Communication Rebel Blog

How to Break into Corporate Speaking with Simon T. Bailey

How do you break into corporate speaking?

Many of you know that corporate speaking is the direction that you want to go in your speaking business, but you haven't quite cracked that nut yet.

How do you break in?

How do you know if your message is going to appeal to the corporate crowd?

We are lucky today because we have Simon T. Bailey as our guest, and he is one of America's top 10 most-booked corporate and association speakers on change, leadership, and customer experience.

He has worked with over 1,500 organizations, has impacted more than two million people through his presentations and seminars in 45 countries.  Some of his clients include AT&T, IBM, MasterCard, Seattle's own Microsoft, and Toyota.

Simon reveals some rebel truths about corporate speaking including:

  • Why motivational speaking won’t get you in the door and what to do instead
  • Find out how to take an inspirational message and turn it into a speech that is marketable to corporations
  • Discover why speaking about your passion is NOT the best idea for corporate speaking when you’re starting out
  • Why you need a body of work so you can go deeper with organizations that hire you (and create more revenue)
  • The four things you can start doing today to build relationships to book corporate gigs

Enjoy the show!

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Simon:               Hello. Thank you so much for having me. Good to be with you.

Michelle:          It's so great to have you.

People are really excited to hear from you, to know your story and how you became this big-time speaker who's impacting 100,000 people a year because that's, wow, I was blown away when I read that.Tell me about your journey from starting out in speaking to where you are today, being one of the top 10 most-booked corporate speakers in America.

How to Get Started with Corporate Speaking

Simon:               It's been an interesting journey, to say the least. I've been doing this for about 15 years, and I would say my first year was spent making a list of 75 people that I had relationships with and had come to know and learn about their companies, and I just reached out to them and said, “Hey, I'm out here. I left Disney. Would you bring me in?

They were like, “Well, you need to get your sea legs under you first.” So it really started out with me going to Chamber of Commerce's meetings. You know how they have a meetup?

Michelle:          Yeah.

Simon:               And they would leave the bowl in the back of the room where everybody dropped their business cards in, so I would go and speak free, and in exchange, I would take all the business cards from the bowl and would put them in my database so that they could get my newsletter once a month. Literally, that's how I started.

Michelle:          Wow. I think there are a couple of good nuggets here because I think we see people like you, and it's like, “Oh my gosh, I'm just going to break into the big time right away.” Really, you began like a lot of people, speaking for free- at Chamber of Commerce meetings to develop your message. So then once you got that message developed, how did you start? Did you reach out to those 75 people again and said, “Hey, I actually know what I'm doing now.”

Corporate clients are NOT looking for Motivation or Inspiration

Simon:               Yeah. I I did, and I didn't make it past the 25th name before I started getting calls to actually come and to do work, and literally,  just kind of took off from there.

What I realized with the first 25 clients that hired me, it was not so much me coming in to motivate or to inspire but to really come in and to provide a solution to a problem.

For example, if they were having a challenge with employee engagement, I would provide a solution where my content was built around how do you sustain employee engagement, how do managers think about it, how do leaders or supervisors think about it, but even more importantly, what's the personal benefit for employees. So I really went in with a solution focus instead of just saying, “Here's the speech.”

Michelle:          I love that and for a couple of reasons. One of the questions that my group of people wanted to ask you was, what if you just have an inspirational message? How do you take that message and turn it into something that would be attractive to corporations?

How to Take Your Story and Turn it into Something Corporations Want

Simon:               First of all, take your inspirational message, which is a great message, it's your story, it's your truth, it's what you know, but then you've got to flip it and spin it and build it around same basic ideas.

Number one, how does it provide a solution for them?

Number two, how do you write it in the language that they are used to seeing?

Number three, do you have case studies, examples, or stories of people who implemented what you said and had some type of result, some type of shift, some type of transformation and tell that story of who benefited from your previous work. That allows it to be a lot more digestible.

And Number four,  can you reference an organization or person that that client might talk to? So you get the real time feedback on how your speech made a difference in their organization.

Michelle:          I love that. It also sounds like if you're just starting out, you have to start at that, almost like an entry level so that you can get some of those case studies and some of those testimonials of how people used your inspirational message to get a certain result.

