A Conversation with Sanjay Nambiar

Sanjay NambiarOn Thursday May 5, members of the Silicon Valley Speechwriters Roundtable hosted a conference call with freelance speechwriter, author and publisher Sanjay Nambiar.

Sanjay is a veteran speechwriter and award-winning children’s book author. He has written speeches for CEOs and executives in a wide range of industries, from finance and technology to education and non-profits. Past clients include executives at Toyota, Comcast, and CBS among others.

He also has written several award-winning children’s books. In addition to being a speechwriter and author, Sanjay also is the CEO of SDPH Media, the company behind the multimedia global brand platform for the Super Duper Princess Heroes.

The focus of our conversation was Sanjay’s recommendations for building a freelance speechwriting business as well as his role as an author and publisher (something he has in common with other speechwriters such as Mike Long — playwright — and Justina Chen — young adult fiction author).

Sanjay reviewed the ways he built his client list that started with Search Engine Marketing (SEM) and pay-per-click ads. He also talked about the advantages and disadvantages of options such as Upwork (formally eLance), cold calling and mailing. He shared effective networking and referral techniques. We also discussed his publishing business.

To find out more, click on the podcast icon below to hear edited highlights from the call where Sanjay shares tips on building a freelance speechwriting business.

Book Review: Keynote Mastery, by Patrick Schwerdtfeger

Keynote MasteryMy recent review on Amazon of the new book, Keynote Mastery: The Personal Journey of a Professional Speaker was incomplete. I need to explain in more detail the many positive elements of Patrick’s story as well as clarify why I referred to it on Amazon ‘flawed’ and show where other emerging speakers can learn from his mistakes. But make no mistake about it: this is a book every Toastmaster, self-employed professional, freelancer and gig-economy survivor should read. It contains first-hand information you’ll find nowhere else. Go buy it, now!

What I liked about Keynote Mastery

I’ve long been a fan of Patrick’s. We met during the time in 2008/09 that he was speaking for free, and I’ve attended his Meetup groups which are great networking occasions. I’ve also been to Jeff & Kane’s meetings, Stephanie Chandler’s Sacramento Speakers Network and Edith Yeung’s BizTech Day. Heck, I even knew an NSA member who spoke at the same event in Aruba as Patrick. His 2011 guest posting on my blog How to become a Keynote Speaker was an early iteration of the ideas in this book. Back in 2009 I blogged about his Webify Yourself presentation.

So, we swim in the same waters. The major difference between us is that Patrick makes his living as a professional speaker, while I’m at the coal-face in the corporate world. I have the utmost respect Patrick and his achievements.

This book is a treasure-trove of practical tips and tricks that will help anyone who wants to become a professional speaker, or simply a more successful freelancer in any field.

I especially like his worksheets that are referenced in the book and available for free download. For example, here’s eight tips for reducing nervousness found on one worksheet:

  1. Take five deep breaths (by exhaling more than usual).
  2. Give yourself permission to be nervous. Don’t fight it.
  3. Be a compassionate observer of your own emotions.
  4. Start a meditation practice. It will help you remain calm.
  5. Focus on the objective: your message and helping people.
  6. Look good. Wear an outfit that you feel confident in.
  7. Think positive. You’re a rock star. You deserve to be here.
  8. Survey the audience ahead of time. Look at their faces. They’re just people, and they want you to succeed.

This is not just a list he’s plucked out of thin air. Read the book and you’ll see when and where Patrick has employed these practices when suffering from anxiety and panic attacks before speaking (it happens to everyone sooner or later, knowing how a pro like Patrick overcame the issue is a tremendous help).

As I said in the Amazon review, this is an uncompromisingly personal book. Some might not care for the personal information he shares. I think it’s important to read about the challenges he had to overcome in his personal life to succeed. Thanks for being so honest, Patrick.

