SEP Episode 28: Winning Strategies for Attending and Hosting Events, with Thom Singer

Today on the show, we have Thom Singer. Thom Singer has been working in the speaking industry and creating incredible events for many years and is the author of over 12 books on speaking, leadership, business, and entrepreneurship. He’s also the host of an incredible podcast, which he’ll talk about on the show, which is where I originally met him. I’m really excited because he’s got a lot of personal powerful stories and really great insights into how to succeed as an entrepreneur, how to manage yourself and grow, and also how to create great events. Even if you’re not hosting your own events, how to be successful at the events you go to.

PODCAST

 

 

Key Takeaways

[2:28] Thom’s life event that set him on his successful path

[10:00] How the industry of professional speakers has changed

[12:35] What holds people back and how to overcome it

[17:16] The importance of mentors

[20:28] Why paying attention to the journey towards success is essential

[23:42] Why trying new things will strengthen your resolve

[26:08] How to create exceptional events

[35:10] The most crucial part of any speaking event

[37:02] Maximizing your networking at an event when you are an attendee

[41:02] The best question you can ask when networking at an event

 

Links and Resources Mentioned in this Episode

Thom Singer

Cool Things Entrepreneurs Do Podcast

LinkedIn

Facebook

Twitter

Thom’s Books:

The ABC’s of Networking

Making Rain with Events

The ABC’s of Speaking

The ABCs of Entrepreneurs

The ABC’s of Conferences

 

Transcript

Kyle Gray:

Hello and welcome to The Story Engine Podcast. We cover a lot of great information and the value speaks for itself. So without any further ado, over to Thom. Thanks for joining us, Thom.

Thom Singer:

Hey Kyle, thank you for having me.

Kyle Gray:

So, Thom, you are prolific. You have a podcast, over 12 books written. You’ve created a lot and I like to start the show … I want to discover an element about you. Can you tell me a story about a catalyst moment in your life that has really defined you and set you on the journey to becoming who you are today?

Thom Singer:

Wow, I didn’t expect that question. Let me see what comes to mind.

Kyle Gray:

I got you. Right before the call, he’s like, “I’m ready for anything.”

Thom Singer:

I’m ready. Hey, does it have to be a happy moment?

Kyle Gray:

No.

Thom Singer:

So what came to my mind is when I was 15 years old, I was the youngest child. My parents were a little older when I was born. My brothers were basically 10, 12, and 14. I think my parents saw, soon the kids will be off to college, and they had another baby. So I was really tight with my mom and dad. My dad retired when I was in the eighth grade. He was older. He was 52 when I was born so he was in his mid to late 60s when I was in high school.

Thom Singer:

He was pretty pragmatic. He always said, “Look, the average life span for someone my age is about 70, 72 years old.” He’d always give me these lessons because he always prefaces it with, “I may not be around very much longer.” My mom was 40 when I was born, so she was still younger. She was only in her mid-50s when I was in high school and she got cancer when I was 15 years old.

Thom Singer:

I remember the day it happened probably more clearly. If they can figure out how to take a video out of your brain, this would be high definition. I’ve got it memorized in a way. She had had three or four biopsies in her breast when I was younger and it had been several years since they’d found anything. All of them were benign growths. There was never a problem. Her doctor basically just said, “This is just like the other ones.”

Thom Singer:

So the plan was I would ride my bike home from school. I was 15, I didn’t have a car yet, and my dad would go to the hospital with her in the morning. Then when I would get home at about 3:30 or whatever time I got home, somewhere in the late afternoon, my dad would call. He would tell me that everything was okay and I would be the phone tree who would call all six of my mom’s sisters and her best friend because it was a very tight group of women who all talked to each other all the time and they needed to know.

Thom Singer:

But in those days, you didn’t have a cell phone. My dad wasn’t going to put a dime or maybe it was even a quarter by then into a pay phone and call everybody. He’ll just call me and I can call. As I rounded the corner, we had a driveway on a hill. As I rounded the corner because you had to hit it kind of fast to go up the hill, my dad’s car was in the driveway and that wasn’t according to plan. I walked in and my dad was sitting in the dark. It was daytime but he didn’t have lights on in the big room that … We had a wooden room so it could be dark if you didn’t have the lights on.

Thom Singer:

He was sitting there and I walked in and I’m like, “Hi.” And I go, “You’re not supposed to be home.” He told me to sit down. So the short story is that they found that my mom had cancer. He and I went back to the hospital. It was a long afternoon. They had done some very basic surgery. Around 7:00 at night I called my aunts and all of them, of course, were hysterical because I hadn’t called. I vividly remember that day but the doctors assured us that they got it all.

Thom Singer:

About a year later, turned out they didn’t. From the time I was 16 to the time I was 18, my father and I spent a lot of our time really caring for her as she went from wellness to sickness. She passed away when I was a freshman in college. So that’s a long story, it’s kind of a sad way to start your show, but you asked what was a catalyst. That’s probably one of the clearest moments in my life and it was a double-edged thing.

Thom Singer:

One is I wouldn’t change anything because my father and I spent two years working together on this project of caring for my mom. Yeah, of course I wanted her to be alive and see the grandkids and all that stuff, but I think it changed who I was, took me out of a selfish mode that you can be in as a 15 or a 16-year-old and always led me to a point where no matter what was going on, I realized there were other people involved who had bigger problems than me because certainly, she did and my dad did.

Thom Singer:

That’s probably the single most catalyst moment of my life since you caught me off guard and I couldn’t come up with a marketing answer.

Kyle Gray:

Good. I love that. I’m happy to be able to get these real stories and I’m so grateful that you shared it. It really hits home for me with just the value of life. You really have to make every moment count because you don’t know when things are going to change for you or somebody close around you.

