Powerful stories

I spent the day yesterday with a wonderful client who is exploring how he might develop a successful, sustained professional speaking career.  We began, as we always do, discussing the idea.

That’s where a speaking career begins.  It doesn’t begin with the money, or the desire to perform on a stage, or the need for the love of audiences.  All those things may follow, and all are potentially important aspects of a speaking career.  But the idea is where you need to start.

Following closely on the idea is the audience with whom you want to share the idea.  The two are integrally related.  Ideas beget audiences and audiences beget ideas.  Neither can exist without the other.  So you have to talk about both, almost at the same time, but we start with the idea because that’s where the passion resides, and you need passion to take you the distance.

Now, this client proposed at least three related ideas, and at least three potential audiences.  He wanted to do all of them.  Not because he was megalomaniacal, or grandiose, or ego-driven.  But because he was genuinely passionate about his overall idea, deeply believed in its importance, and very much wanted to share it with the world.

Those are good impulses.  But it was my job to help him choose one idea and one audience, as counter-intuitive as that sounds.  Wouldn’t that narrow his potential impact, scope, and revenue?

No.  It’s the way the world works, today.  We are information-addled, over-busy digital creatures today, and when you want to get our attention, you have to narrow down your message, your brand, and your persona into a crisp, graspable bite-size chunk that we can get quickly.  No half-baked, multi-faceted, renaissance personas need apply.  They just won’t get traction.

So your first job, if you want to make an impact on this world, now, is to choose your idea and your audience and make them both specific enough that they scare you a little.  That’s where you need to start.

Of course, if you become wildly successful, you can extend your brand, branch out into new territory, cut the soles off your sandals and learn to play the flute.  Whatever you want.  But while you’re getting traction, keep choosing.  Narrow it down.  Pick one idea and one audience.


  1. Couldn’t agree more. It took me about 2 years to narrow down my idea but I gained a lot of inspiration and insight from TED Talks, more specifically the strap line “Ideas Worth Spreading”. And I think companies should consider what their ‘idea’ might be that sits above the machinery of what they do.

    1. Thanks, Andrew, for your comment. I like your point about companies — the thinking absolutely applies to organizations too!

  2. It reminds me of Curly and Mitch in City Slickers – how do you face your problems – by singling out the “one thing”

    Curly: Do you know what the secret of life is?
    [holds up one finger]
    Curly: This.
    Mitch: Your finger?
    Curly: One thing. Just one thing. You stick to that and the rest don’t mean nothing.
    Mitch: But, what is the “one thing?”
    Curly: [smiles] That’s what *you* have to find out.

    What’s the one thing? And that’s the hard thing! I am too trying to find that one thing to speak about and it’s tough because you find, with a little research, that your “one thing” is someone elses! I believe though that even then, your perspective on the same subject can bring an insight that another can’t.

    Thanks for a thought provoking post.

    1. Love it! Thanks, Peter. That one thing is yours because the idea is leavened with your perspective. No one else can bring that.

  3. Great message in this blog…sounds like the end of the generalist and the rise of the specialist. Thanks for the clear, concise call to action!

  4. Nick,

    Great post.

    You are suggesting that he has to choose a persona and audience with specificity because we as readers are looking to filter out our content through the noise.
    I agree with advice, but I am not sure it is really about what the readers want. I think it is about building a specific, valuable audience. I expect picking speakers for most paid events is not unlike picking influencers for a brand or blog– organizers seek to find those with relevant expertise who hopefully already touch your prospective audience in some way, in order to attract them to attend the event. TED type talks, made up of brilliant but often unknown experts are in the minority.

    So maybe it is not really about what the audience wants, it is about who the person who is hiring the speaker wants to attract. They have many choices and it is probably easier if the prospective speaker just talks about one thing and reaches a specific audience.

    However I’d say the most successful speakers/influencers, and the ones who really make money and become keynote speakers, are those who manage NOT to only get known for only one thing, like Tim Ferriss, because by definition they reach a broader audience.

    1. Thanks, Andrew — thoughtful, as usual. I would agree with most of it. Those successful keynoters begin by becoming known for one thing. Once Tim Ferriss published the 4-hour work week, and bought all those copies himself, he established the platform and was able to extend it.

  5. Thanks Nick for that post.
    I completely agree with your thoughts.
    Those first essential steps are the most difficult ones, it’s building your career as you built your home. First, choose the location – your idea- then start the foundations -your audience- and after few years think to add renovations and extensions to your home.
    Pick one idea and one audience!
    That’s where I am with my coach, and it’s HARD.
    In French we say «Choisir c’est mourir un peu» To chose it’s to die a bit,………. I don’t want a diiiiiiie 🙂

    1. Thanks for the comment, M. Hubert! The French always have the perfect saying for the occasion, and I love that one. Many thanks, again.

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