317: Steve Markman—Speaking Engagements Are Back. Build Your Business With Great Ones

Hear how to transform your company by telling your story

Suppose you have a great company with fantastic talent. Could speaking become a critical part of your marketing and business development strategy? Perhaps your team could tell your story, explain and enhance the value of your solutions, through the speaker circuit. Although it was difficult to do in-person speaking during the last two years of the pandemic, those times are fading into the background (as we all hope they do) and speaking has emerged once again as a very vital and viable way to tell your story. And that is what speaking is all about — crafting and sharing the right stories to propel your business forward through the voices of your talented leadership. Listen to Steve Markman tell you how he helps businesses do just that. Enjoy.

Watch and listen to our conversation here

Steve M video
Marketing your company and your brand through speaking engagements

As the founder of Steve Markman Speaker Management, a public speaking specialty firm, Steve excels at providing clients with multifaceted services worldwide with successful results. Whether identifying outstanding speakers for your next meeting or developing an executive visibility speaker program for your organization’s leadership, he and his team are committed to helping you accomplish your objectives. Steve writes and lectures frequently, and you can connect with him on LinkedIn, Twitter and his website Markman Speaker Management, or send him an email at smarkman@markmanspeaker.com.

These 3 podcasts offer more insights about the power of telling your story:

Additional resources for you

Read the transcript of our podcast here

Andi Simon: Welcome to On the Brink With Andi Simon. Hi, I’m Andi Simon. And as you know, my job is to be your guide and your host and help you see, feel and think in new ways so you can get off the brink. We never want you to be stuck or stalled. Instead, we want you to soar. But sometimes you need to have new ideas and a new way of seeing things. And in these fast changing times, that’s been particularly important.

So today, I have with me a wonderful gentleman, Steve Markman. And Steve is a specialist in helping people understand the place of speaking and speeches in your business, and in your own personal career, perhaps. Let me tell you a little bit about him. And then I’ll have him tell you about his journey and what he does today. Steve Markman has more than 30 years of experience in the conference and speaker field, but he’s crafted it in a particular way. And that’s what I’m excited about sharing with you.

Since founding Markman Speaker Management in 1994, Steve has secured speaking engagements for over 200 firms globally. So think of it backwards. It’s your firm and you’re using speaking as part of a communications narrative. That’s what’s so important. He’s worked with clients in all industries and professions, including executives, principals, consultants, coaches, lawyers, you name it, Steve’s helped them. And he’s worked with IBM Global Services, Pay Pal, Subaru Bank of America. They all understood something important about helping their talent talk to others about what it was they were doing. And that narrative became very powerful. So Steve, thank you for joining me today.

Steve Markman: Great to be here, Andi. Thanks for having me.

Andi Simon: Now, as you and I were talking, there’s a lot to Steve Markman’s journey. Share it with our listeners so they know who you are and then we’ll talk about all the things you do.

Steve Markman: Sure, happy and thank you. So I have been, as Andi said, in the conference and speaker business, if you will, for close to 35 years now. I started out in terms of my career, working for Forbes magazine, which came full circle. Last week they interviewed me for an article in Forbes and it was kind of fun, because that’s where I started my career. So it’s always been sort of research related. And then I got into human resources, research and working for a consulting firm. And that led me to the Conference Board in New York, which is a very large, not for profit organization that services the Fortune 1000, basically through research reports and conferences, and I was on the research side of the business and writing articles and so forth, and doing a lot of research in HR, and strategy.

And then, unfortunately, one of my colleagues took ill; he wound up being fine, but for a few months, he was going to be out of the office. So my boss came into my office and said, You are now in charge of the conferences because that’s what this guy was doing for the HR conferences. So that started a career in conferences, and I found that I really enjoyed doing them. I really enjoyed creating content from a blank piece of paper and the whole idea of educating people in a way that is similar to a teacher, but educating a wide swath of companies and their executives so that they can go back and hear about or talk about the best practices that they heard about at the event. And then they can apply it to their companies, and their companies can grow and so forth. And I felt like I was doing something good in that endeavor. So that was a long time ago. I enjoyed working for them.