Simon:               Right. Right. The other thing I would encourage everyone to think about is if you don’t have the traction, ask a client to give you a case study or an example.

Why You Need Surround Sound Marketing

The other thing you have to do is create what I call surround sound marketing.  

Surround sound marketing is maybe you have a book, a white paper, or a column for an online or print magazine… So surround them with other proof points that actually say that you are an expert in what you're saying.

Here's the validation that has been printed by X. Or just say you write for LinkedIn, and your LinkedIn article has so many shares or so many likes or so many comments.

But you want to do surround sound marketing because then if the corporations hearing it from a lot of different directions, they are more likely to hire you.

So while you're trying to build up the groundswell, do surround sound marketing.

Michelle:          That is very good advice. In February, I talked with a PR person for Brigitte Lyons, and she was talking about how PR can build your platform. It's just like surround sound marketing. First, where is your target reading? If they're reading Fast Company, go after Fast Company. But if they're not reading Fast Company, that's not where you want to go to create that buzz.

Creating that surround sound marketing is like markers of credibility, that the proof is in the pudding. People don't want to hire people who claim to be experts but really are not.

Simon:               Right. Exactly.

Michelle:          When you were starting out and speaking about employee engagement, how did you figure out that that's really what you wanted to speak on?

Speaking for About Your Passion is a Terrible Place to Start

Simon:               It really wasn't, honestly.

Michelle:          I love the honesty. Thank you.

Simon:               It wasn't. Here's the truth. I needed to pay a mortgage, I had to buy some milk for my babies, and I need to buy some Pampers.

Listen, this is as raw and honest as it gets. At this particular age and stage in the game, it is what it is.

But here's what I discovered. On the road to talking about what I wasn't passionate about, I discovered what I really wanted to talk about, and that was brilliance.

So for the last 14 years, I've been on this journey of brilliance. I've been doing this 15 years, but really the last 14 years I've been writing and talking about brilliance.

Michelle:          So you started off with employee engagement to provide a solution, get your foot in the door. And then that helped you develop your Shift Your Brilliance message.

Simon:               Correct. Exactly.

Michelle:          I love it. I have to say I love the honesty because people are like, “Just tell your story and be passionate.” I always say, “I don't know if that's going to actually get you paid.”

Simon:               No. It's like people are professional interviewers now. They know what they need to say to get the interview. They know what they need to say to get hired.

Just like in speaking, you need to know what to say in order to get hired, but you have got to listen, and then you have got to give back to them what they just said and sell them on why you're the person.

Michelle:          Excellent. I think that is the best advice. I've looked at corporate America, and I know some of the problems they face. They face employee engagement problems, they face burnout problems, and obviously, there's always sales and profit.

So if you can help them solve one of those things and get them results, yeah, your job is to sell that in instead of being like, “I have this great story and fun message.”

Simon:               Exactly. Because they really don't care. They really, really don't care about your story. They really don't. I've learned this is the hard way, and I've spent so much money, and I've thrown a lot of good money at bad ideas that never took off because they didn't care. It was literally, they kind of gave me the screensaver face.

So what I finally recognized is that I needed to step back, and really teach what I'm most passionate about, and take my solution and wrap it around their problem.

Michelle:          I love that. Tell me about your message, Shift Your Brilliance. I want to hear about it and how you developed it.

Developing the Topic that Gets You Booked to Speak

Simon:               After speaking to 100 organizations over like a year process, what I discovered is organizations were wanting broadband results, but they were using dial-up methods in how they were approaching their customers, how they were thinking about engaging their employees and really upscaling their employees.

So what I recognized is I had to experience vuja de. Vuja de is something that I actually teach in Shift Your Brilliance. It's really the whole mindset, right?

Déjà vu means been there, done that. But what I was recognizing is that organizations that were thinking about the next decade, they were vuja de-ing. They were going against the grain.

They were unleashing the salmon to swim upstream. Instead of waiting for what had already been done, they were going there doing something fresh. Vuja de was the flip.

So when I first started writing and talking about Shift Your Brilliance, what I recognized, I had to shift my brilliance. I had to vuja de because I was holding onto what used to work and not letting it go, and I was literally borderline obsolete. For instance, the days of just going to give a speech are gone. Customers want to know, what's the reinforcement plan after you're gone? So we realized that we had to come up with six to eight weeks of assets that they can disseminate it to their organization. That was a shift for us.

