This transcript is from Episode 38 of The Savvy Event Planner Podcast
To listen to this podcast, please visit: http://SavvyEventPodcast.com/38
Interview only transcript
Tom: Folks, I'm on the line with Michel Neray. Michel, thank you so much for taking the time to come on the podcast today.
Michel: Hey, my pleasure.
Tom: I'd like to start by finding out a little bit about your background. Can you give us an idea of how you got involved in the speaking industry?
Michel: How far back do you want me to go?
Tom: Well you were born a baby.
Michel: That's true. No, well you know I tell you, for the listeners make it relevant. I used to run my own ad agency and when I was working with the big national ad agencies, I worked on the big corporate stuff, the big client stuff, then I went down and I became a freelance copywriter. But because I have an MBA and because I had creative writing experience my clients kept on, I could speak the business language but I also understood creative development, so my clients kept on giving me more and more work, ended up growing my own ad agency.
We were literally on the bleeding edge of technology. I think my company was, if not the first, one of the first marketing firms to embrace the web. We were building websites in 1993. I launched the world's first online searchable directory of professionals, of creative professionals in 1995, so I got invited to a whole bunch of conferences to speak at them and I would do what everybody else did. At the time I was an expert on branding, an expert on differentiation, especially but the feedback that I always got from my audiences was “Michel it was really motivational.” And I got to tell you, at first I was actually a little bit affronted. I said, “I'm not a motivational speaker. Don't call me a motivational speaker. I'm an expert in branding, etcetera, etcetera.”
But I kept on getting that feedback and I really took a look at myself and I asked myself “Well what was I doing that was different?” And really what I was doing, I was doing a few things differently. One, was that I was really sharing my personal stories as part of my presentation, which is what any good speaker should do but again the way I was doing it; the second thing is I was really blending the personal and professional for the audience as well. So in other words when I talk about differentiation I don't just talk about corporate differentiation but I talk about personal differentiation and that got everybody thinking about that and walking out of the room saying “Oh, what is it about me particularly that makes me great at what I do, even if everybody else in this room has the same job title on their business card?”
So that kind of grew into my becoming more…I embraced that whole notion that what I do is not only provide solid content, but it's a big part of what I do is I allow people, I help people walk out of the room with a real great sense of who they are, what they do that's unique and what makes them different, better than anybody else that does what they do. I don't know if that's more of an answer that you asked for but that's how did I get into speaking, that's basically it.
Tom: That's great. In fact that covers exactly where we wanted to go because usually you're hired by event planners and companies to come in and inspire their people at events. And today our audience is event planners and I'm really hoping you can share some tips and help inspire them in relationship to just what we talked about. Now what are the…in episode 32 of the podcast, I interviewed Emily Chalk, who is an event planner and she talked about pulling branding into an event and that really made me think that branding is something so important not just for an event or for pulling into a client's event but also for the event planners themselves and so I'm hoping we can talk a little bit about figuring out branding today if we can.
Michel: Yeah and you know what, interestingly enough, I remember facilitating a workshop for a group of event planners and the key of that exercise or that workshop that I did was actually help…and I know that I'm just sidestepping your question just for a second but it's relevant, what the point of that workshop was helping each individual event planner figure out what makes them different, better or what's their point of differentiation as an event planner and it was cool because when I started, when I walked into the room at the beginning of the afternoon, even I was thinking “Oh my God this is going to be the one time where this exercise doesn't work, because hey, listen, we're all event planners in here.”
What they ended up leaving with was “Oh my God I have a personal passion or area of interest or area of expertise that I really wasn't aware of and that makes me…I'm not just an event planner but I'm an event planner that one of a…” To give you an example, one of them “I'm really great at the crowd control and the intake.” Another one was saying, “I'm really great at looking at the agreements although the terms and conditions that everybody else glosses over and they hate.” Somebody else says, “I'm really great at selecting the speakers, I'm really great at…” whatever. There were a thousand things that you need to do as part of an event and each one walked in to the room thinking “We're all event planners.” They walked out of the room thinking, “Oh my God, this makes it so much better for me to know A: what I do better than anyone else but who to collaborate with in the areas that maybe I'm not as good or interested in.”
