In today’s episode, we’re chatting with association insider and certified professional speaker, Ed Rigsbee.
Ed is a certified association executive and is known as the “ROI Guy” for associations.
Ed is also the president and executive director of the Cigar PEG, Inc., an IRS-recognized 501 (c) (3) non-profit public charity. Since 1999, he’s donated over $700,000.
With an inside scoop on what associations need and what they’re looking for in their speakers, Ed shares his insights on what speakers need to know about getting booked from associations.
If you’re a speaker ready to maximize the association world, this is the episode for you.
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✅ Check out the Cigar PEG to learn more: https://cigarpeg.com/
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Read the Transcription 🤓
Taylorr: Welcome to another episode of technically speaking. I am so excited that you decided to chime in to today’s episode where we’re talking with association insider and certified professional speaker, Ed Rigsbee. Ed is a certified association executive and is known as the ROI guy for associations and is also the president and executive director of the Cigar Peg, an IRS recognized 501 C3, nonprofit public charity. And since 1999 has donated over $700,000. With an inside scoop on what associations need and what they’re looking for in their speakers, Ed shares his insights on what speakers need to know about getting booked from associations. If you’re a speaker ready to maximize the association world, this is the episode for you. We hope you like this one and remember, stay tuned until the end for some awesome resources. All right, and we are live. Ed, welcome to the show. It’s great to have you.
Ed: Hey, thanks so much. It’s awesome being here. I can’t wait to find out what we’re going to talk about.
Austin: Absolutely. I’m just glad you’re here.
Taylorr: So, Ed, we like to kick off these shows learning about your backstory. How you got into this crazy world of professional speaking, and more importantly, how you got into the crazy world of associations. What led you down that path and how did you get where you are today?
Ed: Absolutely. Thanks, appreciate the question. We got to go way back to my days selling sunglasses, and even going back before that. Up in Yosemite National Park my last assignment there was, I was the manager of the ski shop at Badger Pass and I got fired [inaudible 02:03] for being obnoxious, couldn’t imagine that happening to me. Anyway, the guy that was my sunglass supplier, he’d been talking to me all year, all winter about wanting me to come to work for him. And he caught me right before I left. I go, yeah, no, man, I don’t want to do that. I don’t want to go up to San Francisco. No, no, no. We got a spot down in Orange County, because I was going to go back to Southern California where I’m from.
So, I took the job and it was awesome. The first day they gave me a gas card and a 1972 Ford LTD two door with a 400 cubic inch engine. It only took me and my buddies about a couple hours to go through that tank of gas. So, then I was off on selling sunglasses and they specialized in drugstores, but I came from the ski shop Ski World, so I love selling ski glasses to ski shops so I put a lot more energy there. And then one of the things that I noticed watching the ski reps, they would do product clinics and I had some upper end glasses to compete with back then, Varney, but we didn’t advertise or anything. So, I bought a spectrometer which would test the UV, blocking the IR, blocking the light transmission, and I would start doing these product clinics and telling people… I’d never bad mouth any of my competitors, I’d just go hey, if you want good eye projection here, let me show you. And my sales would jump.
That was in the, I don’t know, somewhere in the late seventies and the early eighties, they’d come to me and say hey, can you teach all of our salespeople to do these products clinics? Okay. And so, all of a sudden it became a sales trainer without even knowing what that was. And then I started having some of my customer is asking me to help their retail people with sales. Then in 1984, I met Patricia Fripp. She came to one of our sales meetings. Full disclosure, before Patricia Fripp all the speakers they had at our meetings, I really thought were horses’ asses, but that was just my opinion. Patricia was amazing.
I finally see this speaker, she had something cool to say, she did it really well and she just had so much energy and enthusiasm and like I was bitten with the bug. I’d been doing speaking, but in a different way and I got bitten with the bug. Then over time, it was six years later, 1990, at that point I had given up my manufacturer’s representative agreement became Vice-President the company and the owner, the President, didn’t like it that I went to the Atlanta NSA Convention without telling him so he fired me. Got fired again, I’m always getting fired and I can’t keep a job. So, I talked to my wife and I said I always want to do the speaking thing, I’ve been doing it on and off and I really wasn’t quite ready, but it’s kind of a now or never thing. And she goes, it scared the crap out of her, and she was pregnant with our second kid.
