“Stand out or don't bother.” This quotation from Sally Hogshead has always bothered me.
Although I believe 1,000 percent that standing out is critical to having a successful speaking business that makes a difference in the world, standing out is a process.
You have to find that message that rises above the noise, and lucky for us, today we are talking to Marc Ensign.
Marc is a role model for how to make an impact with your message, and how to rise above all the noise that is out there.
Marc is on a mission to help you save the world by getting your message to a bigger audience so you can make an even bigger difference.
Through branding, marketing, and positioning, his company Loud Mouse builds your platform to increase your authority and grow your business.
As a speaker, Marc has shared the stage with the likes of Gary Vaynerchuk, Chris Brogan, Brené Brown, Simon Sinek, (my imaginary boyfriend), and Chelsea Clinton.
As you'll find out in a moment, Marc encourages others to be a dick.
Prefer to listen?
Marc, welcome to The Rebel Speaker.
Marc: Thank you. I love being introduced as being a dick.
Michelle: Well, you know, it was one of the messages that you've gotten known for.
Authenticity: Marketing Babble or Meaningful?
Michelle: I'd love to start with the word authenticity. This word gets thrown around a lot, to a point where it's almost meaningless. But I believe it's still really important in speaking and marketing and life. As a speaker, what does authenticity mean to you?
Marc: I think the reason that authenticity has been beaten up to the point where it doesn't mean anything because it's almost become a fake authenticity.
People create authenticity, which is not authentic.
To me, authenticity is about being brutally honest. Honest to the point where you are really being willing to stand naked in front of the whole room if that's what it takes to get your message across.
We've all heard the speaker get up and rattle on and on for 45 minutes how “I made my first million when I was still a fetus.” They go through this thing where they've never experienced anything complicated or difficult.
I think that when you can stand up in front of a room and are really authentic about who you are, where you came from, what you're struggling with, and tell people the real story, like the ugly stuff, the stuff that nobody else is willing to say, it brings a new level of connection with the audience.
I think that when you can stand up in front of a room and are really be authentic about who you are, where you came from it brings a new level of connection with your audience. Tell people the real story, what you're struggling with, even the ugly stuff then you are sharing the stuff that nobody else is willing to say, and audiences love that type of honesty.
Because we've all been there. We all go through it, and now all of a sudden, you have people in the audience, looking at you going, “Oh okay, he's one of us.” I think that that really does add another level of just humanity between yourself and the audience.
Michelle: There's so much there I want to unpack. The first thing is manufactured authenticity, it's like having that perfect Instagrammable life, like, “Here's a selfie of me in front of 1,000 people in a room, getting ready to speak.”
Marc: No filter. You took 400 different versions of that picture.
Michelle: I know. Instead of like, “Here's a selfie of me being rejected from a speaking for the nine thousandth time.”
Michelle: The difference between manufacturing of authenticity and being willing to get raw and vulnerable to make that connection is important. The other thing is those stories! The, “I made a million dollars while I was a fetus,” and the other story that I take great umbrage with, love to know about how you feel about this one is, “I was living in my car and now I have a million dollars.”
Marc: Yeah, you have the videos of, “I know what it's like to be you,” as I'm washing my Ferrari in my Facebook Live video with the camera crew running four different camera angles. There's a level where you're trying to connect and I get it, you're successful and that's great but what I love to see is when somebody is willing to put that success aside and just be like, “Look, here are the scars. Now I have the monetary success, but it wasn't what I thought it was going to be and it's created a whole new series of challenges.”
Instead of saying, “Now all my problems are gone. I created this course and now everything's just rosy.” We all know that it's just not true.
Michelle: Exactly. It's really coming from that place of letting it all hang out and just being who you are and not apologizing for it. I'm a screwed up human being and so are you.
Marc: It's not even not apologizing for it but really embracing it! When I first started my blog, I started writing about search engine optimization – which was really what the world needed at the time, another SEO blog.