The other thing I noticed about organizations is they were closing the adult day care center, and they were inviting employees to take ownership of their career.

So no longer could employees walk into a company and expect the company to hold your hands and sing Kumbaya and say you're so wonderful. It was now up to you to understand three things. How were you going to lead without a title? How were you going to disrupt and destroy your job description and rewrite it by doing fresh things? And then number three, how were you going to become an intrapreneur to help the company move forward?

I started noticing that, and I said, “Ruh-roh, wait a minute. Shift Your Brilliance: Harness The Power Of You, INC.”

So we built a whole online training program that my instructional designer who used to work with me at Disney helped me design. Then we took it and actually created a physical box where, for those who are old school, they want DVDs, they want CDs. We created a whole system around how you can shift your brilliance and build it up over seven weeks.

Michelle:          You've said so many important things there that I want to highlight. I think number one, a lot of speakers who want to go into corporate are thinking “I'm just going to sell my speech in.”

They are missing two important things. They are missing the follow-up opportunity that will create more revenue for speakers.

And second, speakers need to realize that corporations want more than just you going in and delivering a 60-minute keynote speech and having fun and being like, “That was interesting. I have some new things to try.” They want that follow-up training that reinforces the message so that you're more embedded in the organization as well.

Simon:               Exactly. That's the whole goal. How do you embed yourself beyond the speech? The speech is just a sales call. That's the appetizer. That's the initial introduction. How do you go deeper?

Michelle:          I love that. How do you go deeper? What's brilliant is you took Shift Your Brilliance from a speech and developed seven weeks of material around it that then the organization can implement or they could have you do webinars around or your team come in and train. So it's a brilliant packaging. Then you're part of the team.

And that gets you asked back, right?

Simon:               Right. And you get to measure what were the outcomes as a result of the system that they embedded into the organization.

Michelle:          I love that. Then that helps you with future speaking and training and … Wow.

Simon:               It becomes the gift that keeps on giving. They want a system, and if you can say, “Hey, here's a system that we have to offer,” you'll get further down the path long term.

Michelle:          So good. I'm like, “Where do I want to go next?” You really provided me with so much meat and juicy details.

You've given a lot of advice for speakers wanting to get into corporate speaking. I know you did it by getting your sea legs and leveraging and building relationships. So for speakers who might not have worked at Disney and who might not have those corporate relationships, how do you suggest they start building relationships so that they can get their foot in the door?

Four Actions to Take to Start Building Relationships so You Get the Gig

Simon:               I think four things people can do to start building relationships. Number one, LinkedIn needs to be your new BFF. If Facebook is the family reunion, if Twitter is the cocktail party, LinkedIn is the see and be seen. All business people that you want to reach are there, and you need to position yourself as a thought leader.

Being a thought leader is number two. Thought leadership simply means that either you write articles and share them with your followers, or you share other articles from really smart people to show that you're smart. You say, “Hey, here's where I think things are going.”

The third thing you have to think about is, who are the three to five individuals that you know already, that you have in your backyard that perhaps have a title of Director or VP., What it would be like for them to make a warm introduction to their contacts who may need your services. Everything you need is already around you. You just got to tap into it.

If you want some insight into what I'm saying, look at my LinkedIn profile and really look at how we've positioned ourselves in LinkedIn. We have over 80 recommendations from clients who I've gone to speak for. That's intentional because if a client is thinking about bringing me in for a speech, they want to go and see a third party endorsement from somebody who's already brought me in.

The other thing we do is a weekly article on LinkedIn where we will write about what's happening in the world.

For instance, last week's article was on what I call “Stealth Marketing, the Fate of the Furious,” which is based on the movie Fast & Furious. This movie franchise is big,  you know the eighth movie is out, and it's going to gross over $1 billion in its second week, which is absolutely unheard of. They had marketing throughout the entire movie, so I sat there and I said, “Oh my goodness, this is stealth marketing.”

So I just saw something and this little twist of an idea, and I've already had people give me 300 likes, a few comments, people have shared it over 20 times, and that's what you want. You want people sharing your other articles with you. So I swear by LinkedIn. Disclaimer, LinkedIn does not pay me anything on the back end to do this. I just think for somebody who doesn't have corporate contacts, that's where corporate people are.