Other gems in the book include Chapter 55 on Speaking Fees. The reason no-one in the National Speakers Association (NSA) can share this level of detail is that the Association is legally bound not to discuss fees so there isn’t a perception of marketplace collusion. Patrick is not an NSA member–you’ll find details here you’ll find nowhere else.

I also liked his tips on how to structure a speech (Ch 40). His stories about the importance of cross-cultural sensitivity when speaking outside the USA are priceless. He’s also a master of Social Media who made a transition to speaking on other topics. Reading how he stayed ahead of the curve in developing a new niche is one of the best parts of the book.

Where Patrick’s book falls short

It might sound like nit-picking, but someone should have spent a little more time proofreading this book. (Of course, who am I to talk!). In Chapter 55 he references the National Speaker Association. In Ch 56 (at least in the Kindle Edition) there’s two whole paragraphs which are duplicated, first in italics, then in plain text.

National Speakers Association LogoMore importantly, in terms of substantive advice, Ch 59 on the National Speakers Association, needs correcting. He writes that NSA events take place on Saturday mornings and he hates weekend early mornings. Fair enough. But readers should be aware that this true of the Northern California Chapter and many regions meet at other times. The NSA is comprised of a wide range of keynote speakers, platform speakers, workshop and webinar hosts and even a speechwriter or two!

As a long-time NSA member I found myself, time and again, seeing ways in which Patrick could have cut years from his learning curve if he’d have only got out bed early some weekends and attended meetings, or, better yet, enrolled in the annual Speakers Academy (aka Pro-Track). I’ve blogged extensively about mine and others experiences in this year-long speaker training program.

To take a couple of examples of the benefits of the NSA that address challenges Patrick faced. In Ch 22 (Make It Funny!) he writes that he believes he could double or triple his business if he was funnier. Our local NSA chapter has held many workshops on humor. There’s even a group within NSA who focus exclusively on humor.

GSF logoPatrick loves to speak internationally. The Global Speakers Federation (which every NSA member is automatically a member of) shares leads and information with speaking organizations in Canada, South Africa, France, Singapore, Germany, Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, Belgium, Holland, the UK & Ireland. I’ve spoken (for free, like Patrick!) at a PSA event in the UK.

Finally, there are many speakers who make a good living from selling informational products to their audiences. While Patrick has had some success in this area, I can’t help but think that he’s left a lot of money on the table over the years, and could have learned from NSA members who know how to make big bucks while they are sleeping.

In Summary

Unlike Patrick, I’m not a single guy whose been able to live off credit cards and eat chicken thighs and broccoli for dinner night after night while I built my career. I’ve a family to support. Indeed, I’m one of the ‘distraction-free’ people he writes about in Ch 58 who work in tall office buildings in San Francisco. But I’ve been laid off from corporate jobs more than once and survived as a freelancer. In an era when there’s no real job security, the lessons Patrick shares about his decade-long struggle to make a living as a self-employed professional speaker are invaluable.

Becoming a Freelance Speechwriter

FreelanceMembers of the Silicon Valley Speechwriters Roundtable joined speechwriter, screenwriter and author Mike Long on a conference call earlier this week. This is the first of two edited highlights of the call.

Mike is the former director of the White House Writers Group, and an accomplished speechwriter, author, essayist, and award-winning screenwriter and playwright. He has written remarks for members of Congress, U.S. Cabinet secretaries, governors, diplomats, CEOs, and four presidential candidates.

As director of writing for the Master of Professional Studies program in Public Relations and Corporate Communications at Georgetown University, he created the writing curriculum and teaches graduate courses in PR writing, speechwriting, and business and persuasive writing.

A popular and provocative speaker, he has been is a frequent presenter the Ragan Speechwriters Conference and appeared on CNBC in the U.S. and is a frequent commentator on CBC News: Morning with Heather Hiscox in Canada.

In this first of two edited highlights from the call, Mike talks about how he got into freelance writing and offers sage advice for anyone who is considering launching their own freelance career. To hear what he said, click on the podcast icon below.