I had two or three readers – my wife every now and then would read it just as a favor. I was in a weird place and I wrote something that was very personal because everybody kept asking me how did I go from being a musician to going into marketing.
How Your Story Can Foster Connection
Marc: I told the story and it was a very vulnerable story and I just turned it into a blog post. I was thinking “Here, stop asking me, this is how it happened.”
That post got the most shares and the most feedback and the most comments and private emails of anything I had written at the time and it was because it was real.
It was painful to write. By the time I was done writing that post, I was exhausted.
That is when you know it's really right. Then to get up on a stage and actually give that talk, you can't hide that feeling, you can't hide that pain, it comes out. You may not be bawling on stage but it does show up and when people can feel that, that's authenticity.
When you have that little waver in your voice and people are like, “Oh my God, I think he's going to break down again.” Of course, you don't want to go that far, but when people get a sense of that, there is a whole new level of respect and connection and humanity. They think, “I want to be there for you, I want to support you as you're telling me this story.” I just absolutely love that, and I think that there's just so much value there.
Michelle: I agree! A few years ago I was giving a speech about loneliness. I spoke of when I was living in Hawaii and I was totally isolated and didn't really have that many friends. It was terrible and I remember having a breakdown at the Japanese grocery store and I don't even know how I ended up there.
I remember people would come up to me and say, “Wow, your story reminds me of this time that I insert story here.”
It was like this is our common connection, this is making an impact, this is making them think about how it's okay to talk about your loneliness in a really raw and vulnerable way.
Marc: Right, Now all of a sudden you're a human being and you're not just some talking head on the stage.
Michelle: Not really. So, how do you bring this to the stage? I know you have a popular talk called Be A Dick, which I think is the best title ever for a talk. But how are you bringing that honesty to the speaking stage with you and what do you think that does for you?
Origin Story of a Signature Talk: Be A Dick
Marc: Sure. The Be A Dick talk actually started off in a very similar way. I used to live in New Jersey, and I was having a really hard time. I would venture to say that I was having a midlife crisis.
I've always had this idea that I wanted to do something extraordinary with my life and make a difference and change the world, all that big grandiose stuff.
Yet here I was 41 years old and I had let my younger self down. I had accomplished a lot of great things but they were for me, it was my own selfish accomplishments and not so much what I had done for the greater good.
The best way to resolve the issue at the time was to run away. I packed my family up, we pulled the kids out of school, we moved 1200 miles away to Tampa, Florida.
Within an hour or two of moving into this new house and if you thought it was bad when I lived in New Jersey, now I walked into this new house and went, “What the hell have I just done? What was I thinking? I sold the house, I pulled the kids out of school and now I live in Tampa.”
I didn't even know anybody in Tampa. The weather is nice and there's a beach nearby but that's about all I got.
I'm in mid-panic attack and I just had to go for a walk. That's when I met my neighbor Dick. He's just this extraordinary guy that really took me under his wing and unbeknownst to him, became a mentor of mine for about a year.
I wrote a blog post about it and it went viral. But I was like, “Wow, I'm really onto something so I'm going to do nothing about it because I've struck a nerve so I'm just going to walk away from it and do nothing.” I guess a couple months later, people kept asking about it, it just kept drawing more and more traffic that I wanted to do a talk and I really wanted to do a talk at Inbound, which was … I officially wanted a TEDTalk but I was like I've only spoken on stage half a dozen times, there's no way Ted is going to be like, “Yeah, sure, come on in, Be A Dick.”
That wasn't going to happen. I wanted to speak at Inbound. About 15,000 people show up to this event and it's in my industry because I'm still in the SEO industry. It's in Boston, my old stomping grounds from when I was in college and I really wanted to do that so that was my goal. I ended up doing a talk there and it blew up from there.
An Unconventional Path to Landing an Epic Speaking Opportunity
Michelle: Before we move on, tell the story of how you landed that talk because it's not like you just applied and crossed your fingers. You were fairly tenacious, I would say, in going after that speech.
