of the best lessons that we can all learn for all aspects of our lives.  Life is full of surprises... and preparation for those surprises can make them minor issues.

My talk this week could have been a flop if I had focused on the technical difficulties (as did that one speaker I saw in a similar pinch).  However, since I had thought through this particular hiccup many months ago I knew how to respond. The power failure was no more a footnote to the presentation. Even if the PowerPoint had never been restored I could have completed the whole hour without cheating the audience of an experience.

What is your "Plan B"?

Have A Great Day.

thom singer

Friday, May 11, 2012

Cool Things My Friends Do - Patrick Henry's New Website

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

My friend and fellow professional speaker, Patrick Henry, released his new website this week.  I know that websites are common (who doesn't have one? Right?), and thus you might wonder why I would mention something like this in a "Cool Things My Friend's Do" post?  But his site is cool.... and it is new.... and that means it is worth applauding.

I know first hand all the work that goes into a speaking career.  With so many people who call themselves "Speakers", those who make a living year over year are constantly reinventing and improving not only their message, presentation skills, and overall brand.... but we must have fresh websites and other materials.

The site is crisp and professional.  It clearly shares his level of expertise and makes a great first impression.

Patrick was one of the first people I met when I joined the National Speakers Association, and we have become good friends.  It has been great to share ideas as we have both worked to grow our businesses, and it is fun to see his success continue.  Patrick is a second generation professional speaker, as his father was one of the early leaders in the industry.  I did not know his dad, but I think it is very cool that he has followed in the footsteps.

Have A Great Day.

thom singer

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Meeting Industry Controversy - I Wrote My Congressman

I wrote to my representative in Congress this week.  As a proud participant in the "Meetings Industry" I am concerned about the backlash that has popped up around the abuses by people working for the GSA in regards to inappropriate use of money spent in regards to conferences.  Similar bad press rumbled around in 2008 because of the WordCom fiasco and the 2011 "MuffinGate".

Waste should not be tolerated by government agencies, companies, associations or anyone who plans meetings.  But people who overstep common sense (and the laws) are not proof that meetings are somehow a flawed idea.  While people at the GSA broke rules, it does not mean the rules need to be changed.

Meetings matter, and people have been gathering to share ideas, celebrate success, reward achievement and make human-to-human connections for as long as men and women have walked the earth.  The meetings industry was responsible for $99 Billion direct travel spending in 2011, which impacts nearly 900,000 jobs in the United States.

Since the GSA scandal hit the news there has been legislation in congress (both approved and pending) that does things like sets limits attendance and money spent on meetings, etc....  I worry about the politicians who make up random spending caps without really knowing what it takes to produce a meeting.

I wrote my Congressman, Lloyd Doggett, with the intention of bringing attention to this topic to his staff.  While his district is host to one of the country's most popular conferences (SXSW), I am not sure that this issue was something that he would have thought much about... but it matters to the industry I serve (and I have a lot of respect for everyone who works in and around the meetings business).  While the GSA issues and related legislation are all in connection to government agencies...., there is huge sector of the meetings industry that serves the federal government.

Do I expect my email to Mr. Doggett to matter?  NOPE.  But we have to try.  When there is an issue that impacts an industry in which we work, or a cause we care deeply about, we must try to be heard over the special interest groups and the political advisers who think jumping on an issue in the headlines will buy votes. If we do not contact our representatives, then they have zero knowledge of what matters to those in their districts.

The meetings industry is very complex, and my guess is few in congress have ever thought much about what goes into creating a meeting... as long as their microphone works when they speak and that they get their glass of wine quickly.  Before laws are passed on how to handle meetings, they should be meeting with the leaders from the many organizations that make up the industry's thought leadership (PCMA, MPI, ASAE, IAEE, DMAI, etc...)

Have you ever written your representative in Congress?

Have A Great Day.

thom singer

Thom Singer is known as "The Conference Catalyst". He works with meeting planners and conference organizers to set the tone for a meeting. His presentations educate, inspire and motivate attendees to engage deeper in the event and make meaningful connections. 

Monday, May 07, 2012

How I Became A Professional Speaker

What do you do for a living?

I am a professional speaker!

How did you get into that line of work?

I am regularly asked how I became a professional speaker.  It is a wonderful career.  I respect the business of speaking (yes, it is a business), and I am honored that I have had success in this unique and mis-understood industry.  But there is no one path to earning a living as a speaker, and for every professional speaker you find there will be a different back story that stands alone.