Thom Singer:

Let me add one little piece. That is the last conversation I had with her when I was 18, she looked at me. She’d been kind of in and out of a coma. They had assured us she wasn’t going to live this long. It was going to be a few weeks. It had been eight weeks. I was sitting by her bedside and she grabbed my hand. She said, “Would you trade me?” I didn’t understand what she said. I was like, what? That couldn’t have been what she had asked. Then she repeated it.

Thom Singer:

I’m like, I got mad. I’m like, “What a ridiculous question.” She looked at me and she said, “Would you trade me for a mother who would live longer?” I started crying out. I was bawling and I asked her, “Why would you ask that?” She said, “Look, if you wouldn’t trade me, then you have to learn to deal with what’s going on. This is going to be hard. You’re going to have to find a way to overcome it because I don’t want this to derail your life.”

Thom Singer:

What I realized 20 years later, this didn’t dawn on me for two decades, is it must have sucked to be 58 years old and know that your time was up and it was only days until she passed, to be that age and know your time was over. But at that moment, she knew what her role was, and that was she was the parent of a teenager who was about to lose their mom. It happened to be her that I was gonna lose, but she knew she had a role to play and that was the bigger gain.

Thom Singer:

I always kind of hoped if anything ever happened to me, I would remember the kids first that way because she put herself in a role to console me that would never leave me. It didn’t dawn on me for years what she had done, but I think that when you really communicate with somebody at that moment and know what position you’re in, I think that’s how you leave a legacy.

Kyle Gray:

That is absolutely incredible and a profound lesson. I’m so grateful that you shared that and I’m also so excited because I just know how proud and impressed she would be of seeing the legacy that you’ve created because you’ve definitely taken that lesson. Maybe it didn’t make sense right away but you’ve definitely gone out and made a huge impact on this world in many different areas.

Thom Singer:

If she had just said, “Honey, I love you,” that would’ve made sense and it would’ve been fine, but I wouldn’t be telling you the story 30 years later, 34 years later. It’s definitely, you have to know … I’ve talked about this before. I didn’t expect to talk about it on your show, but I’ve talked about it before that when you really know what it is that you need to say at that moment, in a world where we’re liking, sharing, and following, if we go back to remembering the words we use with people, that’s how you leave a legacy.

Kyle Gray:

Yeah. Wow. Well, I think it’s so appropriate, though perhaps unexpected, to have this story because what I wanted to really speak with you about is making every moment count, especially in events that you’re creating or putting on or experiences that you’re creating. Before we dive into the details of that, I would really love to hear, we’ve gotten a glimpse into your past, to give us a little bit of a bio of everything you’re up to now. You’ve got a great podcast and you’re just serving so many people. Tell the audience just what’s going on.

Thom Singer:

I’ll just go forward from I was 18 and my mom died. I’ll just give you the last 34 years of whatever.

Kyle Gray:

Okay.

Thom Singer:

I make my living as a professional speaker and a master of ceremony. I’m more than a talking head. In the day of the sage on the stage for some famous guru is hired to come out and spew information and people sit down and go, “Oh,” those days are over. I watched it in the 15 years I’ve been a speaker, 10 years as my full-time job, and it’s been my whole source of income since 2009. The industry has changed, and the audience, and people.

Thom Singer:

People talk a lot about the generations but I don’t think it’s just the millennials. I think people in general, they want the live events they attend to be an experience and they want the people who are presenting, they want more of a peer to peer learning style. Speakers still do most of the talking but they want to know who that person is. They want to get a gist of their feelings, who they are as a person.

Thom Singer:

I’m a storyteller at heart when it comes to how I do my job. I’m an open book. Obviously, I’ll tell you whatever comes to mind about my life, whether it’s a total fit or not. That being said as I said, I make my living as a professional speaker and master of ceremonies. I host a pretty popular podcast called Cool Things Entrepreneurs Do, where I’ve interviewed solopreneurs, and entrepreneurs, and CEOs about how they have navigated the gap between potential and results.

Thom Singer:

I think I’ve become somewhat of an expert through that and through some of the research I’ve done on potential. I work with people and teams on, how do you get across that gap from potential to results? I have a great time doing it. I know every day I’m one of the most fortunate people in the world because I love what I do and I get to do it. People keep inviting me into their associations or their companies to share these stories and to motivate, inspire, and educate their teams.

Thom Singer:

That’s who I am now and what I do, but I think I’ve always been a storyteller. I came from a big Irish Catholic family and if you wanted attention, you had to be able to tell a story. I think that the background of the words and communication and knowing what to say that was really prevalent in my mother’s family, I think that set me up for this job.

Kyle Gray:

Wow, incredible. Yeah, so many different things. You’ve piqued my curiosity around potential. I have had the honor of being on your show and I’ve seen many of the other incredible people that have been on your show. I would love to hear maybe just a couple from all your experience speaking with these people, seeing great speakers on stages. What are some of the key things that unlock people’s potential and what are some of the things that usually hold people back from their fullest potential?

Thom Singer:

There’s a lot of different things that hold people back. This is one of the problems when I go in and work with a team inside a company. The person who brings me into her team, they want me to build a bridge across the gap from potential to result, put all of their workers on the bus and drive them across the bridge, but it doesn’t work that way because there’s not one thing holding your team back.

Thom Singer:

If you have 20 people on your team, everyone has one or two things that hold them back, but it’s not the same two things for me as the three things for you. So it’s this big combination of things so you can’t put them on a bus and drive them across the bridge. The other problem is that you can’t build a bridge across the gap because you’re never gonna reach your potential, Kyle.

