I put myself in the category of motivational speakers, but I really consider myself an artist – of the spoken word. Sounds fancy – maybe it's better just to say a storyteller – but artist just the same. I really do look at my words much as a musician would look at a piece of music, or an artist a blank canvas. And like many artists, I see my work as something I create for the sake of creation – something that comes from inside of me – created with no care as to whether you like it or want it or approve it. That's art. It's our way of telling the world that we were here – of expressing our view of life – of showing the spirit that is within us. If you're an artist, you get it. You don't do it just because you can, you do it because you can't imagine not doing it. And finding someone who wants to buy that art is just an unexpected outcome. I am very blessed that I am able to make money at my art, and wake up every day doing what comes most naturally to me, and having people pay me for that. But when the art became a business, I learned an important lesson about something business people call their market – and motivational speakers call their audience.
When this became a business, it became about using my art to serve someone else. And in order to get their attention, and be paid for my work, I had to craft my message to fit their need. If the art I created didn't fit their need, then it wasn't my place to push it on them – but to set it out there and see who it would draw in. If nobody was interested, then it was my job (as a business person) to craft it differently – to change my craft, without changing what I love about my craft. Confusing, I know. Or maybe it makes all the sense in the world to you artists who are in the same position. I still have the luxury of creating art for creation's sake – and I take advantage of that as often as I can – with no concern over who likes it or wants it. But to turn it into a business, I have to meet the needs of my market. And therein lies the subtle yet vital shift. A shift that many people never make. The shift to them – your market – your audience – the ones whose needs you are serving. And, surprisingly, many business people are making the same mistake.
I hear actors and musicians being interviewed and addressing the struggle between doing what they want to do as an artist, and doing what will get them paid. David Baldacci is one of my favorite authors. He came out with a novel, well into his career, that was completely diferent from his regular MO. Wish You Well is a beautiful novel about a family dealing with tragedy while living with their grandmother in the mountains. It had the same flavor to me of To Kill A Mockingbird. And I was so surprised to see that it was Baldacci's. And even more surprised to read his quote, "This was the story I was born to tell." Many of us artists are caught in that place between doing the things that we love and doing what our market loves for us to do – or finding out how to brilliantly do both.
Eventually, speakers come to a place where they feel the need to evolve – to reinvent – to take it to the next level – to jump outside a comfort zone. Maybe it's because their phone has stopped ringing. Maybe it's because they see a shift in the world around them. For whatever reason, reinvention is GREAT! And it is crucial if you want to stay relevant, and stay paid. The problem is that many people go through that reinvention stage internally, without ever giving thought to the important external component – the market. This isn't just art. We can't afford to build it and see if they will come. That can cost us valuable time and money.
If your reinvention process is completely inward – you are making a big mistake.
Reinventing ourselves doesn't come from within, it comes from our market. They tell us who they need us to be. Don't hear me say that I want you to become something you're not. But do hear me say that this isn't about what you want to give them – this is about what they want to buy – and how they want to communicate with you – and how they want messages delivered – and the package they want it delivered in.
I spent a lot of years deciding what I wanted to sell the world. And I still fall into that habit every now and then, of saying, "It's time for me to evolve and reinvent – I think this is what I'll be next" without ever listening to what my market is already telling me that they need me to be.
How do you know what your market wants from you? If you are asking this question, then you don't have a strong line of communication between yourself and your market. You don't have policies in place to know what they are really thinking. Or you're not listening. There are so many means of getting to know your audience (in person, Facebook, evaluations, from the client, by sitting with them before and after you speak, by offering follow up, by being present instead of being shuffled off to your green room) that you really don't have an excuse. They are telling you. You just aren't listening.
Reinvent From The Outside In
Before you completely rebrand or decide to deliver your next speech doing a handstand, take some time to just be quiet and listen to your market. Don't be so busy deciding what you want to give them next, that you can't hear them whisper what they need.
It's not about what you think you're worth – but what your market perceives your value to be. If you let your market reinvent you, then you have just increased your worth in their eyes.
For all you artists out there worried that you're selling out on your art – then quit trying to sell it, and go back to just doing it. Embrace your art for art's sake. But if you're intent on making this a business, get over it – or find a way to do both. It's not as hard as you think. Just listen.