Connie Whitesell (00:00):

Interested in developing a paid speaking practice as part of your business? On occasion, I’ll have a business coaching client ask me a question where I know someone else can provide a better response than I can. And in the last few weeks I’ve actually had a few people who were interested in adding speaking as a paid service to their businesses, ask me the best way to build that part of their business. And immediately I thought I need to talk to Alex Theis. I thought of Alex in particular for this paid speaking topic because, well first of all, Alex and I have been friends, we’ve been accountability partners for several years. I think we go back to, I want to say like 2011, maybe over 10 years. And I’ve seen Alex build his speaking practice to one where he is presenting on an almost weekly basis, whether it be online or in person. And it’s for a variety of different types and sizes of organizations. And it seems like particularly in this last year, I actually, I recognize the names of almost every organization that Alex mentions because they are large, well-known companies. So I reached out to Alex and he graciously accepted my invitation to meet with me online and talk about his best tips and recommendations for building a speaking business. So thank you so much, Alex, for being here with me.

Alex Theis (01:36):

I am delighted, Connie, it’s great to be here with you. And you just got me my memory going. I think it was 2011, which was actually we’re pushing like 13 years, so that is a long time. That’s like that. Wow. 13 years. That’s a large percentage of our lives. So yes, it’s great to be here. I’m delighted for the opportunity.

Connie Whitesell (01:59):

And actually as you mentioned that thinking back, that was the year I started my coaching practice as well. So yeah, we go back a ways. So first of all, Alex, I’d love it if you would share a bit about your background in becoming a sought after speaker. Would you share for the audience what has been your journey?

Alex Theis (02:24):

I learned a long time ago, I took a speech class, a public speaking class in college. I went to college, most people were out of high school, but I didn’t stay in college. I ended up getting a full-time job and college just wasn’t for me. But I started going back to college in my late twenties when I was kind of figuring out what I want to do with my life. And I was an introvert and I was shy and I had low self-esteem and not a lot of confidence. So you’d think speaking is the opposite of that. But what I realized in my life is one of the things I’m here for, one of the reasons that drives me is to impact people and influence people for good in their lives. And I know we’ll talk about some of the other things I do in my life, but I love to help people break through their self-imposed limits.

(03:12):

And here was a limit for me. I had a decent job, but I would be mortified when I would be in a meeting and have to potentially speak and start to hyperventilate. But I took this public speaking course, something piqued my interest. Like why would an introvert who’s shy, who has social anxiety take a public speaking course? But the teacher, the instructor was great and they talked about how you can influence people and how there were different types of speaking. And I really realized that this was a great opportunity to grow my career to impact people.

(03:44):

And I started to learn from people who were good at it. I was genuinely really, really interested in the people who were good at this craft and especially on the corporate side. That’s where I got started. So there was a gal who was teaching a very intricate concept at a company and she was the only person who knew it well enough to teach it. And I learned from her and she kind of mentored me on the topic and then she had to teach it at a big conference and her son got really ill and in the hospital and she couldn’t go. And she told the president of the company, Alex is the only person who could do it. And I had never ever done anything like it before. So the first breakout session I did was, as the Irish say, it couldn’t have been pretty, but I got better and better.

(04:31):

But what I realized was that feeling of helping somebody see the light, like this was a difficult concept and I was able to articulate it in a way where people come up to me and break and say, no one’s taught it to me like that. Now I finally get it, I finally understand this. And that light bulb went out for me to say, well, I could do it with that concept. I could do it with personal development, with mindset, with any concept that’s in my wheelhouse that I know well or I’ve experienced that. So that was my start. And then I just grew not speaking, getting paid necessarily for speaking gigs, but through my jobs and through corporate life and then becoming an executive, I relish the opportunity to impact people and speak that way. So I would take every opportunity I could to speak, whether it was MCing an event or opening an event and support other speakers.

