Creativity & Innovation: Your Keys to a Successful Speaking Career


One way to get the attention of meeting planners is to talk about creativity and innovation in your speech. But that’s not enough if you’re aiming for long-term success. You need to be creative and innovative with your current topic. After being in the speaking business for more than 30 years, I’ve observed that the speakers who have done the best over the long haul — those who are always booked, who continue to receive their full fees and who have grown their business over time regardless of the economy — are those who are the most creative and innovative. These speakers don’t copy what others do; instead, they adapt innovative ideas from others and come up with a unique outlook and application for themselves. They tend to distance themselves from the competition rather than compete with them. If they see someone copying their material, they create new and better material. Would you like to be one of those speakers? You can be. When you apply creativity and innovation to your topic — the topic you have the most credibility with and the topic you are most passionate about—you are able to stay ahead of a changing marketplace and the competition.


Creativity is a function of knowledge, imagination and evaluation. The greater your knowledge base, the more ideas, patterns and combinations you can achieve. But merely having the knowledge does not guarantee the formation of new patterns. The bits and pieces must be shaken up and iterated in new ways. Then, the embryonic ideas must be evaluated and developed into usable ones. In other words, there is a process to creativity. To help you master that process, you first must understand three important levels of creativity — discovery, invention and creation.


The lower level of creativity is discovery. Just as the name implies, it’s when you become aware of or stumble upon something. Consider discovered art. It might be a rock with a unique shape or a piece of wood with an interesting pattern. If you have ever purchased a piece of natural stone or wood art, that art was discovered art. Many inventions start with a discovery.


A higher level of creativity is invention. For example, Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone. But ask yourself, “Would the telephone have been invented without Bell?” The answer is yes. Eventually, the telephone would have been invented because the science was there. It might have taken longer, but it would have happened. So, while invention is higher than discovery, it’s something that is going to happen. If you don’t invent it, someone else will.


Creation is the highest level of creativity. For example, the stage play Othello is genuinely a creation. Elizabethan drama would have gone on without Shakespeare, but no one else would have written Othello. Similarly, there are things that only you can create! A signature story based on a personal experience that makes a profound point is a great speaking example. Without you, the story would not exist. Here’s another example of how this applies to speakers: At a conference you might discover a tool, a technology or a process that you didn’t know before. That discovery helps you work better. After some time, that discovery may also spur an innovative idea of how to apply the discovery. You may then use your innovative idea as an inspiration that yields something never seen before, something you create that helps you and your clients. That’s how the three levels of creativity can work together. Realize that creativity and innovation are different. Creativity refers to generating new and novel ideas. Innovation refers to the application of an idea and, in many cases, is collaborative. So, in other words, innovation is applied creativity. Or if I put my creative speaker hat on, I might say, “Creativity is a bio-electrical thunderstorm that precipitates an inescapable notion.”


How can you develop your creativity and use it to innovate so you’re not competing with other speakers? So, you’re not copying what others do? So, you’re not chasing the hottest new subject and never quite catching it? People often ask me what the new hot topic is for speakers to address. My answer: There are a lot of hot topics, but if you’re not amazing at them, then they’re not going to work for you. The secret is to identify and leverage the inner you; that’s what makes your speeches and books come to life. You have to tap into that inner magic that comes from deep inside of you. And that magic is tied more to a gift than a talent. Let’s face it … we all have multiple talents, but the key is to understand that we also have a unique gift. Some people have drifted into speaking using their talents, and they have been struggling because there are others who are equally talented and can do the same thing. No matter how hard they try, they eventually get to a ceiling they can’t seem to break through, and I would suggest that’s because they’re in the “talent zone.” Talent relates to competency, not your unique inner magic, and it can only take you so far. To maximize your talents, you have to identify your unique gift. Once you identify your true gift, you can then direct your talents to support the gift. That’s when your creativity and innovation — and ultimately, your career — really soar. I used my talents to start five companies before using my gift to start Burrus Research. The other companies did very well, but in the end, they were holding me back. I was so busy using my talents that I had no time to discover and use my gift. Once I identified my gift and made my talents support my gift, I was able to create Burrus Research. As a result, my speaking, writing and consulting business has been growing for more than 30 years, even during several recessions.


Now that you understand the various levels of creativity and the importance of having your talents support your unique gift, you can implement some strategies that will boost your creativity and innovation.

  1. Truly innovative speakers have developed their ability to observe and use all of their senses, which can dull over time. Take time to “sharpen the blade” and take everything in.
  2. Innovation is based on knowledge. Therefore, you need to continually expand your knowledge base. Read things you don’t normally read.
  3. Your perceptions may limit your reasoning. Be careful about how you’re perceiving things. Defer judgment.
  4. Practice guided imagery so you can “see” a concept come to life.
  5. Let your ideas “incubate” by taking a break from them. For example, when I’m working on a big business project, one of the best things I can do to take a break from it is play my guitar or the flute for a few minutes, or take a ride on my motorcycle. It shifts my brain into another place and helps me be more innovative and creative.
  6. Experience as much as you can. Exposure puts more ideas into your subconscious. I actively seek out new experiences to broaden my experience portfolio.
  7. Treat patterns as part of the problem. Recognizing a new pattern is very useful, but be careful not to become part of it.
  8. Redefine the problem completely. I always say, “Your problem is not the problem; there is another problem. When you define the real problem, you can solve it and move on.” After all, if you had correctly defined the real problem, you would have solved it long ago.
  9. Look where others aren’t looking to see what others aren’t seeing.
  10. Come up with ideas at the beginning of the innovation process … and then stop. Many times we come up with several ideas and start innovating, and then we come up with more ideas and never get any single idea done. At some point, you have to turn off the idea generation part of the process and really work on the innovation and execution part to bring a project to life.


The more creative and innovative you are, the more long-term success you’ll achieve. So, rather than chasing creativity and innovation as the next hot topic to pursue, bring creativity and innovation to what you’re currently doing. When you do, you’ll connect not only with your audience, but also with the real, authentic, gifted you.

THE Creative TYPE

Do you have what it takes to be creative? Creative people share certain traits. A creative person:

• Functions on the edge of confidence

• Lives on the edge of uncertainty

• Thrives on novelty

• Is tolerant of ambiguity

• Is optimistic about the future

• Is open to alternatives

• Daydreams

• Is independent

• Is persistent

• Is highly motivated

• Is skeptical

• Takes risks

• Has a strong sense of humor

• Uses hunches, instincts and emotions to make decisions

• Is curious and observant

• Has multiple interests

• Constantly exposes themselves to new ideas, information and experiences

• Is non-conformist

• Has a tremendous sense of commitment

• Is always exchanging ideas with colleagues

Daniel Burrus

Daniel Burrus

Founder and CEO at Burrus Research
Daniel Burrus, CSP, CPAE, is considered one of the world’s leading technology forecasters and innovation experts, and is the founder and CEO of Burrus Research, a research and consulting firm that monitors global advancements in technology driven trends to help clients understand how technological, social and business forces are converging to create enormous untapped opportunities.
Daniel Burrus
Daniel Burrus
Daniel Burrus
Daniel Burrus

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