It’s a freelance life

The clever folks at Garlic Jackson Comedy have made a telling video about the freelance life.

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San Francisco Writers Conference 2014

SFWC logoI spent part of the weekend at the San Francisco Writers Conference which is organized by the irrepressible Mike Larsen and Elizabeth Pomona. I was helping staff the Editorial Freelancers Association booth so did not have time to attend any of the rich offering of sessions.

However, a remarkable resource, listed in many of the #SFWC14 tweets, are the extensive reports from Robb Lightfoot on his ‘Or So It Seems…’ blog.

Robb has posted a fantastic series of reports and pictures on many of the sessions at the event. You’ll find extensive reports everything from writing memoirs and historical fiction to the economics of launching a career as a writer, creating a sticky website, and tips on using social media to promote books.

The SFWC is a sold-out event each year, if you are not one of the lucky attendees, you can still benefit from the content by reading Robb’s excellent reports.

Meeting Report: Silicon Valley IABC

Collaboration Done Right – The secrets of a successful project between corporate staff and outside consultants, by Ian Griffin and Kate Peters

ThumbsAt the March 21, 2013 meeting of the IABC Silicon Valley Chapter vocal impact coach and author Kate Peters and freelance speechwriter Ian Griffin reviewed lessons from a two-year collaborative project at Cisco.

In early 2010, Ian worked as an Executive Communications Manager supporting George O’Meara, the SVP for Services Sales at Cisco in San Jose. He knew George needed presentation skills coaching and found Kate’s book Can You Hear Me Now? on Amazon. He sent her a note asking if she could provide coaching services. That began a highly successful working relationship which lasted until George left Cisco two years later.

Kate Peters is a vocal impact coach, singing performing artist, and author. She focuses on finding each person’s strengths and helps individuals express themselves in ways supportive of their professional and personal lives, whether speaking or singing. She helps public speakers clarify the articulation and organization of their ideas. She aligns their personal brand with the message they want to deliver and enhances presentation content with stories to increase the potential for connection with the audience.

As an Executive Communications Manager at Cisco, Ian’s role was to research and gather content for presentations and aligned the material to the overall corporate message.

Collaboration not competition

Ian hired Kate to work with George on improving his presentation skills, specifically to make it easier for the audience to understand his Chicago accent.

The original engagement grew into a two-year engagement where Kate was closely involved with many presentations.

Ian and Kate were aware that working together brought a potential for competition. Turf battles can happen. This is an obstacle many outside consultants face when they work with staff in large corporations.

Indeed, there were times when Kate suggested enhancement to content, an area that Ian was responsible for. Likewise, Ian, as a long-time member of the National Speaker’s Association, had his own presentation skills suggestions.

The solution, they found, was to work together as a team, not against each other. The benefits of this were apparent in a number of ways. Kate, with a background in music, performance and video, helped Ian make George look better on camera in the many short video messages that were a common way Cisco executives communicated with their teams. Ian became skilled in filming video and became known for his expertise by other Cisco communications managers.

Ian reciprocated by introducing Kate to other communications managers at Cisco which helped to expand her presence across the company.

Lessons learned

Kate lists a number of things to keep in mind as an outside consultant working with staff in a large corporation.

  • We are better together. Our combined skills are better than either one working alone.
  • Be an advocate. Bring attention to the work of the employee at times when executives might take it for granted.
  • Keep in touch. Regular meetings help the employee and consultant work more effectively.
  • Show appreciation. Say thank you often and in different ways.
  • Know when to keep quiet and let the employee do their work.

Ian found there were a number of secrets to success working with a consultant.

