Mike Wittenstein Talks About Keeping Up with Constant Change, Creating Journey Maps, and Building Your Business Around Your Clients

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We sat down with some professional speakers and asked them about the challenges and keys to success in their profession. Mike Wittenstein talks to us about keeping up with constant change, creating journey maps, and building your business around your client.

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

A professional speaker doesn’t just speak, a professional speaker runs a business. Often, they run every part of their business. Each day, you’ll be involved in all the things that matter – from finding clients to building new content, from staying up-to-date on current trends to providing thought leadership for your audiences. From setting up your back-office Web services to handling mundane accounting chores. Most days, you do a little bit of all those things, and some of the unexpected, which always seems to appear.

What are your top day-to-day challenges?

Professional speaking is no longer a job for the meek or weak. Why? Because everything – and I mean everything – is in a constant state of flux. Clients’ needs are evolving faster than ever. Technology, with the capabilities and frustrations it brings to your business, demands more care and feeding. You need to staying at the leading edge of your industry and keep up with prospects, clients, and colleagues for your voice to matter.

What unique strategies do you use to tackle these challenges?

I’ve learned that professional speaking is no longer a one-person business. I’ve got people who help me with web/social presence, admin/process management, content/service development, and finance. That may sound like a lot, but you step into it gradually.

Find the right people, especially those who can give you the time to help you grow the capabilities of your business. My happiness factor shot up when I found people to do not what I didn’t want to do but what I didn’t know how to do.

Also, I’ve been careful to build business assets (processes, templates, content distribution processes, etc.) so that the value of the investment I make in others continues to pay my business back over time.

What are some business-building techniques you use on stage?

Poll the audience and then send the equivalent of a landing page and free download to your audience. Here are a few tools I’m currently reviewing:


Poll Everywhere

Tie your website to your CRM. If you don’t have a CRM (customer relationship management) system, get one–even if you’re just starting out. We’re creating a new website right now, and 70% of the content will be driven from the CRM system, as opposed to from our website. It will contain landing pages for presentations, services, endorsements, and more. With web traffic (down to the page level) tied to our CRM, we can track interactions, get in touch with people when their interest is high, know who’s interested in what, and tailor some of our online and follow-up phone messages according to their interests. This tech means we will be much more personalized in our service delivery. For an experience design-based business like StoryMiners, that’s important.

Project a Twitter feed in the background during your speech to let people see what others are thinking. People will tweet whatever they want, good or bad. It gives you a really cool sense of what’s going on in real time–and valuable social contacts to follow up with afterwards.

Before you invest in lots of random tech, figure out the experience your clients, colleagues, partners and contractors, and audience members (paying or not, live or not) want to have. Document it as a journey map.

A journey map tells you where people are, what they’re doing, what they’re expecting, how they feel, what the business can do for them. Then, you’ll be ready to look for technology that can do what your (future) clients will care about. When I shop, I make sure I’m not just following the features. The features are following my experience design because that is my strategy.

What might a journey map for a keynote speech attendee look like?

I can’t control the entire event. But I’ll make sure that information about me and my content is readily available and that it’s on-brand for me and for the show organizer or for my corporate client.

  • I make sure they can find me.
  • I make sure I fit into the agenda properly. If I’m following or speaking before someone else, I’ll read up on that person or talk to them so we can come up with segues and carry a theme through a conference.
  • I make sure to talk to whoever is sponsoring me, not just the meeting planner, but the person who owns the event. I’ll work with them to understand intent and theme of the event, the outcomes they’re looking for, the learning effect, and the kind of experience they’re trying to create for attendees. And I’ll explore the anti-goals – what they don’t want to happen.
  • I check on signage, make sure that there’s clear signage, by just asking:
    • Do you need me to write copy for the signs that point people to event?
    • Do we need anything in the room, more signage there?
    • Do you need me to add some slides into my deck to introduce the introducer?
  • I ask about handouts and deadlines well in advance.
  • I ask out about my check-in time for the tech check.
  • It’s nice to call sponsor as soon as you land at airport, or when you’re on site.
  • I find out if I can get attendees’ names and emails and if it’s okay to send them something in advance–and afterwards.
  • I find natural ways to get testimonials. For example, if you ask your sponsor for referrals the second you walk off stage, that’s unprofessional. But if you collect a few comments from the audience or ask if you can bring a video camera and film outtakes as people are leaving, you can create something that’s valuable to both of you. Offer them a copy of the video that they can use that as an event summary for their boss.

All of this means you have to put a number of deadlines in your CRM or event checklist. Put in the different times you need to do everything. Prepare a form to use with each project, and make sure the information gets into your CRM.

There are little things you can do, like creating a checklist or a packing list of what you will need at every event. For example:

To pack:

  • Computer
  • Cable
  • Thumb drive
  • Backup of thumb drive

To do:

  • Email presentation to myself
  • Email it on another server

Have a list for things you do after the event. These are just as important as what you do before the event:

  • Follow up with client
  • See if client wants a debrief session
  • Help them get their surveys created and disseminated
  • Find out what their scores are

Clients are crazy busy at shows. so afterward, see if you can squeeze in 10 minutes for feedback.


  • What did you like?
  • What would you like even better?
  • Can I refer you to a friend for next year? (If they want you, they’ll ask you back! They might even give you referrals.)

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

  1. Take care of your clients.
  2. Sweat the details.
  3. Remember that audience outcomes take precedence over your own ego.
  4. Don’t just share knowledge through stories. Provide complete experiences.

What’s your biggest career accomplishment?

I hope it’s still to come! There are a few things that come to mind. My first international assignment in 2010 led to dozens of other overseas assignments. The first retail makeover I managed led to some fun retail projects. Helping save a $1.1 billion account at IBM gave my confidence a big boost. So, I’m learning that big achievements often come from apparently small starts. These pave the way for what’s next. I’ve also learned that you can’t predict the future, so most people just package their past.

What resource for professional speakers do you wish existed?

I’d like to see a directory of places where speaking can happen. Meeting planners already have that information for big events. They can pick a ballroom anywhere in the world to have a meeting. Why hasn’t someone captured the small theatres (and the big ones), the town halls and squares, public venues, extra meeting rooms at banks, and other places where speaking can happen? With such a resource, many of us would have an easier time creating and hosting events. SpeakerHub, you’ve got the crowdsourcing thing down. Are you listening?

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

If I knew that, I’d be booked 100% more than I am now. My gut feelings (translation: don’t ask me to prove it with hard data) are that:

  • fees will stay flat
  • companies will accelerate their use of speakers as agents of change
  • speakers will be chosen more frequently based on their ability to implement what they talk about
  • more first-time clients will enter the market—desiring business outcomes over topics

Are there any questions that you wished I had asked today?

I wish you’d asked: Knowing what I know now, would I still want to get into this business?

And my answer would be: Absolutely, yes!

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