By Mimi Donaldson, Speaker & Author
Los Angeles, CA USA

Do you want repeat business as a speaker?  Of course you do.  Do you want the client to refer you for other speeches? Of course you do.  Both of these goals are achievable only when you focus on the client’s needs – not your own.  The shift in your orientation is partly a function of maturing as a speaker.

I definitely think there is an “arc” of maturing as a speaker. In the beginning of your speaking career, you draw from your own life experience. In my case, as a Human Resources trainer in a large corporation, I drew my content from the experiences of the managers in my classes.  Because I was teaching managers, and the courses had to be tailored to their needs, my first really great impactful stories were not about me. They were about the participants: their interactions with uncooperative employees, managing the unmanageable, bringing their stress home and taking it out on their spouses. They were the ones managing people. I was the teacher.  So, of course, I used their examples. It has never been about me.

When I transitioned to my own speaking business, I thought I kept up the tradition. I would do a pre-assessment in phone calls with the client to assess their needs and get examples of stress, negotiating situations, or sticky teambuilding issues. I would then incorporate those into my speech. Even more today clients love when you tailor the speech to their particular needs. And when it’s about “them” they will want you to tailor another topic to them.  More business for you.

But more of “me” crept in. And here’s how I know about the “arc” of maturing as a speaker. When I started out in 1984, people came up to me after the speech and said things like, “I want to be you,” “Do you need an assistant, I would love to work for you,” “Your boyfriend must love you – you understand men so well.” It was all about me. About 10 years later into my career, the comments changed. They were not about me! They were now, “You seem to know my husband so well – you must have been in our car.” Or, “I have a story for your speech.”  Then they would tell me one of their “aha moments,” or funny incidents that I should put in my speech. So, it was now about them! And that’s when I really started to get referrals and repeat business.

After 25 years, I consider it a triumph that it is even MORE about them. They still come up after the speech and say, “I have a story for your speech.” But, now, in the middle of the speech, while I’m talking, they elbow each other and start talking in full voice to each other about what I’m saying on the stage as it relates to them. I love it! Sometimes I stop and just watch and say, “yes,” encouraging them on. Success! The connection to the audience is complete. As a speaker, that’s your goal in the first place.

So, next time you speak. . . listen to the comments given to you after you speak. Is it about you or is it about them?  When you are creating your speech, make sure you answer their needs. And then, the checks they write will be about you!

Click here to read Part 2.

Since 1984, Mimi Donaldson has spoken for 50 Fortune 100 companies. She was a Human Resources Trainer at Northrop, Rockwell and Walt Disney. With a BA in Speech and Communications and a Masters from Columbia University, Mimi’s authored three books, most recently, Necessary Roughness: New Rules for the Contact Sport of Life.