  • Choose wisely. Be ready to interview multiple candidates to find a consultant who is the right fit.
  • Secure initial buy-in. Ian sold the executive on the idea of hiring a consultant as a “swing coach” for his presentation “game”.
  • Know the “cut-over point” – where and when the consultant will augment your role, and don’t be reluctant to explore new areas where they can support the outcome.
  • Manage the budget. Keep the executive and managers in the loop on costs and make sure invoices are paid in a timely manner.
  • Respect the consultant’s time.

Advantages of collaboration

The three advantages Kate found when working with Ian were:

  • As an employee, he knew people she didn’t and was happy to put her in front of others who could use her services. The initial $5,000 contract evolved into a multi-year engagement.
  • Ian knew the organization and kept her abreast of important organizational changes and processes about which she would otherwise not have known.
  • Ian did things she didn’t want to do and vice versa.

The three advantages Ian found when working with Kate were:

  • He valued the support she gave the executive. It augmented his role. Some of the least stressful and most effective meetings were between George and Kate with Ian as an observer, seeing results he could never have achieved alone.
  • Ian benefited from using Kate as a consultant who was able to mentor him on his own presentation skills.
  • He found new ways to amplify the unique skills the consultant brought to the organization among his peers.

Relationships that last

Now that Ian has left Cisco, the relationship he established with Kate continues. Corporate employees never know when they might want to or need to go out on their own. Relationships that are formed through organizations like IABC and one-on-one contacts with industry leaders like Kate are useful bridges to life after corporate employment.

Both Kate and Ian acknowledge the value of having a strong professional network both inside and outside an organization. In fact, they are charter members of the newly formed Silicon Valley Speechwriters Roundtable which is a forum for professionals interested in presentation excellence.

How to hire a freelance Annual Report writer

Keyboard There are a number of things to look for when hiring a freelance writer for any project. For a once-a-year event like an Annual Report the stakes are even higher. A well-written and attractive Annual Report, especially one that wins awards, is a competitive differentiator, helping brand a company by listing past accomplishments and strategic direction.

Whether you hire me or someone else, you’ll know you’ve found a world-class freelance writer when they can show they’ve mastered these seven key skills:

1. Simplifies large amounts of complex data

By definition, an Annual Report covers a company’s entire achievements for the year. The writer needs to review sources of data that include Press Releases, the company website, competitor’s websites and their Annual Reports, financial data, research reports, white papers and more. Their task is to produce copy that summarizes and simplifies the raw material in a way that meets the requirements for the report. In my experience, this requires an ability to sort, organize, prioritize and retain massive amounts of incoming data.

Key Skill: You need a writer with the experience to review vast amounts of data from every division in the company. Then turn around and write simple 50-, 100- or 500-word summaries.

2. Communicates as well in person as on the page

In addition to the raw data, content from the report comes from people throughout your organization. While conducting research, I might meet with engineers and product specialists one day, review numbers with the finance team the next, and interview the CEO to better understand their point of view. My writing skills are table stakes. But the ability to communicate with people is just as important. A big part of being an effective writer is talking with other people and gaining their trust.

Key Skill: In addition to world-class writing skills, the person you hire needs to be able to communicate with people at all levels in the organization.

3. Is a team player who respects your goals

No one person will create the Annual Report. It’s a team effort and a time-consuming task. Engaging a freelance writer takes the burden off full-time staff, and brings a valuable outside perspective to the content. A freelance writer must be willing to collaborate on drafts until everyone has reviewed and signed off on the content. This is often easier for a freelancer, who does not have a stake in the politics of the organization. The writer needs an ability to handle constant change and the humility to make the full-time staff look good. They need to check their ego at the door and respect the ideas and values of the client.

Key Skill: Like a speechwriter, a freelance writer must be comfortable working anonymously. No writer should expect a byline on an Annual Report.

4. Has what it takes to survive in the corporate world

Many successful writers prefer to work alone. Novelists and poets are often uncomfortable away from their desk. While you need an accomplished writer, a recluse won’t survive in the corporate world. Look for a freelance writer who assumes full responsibility for their commitments.