(05:20):

I hired speakers so I learned from them. And most of my speaking gigs were not paid speaking gigs, they were within a corporation, but I was able to hone my craft through that. And then starting a podcast was probably the best thing I did for my speaking because it required me to be succinct, to have a good message, to have goals, to work on my craft, to listen to myself. So I could probably go on for a long time and talk about a lot of the ups and downs of speaking, but that was how I got started to where I am today.

Connie Whitesell (05:52):

Okay. So you are reminding me because in talking about your very beginning when you were very introverted, I’ve been there and you know that because you helped me tremendously when I was starting out and I was just frozen with fear when it came to public speaking, even going to a networking event and having to speak for a couple of minutes about what I do would put me into a cold sweat. So you were so helpful in helping me develop my speaking practice, and I’m really grateful to you for that. It’s funny because I don’t get fearful about it now, and as you mentioned, being at that point early on, I think that’s the situation for a lot of people. They have strong and impactful messages that they’d like to share, but sometimes the terror of speaking holds them back. So before we start talking about how to get a paid speaking gig, I’d love to ask you, bringing it just right down to the very basics, how do you recommend other than being thrown into the situation like you were, how would you recommend somebody who wants to do this as part of their living, begin to develop those skills,

Alex Theis (07:07):

Learn from other speakers, and really just start to hone your craft within your niche. So whatever you want to talk about, whatever your experience is in, just start to speak, record yourself audio, record yourself video, and then watch it. Take whatever opportunity you can to speak especially free. There are a lot of nooks and crannies in the speaking world, meaning I pictured myself as Simon Sinek or fill in the blank of some well-known speaker, author who gets these gigs where they make, I don’t know, $25,000 a speaking gig or 50,000 or whatever, maybe six figures for all I know Richard Branson. But most of us are never going to get that. If you get it, great, most of us are not going to speak to an auditorium of 10,000 people, but there’s a lot of well high paying, fun types of speaking. So open your mind to what’s out there.

(08:12):

And I think above all when it comes to honing your craft and starting to get opportunities and develop your skills is I was told by another speaker who was very successful, articulate your body of work. If you just say I’m a speaker, it’s all about who you know. That’s all of our opportunities or most of ’em are going to come through people we know. People need to hear you speak. And even when you get a speaking gig perspective speaking companies or prospective clients, prospective people that would hire you aren’t going to hear that speaking gig unless you record it. So articulate your body of work, start a blog, start a start a YouTube channel, write a book, contribute, share your expertise, solve problems for people, inspire other people as speakers. When you want to develop it, you’re looking in the mirror, you’re looking internally and how do I do these things?

(09:08):

Just push that outward and say, how do I help people solve problems? How do I help other people And articulate your body of work, whatever industry you’re in, find ways to articulate that expertise in ways to help people because that’s going to get you notoriety and it is going to build trust with people. And it’s a great credibility piece when you can point back to a blog or a podcast or even if you’re a guest on a podcast like this, a guest interview, a guest blogger. Most of those things live for a long time on the internet and you can point back to them and it’s strange who’s going to hear that and use it as an edification piece to reach out to you. So just find ways to articulate your body of work.

Connie Whitesell (09:53):

What do you think of organizations like Toastmasters, things like that? Have you ever been involved in something like that?

Alex Theis (10:05):

Haven’t I’ve never been to a Toastmasters meeting. I’ve never been to a speaking group. I don’t belong to any speaking organizations. I’ve heard a lot of good things about Toastmasters. I’ve heard a lot of good things about the National Speakers Association. I have friends who are speakers who are pushing me to join the National Speakers Association. And my question is always tell me why the value that I can provide or they can provide me or both. And that hasn’t been clear other than networking. So I think from a networking perspective and building your skills, I think they could be really good. If you can find a niche or something that serves you or that you find fun or it just fits your style. If the National Speakers Association is good for you, then do that. If Toastmasters, you go to a meeting and you like it and you like the people, that’s great.

