Over the past 27 years as a growth strategist, working with clients who seek the INC 500 list and through the development of six international businesses, a few guiding principles have been observed.
As speakers, we have so many marvelous opportunities to make a real difference in this world. We speakers have certainly played key roles in REVOLUTIONARY changes such as “the quality movement,” “family values,” and “thinking globally while acting locally.”
In my case, the overall mission has been to be a positive force for economic development. We (AMBLER Growth Strategy Consultants, Inc.) get excited when we see our work result in the creation of real jobs, companies breaking through the barriers to growth, or legislation passed that encourages investment in innovation or growth.
So, the first guiding principal is to always keep our mission in mind.
Whenever I’ve heard a fellow speaker sound depressed or frustrated, most of the time, it also sounds like his/her mission has gotten lost in the midst of all of the expensive activities. Since that can happen so fast in the speaking profession, we are trying to take our own best advice. We start our meetings by reading mission and vision statements. We have posted vision and mission statements on the wall and have performance measures that flow from our vision and mission statements.
The second guiding principal that we learned is to intentionally evolve HOW we act on our mission. We do this by identifying the strategic drivers of our business(es). Sometimes they sneak up on us, but at least we try.
Our consulting/speaking business has gone through at least five distinct phases. So much has changed over the past 27 years. Some of the most significant “strategic drivers” for us have been:
- our desire to relate to client situations and really know about growth strategies beyond the academic level or outsider perspective (which has us to try strategic alliances, joint ventures, geographic expansion, international diversification, an ESOP, etc.)
- our desire to stay focused on the strategic needs of growth oriented businesses, or as we have been known to say, help clients “achieve accelerated growth with sustained profitability” (which was sometimes tough when other consultants and speakers seemed to be doing much better by focusing on performance improvement or downsizing, and the leaders of fast growth companies often jump to the conclusion that they need no help)
- our desire to be a positive force for economic development on a number of fronts (which has led to resource management challenges at times when volunteer economic development initiatives seem to compromise sales time or the creation of the venture capital company postponed my writing a book)
- 3 recessions (which fueled growth for us each time, but that’s another article)
- swings in which industries were conducive to rapid growth (which has led to significant changes in our client mix)
- the wave of women business ownership (which added to our client mix)
- the aging of ambitious baby boomers (especially second and third generation boomers within family businesses)
- technological advancements (which have expanded global thinking and put customer expectations and demands on steroids)
- health considerations of key people in the business (it’s interesting how a breast cancer scare helps your vision)
- my commitment to do at least 120 billable days/yr. (which has kept me interested and up to date but less accessible)
- my desire to own at least one business in which I wasn’t the product (for example, manufacturing auto parts) which led to a ton of learning, some distraction from the core businesses, and too much travel
- our belief that our success is measured by our positive impact on economic development rather than the size of our company or the money we make (which has led to some employees leaving our company in favor of firms that focus more on profit…ironically, we have always paid people well, have had insurance benefits and profit sharing for a long time, and are the ones that did the ESOP)
- our belief that community service needs to be real and not just a line item on our marketing budget (which has had a significant impact on our staffing)
- family commitments (which clearly led to delays in our international expansion)
- my desire to build value and be able to sell the business(es)
- boredom, impatience, curiosity (‘nuf said?)
Hitting Milestones That Triggered New Business or Other Changes
A few examples:
- a degree of success in economic development initiatives (Chairing the NJ delegation for the White House Conference on Small Business was a kick!)
- leadership roles in associations(among so many other things, it led to an invitation to speak at SUCCESS Symposium which really pole-faulted my keynote speaking to a whole new level)
- winning a few prestigious awards for entrepreneurism (which sometimes reduced business referrals because some people were intimidated or incorrectly assumed I would prefer to focus on my businesses rather than theirs)
- helping AT&T with acquisitions of small companies (over time, this led to contracts with 16 of the major telecommunication corporations)
- working with a small client that became part of a consortium that evolved into a roll up of 35 businesses (our first roll up led to others)
- facilitating the dramatic growth of an electrical distributor despite the lingering recession in New England (which has led to referrals, speeches, friendships)
Many business people, including professional speakers, don’t take the time to think about what drives the evolution of their business. I understand the temptation to skip this step because we speakers always have so much on our to-do lists and we can’t predict which clients will be pivotal to our careers. All I can say is that it has certainly been helpful for me to at least try to identify which philosophical, external, personal factors, and trigger events seem to be the premises behind our decisions at the time. At times it feels like we are just guessing, but the exercise usually leads to deep conversation and important resource allocation decisions.