Thom Singer:

As you move across the journey, your potential’s going to grow and shift because you’re going to listen to a new podcast, you’re going to get a new certification or a new degree, you’re going to get a new mentor. All kinds of things change your potential and your trajectory. It’s not quite that easy so I work with people that we have to build a scaffolding across the gap and then let everybody go at their own pace, kind of up, down, diagonally.

Thom Singer:

But here’s the thing. The number one thing that holds people back is fear, and when I started researching this, I thought it was fear of failure because that’s one of my things that holds me back. What it turns out, some people are held back by the fear of the unknown. They’re not scared of really failing, but they’re scared of what happens if I try this.

[bctt tweet=” The number one thing holding people back from their potential is fear of the unknown. -Thom Singer” username=”kylethegray”]

Thom Singer:

Other people have shared with me they’re scared of success because the story they tell inside their head about success and money is not flattering so they don’t want to necessarily get there. Fear is a big one. Another thing that holds people back that comes up a lot in discussions is attitude. People have the wrong attitude. They have that wrong self-talk in their head that’s holding them back.

Thom Singer:

Other people say it’s maybe their boss or someone who isn’t supporting them, or they don’t have the right network, or they’ve never had a mentor. There are all kinds of answers that people give of what holds them back, but the solutions are a little tighter. The solutions that people have really fall into three buckets and that is your plan, your passion, and people. It’s three Ps. I love alliteration, but the plan is really simply goal setting.

Thom Singer:

If you know what success looks like, it’s going to be easier for you to make the hard decisions that we all face every day because you can simply ask yourself, does this decision take me closer to the goal or farther from the goal? I talked to a woman yesterday and she told me, “I don’t goal set because when I goal set and I come up short, I feel bad.” Well, you’re not necessarily going to hit the goal, but if the goal is on a ladder, it’s the 10th rung and you get to the eighth or ninth rung, without the goal you could’ve ended up at four.

Thom Singer:

So part of it is the journey, having a plan or goals. It’s to keep you on the path. Have you ever taken a little kid bowling? What do you do when you take-

Kyle Gray:

I’ve at least been a little kid bowling.

Thom Singer:

Right. When I was a little kid, they didn’t have this, but you’re young. What happens when you go bowling? They put up the bumpers, right?

Kyle Gray:

Oh yeah.

Thom Singer:

Rails that come out of the gutters.

Kyle Gray:

I still use those.

Thom Singer:

So the plan is simply the rails that come out of the gutters because when you roll the ball, you can bounce off the plan all the way down until you hit some pins. You may not get all 10 pins, but if you didn’t have the plan, you would’ve fallen into the gutters in the first place. Having a plan, having goals is one set of things.

Thom Singer:

Another bucket is having passion. If you don’t like what you do, and I talk to people all the time who get into businesses because they heard they can make money there or whatever. People start a podcast because they think it’s going to drive business but they don’t like doing the podcast. They can’t figure out why they can’t get listeners. The reason why listenership grows is people listen to Cool Things Entrepreneurs Do and they go, “You really like doing that show.”

Thom Singer:

And I do. They’re like, they go … I started doing more solo episodes. They’re like, “I love those because you get so excited when you talk about sales or marketing or leadership.” I like doing the show. So because I’m passionate about it, that bleeds over and makes other people want to be part of it. The same thing is true if you’re an accountant. If you hate accounting, you’re not going to be the best accountant out there. You have to love what you do so that passion becomes important.

Thom Singer:

Then the final bucket is people. That is we all grew up in this, you’re too young to remember The Lone Ranger, but we all grew up in this Lone Ranger philosophy that you go out there and make your own way in the world. Steve Jobs created Apple all by himself. No, he didn’t. He had Wozniak all along and he had great engineers that he hired. He was a visionary who came up with things but he had other people doing the work.

Thom Singer:

There is no Lone Ranger. Even the Lone Ranger had Tonto and angry townspeople when they had to drive the bad guy. So if you’re going to do something, you have to surround yourself with the right sidekicks and partners and with the right angry townspeople to make sure that everybody’s working for the same mission. So it’s about your network, it’s about finding mentors.

Thom Singer:

I don’t know when this will air, but we’re recording it in January. January is National Mentoring Month. Yes, that’s a thing. And I’m a real big believer, I couldn’t be where I am if people hadn’t come out of the woodwork throughout my career and mentored me. So I try to mentor other people who want to be speakers, they want to start a podcast, and then I have two young gentlemen who I am their mentor in the traditional sense of the word for the last six years.

Thom Singer:

I don’t know how they came into my life. I actually introduced them to each other and they’ve become friends and their friends’ groups are all buddies. They’re 29 years old now and it’s fun to work with them and see them advance their careers. They’re both making big strides but anytime they hit a roadblock, is it time to ask for a raise? I can give them guidance. What I tell them is, I can’t make this decision for you, but I can talk through devil’s advocate of what’s going to happen.

Thom Singer:

They call me all the time and it started to bleed over to where I’m having a problem with my girlfriend or whatever. It’s like I give them advice. I don’t tell them what to do, but they’ve become, the nickname my daughters have given them is my fake sons. The difference is, unlike my own children, they actually take my advice. But people are a big part of it. What people don’t understand, they go, “You give these guys a lot of time.” Well, they’ve become two of my best friends. They really have.

Thom Singer:

But in addition to that, I learn so much from them. They keep me focused on what’s going on. People always say, “Oh, you get along so well with the younger generation.” Part of that is my relationship with these guys because I know what they’re doing on the weekends. They tell me things they wouldn’t tell their real dad. I know what’s going on, all this stuff. I have a better understanding of the world because they’re my friends.

