Yesterday I had the privilege to speak to the administrative services people at San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District after doing the same for a different group of their colleagues back in early June. In the late 1990s-early 2000s I was a member of the National Speakers Association (NSA). Unlike the true NSAers, I had a full-time job, first as director of basketball operations at Fresno State, then as a teacher/coach at Buchanan High School.
The two reasons I speak are because I like to and because I think I can make a difference. Survey results have shown the number one fear in this country is public speaking, while the number two fear is death. As Jerry Seinfeld concluded, “That means for the average American that if they were at a funeral, they’d rather be in the casket than giving the eulogy.” As far back as I can remember, I’ve always enjoyed getting in front of a group. Entertaining and educating are two areas that come naturally to me but I’d never thought of actually trying to do it for a living.
In 1998 I was asked to speak to the high school and travel teams that Nike sponsored. The evaluations were so positive Nike invited me back the following year. At that time the person who had asked me to speak suggested I join NSA. While there were some qualifications to meet for enrollment, it was infinitely easier than it is now. Unless someone is a “celebrity speaker” (Colin Powell, Pat Riley, Lou Holtz) today, a person, in all probability, needs to commit full-time to the speaking profession in order to become a member of the organization.
Today, people who speak for a living are “all in.” They are their own business, e.g. they provide their own health benefits, set up their own pensions, etc. These guys (and ladies) are really on their own. What for me was a hobby is for them a way - the only way - to feed their families. This was an entirely new concept for me. When someone would join the National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC) and they’d contact me, I was more than happy to give them time and share knowledge - whoever they were at whatever level they coached (elementary, junior high, high school, summer, JC, D-I, II or III). Even as tenuous a position as a college coach can be, I never looked at them as threats or people who didn’t make the commitment I had. Not so with NSA members - as I experienced on more than one occasion. That’s not saying one is right and one is wrong, just that it was a different philosophy than I was accustomed.
Although I never attended any local or national NSA conventions, I learned a great deal about speaking from the benefits I received as a member, mostly from the monthly CD my membership entitled me to. A comment on one CD in particular is basically the reason I wrote my book, Life’s A Joke. I heard a highly respected speaker make the comment, “If you don’t have back-of-the-room product, you’re losing half your income.” I’d been meaning to write that book but hadn’t “gotten around to it.” Hearing that message provided the impetus I needed and, even though it took me an additional two years, the book finally became a reality.
A couple suggestions I took issue with had to do with the overall philosophy of NSA. So many ideas dealt with making more money that I got turned off. I understand these people are in business and business, in general, is about making money. I, however, spoke for the two reason I stated at the top of this blog. Believe me, I realize I’m in the minority on this point. It wasn’t that I didn’t appreciate the extra income but, since I began speaking, I usually give back, in gifts to the person who asked me to speak, about a third of the honorarium I receive.
The other item which I fully disagreed with was a statement the founder and one of my favorite speakers, Cavett Robert, made when he started NSA. His quote to the membership was, “It’s easier to find new audiences than to make up new speeches.” For people who are professional speakers this makes total sense. Imagine trying to speak four times a week and researching four different speeches.
Yet, when I speak, each of my presentations are custom made for the group that hired me. I am in no way saying that my speeches are better than professional speakers; it’s just that I’m more comfortable tailoring my talks individually. Naturally, with the income being “bonus money,” as opposed to the major revenue stream, this concept is much easier.
I guess it comes down to my personal mission statement:
“Make a positive difference, legally, and have fun doing it.”