Jason delivering the commencement address to an audience of 10,000+ in May 2017 at NMU, Marquette, Michigan

Since the debut of my first book, It’s Not The Big That Eat The Small – It’s The Fast That Eat The Slow, eighteen years ago, I’ve been privileged to deliver more than 1200 keynote speeches and hundreds of workshops and seminars around the world and it took a lot of trial and error and a long time to come up with a plan for making sure the client, the audience and the speaking agency love you and that you always exceed expectations. 

If you’re wondering why I’m publicly revealing, in a blog, how I work and the secret things I do to insure a successful speech, the answer is simple. Prima donnas and ‘stars in their own mind’ will view the secrets as being too much work and unnecessary for someone like them. But, I believe there are some people out there who will read the following words, get ‘it’ and use what I’ve learned to propel their speaking career to new heights. My reward will be hearing from them as their stars ascend.

Are you ready? Here are my twelve secrets for insuring a standing ovation. 

  1. Have a get-to-know-one another telephone conversation with the potential client before a contract is signed to make sure they’re the right client for you and you’re the right speaker for them. This is the call when I ask the question, “What would I have to do on stage for you to say, ‘this guy delivered incredible value and knocked it out of the park?’”
  2. Schedule an hour-long discovery conversation with the person/s who own the event. This is when you ask loads of questions, learn about the business or organization, discover and negotiate the key learning objectives and learn about the challenges and opportunities facing the attendees. During this conversation I also ask how I can bring additional value to the event. It might be signing books, doing a photo session with VIPs, attending and making a few comments at a breakfast before or lunch after the speech. You’re going to be there anyway and are being well paid so why not offer them something extra and be someone who goes the extra yard?   
  3. Ask for the names and contact information of ten to twelve people who will be attending the event and schedule 15-20-minute calls to learn about them, what they do, their story and the challenges and opportunities confronting them. Have the group send out an email to these people to let them know you’ll be contacting them to set up a call. In a typical year, I’ll do 800-1000 calls and, while it sounds like a lot of work, it’s the favorite part of what I do and the pay-off is immense; both for my speech preparation and the vast amount of knowledge I’ve gained.
  4. When I arrive in the destination city, I check in to the hotel, freshen up and then go to the registration desk and ask them to text or radio my contact person so I can meet them in person and let them know their speaker is in-house. It’s also a great time to peek into the room where I’ll be speaking and check out the lay of the land.
  5. This is the hardest one for me to do but, I always breathe deep, and do it. If the group is having a reception the evening before you’re speech and I’m attending (which I always offer to do) I walk up to small groups of people, wait for a lull in their conversation and say, “I don’t mean to interrupt but I’m Jason, your guest speaker tomorrow, and I wanted to say hello, introduce myself and hopefully, have a few friendly faces in the audience tomorrow.” I promise you that the next day most of the people you’ve met will be sitting and smiling in the first few rows and they will be very responsive and set the tenor for the entire audience.
  6. I make sure to arrange a quick 5-minute rehearsal to make certain all my slides and/or embedded audio and video work. This gives me a chance to walk the stage, get a feeling for the dynamics of the room and meet the crew. I walk up to each crew member, extend my hand, introduce myself, ask their name and repeat it a couple of times so it’ll be committed to my short-term memory and thank them in advance for doing what they do.
  7. As the room begins filling with people I work the crowd and wander the aisles introducing myself. Each hand I shake becomes a friend and a supporter. Over the years, I’ve received tens of thousands of emails from people saying that it meant the world to them that a speaker would go out of their way to be accessible and introduce themselves.
  8. I treat each speech as though it’s going to be the only opportunity in my lifetime to share the information and knowledge I’m about to reveal. As I’m being introduced, I imagine a big campfire on the stage and my job is to tell the best campfire stories that have ever been told. I also silently thank God that I’m able to do what I do. Then, I reach deep and put everything I’ve got into the speech.
  9. After the standing ovation – which you’ll get if you’ve done the previous steps – I walk through the audience one more time, shaking hands and thanking people for having been there, saying, “I hope you got some good stuff from my speech.” As the room empties, I walk back to the AV Production area, shake everyone’s hand again and thank them for making me look good. Again, I’ve received many hundreds of emails from AV staff members thanking me and telling me that no other speaker had every taken the time to introduce themselves, shake hands and thank them and that, most often, they’re ignored by the talent.
  10. Finally, I find my main contacts, shake their hands one final time, ask them if there’s anything else they’d like me to do and thank them for having me and ask if I’ve exceeded their expectations. 
  11. Then, I return to my hotel room, change my clothes, pack my bag and leave for the airport or my next engagement. I’ve had my time in the limelight and I’ve been lucky enough to be a star – something few people will ever get to experience – and I don’t want to be seen as milking it. It’s time for someone else’s star to shine. Not long ago, I was the closing speaker for an event and during the reception the night before the speech, another speaker – who I hadn’t met before -came up and introduced himself. I asked when he was going to be speaking and he said, “I did a breakout session two days ago.” What in the heck was he still doing there? He was announcing to the world that he had no better place to be and wasn’t very busy. Always leave them wanting more and asking, “who was that masked man anyway, was he the Lone Ranger?”
  12. Two days later, reach out to your contact and ask for a short-written testimonial. The longer you wait to ask the more lukewarm the endorsement will become.     

Jason Jennings is the NY Times, WSJ and USA TODAY bestselling author or seven books on business and one on health. USA TODAY has called him one of the three most in demand business speakers in the business. More than 160 free podcasts are available at www.jason-jennings.com and information about his speaking availability and prices are available by calling his Speaking Manager, Andrea Temel, at +1-949-551-2669. (US Pacific time)

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