And it's the same context. Now let me transition to events in general, it's the same, the whole branding. We live in a world. I talk to you about me being part of the whole internet thing since 1993. We now live in a world where we are competing, we thought competition was tough 30 years ago. Holy cow. Are we ever in competition now? Because we're in competition with everybody all over the world all the time. Even a live event has the opportunity to attract people from different parts of the world and so we are in competition with other events in other parts of the world. I just got booked for a conference in Jamaica, isn't that cool?
Tom: Hey mon.
Michel: Yeah. And it's a business conference and it's for Jamaicans, they brought me in, but you know what? They're people in all the Caribbean countries that they're drawing from and also they're drawing from the ex-pat Jamaicans who are now living in North American and in other parts of the world, so that's the kind of world we live in. So when I talk about differentiation being…and in fact, one of my topics is differentiation as a platform for leadership that's really what it is, it's differentiation is at the core of absolutely everything we do, anything, and it holds true for conferences, sales events, whatever it is, unless people are forced to go in company events or like that, even there you want to make, you want to brand the event as unique in one way or another. And so what you have to give up is “We're not going to try…”
I mean we've heard this before you can't be all things to all people and that's absolutely true but the more we understand how important differentiation is the more we have to understand it's that little, it's those little differentiators, what the things that most of us gloss over, we think “Oh, no they're too trivial to really make a difference” but those things are that are too trivial to make a difference are the things that make all the difference because in the game of differentiation we're all trained to think that in big picture, the highest level benefit etcetera, etcetera; all those old marketing maxims that we've been taught to believe. But guess what? In a crowded world all those big benefits are taken. So you got to dig deeper and slice and dice the market and bring out those smaller differentiators that end up making the biggest difference in terms of your, what sets you apart from all the other people, events, products, services that at least on the surface claim to do the same thing that you do. Make sense, Tom?
Tom: It makes perfect sense and I joked about the “Hey mon” but I love Jamaica, great place, and I didn't want anybody going “Hey, what was that about?” You'll have a blast down there. I assume you've been before?
Michel: Hey listen, this is the third time they've invited me back, so I must be doing something right.
Tom: Well yeah.
Michel: It's a great place. We have a tendency in North America to think that we're the only ones who know how to do things right. I got to tell you these smart people, nicest people that I'll ever meet, well-educated, sophisticated, great, just a good climate.
Tom: Very cool.
Tom: Now we were talking about and actually you kind of went to a question I was going to ask a little bit later on but that's fine because I'm turning to you, you're the expert. We're talking about small little things can make the difference. Can you give us an idea of how we discover exactly what makes us or our events different? Is there a tool or is there something that our listeners could take and do as an exercise?
Michel: Well so, maybe the best way to do…this is an exercise that I do and I call the…you know what Tom? Can I do something interactive here I know we're not going to wait for responses but for the people listening to this I'd love for you to pull out a piece of paper, a real piece of paper with a real pen or pencil, old fashioned style and take this 5-minute or 3-minute exercise? Let's do this. Will you bear with me on this?
Tom: We can do this as long as they're not driving.
Michel: All right, good one. So here's what I'm going to ask everybody to do. Get a piece of paper and a pen, turn your paper landscape and put a vertical line down the middle so that you separate it into two halves, a right side and a left side. And so that's it, just do that. And now on the left side I want to take people through a little thought experiment and the thought experiment goes like this; and of course everybody needs to adapt it, I'll give you a couple of examples but you need to adapt it the way that makes sense for you, because everybody's a bit different. But imagine you're walking to a prospective client's office and you say “Hey, we're offering this.” So if you're a speaker, say “Hey.” They're walking into an event planner's office say “Hey, I'm a speaker” or if you're an event planner and you want to book large groups say, “Hey” imagine that you're going to the person representing one of the large groups say “Hey, I'm offering this, I'm running this major conference or event” or whatever it is.
