How to make more money as a speaker by doing less

Updated to Business on December 14, 2022.

Some things in life are delightfully counter-intuitive. Like the most expensive entrees are also the smallest, we equate vulnerability with strength, and exercising when you are tired can give you more energy.

Here’s something else that’s counter-intuitive.

When you present to an audience, the less you do the more valuable you can become.

Let me explain.

When I started my career on stage and in the corporate classroom I assumed more was better. More lessons, examples, Powerpoint slides and stories. More, more, more!

Just like the cheesy infomercial salesman shouting “But, wait! There’s more.” I always had one more lesson I wanted to include.

I assumed volume delivered was somehow related to value given. 

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

The reality is that one well-chosen, highly relevant lesson or insight, well-delivered, is worth 10 random lessons delivered in machine-gun fashion.

It’s easy to find proof of this. 

** Think about a favorite movie: how much of it do you remember?

** Think about a favorite self-help book: how many lessons do you remember or have applied in your life?

The only way to have real impact on your audience is to find the few (very few) lessons that are absolutely most relevant and deliver them in the most memorable way. Nothing else will stick.

Here’s how to do that.

1. Find the problem

It’s easy to think your audience wants to learn as much as possible. After all, you are brilliant and bursting with amazing insights on work, life, health, time management, or returning to work.

But you’d be wrong.

What every audience wants is a solution to their (mostly undefined) problem. The better you get at narrowing your focus to ONE BIG problem the more valuable you become. 

“He who cannot describe the problem will never find the solution” – Confucius

I’ve had a conference full of nurses tired of feeling like a slave to everyone else. Lawyers who don’t trust their colleagues. Salespeople who felt threatened by bosses. And administrators afraid of coaching their team members.

Instead of chasing all the issues my clients might list, I would always look for the single, hottest, most debilitating issue and put the majority of my attention there.

2. Find the (best) solution

Once you know what your audience needs, your job is to nail the problem with a solution they can act on now and months later.

A mistake I made for too many years was to teach with options. If you want to plan your day better, here are 7 ways to do that. If you want to have a better work/life balance try these 10 proven practices. You get the idea—it’s a list-making exercise that probably goes nowhere.

Instead, find the best solution and teach that.

“Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.” – Theodore Roosevelt

If you want to write more and better, Steven King promotes writing 1,000 words every morning. If you want to feel pumped up for your day, Mel Robbins teaches the High Five Habit. And if you want to block time in your day, nobody has it more dialed than Cal Newport.

Notice, that all three examples are simple, single solutions that are memorable. Of course, there are exceptions, options, circumstances, and reasons that these won’t work. But, that’s not the point.

The point of a well-delivered lesson is to hit a home run 70-80% of the time and not worry about the misses.

Find your solution, make it simple, and then learn how to deliver it brilliantly (and nobody will notice what’s missing).

3. Tell a story

When you tell a story your audience creates a movie in their mind. They don’t have a choice – we all do it. That movie is sticky—far more sticky than a bunch of clever words or Powerpoint slides. 

When you attach a lesson to that movie, now you have a sticky lesson people can recall weeks – even years – later. 

“Storytelling is the most powerful way to put ideas into the world today.” – Robert McKee 

I always start my habit-building skills lesson by telling my story of picking up garbage while training for the Ironman competition. It’s funny, visual, and sticky.

I kick off my mindset lesson with the story about Mohammed, the taxi driver, who bought me lunch. For the ask-for-what-you-want lesson, it was the story about getting free taxi rides. 

Even years later, I’ve met audience members who will recount one of my stories and share how it helped them. I would never hear about any other lesson—only ones attached to stories.

And here’s the thing. You don’t need to climb Everest or be an Olympic athlete to have great stories. In fact, it’s easier for your audience to relate to more pedestrian stories. 

Your job is to get great at telling stories that relate to your lesson.

4. Create an experience

Photo by FORTYTWO on Unsplash

A third of your audience learns by doing. These are your kinaesthetic learners. They need to put their hand up, write a note, talk with a partner or stand up. 

“You don’t understand anything until you learn it more than one way.” – Marvin Minsky

If possible, create an experience to anchor your lesson. One of the simplest, bomb-proof experiences is for one partner to teach the other person. It can sound like this: “Turn to your partner and take 30 seconds to share how you would use this lesson back at the office.”

You might have a world of experience and 100 slides of great content, but that’s not what your audience needs. 

If you want to make an impact in their work or life and you want to be remembered for doing that, take a blunt knife, cut out 80% of your content and then deliver what’s left as if your life depended on it. 

Your career certainly might.