(10:59):

It sure work out well for you. But I think just doubling down on your network is just as good, if not better than joining a speakers organization. I think there’s a thought out there that, well, if I get certified and credentials, that’s going to bring me more opportunities. And it certainly could, but for me it’s all been through my network. And the more you can help people, the more you can grow your network, the more people know that you speak. Some of my biggest speaking opportunities, Connie, have come through you indirectly because I told you I speak and wanted to speak. So do people know that you speak because everybody’s a window, everybody’s a torch to lots and lots of people. You introduced me to a gal named Courtney who introduced to a gal named Pam. Pam introduced me to a gal named Jennifer. And from there it’s been lots and lots of opportunities and Jennifer introduced me another Jennifer and it’s just gone on and on.

(12:05):

Word of mouth is I think always going to be better than credentials. And so just double down in your network, let people know you speak, add value wherever you can and make sure you’re referring other people genuinely. Because when we have gear coach Connie, when we do things like this, it’s easy to think, how do I get more business? How do I get more business? And we should be thinking that way, but we should also be referring people like crazy. If we want opportunities through word of mouth and referrals, we should be referring people and I want to know other speakers because there’s lots of speaking opportunities that I don’t fit. It’s not my wheelhouse, so why would I speak in this? So someone came to me and said, we’re having a developer’s conference and we need somebody to talk to these developers. And Alex, you, you’re a great speaker. I would say I appreciate the compliment. I can’t talk to developers, they don’t speak their language, but I know a guy who does. Right? Same thing. If somebody came to me and wanted to know we want somebody to do a workshop on how to create a one page business plan and be like, that’s awesome. I know just the person, it would be Connie, so it wouldn’t be me. I would turn that down, but I would refer people as much as I possibly could.

Connie Whitesell (13:12):

That’s such an important point in business in general. As you know, I recently moved to a new area and I’ve been networking quite a bit in this area and I’ve met a few people, but I’m thinking of one woman in particular that as soon as we met almost every day for a week after that, she was introducing me to people making email introductions. I think this would be a good person for you to know. And every one of those introductions were really valuable. And of course my mind immediately went to reciprocation. I want to provide this back to her. And so just in what you’re saying, there’s so much value to that and there’s so much important about, as you said, speaking with as many people as you can, referring to them, helping them, that whole karma that’s out there is really true. And your purpose isn’t to get the business, it’s to help others and inevitably it comes back.

(14:07):

So I really appreciate you sharing that. One thing that you mentioned was a few minutes ago was video taping yourself, reviewing that, watching it, seeing how you can improve, but making a record of that and my mind went to, what about marketing materials do you have or do you recommend people have materials like us? And I may not be using the right terminology here, but like a speaker reel or a one sheet for speakers. Is there something like that that you use or is helpful for people as they are talking to others about their speaking skills?

Alex Theis (14:50):

I think those things are helpful. They can’t hurt, but we’ve all been to a movie where the trailer for the movie was a hundred times better than the movie. And so subconsciously or consciously, we all know that anyone can put together a speaker sheet that makes you look good. We all know someone can take snippets of video or audio or both and create a speaker reel that makes me look like a superstar. I don’t think those things hurt at all. They’re nice credibility pieces, but ultimately before someone puts their job on the line to hire you, because that’s what event planners are doing, that’s their responsibility. They need to see you speak or even better than seeing you speak when someone says, Hey, you got to hire Alex. He was great. That works way better than any speaker sheet. Now if I get referred to somebody and say, you got to hire Alex, you got to hire Connie, and then they go to my website, yes, you should have something there.

(15:57):

And I think my podcast has filled that niche or that spot really, really well because people can actually go and listen and hear a lot of the material that I’m going to talk about. They can hear me speak, they can hear my passion. There’s no doubt about it. So it’s an edification piece. So yes, we should have edification pieces, but I used to think that I needed this killer speaker reel that was really well edited and I just didn’t have it and I still don’t have it and you don’t need that. I think it’s very similar to this. What are the acronym fomo? Fear of Missing Out So many times it’s like social media. I’ve got to be promoting myself on social media and I’ve got to get all this business through social media when the best business is always going to come, word of mouth and from referrals.