Ed: Yeah. Fired in August and our second kid, was born in October. But it was just like, okay, let’s do it. So, how I really got into the association thing, that year I’d been hired by an action sports retailer to write a series of three articles about retail sales. I just took those articles photocopy and I would call up association editors and say hey, I’ve got these articles, would you like to run them? Oh yeah, that’d be great. Hey, who books your speakers? John DOE or every one’s going to be lucky and they say or me. I go oh, even better. Let’s talk some more. That’s really how I got my start. When I brought out my book The Art of Partnering and my other book Partner Shift, that took me down to do a little bit of the corporate work, which was okay, but I I’ve always just really loved associations. And then in 2000 I came up, just dumb luck on my part, I created a qualitative research methodology when I didn’t even know qualitative research wise.
Austin: And at least you’re honest Ed.
Ed: Dumb luck. So, basically what it was is I was doing a keynote on, on partnering for California Alarm Association, and Jerry Lenander, their Executive Director said hey, you know, can you just a favor and after your keynote do a workshop. Yeah, sure. Fine. Happy to do it for you. When I do like, they want an industry round table type thing. So, when I do industry round table things, I put up on a flip chart and ask everybody, okay, what’s on your mind, write all this stuff down and then we vote on it and the top two, three, whatever we talk about. Well, it turned out that that day, there’s a lot of board members there and they really want to talk about the value of membership in the association. So, I’m just asking questions and asking questions, writing stuff down and asking questions and I’m just in the flow. And not really with any plan just in the flow. And at the end of the session, I’m looking at all of these flip charts, all over the place and everything, and I’m looking and going crap, I think I got something here.
So, I took them all home with me and when I get back after their conference was over, I called Jerry and said, hey, Jerry, that session you asked me to do, I actually know what the value of membership is from your members perspective on membership, the yearly value ship of your membership. Would you like me to write an article for your magazine? He goes, God, I’d love it. So that first article in the year, 2000 took me down a path of teaching associations how to measure ROI and actual dollar numbers, sent me down a path of doing… all of a sudden, I went from being a speaker on partnering to starting to also be a speaker on association governance, association, membership association growth, and all of that. And then the book Over My Shoulder, no wrong shoulder, this shoulder here, no this shoulder here, [inaudible 08:28].
Taylorr: One of them.
Ed: This is a podcast so they can’t even see the video, but anyway the ROI of membership and it’s a book that just teaches associations how to do that. And then because of the fact, oh, you’re going to love this. Because of the fact that I’m the Executive Director of the Cigar Peg and the Cigar Peg pays me a small stipend to be the Executive Director, that allowed me to join American Society of Association Executives, are you for this? As a CEO member. And then I find out a few years later, I can go sit for the CAE test, the Certified Association Executive test.
Ed: I take the course, I sit for the test, I pass it. I’m pretty good at taking tests. That was all my years as a soccer referee, I have to take tests every week. And all of a sudden, IR1, so now having the CAE, Certified Association, Executive credential puts me on par with those folks. So, when I talked to them, when I have these various things, and we can talk later about some of the things I’m doing with associations right now, but I have the… hell the National Speakers Association Executive Director, Mary Lou love her to death. She doesn’t even have the CAE yet. So, it kind of put me in a good place. And I’ve just been going down that same old, great path.
Taylorr: That is incredible.
Austin: What a story.
Ed: It is. Here I am, a couple years later, I’m still kicking at it.
Austin: I love it. So, from ski shop employee to sunglass salesperson, to sunglass sales trainer, almost to partnership expert to association membership expert. Is that the progression I just heard?
Ed: You forgot the part when I was about 17 and I worked for a dime store in Westminster, California cleaning the toilets.
Austin: Oh, okay. I would say that’s probably on the ranking somewhere there.
Ed: Yeah, somewhere there.
Austin: Wow. What a journey.
Taylorr: That’s crazy.
Austin: That’s so crazy. Yeah. I love that. Thanks for sharing Ed. So, you’re focused on associations at this point. I think that’s sort of the reputation that you’ve developed, which is awesome. I think that a lot of people are very curious about the association world, but either don’t know where to start, or I think sometimes they have misconceptions about what the association world really looks like. So, do you think that you could identify and address some of those potential misconceptions people have about working with associations?
