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Speakers 2.0 – Lessons from Conan

There was a fascinating piece in the Tech section of Fortune.com a few days ago about how Conan O’Brien (former host of NBC’s The Tonight Show; currently host of Conan on TBS) found his life “disrupted by the digital world” and reinvented himself to become even more popular, reaching even more people.

When you have time to read 3900 words, go check it out and I think you’ll find that Conan’s story has more relevance to your speaking business than you might imagine. In the meantime, I’ve included some of my take-aways below. (By the way, if you don’t know about the Conan O’Brien-Jay Leno-NBC fiasco of 2010, you can find part of the backstory here).

  • Conan awoke to a new reality when he found himself banned from late night television — his livelihood for some 17 years — for six months and had no idea what his future held after leaving NBC. Reading this article, I couldn’t help but think about what speakers experienced when the recession of 2007-2009 hit — and we’re still trying to figure out how to navigate this “new normal.”
  • Conan embraced his new reality, said goodbye to business as usual, and came out on the other side bigger than ever. One of the biggest keys: social media. (Conan’s primary social media tools, FYI: Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, FourSquare, Flickr and Tumblr)
  • What Conan learned: “performing now means engaging.” In other words, his audience “doesn’t want to be just an audience — they want to be participants.” It’s not so different from speakers. You could just as easily say, “speaking now means engaging.” To achieve real success for today and the future, you can’t just get up on stage, talk for 45 minutes, collect your paycheck and go home. You must engage your audience — and not just from the stage. Think of yourself as the leader of a movement and invite your followers to join you.
  • Conan’s Executive Producer “views Conan above all as a brand, and his social networks as a content system through which to carry the brand as far and wide as possible.” Are you employing a similar strategy in your speaking business? With the technology we have access to today, you can and you must have a “content system” (including, but not limited to, social networks) that takes you and your material “as far and wide as possible.” It’s not just about speaking at live events. It’s not just about writing books. It’s not just about selling CDs. You can do more — and it’s a beautiful thing!

Here was my big take-away from this article:

In the “old world,” Conan O’Brien was just a television personality. In the new world, Conan’s television work is just one part of his entire platform. It’s a key part, obviously, but of the 5 million people he reaches each month, only 1.5 million of them are watching his show each night on TBS. Most of them are connecting online — he has 2.3 million followers on Twitter, over 1.6 million fans on Facebook, and over 10 million monthly views of his online videos.

See what he’d be missing if he were only on TV?

Likewise, you’re missing lots of people if your business stops at your speaking events.

If you haven’t realized it already, speakers don’t live in the “old world” any more than Conan O’Brien does. Gone are the days when speakers can thrive just by being speakers.

Sure, you must speak and speak well, but don’t stop there.

You are a content creator, and speaking is just one way to deliver your content.

Expand your content system. Have more fun. Reach more people. Make more money.

What do you think? What’s your take on the “2.0” version of life as a speaker? Chime in below!

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