Breaking into an industry and carving your name on its walls is all about mindset. In another inspiring episode, John Livesay chats with Kristian Ravn, a former journalist, philosopher, and the Founder of SpeakersLoft, a tech solution to help prevent loneliness for speakers on the road. Kristian talks about his background in philosophy, journalism, and technology and how it all come together on SpeakersLoft. He shares his idea of trust before everything else and how to negotiate around fees for speaking gigs, and discusses the phases in engaging with people including mirroring.
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Speakers Loft: Elevating Your Value As A speaker With Kristian Ravn
My guest is Kristian Ravn out of Denmark. He’s created something called SpeakersLoft, which is a tech solution to help prevent loneliness for speakers on the road. What a fascinating concept. He talks about his background in philosophy, journalism, technology and how it’s all come together on SpeakersLoft. One of the favorite quotes from the episode that he creates content around is, “If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.” No matter what industry you’re in and you’re trying to break through or grow your business, that’s the mindset you have to have.
My guest is Kristian Ravn. What he does is he has created something called SpeakersLoft. He helps create more business for public speakers who travel for speaking. He is based in Copenhagen, but he is certainly a citizen of the world. Kristian, welcome to the show.
Thank you very much for having me.
I always like to ask my guests to tell their own stories of origin. You can go back as far as you want, in your childhood or your college, university days. I know you didn’t wake up as a young lad and say, “I’m going to launch SpeakersLoft because I see a problem in the speaking industry I can fix.” You’ve had some other training as a journalist and philosophy. Give us a sense of your background and how you got to be a grouper.
Possibly looking back as a young man, I grew up on a farm, the dangerous side of Denmark, Germany border. Everything was going the traditional way until I stumbled upon the philosophy thing, which was mesmerizing to a young mind. I figured we have all these smart Germans and a lot of smart English philosophers. The self-off certainty you have when you’re twenty, I jumped on that and I went to the university. I was like, “I’m going to solve the problem of identity. I’m going to solve the problem of ethics. I don’t see why this is so hard.” I went through some humbling years because those problems are fantastic. I consider it a privilege to have spent time on them, but I also at some point decided that enough was enough and I’m not going to be the one to solve any of that.
I started studying journalism, which I’d say the hardest thing I’ve ever done was going from something so abstract as to try and conceive the boundaries of what can be thought to telling a story, which I know also you’ve dealt with a lot. Storytelling is a fantastic tool, but nobody cares if it doesn’t have structure. It isn’t concrete and it doesn’t have images. There’s no flow. I’m trying to tell people how the world as they perceive it may not be as it is horrible in the storytelling. That was very hard. After that, I worked in publishing for a few years and I felt myself becoming more and more interested in the tech side of things. Working with data sets, finding out what is it that makes a speaker or offer going successful. If you break down all the data, you can find about it and what makes a difference when you go into the marketing side.
I did that for a couple of years. I met the friend of a friend, who runs the speaker bureaus. He said, “The work I do is I have these thousands of speakers across Europe and in North America. They have a very lonesome job because they go out in their own states. They are the center of attention for 45 minutes. They get on the flight back and they prepare and research and try to find the next job. We have to cater to the client, not the speaker because they’re the ones paying.” It always feels like we could possibly create something more, something that creates a sense of meaning in being a speaker. He said, “Do you think you can do that?” We had a beer. I said, “I’m pretty sure I can do that.” Now we’re doing the SpeakersLoft.
I find it fascinating because hearing the backstory of philosophy, which you said one of the topics was identity. Who are we, what’s our purpose, what makes us different than everyone else, yet how do we fit in as a tribe? All of those are issues that people face from time to time depending on where you are in your little journey. Journalism hones in on the who, what, where, when aspect of it. Those journalistic skills are important for crafting a talk and certainly a story. You take it one step further with technology where you have created a tech solution to loneliness. That’s how I define SpeakersLoft.
You’re doing me a great honor by describing it that way. If it becomes that, I will be so insanely proud.
I’m the Pitch Whisperer. I love to come up with a soundbite for people so that they can get people’s attention. They are intrigued to want to know more. If you say that to people, you might get the ideal answer where people say, “What do you do?” It’s like, “I’ve created a tech solution that helps loneliness for speakers on the world traveling.” People might be intrigued enough to want to know more, which is the answer that everybody hopes for when they’re giving their little elevator pitch.
I’ll be sure to try it out.
Let me know how it goes. Those little nuggets all come from the story of origin, which is why I always tell our audience, it’s so important to have your story of origin ready in a clear, concise way so that people get a sense of who you are. It’s important, Kristian, that people trust and like you before they’re willing to get to know you. What are your thoughts on that?
