(Readin' time: 6m 13s)
A while back, a coaching client mentioned he needs a faster, cheaper, and more iterative way of developing his point of view (PoV).
Faster, cheaper, and more iterative than what?
Than giving talks. He said this on the tail end of a talk that went well enough, but it also pointed out that his PoV needs more refinement.
This is interesting.
For sure, speaking as lead generation is a valuable activity. I'm not here to argue against that point. In fact, I'm usually arguing for it.
Here's a relevant perspective, from a data product firm called CB Insights.
They email their list daily, I think, and they're doing a really great job of both promoting their data product and throwing in little interesting or entertaining bits of content in the mix.
Here's a long excerpt from a recent email:
Over the last 4 years, I’ve spoken at nearly 100 conferences (I’m not including client events in that number).
Yes — I’m what you might call a recovering conference ho.
Beyond some ego gratification, I’ve realized that outside of maybe 4 events, these speaking gigs were of nil to negative value to the business of CB Insights.
Negative value in some instances given the time to prepare presentations, travel to events, opportunity cost, etc.
The main reason for this is that most conferences are not content-first.
The reality is, most conferences disrespect their attendees by putting sponsors on stage.
And these sponsors, who always agree not to do a sales pitch, ultimately do a sales pitch — often dressed up as mediocre thought leadership.
And so if you have actually interesting content, the audience tunes you out because the signal:noise ratio has become so terribly low. (Note: I believe CBI presentations are interesting, but it is of course possible that I’m getting high on my own supply here.)
Yes — the overabundance of thought leaders ruins events, confirming the poll results we released last week.
So how do you get value out of events?
Of course, some events have a lot of clients or prospects attending, so being there has value if we can organize meetings with them.
It just requires us going with a plan and not wandering around hoping for serendipity.
But I’m not sure we need to speak at the event for this benefit.
We’ve hosted dinners at conferences, and when done properly with planning and strategy and a keen eye on the right audience, they’ve been great.
But again, not sure we need to speak at the event to get this value.
Of course, there have been some events that have been very valuable from a speaking perspective (beyond CBI’s own events). They are content first and have been great for our business. We’ve become a lot better at identifying those. But we've only done 4.
In retrospect, writing more instead of spending all that time on these events would have had a bigger impact on our business — content persists and reaches a bigger audience, so the ROI for us is demonstrably larger.
Just our experience, of course. YMMV.
This is an interesting take!
Speaking is surely one of the best lead generation methods for consultants when you think about it in the abstract. But when you think about it in the particular context of where your business might be in its maturity or where you might be in terms of cultivating a defensive PoV, it may not be the best use of time for you. Or, it might be!
If the one and only reason you're speaking is to cultivate a PoV (that's probably not the only reason you're speaking, but let's imagine for a moment that it is), then you'll find it a relatively long-cycle, expensive way to cultivate a PoV.
Speaking opportunities take time and effort to discover, vet, land, prepare for, and execute (and recover from, if you're really introverted or the travel is particularly demanding). No way of cultivating a PoV is free from time and effort costs, but there are other methods of cultivating a PoV that might offer a more favorable time/effort vs. ROI proposition.
There are two other ways you might consider. Depending on the context of your business, they might be cheaper, faster ways of cultivating a PoV.
Not everybody is comfortable with the idea of working in public , but working out your PoV by publishing a podcast is one viable method.
This excellent article from David Baker is a good starting point: www.davidcbaker.com/launch-your-career-as-a-podcast-guest
A video "podcast" can also be great: www.youtube.com/channel/UCD9eHSycETfmpGs-nb-m5qQ
My friend Liston Witherill and I sometimes work out PoV material on our podcast Offline. This feels messy at times, but I think it's great.
Consider daily publishing
Another way of working in public to cultivate a PoV might be frequent or even daily writing and publishing. Again, this poses the potential discomfort of working in public, but the medium of writing allows more easy self-editing than speaking into a microphone does, which will work better for some folks.
The common thread in cultivating a PoV through speaking, podcast hosting, or publishing the written word is that you're working in public. I consider this non-optional, even though I know it's horribly uncomfortable for many. Working in public creates this skin-in-the-game effect that's a real accelerant.
You can fart around in hundreds of different ineffective ways when you're working in private. When it's in public, you sit up straight in your chair and do your best possible work, and that's why working in public is an accelerant.
Finally, consider that speaking does have irreplaceable value. Remember that CBInsights is essentially selling a data product, not services.
If you're selling services, speaking can have irreplaceable value, but you've got to choose well, and prepare well.
Maybe a good recommendation to land on is this: if you need to focus on cultivating a PoV, emphasize publishing frequently, or at least writing a lot with at least an editor as an audience. If you have a strong, defensible PoV, speaking is a great way to articulate that PoV in an impactful way. But speaking as a way to cultivate the basic PoV is a long-cycle, somewhat expensive tool that might not perform as well at cultivating the PoV as other more short-cycle, inexpensive tools.
Speaking certainly can force you to cultivate a PoV and can generate leads, but it's not the only benefit. Often there are relationship and access benefits, which you could think of as valuable in their own right, or you could think of them in a more utilitarian sense as part of a long lead generation cycle. So again, I'm really just focused here on one of several aspects of the value of speaking.
And finally, even a good-faith but mediocre effort at delivering insight or useful information via a live talk can build trust and generate leads, even if the PoV you're working from is not all that impressive or well-developed. So none of this is to say you should take an all-or-nothing approach to things. The courage it takes to get up on stage and deliver a not-all-that-great talk builds trust, and that can generate leads even without a killer PoV.
I'll leave you with this simple model. Think of cultivating a PoV as "high school" and articulating that PoV through speaking as "college". Think of yourself as an advanced student who takes AP classes in high school. So while you're in "high school", you'll focus on cultivating a PoV as quickly as possible, and also during this phase you'll start experimenting with giving live talks, but you'll remember that you're a high school student taking "AP classes" and adjust your expectations appropriately. As your PoV is firmed up and made more clear and defensible, you matriculate to "college", where you're more confidently and effectively articulating that PoV live on stage.
1: I've been reflecting on why I'm comfortable working in public. It's kind of strange, because IRL I'm quiet, very introverted, generally reserved (unless I need to be "on" for some kind of business event or interaction), and extremely self-conscious. I'm haunted by the idea of doing or saying something IRL that would embarrass me or get me noticed in the wrong way or cost me social status. Yet, I do this kind of stuff all the time in public online.
I think it boils down to having what Amy Hoy refers to as a "fuck this moment" in my business in 2013, when I got sick of mediocre results and resolved to do something about it. Working in public--for better or worse (and it's actually turned out way way better)--was one of those resolutions.