Achieving Competitive Advantage

Over the past few years, NSA member Michael Scott Karpovich, CSP (thanks, “Karp”) has surfaced several issues that are frequently debated within the ranks of NSA members. In an issue of the Motivational Speakers PEG newsletter, Karp strongly suggests that a speaker must risk  in order to succeed.

I found myself nodding with agreement as I read Karp’s article and reflecting on one of my own keynote speeches “Capture Your Competitive Advantage.” The speech includes five secrets to competitive advantage, the first of which is that you must “risk being distinctive.” Sometimes, it’s good to review one of your own speeches to remind yourself about something that is important for you to do.

Think about any entertainer you like. Madonna has been a successful entertainer because she has been on the cutting edge of outrageous. She has an excellent singing voice, but that is not why she has made millions. She risked the fact that not everyone would like her. But a performer does not need to appeal to everyone– just “enough.” Think about politicians. Presidential candidates got into trouble recently when it seemed that they would say whatever the results of the most recent focus group told them to say. It’s the people who are distinctive, originals, “one-of-a-kind”s that stand out in our minds.

And remaining true to one’s distinctive competitive advantage is essential. A second secret to capturing your competitive advantage is to back it up with consistent, insistent, persisent marketing. The best company titles and marketing campaigns reinforce one’s competitive advantage. If you owned a printing company that shared Muhammed Ali’s competitive advantage of being fast, you would want a name like Sir Speedy or Quick Print. We all know companies that have gotten into trouble because they tried to be everything for everybody.

This all sounds logical and should be easy to sustain, huh? But there are definitely aspects of the speaking profession that convey the opposite message to each of us on a daily basis. It’s easy to feel pushed into compliance more and more as bureaus, agents, editors, and others recognize that there is money to be made from partnership relationships with us. I have provided keynote presentations for over a dozen chapters and members have told me that it sometimes feels like we speakers are in an episode of Star Trek with The BORG claiming that “we are one” and “you will all be assimilated.”

Do you have a “one sheet” and does it look essentially the same as everyone else’s? What about your video demo? Is it the standard number of minutes long or do you dare buck the demand for us to all do things the same way? Do you dress the same as every other speaker or is there an entry on a data base somewhere about the color of your finger nails, the style of your shoes, or the way you laugh? I have concluded that high content, female, keynote speakers face a particularly contradictory set of standards.

But think about it. Some of your idiosyncracies may be the very things that have endeared you to your long term clients. There are some bureaus that will never comprehend what you are about. In my case, a few simply don’t work with growth-oriented companies and can not comprehend all that goes into my being “The Growth Strategist” or that truly rapidly growing companies have unique needs. And some meeting planners will not hire a speaker who doesn’t readily fit into the five major “food groups” (sales, humor, motivation, change, and leadership).

I am not advocating that we reject all of the requests for conformity. That only makes sense for those of us whose positioning is that of “contrarians” or we want to be known for being difficult to work with. But there are some differences that are worth standing up for. Wouldn’t it be a shame if a bureau or sales rep spoiled the client’s joy of discovery by over-explaining that Bob Murphy wears a cowboy hat or “warned” the client like it is something to be adapted to or implying that he should change. (Don’t change, Bob.)

In my case, a few bureaus do “get it” and are pleasure to work with. As speakers, we don’t need to partner with every bureau… just “enough.” We each must decide how many bureau partners are “enough,” and it’s important for each of us to select bureaus who:

  • Make an real effort to understand what we do,
  • Build on our strengths rather than over focus on the superficial,
  • Convey pride in representing us and do not plant negative thoughts in the minds of prospects. (Would you keep a sales person if he/she did that to you?)

I have found that great working relationships with a few bureaus is a nice bonus, but we shouldn’t lose ourselves in the courting process.

Speakers, bureaus, agents, editors…all of us need to continue to learn from great distinctive speakers. Would “Karp” be as successful if he didn’t wear his unmatched sneakers? Would Jeffrey Gittomer be Jeffrey Gittomer if his vocabulary matched Namoi Rhode’s? What if Rosita Perez listened when/if someone suggested that she lose the flower in her hair, give up the guitar, and never mention her beloved husband Ray? No doubt someone once told Tom Peters not to wear sweaters or “rant and rave” so much.

Each one learned that when you have been truly distinctive, fewer people even ask for your one sheet or video demo.


Known as The Growth Strategist®, Aldonna R. Ambler, CMC, CSP helps rapidly growing midsized companies (typically $20 – 200 million/year) realize their goal of Achieving Accelerated Growth With Sustained Profitability® through opportunity/resource analysis, executive coaching, strategic working sessions, and her intermediary role regarding growth financing. Her clients are among the brightest, most ambitious business leaders whose names now appear on published lists of the fastest growing privately held corporations. The recipient of 23 prestigious awards for her success as an entrepreneur and industry leader, Ambler hosts a peer-to-peer Internet radio program, aptly called The Growth Strategist®, which features lively interviews with CEOs of midmarket companies who have successfully executed the growth strategy of the week.  She can be reached toll free at 1-888-Aldonna (253-6662), by e-mail at or online at

Growth Strategy Tip


...strong facilitator with a good understanding of the group planning dynamic and able to bring out the best ideas from the group.

William Marino
Horizon BC/BS

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