Thom Singer:

So people, whether it’s a mentor-mentee relationship, whether it’s a mastermind group, whether it’s a coach that you’ve hired, whether it’s just friends that you bounce ideas off of, all those things help you achieve more. It’s plans, passion, and people is how you get to more success.

Kyle Gray:

One of the things that you touched on a couple of times that again, I was really interested in getting your feedback on. I’m sure you deal with this in some of your mentees. You mentioned you’ll never reach your potential because the horizon is always expanding. I think this is definitely something I’ve struggled with, where for a long time in my five or so years of entrepreneurship, I’ve always felt when you’re kind of toeing the edge of your boundaries of your experience and you’re pushing yourself forward, you always feel like this little bit of discomfort.

Kyle Gray:

A lot of it, you feel the same discomfort and you’re like, why do I still feel this way? But you don’t realize you’ve been continuously pushing your boundaries forward. You don’t realize that you’ve come this whole journey but you’re still because you’re always pushing your edge, you feel that. How do you help people reconcile that gap between understanding the potential, seeing the horizon, seeing what they could be, and just being okay with where they are now without also being complacent?

Thom Singer:

I think I believe that success really is in the journey. Again, just using a ladder as a metaphor, if I’m trying to get to the 10th rung and all my focus is on the 10th rung, then rows one through nine sucks. But if I realize that the journey is so much a part of the human experience, that if I only ever get to level six or seven, I still can have a great life.

[bctt tweet=”Success is paying attention to the journey and not the end-goal. -Thom Singer” username=”kylethegray”]

Thom Singer:

The other thing is you have to realize that when you’re at six or seven, you’re so much better off than when you were at one, two, three, and four. It’s being holistically aware as to where you are. One of the things I learned, they say that the millennial generation, the younger people, they act like they’re … When you listen to reports, I’m sure you love it when people talk about millennials in negative ways.

Thom Singer:

But when you read all this stuff that people say it’s like, “Oh, they’re impatient. They want to be CEO now.” Well, you know what? Every generation’s been that way. You can go back and find writings of Socrates and people like that where they actually point out, what are we gonna do? The next generation isn’t as into the world as we are. I see this in the younger generation. I go, “Oh, I was just that way.”

Thom Singer:

But then what I tell Nick and Jack, two guys I mentor, and what I tell my two daughters all the time is I say, “Look, here’s the thing. You think at your age at 20 or 29, you think I’m gonna have it all figured out when I’m 50. Let me tell you, I’m 50 and not only do I not have it figured out, but I also don’t think any of my friends have it figured out.” It’s not about money. The happiest people I know are not the wealthiest.

Thom Singer:

Now I will tell you, money doesn’t buy happiness but it will rent you a lot of it. So there’s something to be said for achieving a level of success that maybe I haven’t reached yet, but I have some friends who have reached a high level of success. If they can keep their head straight around it, they can balance some of that. But really, some of the happiest people I know are just getting by, but they’re enjoying the journey and they’re not beating themselves up for mistakes they made along the way.

Thom Singer:

This is something I’ve learned to do. I’ve made mistakes along the way and I’m gonna make more mistakes. I’m going to screw something up real big, I’m sure, tomorrow. But I don’t beat myself up for that. It’s all part of the journey and I just kind of realize that it’s okay. If I don’t have a million dollars in the bank at 50 years old, then I don’t. I just have to go out and figure out, how do I get it by 55 or 60? And just keep trying.

Thom Singer:

I think part of it is we put too much pressure on ourselves and we always look at our failures. I’m trying, and I’m not great at it. I’m trying to look at the things that I do well and say, “That rocks.” Like my podcast, it’s not like nationally ranked and everybody’s going, “Ooh la la.” Do I wish that was true? Sure. Do I wish I had thousands of dollars an episode in sponsorship? Yes, because that would be great.

Thom Singer:

However, I have a lot of fun doing it. I’ve interviewed almost 400 people and each episode gets 1,000 or more downloads. And I get emails from people who say, “That one really touched me.” Well maybe they only listen to one or maybe they listen to 400 and it took 400 for that to touch them. But I feel like I’ve made a contribution with it and I’m having a great time. I don’t have to make money on it. I’m having a great time doing it.

Thom Singer:

I try to live in the moment more. I made a promise to myself when I turned 50 that I was going to make age 50 to 75 the best years of my life, and I was going to find ways to say yes to new activities. I was going to try new things, which is a huge component of what I teach. If you want different results, you can’t do the same thing every day. What are you trying new in your company, in your career, in how you relate to clients, and in what you’re doing in your personal Life?

Thom Singer:

I’m a little bit scared of heights. So two years ago, I jumped off the stratosphere in Las Vegas. They have a 108 story, what they call the Sky Jump. I was petrified, but I did it. Then this year, my daughter’s fiance and my other daughter, not the one who’s getting married. She was like, “I’m not jumping off 108 stories.” But my younger daughter and my older daughter’s fiance and my niece’s boyfriend all did it.

Thom Singer:

I did it two years ago and then I did it with all these young people. They all did it and I was less scared this time. A, because I was probably in a group of people. B, I’ve done it before. But I was still petrified. If I do it a third time, I’d probably go up and be a lot less scared. When you try new things, it builds strength for the next time you have to do that thing or even something else.

[bctt tweet=”Every time you try something new, you build inner-strength to continue to tackle new things. -Thom Singer ” username=”kylethegray”]

Kyle Gray:

Oh man. I love that. Speaking of, this is a great segue into we’ve mentioned a lot about millennials and trying new things. A lot of people in my audience are very interested in digital marketing, like me. I love digital marketing, I love creating podcasts, online content, all kinds of stuff like this. But what you have really succeeded in and you’ve consulted on and helped many people is create in-person events that are memorable, that are powerful, and that are profitable.