I think the fourth thing to think about is getting involved with a local American Marketing Association group that's in your backyard. Or there might be a media group that brings together corporate professionals that meet on a weekly basis. Put yourself out there. Put yourself in the room around other professionals that you want to sell to who can become your unofficial marketing department.

Michelle:          Once again, you've said several great things. The whole idea of getting out of your house and not just sitting behind the computer and making cold pitches or whatever is brilliant. Yeah, join the American Marketing Association. Almost every city has a local chapter. Go and hang out where the corporate folks are hanging out even though you might not be corporate yourself. But those are the people you have to connect with.

Simon:               Right!  And, if I was to add a bonus one, take a page out of what T-Mobile has done in the telecommunications space as they compete against Sprint, AT&T, and Verizon. They are totally other. They go the opposite way. They're counterculture.

So if you really, really want to get noticed by corporate, don't do more of the same. Stand out. Be different. Give them a reason to talk about you and your content and why you might be the thought leader that they need.

Michelle:          That was amazing as well because that's something that I'm passionate about!  If somebody's like, “Oh, well, I have this inspirational message” or “It's a leadership message.” I'm like, “Great. How are you different than all the other people who speak on leadership or change management or sales. What is it that makes you different?” One of the things I've noticed throughout this interview, and this is kind of my last question for you, is that you're trendspotting all the time. You are looking for the latest and greatest trends. So how did you become a trend spotter?

Simon:               It's something I learned a decade ago by listening to Mark Victor Hansen of Chicken Soup for the Soul fame, he and Jack Canfield. He talked about this term called “borrowed credibility” or hitching your wagon onto where things are already going. I listened to them, and I said, “This is pretty profound.”

Literally, what you do is when you pick up on the trends that it's either in the newspaper, on the radio, or you just hear on SiriusXM. Once you pick up and starting doing your own research, what you want to do in order to get the go-go juice, you got to hook onto that but give your point of view. This is the biggest thing.

Shift Your Brilliance and everything I've done with that is simply a point of view. So I remember that, so now in my writings, I have a point of view that might be opposite of what the story is about, but I come from a different angle. For instance, you may have heard a few weeks ago about the bridge collapsing in Atlanta.

It happened because of two guys who were basically doing drugs under the bridge, yadda yadda yadda, and it caused a fire and the fire … So I literally took that story and spun it into, what happens when you have rotten apples on your team and you never deal with the rotten apples?

I got a few comments from people all over the world saying, “How in the world can you stretch a bridge collapsing with two guys under the bridge,” da da da. But it was my point of view. So what? You didn't like it or get it, it didn't make sense to you, but I had a ton of other people saying “Oh my goodness. I see exactly what you're saying.” Now I've picked up followers who weren't following me before, but because I literally came at it from a different angle, they're like, “Wow, that's interesting.”

Michelle:          Yeah. I think that's at the heart of what being a rebel is. To me, being a rebel speaker is looking for that story and the way that everybody else is telling it and finding a different spin, a different takeaway, a different lesson. Then that positions you on the cutting edge.

If you want to be hired by corporations to solve a problem, they don't want something they've heard 900 times. They want the cutting edge.

You, Simon, are cutting edge, and I've loved talking to you!. Where can people find you online?

Simon:               Certainly they can find me at All of our information is there. We also have a special offer for your audience. We are going to make available to them the Brillionaire Speaking System, which is something that we've put together just for you. How to create a six-figure income in the speaking business.

A lot of people have asked me, “How did you go from zero to building a significant six-figure, seven-figure business?” So we literally have distilled it into how did I build the brand? How did I position the books? We've written nine books. How did we do that? How did we position our articles? And all my tips, tools, and techniques are in the Brillionaire Speaking System. We're really, really excited about that.

Michelle:          I can't wait to get my hands on it. Everyone, go pick up the Brillionaire Speaking System. I love your use of language. It's so amazing.

Simon:               Yes. We just created a word, you know?

Michelle:          I know. It's great. It shows your creativity. Thank you so much, Simon, for sharing your brilliance on The Rebel Speaker.

Simon:               Thank you.

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