Wednesday, June 20, 2012


The tribe of Business Speakers...

The Business Speaker Tribe

By Harish Bijoor

Q: What’s with the marketing and business speaker? We see you and lots of them on marketing, HR and life-related subjects. Is this a new-tribe? And is there money here to make? And what’s the value they deliver?

-Ravneet Bala, Mumbai

A: Ouch! Ravneet, you strike a raw chord when you call this a “new-tribe”. Because I happen to be one of them. And we are no tribals.

This is really not a new tribe at all. The business speaker has been around for a long-long while now. The only difference is that in the old days the business speaker was largely of foreign origin, whereas today we have a whole host of Indians who live in India, emerging on the world stage as business speakers of repute. I can count at least 6 in this list from India. Good speakers asked to deliver keynotes on diverse sets of subjects.

The Business and key-note speaker fulfils a need. The key need is that of corporate organizations for a start. Corporate organizations tend to call in speakers of every ilk to their formal board meeting break-outs, senior management get-aways as well as for internal Open House sessions that are organized periodically to keep the corporate flag flying higher and higher in terms of motivation, business insight and re-gearing of teams to achievement.

And then there are special occasions when the business key note speaker is called in. These are moments of celebration and launches. When the brand has tired of doing the usual song and dance numbers at the brand launches, in comes the corporate key note speaker who speaks on a subject and keeps the audience enthralled and educated at the same time. The key note speaker is thrown in as a value-add on these occasions.

Is there money in it? And is this a business all on its own?

I do it differently. I do not treat this as a part of my business. I treat this as an avocation that pays, and not the basic vocation itself. This helps. In this manner, you typically wait to be called in. You don’t focus on it as a part of your business revenue stream. It’s good to customize every talk in this sphere. Adds bigger and bigger value, both to yourself and the client, in that order.

I have done talks of every kind. Board sessions where a strategy is wanting and waited to be vetted by you, motivational group sessions with senior management, the “rah rah” sessions at brand launches and annual get-togethers, and simultaneously sessions that are done for sets of key consumer groups. I personally enjoy the strategy sessions.

The market and demand for business speakers has however peaked in recent years. To give you a personal example, I used to do an average of 6 talks a year over the last 15 years. In the last year itself, I have done a total of 31 talks and have had to refuse as many as 20 more, due to reasons of time pressures. What does this mean? This is a good market to be in. If you have something to give, you will be chased to give just that and more.

Is there money in it? Plenty. You charge as per your delivery in business terms. There are really two types of speakers. One is the overt motivational speaking version. Here, the money is scant and low. This is all about creating a gung-ho feel and leaving it there. In many ways, the moment lasts only as long as the speaker is on stage, and maybe a few hours thereafter as an after-glow. The other is the strategy centric business speaking where you deliver not only style and motivation, but strategy as well. This is stuff that can change the way people work and live. Here, the money is deep and exciting.

The business speaker ‘avatar’ has its perquisites as well. You get to travel to the most exotic locations your other formal business involvements would have never taken you to. I cannot imagine going to Cebu islands in the Phillipines on work. Or Las Vegas for that matter. Or the Isle of Wight. But my ‘business speaker’ avatar has taken me all over. On work. Try it.

Q: I am a business management student in Warangal. I got into this field thinking that the way I think will change. Instead I find it throttling who I really am. There is some problem here, isn’t it?
-Shylaja Reddi, Warangal

A: Shylaja, from the long queue of questions I have waiting to be answered, I have fast-tracked yours. I do believe you make for a sensitive point.

Business education in the country has a problem as of now. We are too text-book driven. We have copied every model that works in the West. In the bargain, we do not learn enough of how to tackle problems in our back-yard. Most business education in the country today is all about a teacher teaching a set of students largely in a class-room situation. Add to this a sprinkling of an industry speaker dropping in for a guest lecture. This adds a live dimension to a lot of what is learnt. Apart from that, there is very little of experimentation in this space.

Today, the teacher teaches from the pulpit and the student imbibes. There is very little of experimentation in teaching design that looks at peer-to-peer learning where one student teaches another. There are three models of teaching and learning. One is top down from teacher to willing and waiting student. The other is peer-to-peer where one student teaches another and the teacher is but a facilitator. The third model is one where the student teaches the teacher, and in the bargain learns himself. While the third may be a bit far away and utopian for now, I think we really need to try the second peer to peer model for sure. It should help open up new ways of thinking and new ways of acting. Something very essential in your corporate tool-kit of tomorrow.
The author is a brand-strategy specialist & CEO, Harish Bijoor Consults Inc.
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