Kyle Gray:

I encourage a lot of people who are listening, though depending on where you are in your business, but creating some kind of in-person event, even if you have a product based service, especially if you’re some kind of consultant or B2B person out there, but I would love to explore some of the elements of what makes a great event. Maybe if there are differences between what makes a great event of a small four to eight-person workshop or a multi-thousand person keynote speaker glitz and glam event.

Kyle Gray:

What really can make these and how can people listening right now, even if they’ve never considered having a physical event, where do we start and how do we implement those in our businesses?

Thom Singer:

The first thing I’m going to say is I don’t think everybody should or has to have their own event, but everybody should be attending live events because people still want to do business with people they know, they like, and they trust. While podcasts are great, and videos are great, and social media and having all kind of Instagram followers, being an Instagram model, woohoo. All that stuff is fabulous. You can do it, and you can monetize it, and some people can.

Thom Singer:

However, human beings are still the same as they’ve been for thousands of years. People argue, “No, we live in this digital age, it’s so different, the communication tools have changed.” What my dad always said was, “People haven’t changed. I can prove it. Go read the Bible.” Let’s look at the stories in the Bible. What are you going to find at the basic level of all the stories? I’m not being religious here. I’m using the Bible as the written word that’s over 2,000 years old.

Thom Singer:

You’re going to find stories about lust and greed, and you’re going to find stories about relationships that worked well between men and women and relationships that didn’t work well. You’re going to find stories about business dealings that worked and business dealings that didn’t work. You’re going to find stuff about armies and societies and cultures.

Thom Singer:

You’re going to find stories about religion and you’re going to find stories about leaders, like political leaders that were adored and made great decisions and everybody went, “Yay for that person. Aren’t they fabulous? I want to have a beer with them.” You’re going to find stories about political leaders who were hated and reviled and people marched in the streets against them. Does that sound familiar at all?

Kyle Gray:

Just modern day.

Thom Singer:

You can take any of those stories and change the names and put them on Instagram and you’ve got memes that are saying the same thing that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John say. So the reason I use that as an example is that what motivates people on the inside is still the same. When digital came out and mobile came out, and the internet and streaming came along, everybody thought it was the end of face-to-face meetings.

Thom Singer:

They thought everybody would just have their small one-on-one meetings via Zoom. They thought that people wouldn’t attend conferences. They’d just sit in their cubicle and watch South by Southwest speakers come out and you know, spews knowledge. 2017 and then ’18, according to surveys done in the meetings industry, were the biggest years for live face-to-face meetings ever.

Thom Singer:

More small consultants and small companies are having the type of meetings you’re talking about where they’re bringing in a few clients. A lot of podcasters and coaches are having masterminds where they’re renting a house and moving everybody in for four days. Then things like South by Southwest, during the recession like 2008, 2009, 2010, people thought, “Oh, that’s the end of South by Southwest.”

Thom Singer:

It got bigger every year. They raised the prices during the recession saying, “We can’t have it grow. The Austin Convention Center and the hotel space can only hold so many people.” They raised the prices and it still outsold what they had done the year before. So live meetings have gotten bigger in the last decade and yet 10 years ago, everybody said, “Oh, that’s the end of it.”

Thom Singer:

People are more hungry to connect with other humans now than at any time because these likes, links, shares, and follows, while it works great if your name is Kim Kardashian, isn’t working as well if your name is Thom Singer. So there is a lot of need that people have to have that connection. Live meetings matter and I don’t think it matters if you have 10 people or 10,000 people. There are two elements that really matter.

Thom Singer:

One of the elements is story. People are going to connect via the story. So whoever your speakers are, whether it’s a panel of a few people or whether it’s Elon Musk, they have to be able to tell a story that people can relate to. So story starts the whole thing and I think this relates really well to what you teach and what you believe in. It all comes down …

Thom Singer:

As a speaker, I’m a storyteller. If you go to my website, it says … I forget what it says but it’s something like, “Great content with a storyteller’s soul,” because that’s what it is. If you want to connect with other humans, you have to tell them a story. Our brains are wired for stories. If you go back 10,000 years, the ancient man sat around their campfire and educated the next generation of warriors, and farmers and people who were gonna raise the children. They educated them through fables and through parables and through story. They did not do a PowerPoint with a spreadsheet.

Thom Singer:

So our brains, when you tell a story, people lean in or they push away, depending if they relate or repel to that story. So the story is the first thing. The second thing is experience and I think story leads to experience. It’s, how do I feel about your event? Not, how many pages of a three-ring binder did you give me for the seminar you brought me to? When I do training now when I go into a company and do a three-hour thing on potential, I work with a team and we’re going to do this, people are like, “Do I have to print handouts or do this? Is there a binder that we have to buy for everybody?”

Thom Singer:

I’ve done away with it. I’ve done away with giving everybody, I used to have a half-inch thick workbook. Do you know what happens to those workbooks? You ever been to a conference where you got a workbook? Do you know what 99% of the people do? They put it on a shelf and 10 years later they’re like, whoop, goes in the trash can. I just threw out a stack of binders in my closet from conferences I attended years ago. Some of them were those inch and a half, two inch thick binders.

Kyle Gray:

I’ve got one of those. I’m looking at one right in my closet right now from an event I-

Thom Singer:

You never use them.

Kyle Gray:

Yeah.