(16:51):

And I don’t have much of a social media presence at all. Some of the best speakers I know have virtually no social media presence. Does that mean it’s bad? No. If you have a social media presence, but you don’t have to be an influencer or have a million or a hundred thousand followers to get these things. So marketing materials are good. There should be credibility pieces. You should always have something you can point people to, but make sure that’s you, make sure they can really feel for it and nothing will take the place of somebody referring you. That trust will take you further than anything. I get a talk for an organization a couple years ago and one person, person at that event referred me to another event and then one person at that event referred me to another event. And it was so easy. They were were decision makers. So when somebody said, you got to hire Alex, they just did. They didn’t even care about my, didn’t care about any of that. So those things are important. We should have them, but don’t put too much emphasis on them and certainly do not wait to market yourself or talk to people or start trying to get paid speaking gigs or do more speaking. If you don’t have those things, you don’t need the perfect plan. I am.

(18:07):

Maybe the perfect example of you just don’t need much other than good skills and a good message and to be able to get referred. If you can have those things great, but don’t wait and don’t stress over them and don’t spend a bunch of money on them, especially if you don’t have the money coming in. I think that’s a huge mistake as we make as solopreneurs is putting all this money into websites and things and then we get burnout. The money isn’t coming in and when the money comes in, it’s so much easier to start doing those things and making them better. It’s funny how it works.

Connie Whitesell (18:43):

As you’re speaking too, I’m thinking there are opportunities out there as people are building their speaking skills and getting out in front of people and needing video. So many organizations, whether it be networking organizations, industry associations who look for speakers every year where you can apply to speak, often they’re hungry for people to speak on different topics and maybe they don’t have those connections. So what do you think about, I’m just thinking it would be helpful for people to apply for some of those opportunities. I know that’s how I’ve gotten some of my, and these are free, these are not paid speaking opportunities, but what they do is they get you out in front of a lot of people and they give you that opportunity to have someone there to take some professional photographs or a video part of that. What do you think about that?

Alex Theis (19:39):

I think anytime you get an opportunity to speak, you should consider it. And if it’s a free opportunity, then there should be a little bit of give and take meaning like you said, maybe they’ll take, it’s a great opportunity to take pictures or some video, some snippets that you can use on your website you can use to share with people. Maybe in exchange you get to talk about your book or your podcast. Maybe in exchange you get to promote yourself as a coach or if you have another side business. I’m guessing a lot of people watching this have a business, a primary business that isn’t speaking right now. So I think we should take those opportunities, but we also be very mindful of our time.

Connie Whitesell (20:23):

Alex, another question that I wanted to ask you about was speaking virtually versus in person, right? So a few years ago with the pandemic seemed like everything went virtual. And are you seeing things now be a mixture of the two or have you seen things go back entirely to in-person, what are you seeing as you’re speaking on a regular?

Alex Theis (20:49):

It’s about 50 50. So for companies that have for a small event or if they have a large footprint across many time zones, then they’re going to want something virtual. That same company might do an annual event and they’re going to want that to be in person. So I’m seeing fewer in-person events, but when they are in person, then they really do want a speaker or speakers because it’s been a while since they’ve got together, they’re not getting together as often as they used to. So it’s a great opportunity for both and both have pros and cons. It’s amazing to sit here in a dress shirt but also be wearing shorts. It’s just my socks to talk. But that also presents a challenge of it’s harder to connect with an audience virtually. You have to get a little more creative. It’s really easy to rely on slides and harder to get stories across.

