April 24, 2017

Professional Speaker Interview Series: Mary Kelly Talks About Creating Checklists, Making a Difference, and Meeting Face-to-Face in a Digital World

BY Caitlin Delohery IN Professional Speaking 0 Comment

Mary Kelly

We sat down with some professional speakers and asked them about the challenges and keys to success in their profession. For Mary Kelly, it’s all about creating checklists, making a difference, and meeting people face-to-face.

Describe a day-in-the-life of a professional speaker.

The great days are the days you get in front of audiences. As a speaker, anytime you get to speak is pretty fantastic. If you’re a keynote, it’s an hour or two. If you’re a trainer, it might be 3 to 4 hours. The rest of time is all about sales and marketing, and that’s where a lot of people really struggle.

I’m a leadership speaker, and I tend to be directive. You have to convince other people to pay you for your knowledge because information can be found on the internet. You can Google anything and find an answer. So, you need to show up and deliver an experience to people in a way that is meaningful and exciting. Conveying that value to someone else, and finding someone with the budget who is willing and able to book you – that’s what’s hard.

What unique strategies do you use to tackle these challenges?

I work predominantly on referrals, but when you start out, marketing is hard. Any business person has to figure out how people get to know you, how to generate more business and increase sales, and that’s all marketing.

Being an avid reader has worked for me. I read anything and everything I can about marketing and sales. If I were new in any business, I would start with David Newman’s Do It! Marketing. I would also look at Mark Hunter’s new book. I would do exactly what they say.     

You have to establish yourself as an expert. It’s all about making sure people hear about you and understand the value you deliver. Then, naturally, they want to work with you.   

They want the “BLT” sandwich: people they Believe, Like, and Trust. People have to Believe what you say. They have to Like you enough to want to work with you. And then they have to Trust you enough to know you’re going to do what you promise.

Many professional speakers and entrepreneurs struggle because they’re great at what they do, but they still have to run a business. This is what’s hard for a lot of people.

I talk to a lot of people about how to start their business, and I encourage them to think about a business plan. They hate this idea, so I use templates. I come from the Navy and did 25 years on active duty, and I love checklists.   

Anything that makes my life easy, anything that I can use systematically to make me more productive every single day — I’m gonna do it.  

I have a checklist for packing for an event, for the questions I’m going to ask my clients, checklists of what I want from my audiences, and a checklist for a small business plan as well. It has things like:

  • What do you actually do? What’s the problem you solve? Make sure when somebody asks you, “what do you do?” that you have a great answer. For example, I’m a leadership expert — I help people improve profit growth through leadership techniques. You need to know what you do, the problems you solve, and who you help.
  • Who is your target market? “Everybody” is not a target market. You have to look specifically at the people you can best serve. And the word is serve. Not the people with the biggest pockets, not the people you think should want you.
  • What do I do well? This is what you need to do.
  • What am I not very good at? This is what you need to outsource. You still have to do accounting, advertising, and marketing. You still have to reward your referrals. Focus on those business functions that are in your wheelhouse and outsource the rest.

All this work often means late nights and early mornings. For speakers, it means a lot of time on the road. Some people with young children say they thought it would be different, or easier, or even glamorous. It’s just not! A lot of parts of being an entrepreneur are not glamorous.

One thing a lot of entrepreneurs and speakers don’t really get is that there are a lot of aspects to running your own business that are really lonely.

To combat this, you join with people who do what you do. You brainstorm and support each other through mastermind groups, a board of directors, people you can call in case you get stuck. Or you have vertical masterminds, who are people outside of your industry — a banker, a real estate agent, a restaurateur — so they can give you ideas and different perspectives. I’m a big fan of masterminds.  

What’s the secret to your success as a professional speaker?

You have to be willing to work hard and work smart. Your time on stage is one hour of the week. By that time, you should’ve done a ton of research on the audience. You should know:

  • What their problems are
  • What they’re thinking
  • What’s going on in their industry
  • What changes they’re dealing with
  • What’s causing them to be concerned about job security
  • Whether or not their 401k is being fully funded
  • Personnel changes in their organization
  • All the organizations, the industries, and the companies involved in their industry

I do 20 to 30 hours of research for one hour on stage. And every single time I have a speech, I rehearse the night before – even ones I’ve done 1000 times in the past.

I’ll walk off a great event, and I’ll think it was great except for that one 15-second spot. And while that doesn’t seem like a lot — if I can make it better, that’s what I need to do. Preparation, preparation, preparation and practice, practice, practice — that’s what has helped me the most.

What’s your biggest career accomplishment?

I was a Naval commanding officer. I was responsible for everybody, for different aspects of their lives. Anytime you can be in command and help people and make a difference, I think that’s key.

As a speaker, there’s one moment that stands out more than any. I use these yellow goals cards and pass them out to help people stay focused. People use them as reminders.  

One lady came up to me after a speech and said, “I need to tell you something. My husband is in the Army, and four years ago, he was injured and lost both legs. I went to see him in the hospital, and all he had left was his wallet. In his wallet was his ID, a credit card, and your yellow card.”

By then we were both sobbing. She said, “I looked at his goals for his life. It was #1 Provide for my family, #2 Serve my country, and #3 Have my own business. When I saw that yellow card, I realized that his goals had to become my goals. We put that yellow card on the refrigerator, and when things got tough, we just reminded ourselves that our goals together were to take care of our family, serve our country, and work for this business.”  

That was the best moment I think I ever had. Knowing that what you do is making a difference for someone else — I was beyond humbled and amazed. It was one of those moments that you can’t even describe. It makes everything worthwhile.

What are your predictions for the biggest trends in professional speaking in 2017?

There’s an increased need for video. I am focusing on getting more videos done – shorter snippets, like 60 to 90 seconds — for people to see what I’m like and what I do. That’s a huge trend, and I don’t think that’s going away.

And, I don’t think we’re going to see the end to face-to-face meetings. There is something about a face-to-face meeting that can’t be replaced with anything else.
Looking for more on professional speakers? Check out our entire interview series.

Caitlin got her roots in inbound marketing before it got its name. As a teenager in the 90s, she promoted her independently published magazines by writing about the importance of indie publishing all over AOL. Now, Caitlin is passionate about moving people and society forward. She follows thought leaders in the National Speakers Association, the staffing industry, and all human rights movements. She loves learning and helping people learn.

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