I came up to Boston to work for the company that used to be the producer of what was called Comdex. Comdex at its peak had 200,000 attendees in one show; it was for the computer trade show industry. Many of your listeners I’m sure have been there. It was a four headed monster. There were 25 hotels being taken over and several convention halls and I was in charge of their conferences, specifically having a couple of face-to-face’s with the Las Vegas fire department because too many people were there. It was in Las Vegas every year. It was quite a great experience and then I went to a couple other companies.

Then in 1994, I started my own business 28 years ago. I was doing a conference for Clemson University. I had set up their conference division, and the sponsor of one of the events of the business transformation conference was IBM. And IBM came to me there, the liaison I was working with, and said, You know, we need more speaking engagements. So we don’t care that we don’t want to get paid, it’s not a paid gig, we just want the exposure because they were called IBM Consulting at the time, maybe $200 or $300 million in revenue. And they wanted more exposure because people thought of them as a hardware company. And that’s what speaking does.

Speaking gives an opportunity to executives and/or owners of small companies, whatever the size may be, all the way up to Fortune 500 companies. It gives them an opportunity, without doing a sales pitch, to impart a message that shows that they are subject matter experts. And so by definition, after someone does a non-sales but good objective speech, someone’s going to look up and say, Oh, I didn’t know that IBM Consulting actually doesn’t just sell hardware and software, that they do business transformation and strategy consulting and all that stuff, which at the time nobody knew they did that. So yeah, now it’s a $30 billion division of IBM called IBM Global Services. I am not necessarily going to take credit for that rise in revenue, but a little bit, just a little bit. And it was the start of a shift from me creating the conferences and the content and recruiting speakers, to representing companies on the speaker side so that I can find them speaking engagements.

I had so many years of reviewing and reading presentation proposals that the transition to now write them for my clients was fairly easy. And it turns out, a third of my clients over the years have been PR firms, because PR firms also do what I do, which is to find these speaking engagements, but many of them don’t have the resources or they don’t have the people with the experience in this sort of niche business. And so they partner with me to help their clients get speaking engagements. So that was a long answer to a short question of how I got to where I am. It’s been a nice ride.

Andi Simon: It has been. For me, I’ve been in business 20 years. And before that, I spent 20 years in executive roles in companies. And speaking was always a piece of what I did. As an anthropologist, it gave me a way of telling people how a little anthropology could help their business grow. But during the pandemic, it was all virtual. And I actually did a whole lot virtually, which was very exciting. But during this period, how did companies change how they use speaking? Or did they change? And how can you give our listeners and our audience a little context as we’re coming out of this pandemic? Because I think the times are important and the context matters. What do you see?

Steve Markman: Absolutely. And I do have a close lens on the industry, following it fairly closely. And before I specifically answer that question, I want to also mention that what we’re going to be talking about today are the unpaid speaking engagements that companies use to create visibility, build awareness, sometimes generate specific leads, mostly also for all companies. It’s a strategy for thought leadership. But then there’s a whole separate sector within the speaking industry, as you know, that is paid speaking. And in the context of that, those paid speakers are typically keynote speakers and I have a separate division that handles those kinds of folks.

But when the pandemic hit, as I segue into answering your question, when the pandemic hit, I mean, life as we knew it stopped on a dime. So for three months, nobody did anything. It didn’t matter what industry you’re in, but it particularly hit the conference and meeting industry hard. And by the domino effect, the hotel and hospitality industry as well, because the speakers, the conferences went away. And so for a few months nothing happens, and then conferences realize, especially association conferences, they rely on meetings as a very large part of their revenue for attendees and sponsors. And so what they learned very quickly was the Zoom world. And so everything that was planned for the fall and the rest of the year that was in-person had to shift. Literally, the word pivot became, I think, the most used word. So they pivoted to virtual, another new word. Before we just called it online.

Now, it’s a virtual event and everything went virtual. That was from April til the summer of 2020. Everything was virtual only, then things started to get a little bit better. And the hybrid came into existence where people started to organize and started to have more events and conferences in person, as the number of COVID cases started to go down a bit. But there were still a ton of people who were still afraid to go anywhere. And so they might have a small crowd in-person, but most of it was online as a virtual. So that was what they called a hybrid.