(21:55):

It’s also, even though we’ve been through this pandemic, there’s still technology issues and yet to be very cognizant of what’s going on behind you. I just got a new laptop with a camera and my old laptop, the vision was here and now it’s very wide. So I had to do some testing, zooms and Microsoft teams to make sure nothing behind. And even now there’s things that I’d want to change, but just to make sure. So on the virtual side, make sure your environment is good. Do some tests, have somebody you trust and that knows you check that. And then in person, I love the in person, but the downside is travel. I’ve had speaking gigs have to cancel because my flight got canceled. That was devastating. Just got to roll with the punches. So if I had to choose, I would be in person because I really like to see people’s faces. I like to have the interaction. I like to do some props and I like to use a mix of whiteboard and presentation slides and just talking to people and exercises. But it is nice to just get up and throw my shorts on and a polo shirt and do it virtually. So I’m seeing 50 50. It depends on the event and the company. So you should get good at both.

Connie Whitesell (23:09):

Great. I’m so glad you brought up props because that’s one thing that you taught me that I use every time I have an opportunity to speak. Would you share an example of an effective prop that’s explain?

Alex Theis (23:23):

So this is one I used yesterday. So first of all, it’s colorful, it’s eye catching. It’s called bitch and sauce. And so just the name right there is going to be even potentially offensive, but it’s borderline, right? But this is a real product. I didn’t make this up. It’s made here locally in the San Diego area. It’s a sauce that’s made from almonds, so it’s gluten-free, fairly low calorie. It’s awesome. But the story I told about it, I actually used this yesterday, was about leadership and that leaders need to listen to their teams and they get stagnant when they don’t listen because I eat the sauce every day. It comes in many flavors.

(24:04):

But recently they changed their packaging. So when you take this lid off of a new tub, and this is not cheap stuff, it’s like $8 for a little tub of this. There’s a little cellophane or plastic you got to take off for the first time you eat it. And it was always so easy to take off. It was thick, came off so easy, it was great. And then recently I opened it and I could just tell it was thinner and cheaper. And when I opened it, it shredded and I had to use it. It was just a mess. And I thought maybe this is an anomaly. And the next time I got the same thing happened. And is that going to keep me from buying it? Yes, sometimes I’m not going to buy it as often. I bought zeki instead, even though I like this better.

(24:40):

Here’s my point on this prop is somebody at this company made a decision and didn’t listen to their best customers. They didn’t even ask their best customers. And I guarantee somebody on the staff at Bitching Sauce said, why are we doing this? This is cheap. This isn’t who we are. This is hard to open. Somebody at RD, somebody in sales, somebody marketing somebody on the front line, and there was a leader somewhere in this company who said, I know than you, I know better than our customers. And the second we get there, we start to become stale leaders. And so there was, yesterday, I had three pops props. I had this, I had a book that I shared, and then I had a Peapod from my backyard, which I won’t go into the long story on that, but so virtually or in person, I think it’s important to share a prop that’s not just a slide.

(25:30):

Slides are easy, they’re easy to rely on. But even in slides to share a picture that isn’t stock on every slide presentation I do, I have a couple pictures of beautiful mountains or lakes that I took when I was hiking. And I’ll even stop the presentation. I’ll say at this point, we’re going to talk about this. Do you like this picture? Here’s where I took this picture. It’s a pattern interrupt. It gets people just kind of flowing versus the same old stuff. But props, I’ve used rubber band as props. They become memorable. They let the story sink in a little more. People need different visual things. So props are really, really important. And Connie, I was thinking about something when it comes to virtual or in person, something I’ve noticed in the speaker world, I think this has gotten me just as much business as my podcast and my content as I’ve made it a point to be easy to work with.

(26:25):

A lot of speakers are difficult to work with, and as they grow their speaking career, they think they’re proverbial who doesn’t stink as they start getting demanding and they’re difficult to work with. And event planners have really hard jobs. So there could be better than me that don’t get the job, that don’t get the gig because I’m easier to work with. I want to be as easy as pie. And there have been plenty of times when I’m in just the last week, I got sent a presentation back and I need to make changes to it for some regulatory thing. And I was like, oh, my thought was this is stupid. But you know what? It’s not their fault. They’re just following regulations. Be easy to work with, Alex, be easy to work with. It is one of my, what do they call that? Unique selling propositions. It’s amazing how many people are not easy to work. I mean, we work with people in jobs that are difficult to work with for no other reason than being difficult. So when it comes to virtual or in person, be easy to work with at all times. Make the event planners, the people who already make their lives easier and they’re much more likely to refer you or hire you again in the future.