Marc: I feel like there should be the disclaimer on the screen right now, “Kids, don't try this at home.” I don't want to ruin your audience and get a bunch of people in trouble.
Like I said, I'd only spoken about a half a dozen times, I spoke for SCORE and the local Rotary, that was the extent of my speaking experience. I had joined a ToastMasters meeting but I stopped going because it was boring.
Actually, it was part boring and part I just couldn't afford it because it was 25 cents every time I said “Umm” and it was costing me way too much to go to these things.
I get offered this gig to speak in Halifax at a marketing conference by a friend of mine that I knew from Twitter. We'd never met in person but we got along really well on Twitter and we became good friends.
I was like, “Great, yeah, of course, I'll take it.” It was a paid speaking gig, doesn't pay that much but it's more than the zero I'd normally get so sure. We'll cover your flight and your hotel and that sounded amazing so I signed up and better yet, Gary V was one of the keynotes and Scott Stratten was the other.
Marc: Oh my God, so I get to hang out with them, meet them, and a bunch of other speakers that I really wanted to meet and so I had it all figured out.
Then I looked on a map and I realized that Halifax is in Canada. I'm like, I am now an international speaker. These are things that are going through my head because I have no other experience.
I don't have a Sizzle reel, I don't have a video. The only video I did have was my wife using a camcorder at some weird talk I did for eight people, it was not impressive.
Then, it ends up that the last minute, the gig gets canceled because they have to cut the budget and I had to go. I was like, “Did you cut Gary V or Scott Stratten?” They're like, “Well, no, we didn't cut that side of the budget, we cut the who is that budget.” I ended up going, “Well, I'll do it for free, just cover the flight and the hotel, I'll do it for free.” They said, “Okay.”
That's probably a bad idea, I guess, to speak for free or whatever. But I saw this as international, Gary V, Scott Stratten. That was my thought process.
When I get there, there's somebody from Inbound who’s speaking. She was awesome. Her talk was great and I'm like, “Oh my God, this is my in to speak at Inbound.”
I had done my talk in the morning and I'm sitting in the green room waiting because I just want to meet people. Around 12 o'clock she comes running in the door, all hurried and she says, “I need somebody to drive me to the airport because my flight's leaving in two hours.”
Someone agreed to take her and I said: “Can I hitch a ride because my flight's leaving at the same time.” Now, my flight wasn’t actually leaving for eight hours.
I figured this was an opportunity, maybe I can come back, I don't know, but I'm going to go, I'm going to hitch a ride to the airport, get stuck in a car with her for 45 minutes and just talk about it.
They give us our little speaker giveaway bags, we go to the airport, and we get stopped at security. We're talking now, we're just building rapport and talking and we get stopped at security because apparently in the giveaway bags was a bottle of wine and we couldn't bring wine I guess from Canada to the States. She's like, “I’ve still got 45 minutes.”
I was thinking, I have eight hours but she doesn't know that so I said, “Yeah, I got about an hour or two. I got a little time.” We went to Starbucks, grabbed a couple of Starbucks cups, broke open the wine, and we just sat there drinking the wine out of Starbucks cups, just talking.
I wasn't selling her anything, I was just being a friend, she was really, really nice and it wasn't about me trying to get the gig, it was just about making a friend.
A couple of months later, now I decided I wanted to do the Dick talk at Inbound and I reached out and rather than being the, “Hey, I have this talk called Be A Dick and being hung up on.” It was, “I really want to speak at Inbound.
I tell you what, if you bring the Starbucks cups, I'll bring the bottle of wine.” Now that jogged her memory. She asked me, “Well, what's your talk about?”
I started the conversation and she said, “That's great, I love the story, I'd love to have you do it.” That's how it happened and I bypassed the initial application process because I made a friend and it was a six-month investment. It didn't happen just because I had a glass of wine and then I sold her by the time she got on the plane. It was over time that I built that.
Michelle: There are so many great takeaways for speakers in that story. Number one, always drink wine out of Starbucks cups. I think that's number one.
Marc: It gives it a little more flavor.
