When is it Time to Reinvent?
Step back periodically to view your business and seize opportunities for change.
In challenging economic times, many speakers ask, “What should I do now?” They could throw everything out, start over and completely reinvent themselves. But, based on the collective wisdom of some of the best minds in the speaking business, a complete overhaul might not be the most productive approach to reinvention.
Some people consider me the grand master of the dramatic reinvention. One person asks, “What’s Calloway doing now?” Another replies, “I don’t know. I haven’t heard him speak in over a week. I’m sure he’s moved on to something else.”
It might come as a surprise to many that I have been speaking on improving business performance for more than 20 years. Before that, I was a motivational speaker. And before that, I was a trainer on a wide range of topics. Even then, my programs were designed for business audiences, so I haven’t reinvented myself away from my established groove. But my expertise and the delivery of that expertise has evolved over the years. This reinvention process has been natural, ongoing growth, rather than a series of dramatic events in which the old is discarded in favor of something shiny and new.
Focus and Reinvent
Jane Atkinson of Speaker Launcher, who has worked as a business development coach with some of the top speakers in the business, views reinvention as a process.
“The process I see with the top 3 percent of speakers is to focus and then reinvent,” Atkinson says. “Focus on one brand, one lane, one idea for three or four years (the time frame varies) and then shake things up.”
Atkinson’s time line closely matches my own reinvention process. In one major reinvention, I changed my focus significantly from motivational speaking to business speaking. Since then, I have stuck with—as Jane says—“one brand, one lane and one idea.”
I shake things up every three or four years with subtle shifts; for example, I moved from speaking on how businesses deal with change to the topic of improving customer experience. That evolved into branding, which shifted into culture, mind-set and innovation. All of this occurred within the “brand” or “lane” of improving performance in business.
“Reinvention may not mean scrapping your existing lane altogether,” Atkinson says. “It could be subtle shifts: A leadership expert hones in on steering change or building innovative culture. A sales expert chooses to focus on closing skills.”
Reframe versus Reinvent
Sometimes reinvention can take you too far from your roots, as in the case of leadership expert and speaker Wendy Mack. For eight years, Mack ran a successful training firm, but was bored with teaching the same courses over and over. She was using other people’s ideas more often than her own, and she felt she had limited influence as a “trainer.”
“Since my goal is to be one of the 100 top thought leaders in the field of leadership, I started writing books, articles and blogs,” Mack says. “I stopped doing most of the training classes I was known for, and emphasized speaking in my marketing materials.”
Was Mack’s dramatic reinvention successful? Well, not exactly.
“The phone stopped ringing,” Mack says. “Even people who praised my writing didn’t know what to hire me for.
“Only recently have I realized that I threw the baby out with the bath water,” Mack says. “Ninety percent of my supporters and advocates are in learning and development! My favorite forum is not the main stage; it’s working on real issues with 50 to 100 leaders from one company in a workshop setting. I’m learning that the key to my success is not complete reinvention as much as it is reframing.”
Grow Where You Are
Randy Pennington, CSP, CPAE, agrees with the idea that the best place to reinvent or grow is right where you are.
“Before you run off and reinvent what you offer to the market, invest some time and energy reinventing how your current offering provides usable and visible value,” Pennington says. “It seems to me that the really successful folks continuously evolve to better serve their clients and who they are at that time.”
Pennington believes that reinvention “is simply the continuing process of discovering your strengths and bringing them to market in the most effective ways.”
“Some of what we think of as ‘reinvention’ may be just finding the space in which you are most effective,” Pennington says. “If you are constantly evolving in a way that serves your clients and positions you for the future, reinvention is a natural evolution. If you are not being intentional about growth and positioning, you have to ‘reinvent’ to catch up.”
Visibility and marketing expert David Avrin has a similar perspective. “Reinvention is not about throwing out all the old and starting over,” he says. “It’s about building on past insights, bolstering content, infusing presentations with timely references, and enhancing your perspective to make it imminently ‘fundable.’ You are smarter and wiser today than you were last year. You know more, you’ve experienced more, and gained fresh insight based on your ongoing experiences of what works and what doesn’t in life, love, work and relationships.”
The Market Demands It
Speakers who have high bookings in a changing economy are constantly reinventing and evolving, according to Brian Palmer, National Speakers Bureau. “The people we book over a generation are constantly evolving what they say and how they help customers achieve their event aspirations.”
Reinvention is not about the next “hot topic” as much as it’s about continuing to develop your expertise. Rich Gibbons, Speak Inc., says, “I’m always circumspect about the speakers who ask, ‘What are the hot topics these days? What should I speak about?’ I feel that’s the tail wagging the dog. I want to respond, ‘Shouldn’t you know what subject matter is most personal to you?’”
Gibbons adds, “The reason a company hires a speaker in the first place is to glean insight from that person’s optics and wisdom on a given topic based on his life experience and conviction. The speaker is passionate on the topic when he cares about it. Audiences have a nose for someone spewing hollow platitudes versus someone leaning into an idea because he believes in it.”
It is a mistake to reinvent simply because your business is down or you are on a quest for that next hot topic.
“Reinventing rarely works as a reactive strategy,” Pennington says. “If you are reinventing because you don’t have any business, that is probably a sign that you didn’t make your focus relevant to customer needs from the outset or you haven’t kept growing.”
What’s in it for me?
For many successful speakers, the evolutionary reinvention process is as much for personal gratification as for market positioning.
Reinvention is not so much a question of “Why should I reinvent?” as much as “Why shouldn’t I reinvent?” “Reinvention is as much for the speaker as the client,” Atkinson says. “We need to breathe some new energy into our businesses. And it’s a good reason for a website makeover.”
Unfortunately, too many speakers view reinvention as a daunting and painful prospect, according to Avrin. “In reality, change is a gift. Growth is energizing—not just for you, but for your audiences as well. Continuously sharing new content, new approaches and teachings relays not just what you know, but what you’ve learned.
Create and Evaluate
Whether your personal reinvention process is one of tweaking, or involves a major teardown and rebuilding, it’s a matter of being able to take a fresh look at what you do. You have to step outside of yourself with a new perspective of what you’re doing and why.
Speaker Joy Baldridge, CSP, CPC, sums up the reinvention process: “Reinvention means being open to a new perspective on obtaining and sustaining success. A speaker should stand back and look at what he is doing with fresh eyes. What does he see? What does he like? What would he change? Minor change can result in major impact. The key is to change before it is necessary. Doing this allows more freedom without pressure. Create, evaluate and watch what evolves.”
Reinvention Do’s and Don’ts
- Constantly develop your expertise. In the past year, everything has changed: your clients, the market, technology, society. Your expertise must keep pace with the changing landscape.
- Look at what you do with fresh eyes. Ask colleagues, current and past clients, and clients who chose not to work with you: “How would you describe or define what I do?” Their answers may be the catalyst for further evolutionary reinvention.
- Evaluate your expertise in terms of today’s market. Always ask: “Am I telling this audience anything that they don’t already know?” If the audience can obtain your information from other speakers, you run the risk of becoming a commodity.
- Chase the next hot topic. By changing topics in a never-ending quest to be relevant, the market will see you as irrelevant and find a speaker who is grounded in his expertise.
- Abandon everything that you’ve worked years to build unless you are completely burned out. Regain enthusiasm and increase your value to clients by narrowing your focus or changing delivery channels.
- Kid yourself about the value of your offerings. If you think your speech is great but you can’t get work, you may need to reinvent. Listen to what the market says and deliver real value.