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The second leg of the stool: 2011 speaking program

Posted Feb 04 2011 2:37pm
2011 appears to be lining up as a major transition year for me as I add the necessary two additional legs to the Who Says I Can’t stool.

In 2004 after “telling stories” that contained messages I was trying to hone to anyone who would listen, I started a Blogspot blog with the goal of reaching a much broader audience that might be helped by my messages. Arthur Graham, my prosthetist, strongly urged me to take that further and create a book. I had written two technical books to that point so the idea of creating a book was perhaps just a little less daunting for me than for most but still, a non-fiction memoir without a publisher lined up is a huge challenge. Coincident with this, I was negotiating to take a one-year assignment in Portland, OR. That decision turns out to be the key to getting the book written. Because I was in Portland for two weeks followed by being home for one, I had a lot of alone time in a distant city temporary apartment. On the plane and in my apartment, I wrote and wrote. I’m weird too because I still use pen on paper for a complete chapter and do first pass edits before entering it into the computer.

Flash forward to 2009 and the book is done and has been edited many times over, torn apart, put back together, edited many times over again and finally is good. In fact, people who read the final manuscript that went to the printer said it was “well-written”, “easy to read”, and just plain “good” all of which was incredibly rewarding to hear.

The story of getting the book published is a long sordid tale for another day. As of today — early Feb 2011 — it has been out for one year and has sold about 2,000 copies. Let’s not even think about how many books Sarah Palin sold in the same period. Needless to say, when you are not famous, selling books is a huge uphill battle. Remember, this book is not just for amputees (2.5 million people), or just for cancer survivors (about 16 million), or even those classified as having a disability (45 million), but much more broadly it is for those people who have suffered some sort of life challenge or set back (maybe that’s EVERYONE?). The book won’t get big reviews, big TV exposure; there is virtually no marketing of it so by itself nothing is going to change. And let’s be honest about viral marketing: it is highly overrated and exaggerated. What does work to sell more books is speaking.

Speaking is the second of three legs of the Who Says I Can’t stool. (The third leg is the TV show, also a long story not for here but feel free to see my page about the TV show HERE .) It’s useful (to me at least) to keep reminding myself what the point is. The point is to get this message that people say really affects them and gets them to change their behaviors, attitudes and perhaps their lives, out to as many receptive listeners as possible. Again, we took a stab at national TV but I became convinced I need to play “small ball” first before even dreaming of that kind of exposure. Speaking to as many groups as possible is how to accomplish this.
I’ve done public speaking in my job all of my career and it has gone well for the most part especially if I really knew what I was talking about (yea really, a few times I didn’t). I really hadn’t clarified in my own mind or had clear articulation of the book messages prior to its completion so there was no speaking that occurred before then. Since publication (basically most of 2010) the speaking I did was ad hoc. I did some medical center talks through connections. I did a couple of corporate talks also through connections. But nothing systematic or comprehensive.

That’s what is changing for 2011. I’m set to spend the bulk of my time split between a speaking program and kicking off the TV series. Speaker Bureaus, with rare exceptions, won’t represent someone non-famous who has not already been speaking a lot on their own (e.g. some require the speaker made $25,000 in speaking fees before they will consider them). Again, small ball first. I’m pretty much not going to say no to any group. I have done a full out reach to every college and university in the northeast. Every school over 2500 students in NJ, NY, PA, the 6 states of New England, Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia got a letter and an email from me in the past 2 weeks proposing I speak to their students. Most have their spring speakers all set so for the most part these will be for next fall, but some are happening now. Some corporate events are getting booked via word of mouth and two small speaker booking agents I got through connections are working with me. Collectively, this feels like it will prime the pump and, assuming I blow them away as I intend, referrals should get this to expand. Income from this will then fund a more serious marketing program which will further expand the program. Oh and at each talk I will sell books and each participant who gets a book might tell a few more so we will get little blooms of book sales in each speaking locale. By a year from now, either I won’t need the big time speakers bureaus or they will gladly allow me to be represented by them. I guess I will then be a professional speaker and have to join the National Speakers Association (are they really the same as the National Security Agency?).

So this is it: a change of career. Fun and exciting. And doing a lot of good. Let’s “make it so.”

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