Michelle: I'm always touting that relationships come first because people always ask, “Well, how do I land more speaking gigs?” And I ask, “How do you build your relationships?”
Building relationships are going to be the key to opening those doors. If they know of you and they think of you as a friend or somebody who is supportive or supportive of their organization, they're way more likely to be open to having that conversation.
Then you get to sit down and say, “This is what I'm about and this is the story about being a dick that I want to share with people.” I love the fact that you had this focus on the relationship.
The second takeaway from that story was the whole speaking for free thing. Normally I am super against speaking for free, I believe speakers should get paid, right? But I do think there are sometimes when you have to do the cost-benefit analysis of it and think, “Wow, this might be a great place for me to just hang out with some really cool people and who knows who I might get to meet and I'll be an international speaker. Yay.”
If there are some benefits that you can find in going, then I think it's worth it. Sometimes it’s not worth it. Like when one of the Rebel Speakers in the Facebook group got invited to speak at a Fortune 500 company for exposure and those weren't her people. She would be doing them a favor.
So seeing that there's this other opportunity, that's the second thing. Build relationships, if it looks good and can help you, then do it.
Finally, I just love the whole Be A Dick thing because it's what I call a small moment story. It's like you were out on a walk and this guy was just amazing and you saw the value in sharing that and how it made a difference to you but also how it can make a difference to other people.
Marc: You know, at some point, I remember waking up in the middle of the night just giddy over the fact that what a marketing dream come true – his name is Dick!
If his name was Frank, I don't know if this would've been a story I would've told anybody. He really is this amazing person and everything else but part of what makes it so catchy is because that's his name and he really is this great guy.
He's got a dozen Emmy's in his closet in his house and I mean, always coming by with gifts for the kids, and he's just that guy. He's just a great person.
The funny thing with the speaking for free thing, and I think it is a really cool way to look at it, is I see every possible gig as it's a paid gig. Everywhere I've ever spoken has always been a paid gig, it's just some pay money and some don't. This was a gig that was a paid gig, it just didn't pay money and then it becomes an issue of well, is that payment that I would like?
It's that barter system from a million years ago, they used to trade chickens for pigs, it's kind of the same thing. It's where I'm getting paid and I'm not getting paid, exposure is one thing, that's so overdone that's not payment anymore.
You're going to meet certain people or there's going to be a certain opportunity or you get to go to the conference for free. Then it becomes a question of does it pay enough that I want to do it? For example, you talked about that gig for the Fortune 500 companies, now if that's my ideal client, that gig pays enough for me to do because I'll probably walk away with a couple of clients. If it's not my ideal client, the gig doesn't pay enough.
Because if there's no opportunity I need to turn it down. Money isn't always the determining factor for me – as far as do I want to do the gig or not? How much does it pay? It's money-wise, it's how much does it pay, what can I turn this into?
Sometimes it's just a vacation, like, “Man I would love to go to LA for a couple of days. Yeah, okay, I'll do it,” and then I get a vacation out of it. Sometimes that's payment enough, sometimes it's money, sometimes it's opportunity.
I always look at those types of gigs because there's always an amount that you're willing to take and there's also an amount that you're not willing to take.
Michelle: Yeah, and I think it's about having those boundaries because I know for me, I've taken gigs that were at a reduced fee because I got to go to Austin and hang out with a friend of mine for a couple of days. I'm like, “That's cool. That's what I want to do, so of course, I'm going to do that.”
Then there's been times where it's almost a sinking feeling when someone offers you something and the pay just isn't enough. You’d love to help but it’s not the right audience and it feels more like an obligation than and opportunity.
Marc: Right. For example there's a lot of exposure, a lot of new stuff coming in in Kalamazoo, Michigan. You should be here. I don't know. It's cold, I don't want to go. I always had this thought that you never fire a client, you just raise the price to a point where it's not feasible anymore.
If you have this nightmare client, you are thinking, “I don't want to work with them ever again,” but what if they give you a million bucks a month? Well yeah, okay, I could do that. There is a price that you're willing to take in order to deal with the headache or whatever it is.