For me it began 15 years ago.  I was working in a sales and marketing job which lead me to often attend events with speakers.  I became captivated by the idea business.  I had the honor of meeting one of the industry super-stars at the time (and he is still a super-star today), Harvey Mackay, and he told me that if I wanted to be a speaker, I could do it.

I believed him.

It took me a long time, but I worked on the skills and became educated on the industry.  I watched everyone I ever saw who gave a speech and viewed them as a teacher and myself as a student.  I named this process "Speaker University", and I earned the equivalent of an advanced degree from all the people I witnessed talking to crowds.

Great speakers were captivating.  Others presentations were blah.  I was curious about what was the difference between those who could touch the soul of an audience and those that were mundane.  Experience was clearly part of the equation, and I began to speak regularly to gain experience.  I set a goal of 50 talks per year and soon was getting the opportunity to speak for a variety of organizations.  I listened to the audience feedback and looked everyone who heard me speak as a guide that would lead me to better speaking skills.

I started coaching executives on their presentations, and being the teacher also made me a better student.

In 2009, at the height of the recession, I was laid off from my day-job.  While I had been working to build a speaking and training career, I was not in the game full-time.  I had a choice to make.  I could follow my dream or go get a job marketing others.  I decided to go for it.

2009-2011 were the worst days for the meetings industry, and many might argue a bad time to start a speaking career.  Additionally there were few companies doing employee training classes.  It was a rough time to enter the business, but also the best time.  The journey has been half the fun!

I am happier in this phase of my career than any other.  I enjoy it when I connect with an audience to be a catalyst for action.  But it is more than just being on stage and getting applauds.  It is about helping transform the experience at an event.  People come to meetings with the desire to feel connected, and the speakers set the tone for the whole event.  When it all comes together I have gone beyond doing a job.

Meetings matter.  The gathering of people is more than just something that brings attendees and sponsors together at a business center.  It is primal.  Humans have been gathering in groups since the beginning of time.  But too many conventions, trade shows, conferences and seminars have become stale.  I love it when there is something more than blah happening at an event, and I am staging a one-man movement to help create real experiences at the conferences where I speak.

How did I become a professional speaker? One presentation at a time... and all stacked upon the ones that come before.

With over 300 professional-level talks under my belt I am seeking to work with meeting organizers who share my belief that a speaker is more than someone paid to talk, but instead a partner who helps create the culture of the event.

Speaking is not just a career, it is a calling.

Have A Great Day.

thom singer

Thom Singer is known as "The Conference Catalyst". He works with meeting planners and conference organizers to set the tone for a meeting. His presentations educate, inspire and motivate attendees to engage deeper in the event and make meaningful connections.

Saturday, May 05, 2012

Reverse Engineering Speaker Selection

Speakers set the tone for conferences, trade shows, seminars, and conventions.  Most meetings utilize one or more speakers to educate, inspire and motivate the attendees.  The right speaker can transform the audience experience.  Speakers should WOW and audience... not be BLAH.

Too often speakers are selected without much thought to the overall desired outcome of what is desired after they conclude their talk.  There is a lot of chat in the meetings industry for the need for "content", but content is not king.  Author Cory Doctorow said it best, "Conversation is king.... content is just something to talk about".  Content alone can be very dull.  If the information is better presented in a White Paper, then that should be how it is delivered.  Communication skills and the ability to connect with an audience can take content to a whole other level. 

The days of a brilliant speaker coming and presenting information to the uneducated audience are long gone.  Those who attend meetings are much more sophisticated and have a variety of access points to information.  They are often well versed in the subjects presented, and they want to be engaged in the conversation, not preached to by a "Sage on the Stage".

Before a speaker is selected there needs to be a discussion about the desired outcome of how they impact the meeting.  This will vary for each organization, but those making decisions need to probe deeper about what they really want from each keynote, breakout and luncheon speaker they put on the agenda.

Desired outcomes might include:

* We want the audience to learn something new that they can implement immediately.
* We want the attendees to feel they had a connection to the speaker and the conference.
* We want people to talk about the topic and the speaker in the hallways.
* We want the evaluations to include many written comments about the session (not just checking the boxes).
* We want the speaker to stay engaged in the event an participate at breaks and meals.
* We want people to tweet, blog, and post to Facebook and other social media communities about what they heard in the presentation.
* We want the audience to go home and tell co-workers (and others) about what they learned at the conference.
* We want people to proclaim to all about the high level of learning and fun they experienced at the event.
* We want each speaker to deliver an ROI equal to the entire investment.
* We want people talking about the speaker next year.

(what other desired outcomes might be added here?)