And so we know basic sales, the value that you represent for people depends on the problems that you solve for them, right? Big problem, big value, small problem, small value. Basic marketing, okay? So on the left side of your page imagine that you're going to answer the question that your client, if he or she is not asking this, is certainly thinking it, what kind of challenges can you help me solve with your, fill in the blank, service, product, conference, speaking topic, whatever it is. And just take a couple of minutes what are the problems that you solve, for them?
Tom: I'm doing this as we go.
Michel: Awesome. So when I do this live, large group of people, give them a few more minutes but small groups, I've done this all over the world. It's fun. It's a very quick exercise. So just write down on the left-hand side the problems that you solve or your products solve, or your service solves, or your event solves, or if you're a speaker your speaking topic solves.
Tom: Okay, I have done that.
Michel: All right. And now so we played this little thought experiment where you walk into the potential client's office and they're thinking or they ask you “So what are the problems that I have, that you will solve or you think you can solve with your product services?” Now let's replay this, let's replay this thought experiment, like back…rewind.
Tom: Love the sound effects.
Michel: Well you're the ventriloquist, right? Rewind. Now let's play this again. You're walking into your client's office and you're going to pitch them or talk to them about what you offer but this time you are the fifth person to walk into their office offering the same whatever it is product, service, event, speaker, whatever. Now I want you to look at the things that you wrote down on the left-hand side and if the four people who were there before you are likely to have said the same things, just acknowledge it, make a note of it. If they're not likely to have said the same things, in other words what you wrote down or maybe one or two or three of those things nobody else would've said then move them over to the right side. So the right side of your paper just literally cross them out or draw a circle around them and arrow them over, this should be messy.
Michel: Now at the top of the left side I want you to label that column, that half of your page, label it “Category Benefits” or “Category Challenges” and on the right side enter “Differentiating Challenges” or “Differentiating Benefits.” We can go into a whole other conversation if people, when I asked them that, usually they write down “Benefits” and not “Challenges” but that's cool. I just think that people think in terms…my experience as a copywriter I've learnt that people think in terms of challenges and not benefits but as marketers a lot of us have been trained to speak in terms of benefits and not challenges. So already you're speaking the wrong language if that's what you did.
Tom: Makes sense.
Michel: But that's a secondary point, you can talk about that with me in some other interview. But anyway, when I do this I'm just asking people to look at their sheet of paper and just make a note. If everything that you put down stayed on the left just acknowledge that, chances are you're dealing in terms of category benefits. But we still need to figure out what the differentiators are and I'm not saying one side is more or less important than the other ultimately you need to know both. If you're speaking to somebody who has no idea about your industry or what you do or your topic or whatever it is, or your category then yeah the left side is what's important.
If you talk to people, I bet, the quintessential elevator speech or cocktail party you don't know where they're at, so you want to start on the left-hand side. But the reason why I asked you to imagine you're the fifth person walking into that prospective client's office is because that sets the stage that you're dealing with an educated potential client. If you can't do what's on the left-hand side you shouldn't even be talking to them so that's the ticket even to get in the door. How quickly you can talk about the stuff on the right hand side assuming that you have it, is what will help you A: Respect the person's time and B: Position yourself as the solution provider that they want.
Michel: Tom when I tell you, when I do this in groups, when I ask the question it says “How many of those things with the four other people have said” I see everybody buries their face in their hands.
Tom: I was about ready to because I actually did that. Everything that I listed on the first, the left-hand side, yeah there's other things that people offer when you're looking at the overview of what I do and then going into the deeper I'm starting I've come up with a few but it's really making my mind churn as to how I'm going to differentiate myself from these others acts.