Key Skill: Hire someone who has what it takes to work in a corporate environment, shows up for meetings on time, meets deadlines and respects the chain of command.

5. Is a diplomatic and impartial observer

Each division of a company would like to be the star of the Annual Report. A freelance writer can be a fair judge of content that comes from different divisions. In addition to resolving competing claims for column inches, someone from outside can manage style variations and write with a consistent voice and style. The last thing you want is a report that seems as if it’s written by divisions with different agendas. Someone has to be the guardian of the core message.

Key Skill: Asses the writers’ diplomatic skills. They must be comfortable with conflict and have absolute discretion when resolving competing claims for attention from divisional heads.

6. Excels at storytelling

Stories humanize content. They provide the narrative and context which heightens interest and helps the reader remember the information. Effective storytelling requires command of the language plus the flair to find ways to differentiate achievements.

I’m impressed by the team at NPR Planet Money who bring dry economic data alive through compelling stories. This should be required listening for all budding Annual Report writers.

Key Skill: Beyond the ability to synthesize the facts, a good writer should be able to weave a story from the content so the report is as rich and interesting as possible.

7. Understands the world of business

While a freelancer might lack the deep subject expertise of your employees, they should have a solid understanding of the changing world of business and the major issues of the day. This knowledge base helps calibrate the value of the content and puts the issues faced by your company in perspective. It comes from the writer’s commitment to being a student of business.

Key Skill: Look for a writer who is well read. Subscribers to the Financial Times, Wall Street Journal or Economist have the edge.

Next Steps

If you are considering hiring a freelancer writer to help produce your next Annual Report, start interviewing candidates early. Ask for writing samples. Expect to work with a freelancer writer for two to three months to produce a report. They should be flexible about billing, either charging by the hour or a flat-rate fee. If you find a writer who does good work, make sure to lock them in for next year’s report as soon as you have finished the current project.

If you check all these boxes your next Annual report should be an award winner.

Writing an Award-Winning Annual Report

Wolters Kluwer 2001 Annual Report
Last year I worked as a freelance writer for Wolters Kluwer, a global information services and publishing company based in the Netherlands. I helped produce their 2011 Annual Report. Wolters Kluwer enable legal, tax, finance, and healthcare professionals to be more effective and efficient by providing information, software, and services that deliver vital insights, intelligent tools, and the guidance of subject-matter experts.

Award-winning Communications

I’m proud that the Wolters Kluwer 2011 Annual Report has been recognized by four organizations for quality of communications, including the written content which I helped edit:

    1. Two Gold awards for best Annual Report narrative within its class. I was especially proud to see that LACP gave the Report a score oof 10 out of 10 in terms of narrative, information accessibility, message clarity, and creativity.
    2. Among the Top 10 Annual reports (out of 800 companies).
    3. Ranked #5 in top Annual Reports for the EMEA region.
    4. Platinum award for best overall Annual Report within its class.
  • Second place in the Digital Communications Awards given by Quadriga University, Berlin.
  • Shortlisted for the FD Henri Sijthoff Prize which assess the quality of the financial communications of all Dutch companies listed on the Amsterdam Stock Exchange.
  • Awards from the UK-based IR Society for “Most effective use of innovative online technology to support investor relations communications” and internationally for “Most effective overall Annual Report printed and online”.

I look forward to seeing the 2012 Report that we are currently editing gather awards once it is published in March.

Interview: Kathy Stershic, Tech Policy Freelancer

Kathy StershicKathy Stershic is Principal Consultant of Dialog Research & Communications. She provides senior-level business and communications consulting expertise to executives at leading-edge organizations, and is especially known for bringing focus and alignment to complex environments. She has worked with many IT companies in various stages of growth, which affords her broad understanding and insights into the high tech marketplace as well as internal organizational dynamics.