As you can see from our list, some of the strategic drivers have remained constant over the years while others have changed. Some years, personal factors have played a more influential role than I might like to admit. I find it particularly challenging to manage the strategic drivers that sneak up while you are busy acting on something that you thought was more important. I don’t have as many books published as I probably need as a keynote speaker because of preceding priorities.
Are There Additional Questions To Ask Because We Are Speakers?
As strategic drivers shift and we evolve, the answers to these speaker-related questions may shift to:
- What Part Do You Play in the REVOLUTION? (Are You a Preacher, a Teacher, or an Entertainer?)
- From What Basis Are You Speaking? (Why Do You Deserve to Be on the Platform?)
- Who Else is with You as a Speaker on the Platform?
What Part Do You Play in the Revolution?
Some of us address REVOLUTION directly when we make impassioned pleas for Improved Ethics or Personal Accountability. Some of us contribute to the REVOLUTION by strengthening other peoples’ skills of Communication, Sales, or Change Management, and some of us help through Humor or Inspiration which sustains people as THEY contribute to the REVOLUTION. Are you a preacher, a teacher, or an entertainer?
Yeah, yeah. I know. We have all seen entertaining teachers or humorous preachers. It’s often useful to borrow techniques from other segments of the industry, but we have all seen a talented teacher try his/her hand at an inspirational speech and fall flat. The techniques may be there yet something remains missing. Beneath the techniques, are you a preacher, a teacher, or an entertainer? So far, I have primarily been a teacher.
From what basis are you speaking?
Past National Speakers Association (NSA) presidents Naomi Rhode and Dr. Jim Hennig believe that it is a privilege to be on the platform, and we must arrive there in a spirit of service. Do you deserve to be on the platform because you can synthesize lots of information and convey it in a way that others can understand and retain it, or should the platform be yours because you have accomplished something most people could not have done or would not have tried? Should others listen to you because you have a unique perspective, theory, or approach? My preference to speak from a position of having both academic knowledge and the “been there/done that” perspective helps me relate to business audiences and is behind some major business commitments.
Who else is with you as a speaker on the platform?
Do you arrive at the platform as a scholar, a community leader, an athlete, a parent, a survivor? Whether we preach, teach or entertain when we’re on the platform, we are all more than just speakers. As much as I admire the craft of a well-honed speech, it seems that some of the weakest speeches are provided by people who view themselves only as speakers.
My challenges as a speaker are due in part by my choices to specialize in accelerated growth with sustained profitability, create multiple businesses, operate on an international scale, be so involved in economic development initiatives, and the need to manage a degenerative spinal disease.
Like you, my choices place me behind the progress of some other speakers and ahead of some others. Your challenges may be related to your choices to become a parent, care for an aging relative, or emphasize personal stories in your speaking.
Even if it seems clear that our contribution to the REVOLUTION lies in our speeches, tapes, books, media appearances, and consulting, we all have the challenge of extracting those things from moving targets… ourselves. To me, managing our EVOLUTION as professionals is one of our most challenging and important responsibilities. Seeking answers to five questions seems to help.
- What is your vision and mission?
- What are your strategic drivers? (philosophical, external, personal, and milestones)
- Are you a preacher, a teacher, or an entertainer?
- From what basis are you speaking? or Why do you deserve the platform?
- Who else is with you as a speaker on the platform?
Aldonna Ambler helps companies ACHIEVE ACCELERATED GROWTH WITH SUSTAINED PROFITABILITY. She brings both academic knowledge and a “been there/done that” perspective based on her 27 years as an award winning entrepreneur and business advocate. In 1997, she became the 10th person in the world to have earned both the CSP (certified speaking professional) and CMC (certified management consultant) professional designations.