Michel: Yeah, the same thing is true, and I'll get into how you can figure out what stuff is on the right hand side, I mean it's not as simple as asking a question but I could give you a couple of ideas. That's the hard work, is figuring out what that is, but take a look at how many websites, every website you can look at and ask yourself “Are they giving me left-hand stuff on the homepage or right-hand stuff on the homepage? Presumably I want the minimum of left-hand stuff. What most web developers do or companies do is they bury the right-hand stuff, the real differentiating stuff, that's buried into the bottom of their website. I need to already know everything I want to know or have to know about the category before getting to that point and by then I've lost interest.
So the question is how can we move that stuff up to the front homepage or when you're having a conversation with someone how do you move it up to the beginning of the conversation or when you're literally doing a sales pitch how do you put it at the beginning of the sales pitch? Or in a direct sales letter where you're dealing with an educated buyer, how do you put it in the first sentence or how do you put it in the subject line of an email? That's what's missing from most sales training, branding and marketing. That's one of the pieces that I do is I make people aware and I give them tools to help them figure out what that is.
Tom: Very, very cool stuff. I mean you've definitely made me think and I trust all our listeners are out there going “Ooh.” You're really opening up some eyes here.
Michel: There's one piece because I don't want to leave people hanging, that says “Oh, great, he just gave us this, and now what? What am I doing with this, right?” Very briefly I'm just going to explain my model that I call the five layers of differentiation.
Tom: Okay, thank you.
Michel: And so I start at the top. Imagine you're an archaeologist and you're digging from the surface and you're digging down, digging down, digging down. Surface later is literally what I do, topic of the conference, whatever it is, that's the what. And then the next layer down is the where, when, who. Where is it held? Who is it for? What stage of business or personal development or business development is it appropriate for stage of time, stage of life, whatever? This is a conference for physiotherapists, who specialize in geriatrics, who live in Pittsfield, Massachusetts whatever. It's that kind of stuff. Any marketer worth his or her salt knows how to dig to this layer, the basic stuff.
The next layer down is the why, but it's the upper, what I call the upper why. Why? Believe me, and again any marketer worth his or her salt knows how to dig down to this layer. It's the credentials, the testimonials, the raving fans, the case studies, the letters after your name, the years of experience, the whatever. How many conferences or events you've handled, all of that stuff, case histories. Again why believe me? Good important stuff to have good important stuff to know about just like the two layers above it but everybody's going…let's be honest everybody's got a compelling case, okay.
So it's the next two layers down where you get the most kind of gold for your differentiation. The layer down is the how. Is the how we do what we do. The reason why it's so hard for people to put their finger on what that is, is because the how is part of our corporate culture, it's part of our personalities, it's part of who we are. And so everything that we do, how we do it, comes naturally to us. We don't even know what we're doing. Even large corporations, it's their culture, it's part of the fabric of their value system all of that good stuff. It's the methodologies and the processes that they've put in place without even thinking about it. It's how they deal with their customers. It's how they build their product. It's how they deliver their services. The how we do what we do is where our differentiators lie.
Now there is one more layer below that and that's the why and this is what I call the deeper why. And the deeper why is all about why, but not why we do what we do, which is how most people answer the question, it's how we do, this is worth writing down folks, it's how we do, it's what we, sorry, let me start over. It's why we do, how we do, what we do. So, it's why we do, how we do, what we do. By way of very quick explanation I'll give you myself as an example. I told you I ran an ad agency but I wasn't good at all aspects of the ad agency. Truth be told, I was pretty bad at parts of it but there was one piece that I, in retrospect, I didn't know it at the time, but in retrospect I believe now that I'm better at this than pretty much anyone I've ever seen do it. And that is helping my clients dig down to the core of what makes them different. But it took me a long time to figure out that that was the piece and really it's because the same thing when I was a speaker, sometimes you need 1000 people to tell you something before you actually, before it registers. And so I had client after client, tell me “Michel, this is great. Yeah the sales letter worked or the advertising worked, or yeah, we pulled higher response, and blah, blah, blah, all of that stuff, but you know as a result of the work we did with you we actually understand ourselves better. Our team understands what we stand for better than we've ever done before.”