Thom Singer:

And so it’s not about, oh you gave me a great workbook. It drives me crazy when my peers and people are like, “Oh, I’ve put together this great workbook.” That’s awesome. It’s not bad, it doesn’t distract, but at the end of the day, the workbook is not the experience. We’ve tried to replace surveys and clicks and workbooks and other things with, how does the person actually feel about it? Sometimes people go, “Well Thom, I can’t quantify feelings.” That’s because you’re a human being.

Thom Singer:

We can’t quantify feelings. Everybody wants to put everything into this quantifiable metrics … people all the time. Everything has to be measurable. Measuring stuff and tracking is great. I couldn’t run my business without it, but there’s an unseen piece. I think in Hollywood they call it the Q Factor? I think that’s right, like the Q score or something like that. I might be totally messing it up and somebody’s shaking their head going, “Obviously you’ve never worked in Hollywood.”

Thom Singer:

Somebody will write in and say, “He’s an idiot, it’s the X score,” whatever. But it’s kind of that X factor, I think it’s Q, that is we can’t put our hands on it. It’s why does Brad Pitt get $20 million a movie to play a 35-year-old, and by the way I think he’s 56, somewhere around there. He’s older than I am, but he’s in his mid-50s.

Kyle Gray:

Wow.

Thom Singer:

Why does he get $20 million to play a 35-year-old when there’s a lot of great actors who are 35 who have excellent abs who are waiting tables on Sunset Boulevard? Because he has a star factor that they know when they put him … They say, “Well now he’s super famous.” Go back to right after Thelma & Louise. He got movie after movie after movie. Why? Because he had that star factor. He had that thing that people related to. If you really look at who has lasting power, and there’s a lot of people.

Thom Singer:

They just had the Golden Globes. There’s a lot of people who it’s their first year, they win, they’re nominated, we’ll never see them again. There are other people who we’re gonna see year after year after year. They gave a special award at the Golden Globes to Carol Burnett. She got up and she had the same sparkle she had when she was a 25-year-old comedienne launching her show.

Thom Singer:

You can’t bottle it. So your event has that same thing. You attend some events and you walk away going, “I gotta come back next year and tell all my friends.” You attend other events that could have had the same speaker line up and you’re like, “Eh, it was alright.” I think it starts with story and then it goes to experience. I think when event planners, I’m not an event planner, but when event planners are putting together an event, I think they have to think about the story arc that they’re trying to build in the agenda.

Thom Singer:

And then they have to select speakers who know how to communicate, who know how to tell a story, who knows how to get people to lean in. And then every decision they make, they have to couple it with, does this add to the experience of the attendee? Why are we having a band and an open bar? Why are we doing it this way? If they’re not thinking of the story arc of the event and the way each presenter connects, then the experience is going to die anyway.

Kyle Gray:

Wow. For anybody out there who’s maybe just starting out and you’re just having your one person workshop, then the onus I on you to be that speaker and to really carry them through all the way. So you want to build that.

Thom Singer:

Let me address that.

Kyle Gray:

Yeah.

Thom Singer:

If you’re gonna plan your first meeting, you’re going to have 10 people in a conference room because you’re a guru on some subject. People want your stuff. You have 10 seats and you sell seven and you get your two cousins to fill two of the other seats. You’ve got that in there. You have to realize decisions that you make and how you put it together has to be about those nine or 10 people attending.  

Thom Singer:

If it’s, I want to be the star, you can be the star but it’s not going to affect their experience. Everything has to be about the audience, whether it’s two people or a thousand people. It has to be about them. The big scope of things where celebrities are hired to be the keynote speakers, yes, the keynoter is the star for that hour, but they’re not the star of the conference. The star of the conference is the attendees.

[bctt tweet=”The star of any conference or event should be the attendees. -Thom Singer” username=”kylethegray”]

Kyle Gray:

I love that. Let’s flip the paradigm a little bit and explore. Because how can somebody who, if you’re an attendee of an event … I love being a speaker. When I do, it’s a huge boon to my business. Every time I speak and establish myself as an authority, it’s incredible but there have been many events where I’ve just been an attendee. There have been some events where I haven’t even necessarily been an attendee but I’m just in the lobby of the hotel hanging out with people. It can still be incredibly successful.

Thom Singer:

That’s called crashing a conference and it’s really kind of frowned upon by people. But whatever, go ahead.

Kyle Gray:

Yeah, that’s why I didn’t mention the specific one. Yeah, understood.

Thom Singer:

They know who you are, by the way.

Kyle Gray:

They know now. Yeah, and Thom does. You’re going to tell everybody, “Don’t trust this guy.” But anyway, how do you as an attendee make the most of an event? Because some of these are big investments, multi-thousands of dollars. How do you make the most of that so that money comes back in spades for you?

Thom Singer:

The first thing I have to dispel is this whole introvert-extrovert thing. People think the story they tell in their head is, “I can’t maximize the event because I’m an introvert. I don’t like the big parties, I don’t like the social, I don’t like hanging out in the bar. So here’s the thing. The introvert-extrovert thing isn’t about liking people, not liking people.

Thom Singer:

I’m an extrovert. I love to be in a crowd, I love to party. My wife is an introvert. She would much rather read a book, go to a spa than go to a party of 1,000 people. However, sometimes in business, you have to do that. The difference between the introvert-extrovert is really, where do you get your energy?

Thom Singer:

The truth is, I get my energy from being around people and talking to people, and swapping stories, and telling things, and listen to other people talk, and then telling them my story. I get energy. An introvert is going to get drained from that. The first trick is you have to know, am I an introvert or an extrovert, or where do I fall on the spectrum between the two because nobody’s purely one.