These desired outcomes do not match up with the following questions that are sometimes asked by those seeking speakers:

1.  Can we get the speaker for free or at a discount?
2.  Can we charge speaker for their conference registration fee?
3.  Can we get vendors to pay us to put one of their employees on our stage?
4.  Is the speaker famous enough for our board to approve?
5.  Can we shorten the time we give the speaker to 15 minutes to make our conference "like" a TED Conference?
6.  Do they have direct experience in our industry?
7.  Does the speaker have the right title or degree? 
8.  Will a someone call us into question or make us defend hiring this speaker?

(what other questions are people asking that do not lead them to the desired outcome?)

When starting with the desired outcomes it leads to a whole other set of questions?

1.  Who has seen this speaker and were they impressed beyond the normal level?  Can we call other conference organizers and ask them about the speaker?
2.  How many presentations has this speaker given to similar sized events in the last two years?
3.  How many organizations have invited the speaker to return to present at future events?
4.  Will the speaker stay beyond their presentation and engage with attendees (or do they leave for airport quickly after they conclude their talk).
5.  Will the speaker engage with the audience via social media before, during and after the event
6.  Does the speaker have books, CD's, and other programs? And do they give information or simply set up the sell from the stage?
7.  Does the speaker challenge the audience with a call to action, or simply provide information?
8.  How does the speaker engage the crowd (besides Q&A at the end of the talk)?
9.  Will this speaker have in immediate impact on the audience?

(what other questions should organizing committees be asking?)

These days there are lots of speakers to choose from for those planning events.  This is not necessarily a good thing, as a speaker is NOT a commodity.  Plenty of people who speak are not skilled at impacting the hearts and minds of the audience, and thus it is easy to select the wrong speaker.  The sad part is this is not discovered until after the conclusion of the presentation.  A bad speaker will suck the energy out of the room.

It takes a lot of work to vet the right speaker and ensure they will boost the engagement level of the whole event.  This level of inspection of the abilities of those who will take the stage is not just for the keynote, but for everyone conducting a breakout and panel discussion.  For larger conferences this can mean a daunting amount of work, but it is worth it.  Nobody is ever disappointed when a speaker brings both content and style to a presentation.  When people learn valuable information and are "WOWWED"... everyone wins.

Have A Great Day.

thom singer

Thom Singer is known as "The Conference Catalyst". He works with meeting planners and conference organizers to set the tone for a meeting. His presentations educate, inspire and motivate attendees to engage deeper in the event and make meaningful connections. 

Friday, May 04, 2012

Cool Things My Friends Do - Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of The Year Finalists

Each Friday on this blog I enjoy highlighting some of the cool things my friends do in their work and professional lives.
I have been attending the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Awards in Austin for over a dozen years.  The event is like the "Academy Awards" for the local business community in this city that already celebrates entrepreneurship all year round.
Over the years several of my friends have been finalists and winners.... and it is always exciting to see the leaders of Austin's growing companies highlighted.  I saw the list of finalists this week on Eugene Sepulveda's Community Matters Blog.  While nobody on this list is a close friend (so I debated if it qualified for a "Cool Things My FRIENDS Do" post).... I know many of them and have friends who work in many of these organizations  (I ran into both Dan Graham and Brian Sharples this week and had delightful conversations with each of them.  Had I known they were going to be on this list I would have surely congratulated them in person!).
2012 EOY Austin Finalists:
  1. Timothy League, Alamo Drafthouse Cinemas
  1. Dan Graham,
  1. Barry Evans, Calxeda, Inc,
  1. Glenn Garland & Jim Stimmel, CLEAResult
  1. Jeffrey Dachis, Dachis Group
  1. Allen Gilmer, Drilling Info, Inc.
  1. Brian Sharples, HomeAway, Inc.
  1. Jonny Jones, Jones Energy Ltd
  1. Phil Miner, The Miner Corporation
  1. John Arrow, Mutual Mobile
  1. Kevin Cunningham and Mark McClain, SailPoint
  1. Samir “Sam” G. Hanna, SAM, Inc. (Survey And Mapping, Inc.)
  1. Gail Summers Page, Vermillion, Inc.
Congrats to all of them and I look forward to the black tie awards ceremony on June 7, 2012.  

(I also anticipate the fun at the Andrews Kurth "After Party".  The Austin office of the Andrews Kurth Law Firm hosts a celebration after the event that extends the party late into the evening.  When I worked for Andrews Kurth (and Brobeck. Phleger and Harrison before that) I was in charge of planning the "After Party" --- I like this party!!).

Have A Great Day.

thom singer