Trust is everything. We even found hints of trust in the data of speakers. The whole business of speaking is about trust. One thing phenomenally interesting is if you look at the actress in the field around speaking where the bureaus are very central. You could make a strong argument that they are a nonsensical entity in the ecosystem because they are a middleman that takes money from two sides that get along together. I’ve had that set by speakers and it’s going to, “Why should I give my bureau commission? I don’t like to work with bureaus. I don’t see the point.”
If you, as a speaker don’t see the point, then you need to step into the shoes of the client. If the client books through a bureau, they know that their reputation inside the company they’re from is on the line when they hire a speaker. It’s not that they’re hiring the speaker, they are placing that trust and money in a brand who will also fail if they fail. It’s a sharing of the burden. If you have that level of trust and the need for trust as part of your analysis, it makes perfect sense.
You’ve touched on a couple of things that are key here. First of all, the model of a speaking bureau, a lot of us as speakers think. “I can sell myself. I don’t need somebody.” I have come to learn those successful people who have created a brand of being perceived as a thought leader and an expert where people are willing to pay you to come to speak, have a team of people that represent them because you’re too busy doing what you do. Steve Wozniak, for example, does not pitch himself. The same thing is true when I launched my book. I hired a publicist. What the publicist and speaking bureaus offer from my perspective is helping clients de-risk their choice of who they’re going to hire.Trust and integrity are the keys to success. Click To Tweet
If a publicist has a relationship with a journalist at a Fortune or Inc. or what have you, they pitch a story, an idea covering how do you get out of the friend zone at work? Here’s John’s book on how to do that. The journalist respects the publicist enough to know, “That’s an interesting hook. If you think this is good and you think the author would be a good interview, I’ll do it if it helps.” The same thing is true when a client is involved with the speaking bureau. They want to know if this person has integrity, which is one of the things you talked about with ethics. Are they going to do what they say they’re going to do?
The practical issue is, is this speaker going to show up? If you’re a client and you want to hire a speaker, it’s a one-off from the speaker. If they do poorly, it’s probably not going to pursue them that much. If they get all of that gigs through the bureau and the bureau pitch them to the client and they let down both the client and the bureau, they’re not going to get any more from the bureau. All of this is a risk and trust balancing game.
You’ve created SpeakersLoft that is a place that allows speakers from all over the world who are traveling to connect with other speakers while they happen to be in that city or town.
That’s phase one. We can trust anyone we don’t know or we can, but it’d be weird and doesn’t lead anywhere. The idea is when I go to Rome, Berlin or Washington and so can any member of the network, the fashion emails, everyone is saying, “I’m going to be in town. Do any of you have time for a cup of coffee? I’m interested in how the business is going here.” This magical thing happens. This is what happens when people meet. Some people you click with and you’re like, “I like this guy. This woman is inspiring,” or “The conversation we just had over a cup of coffee blew my mind.” These people are going to be people we feel comfortable helping out in the future.
A lot of clients will say to me sometimes, “You did a great job. Thanks a lot. We never bring the same speaker back. Who else do you know that we might consider next?” If you’ve got a relationship of speakers that you’ve connected with through SpeakersLoft or other ways, that’s a fantastic referral source and it works in two ways. You’ve been kind enough because you have this unique perspective of seeing all the different specificities, the expertise that different people speak on that you’re like, “This person might want to know this person.” Some of the introductions you’ve made to me because all these people are on your platform have been life-changing literally.
One gentleman, in particular, is our mutual friend, Sameer Somal. He helps people with their digital reputation and specifically in the law industry. He and I were brainstorming and I said, “You’re helping law firms at the beginning of their process of getting a new client.” People are going to search for law firms to see if they even want to interview them. Once they see that they have good results and there are no negative things, they might call them in to interview them. That’s where I step in with my talks and training to help them be better storytellers to win against two other competitors. It was like, “I’ve spoken to this law firm and let me make an intro for you.”
That collaboration is valuable. You introduced me to another gentleman, Fireman Rob. He has this amazing story of he’s a superhero, saving people, fires and 9/11, but he needs some introductions and some help along the way. Some of us are able to mentor other people and make introductions on, “You’re thinking of writing a book or you’re thinking of launching a podcast. Let me give you the people that I’ve already vetted.” That whole energy of creating a place of trust and support. This other factor, unless you’ve experienced it and you did a great job painting the picture of it, people who have to travel for work have an understanding of what it’s like.