Thom Singer:

But then be true to yourself. If you’re a little more introverted, you’re gonna have to make a little bit of an effort and realize that some of its going to be exhausting. I’m gonna let you in on a secret. You don’t have to go everything. Here’s the real secret. Introverts are better networkers. Introverts can maximize this conference scene so much better than extroverts.

Thom Singer:

I could do a whole hour on this, but just in two minutes, when an introvert gets into a conversation, introverts don’t love to meet strangers and just talk, talk, talk, talk about themselves. So instead of feeling like you have to have an elevator pitch an inject yourself in, find a couple of people who are standing by themselves and just ask questions and listen.

Thom Singer:

Listen. You don’t have to talk about yourself. Most introverts tell me that after they know a person a little bit, they’re more comfortable talking about themselves. Well great. Then when they turn around and say, “Tell me about you,” remind yourself, I know them a little bit. I can do this. Here’s the deal. An extrovert, when you’re talking, do you know what an extrovert’s doing?

Kyle Gray:

Thinking about what they’re going to say next.

Thom Singer:

Absolutely. The extrovert’s just going, “When it’s my turn to talk, I’m going to talk about this.” Do you know what the introvert is doing when you’re talking?

Kyle Gray:

Listening.

Thom Singer:

They’re listening to you. Introverts are actually better networking because the networking doesn’t happen at the conference. Meeting someone once at one of these big events does not make them part of your network. I realize we live in a world where we think we have to like, link, share and follow to everybody. They have to instantly be our LinkedIn friend.

Thom Singer:

But the truth is that if I meet you at a party and we talk for five minutes and we digitally connect on one of these social media tools, and I don’t see you again for four years, and I see your name and I’m like, Kyle Gray? Who the hell is Kyle Gray? I’m just not gonna remember. It has nothing to do with the fact that I’m 50. It has to do with the fact that we encounter so many people that connecting to all of these strangers becomes useless.

Thom Singer:

So the real networking happens. Meeting someone once doesn’t make them part of your network. It makes them someone you have met once. The real networking happens on, how do you follow up? If you’re able to listen, find out who people are, what their challenges are, why they came to the conference, what their goals are for the year? Then maybe, not with everybody, but with some people, you can find a reason to follow up.

Thom Singer:

Maybe there’s somebody you introduce them to. Maybe you’re going to another conference and you want to bring them along. Whatever it is, all of a sudden you get on people’s radar screen. When you do things for them, they notice you more than anything else. So the best way to maximize a conference isn’t to go in thinking, who can I meet who can help me? But to go into the conference thinking, wouldn’t it be interesting if in the next day and a half I could meet two or three people who I could seriously impact?

Thom Singer:

If you go in with that attitude, an attitude of service, people are actually going to like you more because they’re gonna notice not just the two or three people you’re able to help. Everybody’s gonna pick up on this, that you’re really paying attention and listening. If I really want to help Kyle, I have to find out a lot about you, Kyle. Because the one area you might need help in, I don’t know the answer to. I love to ask people at networking events, “What’s your biggest challenge?”

Thom Singer:

What I tell everybody is, here’s the truth about the answers I get from that. About a third of the people look at me like, what do you mean what’s my biggest challenge? That’s a weird question. And they don’t know how to answer it or they say something just flippant or whatever. Another third or more, another two-thirds of the people almost will say, they know what their biggest challenge is and they can tell you. They tell you what it is and my response is, “Oh my god, that’s a huge challenge. Good luck with that,” because I have no idea what to do.

Thom Singer:

But maybe one in 10 tell me their biggest challenge and I know the answer or I know somebody who does. That’s where I become valuable. So I have to ask a lot of people, “What’s your biggest challenge?” Because only one-in-10 am I gonna be able to even try to connect the dots. Then the dots have to work for them to even notice that I did it. So you have to kiss a lot of frogs in this game, but if you go in with an idea that, I’m here to help others, others are going to see that and they’re going to want to help you. Sometimes they don’t even know why.

Kyle Gray:

Wow. What I love about that is really one of the big things I didn’t hear. You gave us a little bit of permission not to, but it’s not attending every session, and listening to every speaker, and taking the most notes, and trying to cram as much information into your head as possible.

Thom Singer:

It’s not that and it’s not even meeting that many people. If you’re an introvert, be true to yourself. Realize that going to this cocktail party is going to be exhausting and it’s three hours long. I’m just gonna go for an hour and I’m just gonna meet three people, but I have to have real conversations with three people. As soon as I have real conversations, I’m out of here.

Thom Singer:

You know what usually happens? You meet those three people, you talk to them all night. I talk to people all the time and they’re like, “I was only gonna go for an hour, and I stayed the whole time, and then I went out to dinner with these people afterward. I’ve never done that before.” Well, you gave yourself permission to leave, then fun and connection snuck in on you.

Thom Singer:

So you don’t have to do everything at these conferences. I use South by Southwest as an example all the time because a lot of people have attended. Those who haven’t want to. It happens to be in Austin, Texas where I live. I’ve attended for 20 years. I’ve seen it go from a small conference to a big conference. I’ve had a badge, I’ve not had a badge. I’ve spoken at it seven or eight times? But it’s gotten so big that you couldn’t do everything at South by Southwest if you wanted to.

Thom Singer:

You couldn’t have 20 years ago either, but now you look at the amount of things it’s like, you have to give yourself permission to just go, “I’m gonna go to this and then I’m going home.” So at night, they have a whole bunch of parties. I’m not really a nighttime party guy and I’m a lot younger than the main crowd. And my friends who I socialize with in town don’t go to South by Southwest.