Before starting Dialog, Kathy served as Vice President for Cognitiative, Inc., a San Francisco-based consultancy specializing in marketing research and communication strategy for high tech and dot.com clients; she also worked as a Senior Analyst for Jupiter Media Metrix Custom Research Group; and earlier in her career, she worked on staff for several fast growth software and hardware companies.

Kathy recently completed a Master of International Policy and Practice degree at the George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs in Washington DC, focusing on Information Technology policy. She has held leadership positions in various professional and civic organizations, including the International Association of Business Communicators, Public Relations Society of America, the American Marketing Association, and the World Affairs Council of Northern California.
Kathy’s musings on IT policy can be found on her blog.

Freelance Focus

I asked Kathy about her interest in Tech Policy and what she sees developing in the ways technology companies will advertise and communicate about their products and services. She also shared her thoughts on cyber security, SOPA and PIPA. She’s in business for herself for the last 12 years and if you’d like to hear her advice on how to succeed as a freelancer, click on the podcast icon below.

Book Review: The Freelancer’s Bible, by Sara Horowitz

Freelancers BibleHaving heard Sara Horowitz interviewed on KQED Radio I immediately ordered her book The Freelancer’s Bible: Everything You Need to Know to Have the Career of Your Dreams – On Your Terms.

An excellent reference for all freelance workers

The primary value of this well-designed 462-page book is as a one-stop reference for new freelancers — or anyone considering alternatives to full-time W-2 work. Every practical detail is covered: from client contracts to daily calendars; insurance to incorporation; marketing to mentoring; taxes to technology. These practical details, checklists and planning tools are enlivened with stories from freelancers Sara has met in her 15 years as the founder of the Freelancer’s Union.

A wake-up call for America

The real value of the book is where is goes beyond the basic reference it does so well. A series of “Advocacy Alerts” encourage freelancer’s to “stand up together to be counted” when it comes to demanding a more freelancer-friendly set of laws. Sara recognizes that we live in society that is still structured for the work-world of the 1950’s: a lifetime of “secure” employment where healthcare and unemployment compensation is geared to support an economy of full-time workers. This just won’t cut it when, Sara claims, a third of all work is being done by freelancers. Unless they band together, freelancers are at a disadvantage in terms of the tax code, misclassification by corporations and unpaid wages:

“In the new economy, our best chance of securing what freelancers need is to provide as much of it as we can ourselves through the groups freelancers are connected to–organizations like Freelancers Union, professional associations, faith-based communities and other nonprofits…and then approaching lawmakers as a collective unit and let them know it’s really getting to be ridiculous that freelancers continue to grow in number, continue to pay all these taxes … yet continue to get no consideration in the safety net discussions where change has to happen at the policy level.”

In very practical ways the Freelancer’s Union provides members a way to share stories on how to avoid being held hostage by deadbeat clients, provides alternatives to employer healthcare (in a few states only) and encourages members to provide each others with discounts.

Nevertheless, in the world of elance and fiverr there’s a real danger of freelancer’s being caught in a race to the bottom with price-sensitive clients. Chapter three is filled with solid advice on building a freelance portfolio where low-price work is only a small element of “a client mix that delivers maximum value for your time and effort.”

Setting a fair fee

A trap many new to freelancing fall into is not knowing the market rate for your services. The Sherman Antitrust Act prevents associations from openly discussing fees. However, there’s nothing to stop freelancers from informally sharing information about pricing with others, which helps all freelancers get paid what they deserve. If for no other reason than this, freelancers should join a mastermind group and buy a couple of more experienced people in your field a coffee in exchange for an honest discussion about their fees.

All together now

Time and again, the book points to the value of freelancers building community: for robust networking in person and online; mentoring others; avoiding isolation and keeping a sense of perspective.

As with all advice books, there’s plenty here that you can adapt to your own needs. To take one example, Sara lists the advantages of having a blog as a great way to market yourself online. I couldn’t agree more. But she says to keep blog postings to no more than 500 words. Works for some, just not for me.