Typically, you’re on the road and you don’t know anybody. Sometimes if you’re in sales and traveling or you’re going to a convention, you know other people. When you don’t know anyone, especially if you’re in a foreign country or city. You go from that high of attention and hopefully great feedback and feeling like you made a difference to, “I’m back in my hotel room alone. I’m having dinner alone or the night before,” and all that stuff. How differently that creates the experience for someone if they could tap into SpeakersLoft and say, “I’m going to be here, I’m going to be there,” and start to meet other people who would understand their industry and understand the challenges of being on the road. In fact, one of the jokes I heard from someone was, “We speak for free. They pay us to travel.” Tell us a little bit about the platform and the technology behind it.
Phase one is building this global city guide and it grows whenever we get new members, we have new cities in. The last ones are Heidelberg, Germany, Glasgow and a place in Virginia. We were mostly in North America, but I’m glad to see Europe is picking up and a few places down in Australia as well. That’s one thing. You go into the system. You got a profile. You can send out an email to everyone saying, “I’m going to be in town.” You can talk to them on the Facebook group. Phase two is a structured way to share everywhere we’ve been. What’s strange or fantastic about speaking is that the relationship with the client is typically not going to be for years.
If you’re an ad agency, you’re going to work with a client for years because that makes a lot of sense. As a speaker, you do it once. What we want to create is when you and I, for instance, connect on that. I speak at Carlsberg here in Copenhagen. After that job is done because we’re connected, you’d get a hint saying, “There are these people in Copenhagen. Kristian just spoke there. You’ve spoken on the same topic. Maybe they’d be interesting. Maybe he can introduce you.” You get an automatic warm lead feeling from your connections, which will then make it easier to focus on what to pursue next. The job is probably not going to be next door, but I don’t think I’ve met a lot of speakers who don’t want to travel.What's strange or fantastic about speaking is that the relationship with the client is typically not going to be for years. Click To Tweet
We are willing to go where they need us.
That’s fantastic because you can get all these leads saying, “There’s this one job in Germany. There’s this one in Tokyo. There is this one down in Ben-Hur in Namibia.” You’re going to pursue him like you would other jobs. Apart from that being a place where you already have a foot in the door, this is all about trust. If you can go somewhere and you can talk to a specific person and say, “I know John and he spoke here. He talked highly of your organization. I was curious to see if you’ve got other things coming up.” That’s a foot in the door. That can take the lead toned down from maybe 1.5, 2 years to maybe half a year or a year. That’s worthwhile there, but it also focuses on the job you have in front of you as a speaker. It can feel like you’re climbing a mountain every day. You’ve got to keep your website updated. You’ve got to be all of these different social media profiles. You’ve got to do your accounts and your expenses. You’ve also got to talk to your bureau and they probably have something they want you to update as well. It’s so many things all the time. “In the sense of a focused approach, I thought we’d try this.”
Is there a phase three or it’s just those two phases?
Phase three is a lot more fluid in my mind, but I imagine it would look something like if you go on the website and say, “I’m going to Rome.” I say, “These five organizations in Rome, the ones the members say are easiest to work with, you should probably call them up in advance and see if you can get another gig while you’re there.” That becomes possible as the community matures because you need some data. You need some relations. It’s definitely doable, but first things first.
Are you familiar with the FICO scores, credit scores here in the US? If you have good credit and you pay your credit cards on time and all that good stuff, you get a good credit score and that determines whether you get a good interest rate for a new car or home. I was thinking since you’re such a data tech guy, and the same thing with Uber, you get rated by the drivers. You rate the drivers and the drivers rate you. Everybody who rides an Uber has a rating on there. You also see what the driver’s rating is. I was envisioning that phase three or four, whatever it’s going to be, that there might be some rating from other fellow speakers. “This person is helpful and/or clients,” that could be an interesting way to keep this growing and incentivize people to keep their scores up. If it incentivizes people to be nicer to their Uber driver, I’m all for it. I would assume the same thing might be happening within this ecosystem.Fiction an immensely good way to gain a perspective. Click To Tweet
If we can find ways to say, “This organization is nice to work with and this speaker is helpful,” that would only strengthen the community. There is a need for it in the sense that if you don’t have any of these checks, anybody could theoretically come into the system and start spamming everyone in every direction. We don’t want that to happen because that would cost everyone in the system credibility. There needs to be some of you give a little, you get a lot, you give a little more, you get a lot more.
You also have great content on the site and in the emails you send out. In fact, one came in about negotiation tools. Everyone’s always interested in that concept. That’s a very hot topic.
It’s so fascinating. That is a world of its own. I started reading about it years ago and that blew my mind. I was dumb enough to think of it as a trench warfare game. I want to get this. I started reading these books. I lost all the color in my face. I was like, “You have not been a very bright man for a long time,” but it’s fun to learn.