Connie Whitesell (27:35):

Alex, on those lasts, those last two thoughts. Be easy to work with and bitch and sauce. I think that’s a perfect place to end our discussion. I love those tips. Alex, thank you so much for being here. And for those who would love to learn more from Alex, please tune into his limitless podcast. We talked about that a little bit earlier. I’ll be sure to provide a link to the podcast. How many episodes are you at now, Alex?

Alex Theis (28:07):

Oh gosh. The next, in two episodes it’ll be 1,300 episodes I put out. Yeah, there’s a lot of, now I took a year off last year, so it’s come back and we’re getting to 1300. So the podcast world has changed. You used to be able to access all 1300 episodes in the past, but now bandwidth out there and podcast companies have shrunk down. And so most places will only offer the last a hundred episodes. I think that’s plenty. So anywhere you listen to podcasts, you can catch that. But you can go on my website directly and listen to that and you can catch the last hundred episodes that I would invite you to scroll through and find something that catches your eye, a topic that might be helpful to you that you might want to hear. And I just want to give one more tip, and that is when you do a free gig, I did one yesterday and I did it as if they were paying me a hundred thousand dollars.

(29:07):

I put just as much time into that gig as I would if they were paying me $200,000 because the opportunity was immense. So we got to be really discerning with their opportunities and our time. But when it is the right time and the right opportunity, give them your best stuff. I give the best stuff on my podcast, it’s a hundred percent free. I’m never going to hold back and say, well, if you want, I’m going to give you three tips. But if you want the three best tips, then you got to call me and pay me. I’m never going to do that. So if you do get a free gig, and even if it’s five people, treat those people like everyone is a millionaire that could you to a million other people. Treat people with empathy and care and kindness and give them your best no matter what. And people will remember that.

Connie Whitesell (29:51):

I remember you telling me, can you impact one person? That’s the goal. Make an impact on one person.

Alex Theis (30:02):

That’s it. I mean, less than 5% of people get past the first chapter of a book. So when you think about that, it’s much less. So we think about all the topics and things, all these distractions that we have in our lives, all these messages, how many do you really take action on? So if you can get one or two or three people to take action on your message, that’s going to spread. They’re never going to forget it, but just one person. And what I like about that, Connie, from an introvert perspective is anytime I speak, especially in person, is I find friends in the crowd. There’s always one person that’s paying attention. You’re always going to have people that forget their phones are on. You have people that don’t care. They’re just going to look at their phones. And if I focus on them, I’m going to feel like, oh my gosh, my message stinks.

(30:46):

What’s going on? I just find the friends and what I find focus on that person. It starts to spread. And there’s another person over here that’s really paying attention and people want that attention and they want to be talked with and have that conversation. So that’ll grow if you focus on just one person at a time. But I still tell myself, you, me and Adam talk about this all the time. It sticks in my head is like, good enough is good enough. Stop tinkering. Make your message. Can you impact one person? Yes. And you’re good to go. Make it happen.

Connie Whitesell (31:20):

Thank you, Alice. Amazing tips. I knew you’d be just full of all kinds of amazing gold nuggets, so I really appreciate that. You had mentioned your website, just to make sure people heard that. The website is alextheis.com and I will provide a link to that as well as to Alex’s Limitless podcast. And honestly, I’ve been listening to the podcast since the very beginning. If you want to feel inspired and limitless yourself, you do not want to miss that show. Additionally, if you are interested in learning more about how a business coach can help your business grow faster, please check out my website@scatteredtostreamline.com. I’ll provide the link to that. I’ve also got a great priority management gift for you there, or join my free private Facebook group. Streamlined business strategies for regular tips and resources that are just for small business owners and business professionals who are ready to achieve their business results faster while finding more time to do what they love. So thank you for being here and thank you Alex so much.

Alex Theis (32:26):

Thank you.