Thom Singer:

So there’s one event that I’m on the guest list for. It takes place on the roof of a bar. It’s got an open bar and the guest list is half people from Austin, half people from outside of Austin. So as long as I’m fortunate enough to show up on that list, and it’s from 5:30 to 7:30. So I go to that, I’m home in bed by 9:00. By 10:00 I’m asleep. Then I’ll get there early and get good parking the next day because I live in town so I’m not staying at a hotel.

Thom Singer:

But you’ve got to give yourself permission not to go. I talk to people who are like, “After this party, I’m hitting the Apple party. Then I’m gonna hit the Microsoft party.” It’s like, whoa, too many parties. You’re right. You don’t have to do everything. Pick the things you want, but also don’t give yourself too much permission to just stay in your hotel room. You gotta get yourself out there. There’s a happy medium.

Kyle Gray:

Don’t be too introverted. I love that. I think you give yourself, the great framework is I just want to make an impact on two or three people. If I can find a way to do that, then-

Thom Singer:

And be honest. This is who I am and it’s okay. That’s the advantage that comes with age. Somewhere around 35 or 40, you just realize, oh. This is who I am. You look at your personality pluses and your personality flaws and you’re like, yeah, those probably aren’t gonna change. Somewhere around 35 or 40, I was like, oh this is who I am. I’m going to annoy some people and I’m going to attract other people. It’s just gonna have to be okay.

Kyle Gray:

Yeah. That’s a big theme, actually. That’s one of the biggest themes in 2019 for me personally. I’ve noticed looking back, as someone who’s a bit more extroverted, always trying to find, how can I meet as many people? How can I … Then instead of thinking, engaging with somebody, like what does this person want to hear? Now it’s more just want to be like, “Okay, this is me.” Then just bring that forward.

Kyle Gray:

I think that’s really powerful and it’s very liberating in all aspects. That’s great for whether you’re at a conference or it’s great for when you’re posting on social media and building your business and creating a business that you actually want to build. On that, we have explored so much great information, so many great ideas. I’m so grateful to have an opportunity to chat with you again, Thom because it’s always so much fun just getting into your head and seeing the world through your eyes.

Kyle Gray:

Thank you so much for joining me on The Story Engine Podcast. I’d love for you to just close us out if you’ve got maybe one single big tip, big takeaway for people. Then let us know where we can find you, how we can engage with you.

Thom Singer:

I think the best advice I can give anybody in this crazy world where everybody’s second-guessing everything is to be slow to anger and fast to forgive. So my dad lived to be 99 years old. I started this story by saying he wasn’t going to be around. He lived 30 more years after my mom died, or almost 28 years I guess. 30 or something like that.

[bctt tweet=”Be slow to anger and fast to forgive. -Thom Singer ” username=”kylethegray”]

Thom Singer:

People would ask him because he was pretty with it. He was always active. He bowled, and he golfed, and he read, and he invested in the stock market, and he was in the senior men’s club near his city, dancing, and he had like five girlfriends at a time that he would go out with. To do stuff. But the question came to him, people said, “How have you lived so long?”

Thom Singer:

He said, “You know what? I’ve just always been even-keeled because I’ve always been slow to anger and fast to forgive. The one thing I see in so many people is they get angry so fast and they hold a grudge for so long. I think that eats you up on the inside.” So I’ve tried to embrace that. Yeah, I’ve had people screw me over, but most of the time it’s not that they’re out to screw me over, it’s just that they’re being selfish and they’re not thinking about me. I think if you can embrace that, your days will just be a lot better.

Kyle Gray:

Beautiful. Great way to close us out. And again, yeah. Please, if anybody is really excited about what they’ve heard from you, wants to learn more about you, wants to check out your show or maybe attend one of your events, where can we learn more about you?

Thom Singer:

Everything is at thomsinger.com. That’s T-H-O-M-S-I-N-G-E-R dot com. I’d love to ask your listeners to go and subscribe to Cool Things Entrepreneurs Do wherever they get their podcasts. If you work for a company that has a team meeting, just tell your boss, “Hey, I heard this guy who probably should be on the short list.” I might not be the right fit, they may not pick me, that’s totally awesome. Most people don’t because there’s probably 20,000 meetings a day around the country. If you think about it, people are in meetings constantly.

Kyle Gray:

No doubt.

Thom Singer:

I don’t speak at all of them. However, if I’m not on the short list, if they don’t look at me, I have a zero percent chance of getting that gig. So I always tell people, “Just tell people I should be on the shortlist. Let your boss take a look at me.” If you’re an association, tell the executive director, “Oh, we should look at this guy to keynote.”

Thom Singer:

Most of them probably will look at it and go, “Nah, he’s not what we’re looking for.” But maybe they will. The only way I’ll ever know is if somebody tells them about me.

Kyle Gray:

Good move. I may have to start implementing that myself. Thom, once again, thank you so much.

Thom Singer:

Just let them know and get me on the shortlist. If I lose, I lose.

Kyle Gray:

Yeah. Well, before we got on this call I was like, I want this to be an amazing episode and you’ve totally delivered. I’m so grateful to know you, Thom. Hopefully, we will cross paths again soon.

Thom Singer:

I hope so.

Kyle Gray:

Alright, thanks.

Thom Singer:

Thanks, Kyle.

Kyle Gray:

Thanks for listening to The Story Engine Podcast. Be sure to check out the show notes and resources mentioned in this episode and every episode at thestoryengine.co. If you want to tell better stories and grow your business with content marketing and copywriting, be sure to download the Content Strategy Template at contentstrategytemplate.com. This template is an essential part of any business that wants to boost their traffic, leads, and sales with content marketing. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next time.

 

 

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