And I'm thinking “You just hired me to do the writing and the sales and all that stuff but what?” But I kept hearing this feedback over and over and over again and it finally dawned on me after much introspection, because I didn't have someone like me asking me these questions. After much introspection I realized hold on a second. I grew up in Montréal as a little French Jewish kid in an English Protestant school in a French Catholic province and here I was. It didn't matter which group of kids I was hanging out with, I was always the odd kid out. I was a shy kid, painfully shy. I know a lot of people don't believe that now but I'm an introvert, like a lot of speakers. I was shy back then, really shy. And you might think that a shy little kid would do everything in his little power plus on top of that having a French name didn't help you know being a cute little kid didn't help either. Having a girl's name, all of those things, you might think I would do everything in my little power to blend in and not stand out, but somehow I just kind of took it on myself to make the most of it.
So to my French friends I spoke English, my English friends I spoke French, I was able to skip, legally, my French classes, which was cool, and everybody outside of my little community I made no bones about the fact that I was Jewish and that's cool and even amongst my Jewish friends, you know my father was born in Iran, Jewish, my mother was born in France, Jewish and you know even that was weird even amongst my Jewish friends because all of their grandparents sounded like they came straight out of a Woody Allen movie and nobody sounded like they didn't sound like my grandparents. So that's what I noticed was that the more I appreciated my own uniqueness, the more I was able to celebrate and acknowledge the differences that everybody else brought to our little group of kids. It's not like I was the kid who was the natural born facilitator. I'm not saying that but you know what think about this, 30 years later my clients tell me “Michel how did you get to our differentiation so quickly?” You think maybe there is a correlation between who I was as a little kid and what I brought to my professional life?
Tom: Definitely powerful stuff.
Michel: Yeah, so I leave people to think about that.
Tom: That is a great thought to have. Now Michel I've got to be honest with you, I don't want to tie up all of your time today. There are a lot of questions that I still have for you. Hopefully you'll agree somewhere down the road to come back and talk with us again. Would that be possible?
Michel: Yeah sure.
Tom: Okay. Now before we get out of here today I do want to ask you if someone is interested in finding out more about you, where can they go if they want to learn more about this topic and maybe get in touch with you to speak with them or to talk at one of their events?
Michel: Well, hey, the easiest way to do that is just on my website, probably like everybody else you speak to, my website is my last name .com. N-E-R-A-Y, www.neray.com that's my website, that's my speaker website, my corporate consulting website, but you know a lot of your…the people listening to this might be interested in just…I'll tell you another place to go to and that's this thing. You know this whole notion of looking at your own personal story and seeing how that has an impact on who you are as an adult, the people around you. About four years ago I started this event called Mo Mondays and it's all about personal storytelling and we do it in a fun way. I know you're a comedian Tom, so you certainly appreciate how important laughter is so I kind of put this event together that blends little bit a comedy, a lot of personal storytelling and some live music and entertainment and I just did this because I was tired of professional networking events, association events, speak-to-sell events, where people sell stuff at the back of the room.
I was tired of all that stuff. So I wanted something fun, entertaining and meaningful at the same time where people could socialize and meet each other without all that other stuff and I put this show together called Mo Mondays and it turns out a lot of other people were looking for it as well because now we have expanded across the country, I believe we're in 13 or 14 cities now.
Tom: That's great.
Michel: And so, this thing, if anybody is interested in that, go to MoMondays.com and it's spelled exactly as it sounds, M-0-Mondays.com and this thing is just flying. We get anywhere from 100 to 500 people come out every single month.
Tom: Oh, that's awesome, absolutely awesome. Michel, I want to thank you so very much for taking the time to talk with us today. It has been a delight sir.
Michel: Thank you Tom, I appreciate it. You're awesome.
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