Then 2021 came, and everybody started getting more optimistic that there were more things that were going to be in person, and then Omicron came. So it’s like a roller coaster up and down. So where we are now is that with Omicron passing, but variants still out there and ready to pounce on us, we don’t know what’s going to happen. Things may happen, great, they may not. And so organizations are realizing that they need to be prepared for anything. But most of the events for the rest of this year, starting maybe February or March, a couple of months ago, through the end of the year, and through the first quarter of next year are pretty much all either in person or hybrid. There are still some events that are only virtual, they tend to be shorter, not like full fledged conferences, like maybe a one-hour or a 90-minute webinar.

But I have to tell you, Andi, what’s interesting is the paid speakers, they had to cut their pay. Now they’re back to almost full pay because it’s back in person. But the unpaid speakers, which represent 90% of all speakers, and a lot of people don’t realize that what happens is, these associations and companies that put on conferences, if they paid all these speakers, they would quickly go out of business. So they pay for the keynote, or they put aside a budget for some subject matter expert, and then everybody else, all the solo presenters or the breakout sessions, the panelists, nobody gets paid to speak, they don’t even get their travel paid. A lot of people don’t realize that but it’s what I call future income. They’re not getting a check to speak but they may be going to get some business, more customers and more clients as a result of speaking, which I believe they typically do.

But what was interesting, what happened was, when the pandemic hit, and everything went mostly virtual or all virtual, I actually think there were more speaking engagements then there were pre-pandemic. And the reason is because having no ability to have an in-person conference, there was no other way for an association to reach out to their members and prospects and constituents. So the best way to do it was the only way which was virtually. So all of a sudden, before, maybe they did one or two webinars a year, now they’re having monthly meetings, and even on a national basis, because it was easy. You could be anywhere in the US or in the world and still be able to speak into your black box 20 inches wide and whatever tall and you didn’t have to leave your office or your living room or your home office. And so they needed more speakers for these events. Many of them were networking, but many of them were part of a company that needed a speaker. And so I was able to provide a lot of these organizations with the speakers, even more so than I was before because of the need.

And so I think that it won’t go away. The virtual is here to stay. The hybrids will be here to stay. The only-in-person I don’t think is going to be there anymore, and there will always be some piece of a larger event that will be virtual, because there’s always going to be some small number of people who don’t want to travel, depending on what’s going on in their area and COVID. And so it’s going to be a different industry as it’s evolving. But I think that it’s coming out on this other end, at least for now, stronger than before because there are more ways to reach people.

Andi Simon: Well, I was at one virtual conference in Amsterdam, I didn’t have to leave home to get there. And they had 25,000 people attend. You can’t get to people like that if you don’t. It’s interesting as I’m listening to you, because I had about 35 workshops or speaking engagements this year, virtually all virtual. And it allows me to do a lot more. One week I was in Idaho, I love Vancouver, and Delaware, without going anywhere. So there’s a lot to be said for this and sort of interesting things you want to do. Oh and tell our audience to think about speaking. Because I do think there’s something that businesses need to pay attention to about why they are taking their subject matter experts, using them out in the market, they may already know it, but you’re so good at that. How do you help companies use speaking as a way to build credibility narratives and market themselves for lead generation business creation? Your thoughts?

Steve Markman: Sure, well, I feel that it is a proven way for companies to gain visibility. And usually companies, when they come to me, they’ve already thought about it and they realize that it’s an important aspect. When I meet somebody at a networking event, or whatever, and they haven’t really thought about it, but they thought, Well, they don’t really have a good spokesperson. I explain to them that you don’t have to be the best speaker in the world to get to be a speaker at a conference because first and foremost, and having been conference director, I know what the shorter criteria is, the first criterion is to have content, right? Content is king. And it always will be. So while they want somebody that isn’t going to put anybody in the front row to sleep, at the same time, the most important element is having content that is going to create interest in people learning about a certain aspect of whatever their role is. It could be human resources, IT strategy, marketing, whatever their role in a company is or if they’re a consultant with their own company. They want to impart that they have knowledge.