Your wife using it on you, which made me laugh and I thought, “The fact that this concept of mirroring other people, that’s how empathy comes about.” When people do that, even hostage negotiations for the FBI, the negotiation person has to show some empathy for the criminal if they’re going to be able to negotiate with them. We’re not at that level of lives being at stake, but it’s typically you and two other speakers. It can feel like a life or death situation depending on how much you want that particular speaking engagement. This premise of enticing people to keep talking and mirroring where they are as opposed to jumping into what you want. Talk a little bit about your experience, either with your wife or what you’ve seen in business.
The mirroring thing is repeating back the last three words somebody says to do but in a downward inflection. If you do an upwards inflection, it’s going to sound like a question. You don’t have to make that question. You say it and that spurs the moment you’re talking. There are a lot of things that need to be done. You don’t just want to keep people talking. The reason you do it is you’d want to get them saying their fears out loud. There are always concerns. If somebody wants to hire you as a speaker, they probably checked out your YouTube, Facebook and LinkedIn and maybe talk to some people about you. There’s probably still something lingering in their mind.
They might not know what it is until they’ve said it. You’ve probably tried that too, that sometimes we’re a little hesitant to do something and we don’t know why. We’re talking about it and realized when you say, that’s probably what kept me back. The client can feel that too. Mirroring it is a way for them to offer information and you can dig into it and say, “I’ve sensed some hesitation in you when you say this, are you afraid? I don’t know enough about the line of work you’re in. Did you have a bad experience with a previous speaker?” A lot of the times, people say no to the speakers. It’s not because they don’t want that speaker, but because of something they experienced in the past or they’re worried about meeting the fees or something. If it’s not brought to light, you can talk about it. When you do mirroring, you’d get them to talk more so you can find out where they are in this whole discussion.Mirroring is a great negotiation tool. Click To Tweet
It reminds me of psychotherapy. When you go to see a therapist, let’s say you’re a married couple. You walk in the door and you say, “We’re here because our sex life is bad.” They call that a presenting problem in therapy. That’s what you think is the problem but if the therapist listens enough, mostly some underlying causes for the presenting problem. The reason that’s happening is there are some unspoken resentments or whatever else is going on that’s causing that problem. The same thing is true in business. You have some amazing content on SpeakersLoft about your fees and this great line about, “If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.”
It seemed fitting. I wanted to say it wasn’t quoted by me, it was by an American woman who wasn’t represented properly in politics. She just kept at it and that’s an admirable way to go about things.
Almost everyone who has to sell anything themselves or product or service, please come up and you have to justify your fees. Do you have any suggestions around either the mindset of the value you’re providing or negotiation around fees?
SpeakersLoft did get the report on that. It depends on where you are in your stage. If you’ve been on stage several times and people are calling you, then a whole to your fee. Stand your ground. You need to get paid for this because what you deliver is a real product. People know that, but I also think people sometimes feel like imposters a little bit. You’re going in front of a lot of people and you’re saying, “I want somewhere between $7,500 or $12,000.” I have a very large data set. Some people get a lot of money for going on stage. One was $250,000, which was well done, well negotiate. It becomes a problem that confidence is an issue. There’s a thing you need to get over. You go from trying it a few times for free to saying, “I want to be paid maybe $3,000, $4,000, $5,000, $6,000,” if you’re in the US. You have to hold to it. If you break through that glass ceiling, it’s going to be easier. The first time is horrible. The first time is full of doubt, fears and stuff, but I generally say if you knew it and you’re in the US state, it takes about $4,000 or $5,000 if you are doing it no directly with the client.
It’s all about getting out of your comfort zone and asking for a little bit more. It’s based on confidence. One of my favorite quotes about confidence is from the tennis pro, Arthur Ashe, who said, “The key to success is confidence and the key to confidence is preparation.” He’d probably do that. You are extremely prepared. Do you have a final quote or a book you want to recommend?
I pretty much read books on anything I can find. I try to read a book about something I don’t know anything about. I’d highly recommend doing that because that makes it very hard to become walled in by preexisting beliefs. That would be my advice. I’m reading Philip Pullman’s books about his dark materials and Lyra, his world of demons and stuff. It’s a fiction. I find fiction an immensely good way to gain a perspective. I would highly recommend doing that as well.
The website is SpeakersLoft.com. If anyone is thinking of becoming a speaker, is the speaker, wants to grow their network, wants to get a little less lonely on the road, or wants to see a great way of creating something new as an entrepreneur, I recommend going to the website. Thanks again, Kristian. It’s been great having you.
It was my pleasure. Thank you.
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