If you look at it and you think, “I definitely don't want to do that.” The price isn't high enough. That gig in Kalamazoo, Michigan, if they said, “We need you up there for 45 minutes, it's going to pay 100 grand.” You'd be like, “It's not that cold. I can pick up some gloves. We can make this work.”
Michelle: Sure, I've got some Uggs and a Northface jacket, I'm good to go.
Marc: Exactly, exactly.
What if Your Audience Gets Offended?
Michelle: Oh my gosh. One final question because we've talked about the Be A Dick talk, were you ever worried that people were going to be offended? I know that I get asked this question a lot.
If I'm too edgy, then I will offend people. Were you ever worried about that?
Marc: Yeah. I mean, it's horribly offensive to be walking around calling people a dick. But the funny thing is, I love that …
When I did the Inbound talk, the first thing I saw when I got up on stage was that it was standing room only.
Everybody showed up to this thing because half the room was there with their torches, they were ready to burn the place down because I was bringing this negativity to the conference.
Then the other half was thinking, “Yeah, we want to make fun of some people so let's go to that thing and learn how we can make fun of people.” I was standing in front of a room, half a room with their arms folded. They're angry, they didn't want the message.
Then seeing that transition as you're doing the talk. Within the first three to four minutes, they realize that this isn't what they thought it was going to be.
There's something that's really awesome about that moment that just is so energizing, it's so cool. Look, if people don't want to listen to the message, then okay, I get it, it's not for everybody.
The fun part, when I did the talk, I actually wore this bright orange shirt that said: “My name is Mark and I'm a Dick.” I wore it all day.
That day, Simon Sinek was doing a book signing because he was speaking at the conference, also.
He's signing the book and he looks up and he's looking at my shirt and he's like, “You're a Dick?” I was like, “Yeah.” He goes, “Okay.” He just had this really frightened look and I'm sitting there and I'm worrying, “Maybe the shirt's a bad idea. The shirt might be too much.” Without having the chance to clean it up and tell somebody what it actually really means.
Michelle: It's not what you think.
Michelle: In parentheses. It's such a great title because it builds the curiosity. People are like, “I wonder what this guy's going to talk about,” and “I'm really angry.”
That moment of transformation when they're like, “Oh wait, this is not what I thought and this is super cool and this is such a great message,” is so powerful for people.
For me being the Rebel Speaker, it's about having that idea that yeah, some people are going to be angry at you for but if they actually take the time to listen, they can be transformed and they're going to remember it in a way they're probably not going to remember other talks.
Marc: You have to recognize that you're just not going to be all things to all people.
There are speakers out there, traditional speakers, that just is not going to listen to your podcast because the Rebel Speaker podcast is just not for them and that's good. That's what you want. You don't want a community where you have to tiptoe and walk on eggshells in order to appease everybody.
Michelle: Yes and I'm always trying to get that across to people. It repels the people who shouldn't be in your tribe. Those people that are not a good fit for you. I'm sure there are a lot of people who didn't go see you talk because of the title.
Marc: Oh yeah.
Michelle: That's cool because they're not your people and if your message can do that, if it can weed out who are your people versus those who should just go away anyway, then that's essentially a good thing as a business owner.
Marc, this has been such a pleasure. Tell us where people can find you and how to learn more about what you and Loud Mouse do.
Marc: Sure. The company website is loudmouse.com. We're an authority marketing company, we specialize in speakers, authors, coaches, entrepreneurs. People that really want to amplify their message and really make a difference out in the world. I have a blog, marcensign.com, and soon to have a podcast called Be A Dick.
Michelle: I can't wait to hear your Be A Dick podcast, Marc. Thank you.
Marc: It will be for adults only apparently because I'm sure it's going to get blocked by iTunes.
Michelle: Well, awesome, thank you so much for sharing your insight and authenticity and standing out and making a difference. It's appreciated and Rebels, stand out, say something edgy, be a dick, the way Marc defines it.