And so what I tell them is, focus more on the content, don’t worry about the speaking part. That is important, but it’s like a distant number two, and you could always talk to somebody that teaches people presentation skills, not something that I do. But there’s so many people that do that. And you know, talking about being able to have virtual, that’s a whole ‘nother set of needs of skills, and you have to know where to look in the camera and where to position yourself and you’re usually sitting before you are standing. So it’s a set of other things that people need to know.

But the thing that I also impress on companies is to really think through, Who do you want to talk to?, and that is something that is really crucial. It’s, What do you want to say, which is the content I just mentioned, but it’s also the Who. So, you know, if I have the vice president of HR for a medium sized company, they have no interest in speaking to a chamber of commerce made up of small companies in a small town, but a Chamber of Commerce in Boston, where I’m based, for example, which is a huge chamber that covers the entire area, then it might be worthwhile for them or the national conference of the Society for Human Resource Management, for example. So who to talk to and how to target your audience so that it is not just obvious…like, here’s who we sell to, because you’re not doing any selling. You’re talking to people about what you know about in a way that’s not a sales pitch. And if they could recommend you when they go back to the office or say, I heard somebody from such and such company speak, say Andi Simon speak, we ought to bring her in to talk to her. That kind of thing. That’s really important. So it could be the recommenders that a lot of companies don’t think about when they decide who they want to target as people being in the audience.

Andi Simon: It’s interesting because there are all kinds of important ways to tell our narratives to the right audience. We need to be strategic about it and then we need to figure out how to help them do it when you’re working with companies. That’s the core of your business. You know, you told me a little bit about the process you go through to help them identify the topic, the content for people, and so forth. It’s not inconsequential that they understand what Steve Markman brings to the conversation. You can share a little bit more about what you do when you get inside a company, and how you help them begin to use this as a way of telling their story.

Steve Markman: Yeah, so one of the things that I help them with on the content side is, they say, Well, we can talk about anything. Then I try to explain to them, that’s like saying, We can’t talk about anything. So part of what I educate them, whether I do the work myself, or whether I teach them how to do it, I have two different ways to do that. Either way, they need to understand the process. And the process truly is a process. It is not somebody making a phone call to the conference producer and saying, You know, I’m available to speak at your conference in the fall and I have 30 years of experience. It’s not that easy. So there’s a process of submitting proposals, and I help them understand what that process is. It could be a formal call for speakers, from doing all your years of speaking. And that’s really an application. You have to spend a couple of hours sometimes creating the answers to their questions, and then you submit it.

And then there’s a more informal process where you develop a relationship with the person who is the head of conferences for the organization, whether it’s a local, regional and national or even international event. And they say, send me your information. And the two most important things that I work with clients to develop and I tell them upfront, there’s going to be some work on-site. Even if I do all the work, they have to be committed to wanting to do this, this couple of commitments. One is the time to get out and speak. Because they have to develop a speech and then they have to go, if they’re going to travel and it’s not virtual, they need to develop that time.

The other thing is, they need to be able to create the core of what is, in effect, marketing themselves, or if I’m doing it for them, for me to represent them. And that is, what are they going to talk about in two paragraphs? One paragraph, setting the stage; one paragraph describing what they’re going to talk about. In three or four bullets at the end that are takeaways, what is the audience going to learn after they leave that session. And that’s really important.

I sometimes spend weeks with the client, getting them to develop something that isn’t the same old, same old, because it’s very competitive. Even though there’s the old adage that people are afraid of speaking, you will be surprised how many people want to speak. So there might be 30 openings at a conference, and they’re gonna get 300 proposals, easily. So you need to rise above the noise and stand out in some way. And that’s what I help clients do through writing a really solid presentation description, and it could be five of them. It doesn’t have to be one topic. There could be five topics. I’ve worked with some big law firms that have multiple practices, and they each have their own set of topics. And then the bio has to be well-written and focused on sending it to a conference organizer, not someone who they’re trying to get as a customer or client. So you need to focus on speaking experience, if you have that in that bio. So it’s what I call a speaker bio differentiated from the regular bio.

Andi Simon: I think your insights are extremely important for the audience and as I’m listening, I’m saying yes because it’s as if that speaker is a product to sell. And they need to understand that they are identifying themselves as a good representative of the story they want to share. And, those takeaways are inconsequential because that’s what the buyer wants to know. It’s really going to inspire the audience to do something. But what I’d really like you to do is to think through two or three things you want the audience to remember as we are wrapping up here. And then you can remind them where they can reach you because I think what you offer is extremely important today.

Steve Markman: The first and foremost, I didn’t actually mention it, but it’s something that I always like to have people take away. And that is, how hard it is to get a speaking engagement. And I mentioned all the competition because everybody wants to speak but it is difficult. I tell my clients, and I’d like to tell your audience to think about this too, that in a way it’s like a salesperson trying to sell something. And everybody says, You must be good at accepting rejection. So what I tell my clients, diplomatically of course, is, Don’t let your ego get in the way. Because you could be a great speaker and have a lot to say and be very informative, but so do a lot of other people. And so unless you’ve ridden up Mount Everest backwards on a donkey, you need to take a step back.

So people need to understand that it’s not easy, but at the same time, persistence, persistence, persistence, because you may not get into an event the first year, but now you’ve developed a relationship with the organizer and they know who you are. And the second time, well, maybe the second event in that year you’re in. So don’t give up. Persevere, it can happen if you have the right tools and the right content.

The second thing is to realize that it is synergistic with other elements of marketing. So if you’re using this for thought leadership, you do a presentation and you can write out a white paper based on the presentation. Or the reverse can be true. You can have a white paper and you can convert it into a presentation. So there’s a lot of things. It’s an element of marketing. You can post it on social media, and now it’s a social media element. There are a lot of shelf life things that can happen once somebody speaks. And so keep that in mind that it’s not a means to an end, and it doesn’t end at the talk. You can keep it alive and keep it in your arsenal as something that can help you build visibility.

Andi Simon: They know the multiplier effect is to repurpose, repurpose, repurpose, you’re also repurposing yourself. It isn’t just the job you’re doing but a way of beginning to tell that story, and people at the end of the day wanting to buy the story. And they really want to know who it is that is representative of that company. And it doesn’t matter whether it’s Subaru or IBM or your law firm. So Steve Markman has really given us a whole lot of insights today. Steve, if people want to reach you, where can they reach you?

Steve Markman: Sure. So the best way is my website, which is Markmanspeaker.com. My company again is Markman Speaker Management LLC. I’m based in the Boston area, and have international outreach. So regardless of where you are, I’ve got clients in Europe and in Asia and I’m happy to talk to anybody about the world of speaking. And on my website, you can find my phone numbers as well as my email address. I’m also on LinkedIn and we’d love to link in with anybody and connect with someone there.

Andi Simon: Information will of course be on our blog post after this podcast goes live. So thank you for joining me today. Let me wrap up with our guests who come to watch and listen. And Steve Markman, it has been a terrific opportunity for us to think about the emerging or reemerging world of speaking as the pandemic subsides, until it comes back again. We don’t know. But for myself, I love listening to Steve because he reminds us that speaking for a company isn’t an afterthought. It’s not just for thought leaders, it’s for the company to tell its story in so many different ways to the right audiences. So give some thought to how a Steve relationship could help you and your company expand now back into the world in different ways.

The times are changing so quickly. It’s important for you to see, feel and think about yourself and your speaking opportunities for your company in a very different fashion. Thanks for coming because we love to share with you big ideas, and we love to help you see and feel in new ways. Don’t forget, you can reach us at info@Andisimon.com. And you can get my books on Amazon. My new book, Rethink: Smashing The Myths of Women in Business, just received an award. It’s a bronze Best Business Book Award for 2022 in the women in business category. And I thank Axiom for the pleasure of recognizing that. So thank you all. It’s been a pleasure serving you today. Thanks for entertaining us Steve. It’s been fun. Bye bye.