Ed: Yeah, I can. And with your permission, I’m just going to mention one of my product services.
Austin: Of course.
Ed: Talk about how to get it later, but it’s called the 30-Day Challenge. 30 Day Selling to Associations Challenge. I would say anybody go do that. It’s two bucks a day, it’s cheap. What that does, it teaches people about associations and it gives them an assignment every day, but backing up. What’s going on with the associations? Okay, right now I’ve been running for almost a year, an association CEO group. And so, these chief staff executives, whether they’re a CEO, Executive Director and every Tuesday on zoom, we get together and yeah, they pay to be part of this, and I put up various questions that I find at the ASAE postings and stuff. And I use the on-zoom user poll and they choose from four or five questions, what they’re going to talk about that day and we get it.
And so one of the things that just keeps reoccurring, reoccurring, reoccurring as you would guess, is right now where we are today with the need for associations to have to move a lot of their meetings from live to virtual and the challenge also with these associations trying to do hybrid meetings, is that we don’t really think much about it, but if they do a hybrid meeting, that means they have to pay for the live meeting, the venue, and if they’re streaming, they have to pay for the platform. So now it’s costing them twice as much so a lot of associations this year through Q1, Q2, just about all of them are saying, we’re going virtual, it just financially doesn’t work. So, for the first half of this year there’ll be a few small meetings here and there, pretty much all are virtual. But that’s okay because I just recorded a session this morning with association executives on what their paying speakers right now an they’re talking about wanting to pay less for virtual, but they’re still paying a fair amount.
I’d say there’s still a lot of speakers getting even virtual, getting keynotes for five to 10-grand.
Austin: For sure.
Ed: And yeah, that’s pretty cool. You just sit home and do it. It’s where the they’re looking at is going okay, some of them had a little bit of a member loss because whatever business was impacted, they’re losing members. So, they’re trying to figure out how to be relevant, they’re trying to make their meetings work and also just a little data point, trade associations in general, in the 1950s, 1960s, 95% of their budget was membership dues. Today trade associations about 40% of their budget is membership dues and professional societies about 30% of their budget is membership dues. So, what that means is these association executives are out going crazy, trying to find non-dues revenue. And the meetings are non-dues revenue, the sponsorships non-dues revenue, and the big problem right now, if any speaker has got a solution to this, hey, I think you can make some money. Is that for these meetings the vendors are not enjoying doing these virtual expos because it’s not working for them because they don’t know how to do it.
So, a number of the association people for this year said, well, we’re just going move away to just sponsorships. But there’s a big, big discussion with my group, we had a huge discussion a week ago on how do we provide value for our vendors? So, for us as speakers, because we’re a service provider to these association people, there there’s clearly business for us. Clearly. They know they have to bring keynoters and they know they have to being professionals, because one of the guys today I was recording another session for a conversation with association executives go hire professional speakers, and he just said we tried it with free speakers and they’re boring, and people don’t like it. So, for the people that are probably listening in here this should, it should get everybody up and excited and ready to go and get on the phone. That it’s like, yes, they’re hiring speakers for breakouts and concurrent, yes, they’re hiring speakers for keynotes. The first half of the year most of it’s going to be virtual, the second half a year there may be some hybrid, there may be some live, and I guarantee you, there will be some virtual. We all need to figure out what we’re going to do. That’s kind of what’s going on in a nutshell.
Taylorr: That’s really fascinating.
Austin: That’s valuable insights.
Ed: Yeah. Thanks for sharing that, Ed. I’m curious, we actually had this question in queue, but I think you may have already answered this, but sometimes we hear from speakers that one of their big hesitations with even reaching out to more associations or working with more associations is that sometimes they are looking for free speakers or the speaker doesn’t happen to position themselves in the market correctly to get paid the fee that they’re looking for from the association. But from what you just said, it sounds like associations know that bringing in paid speakers as better for their members across the board. Would you say that’s a good generalization follow for all associations?
Ed: Yeah. Here’s the thing, just the session I was recording, one of the association CEOs, they talked about that fact that, yeah, we’ve got to hire people because if we put on crummy programming for our members, they’re not going to come to our meetings so we have to hire them. But also, they said the consensus in today’s call was okay, we don’t want speakers calling and bugging and bugging us, bugging us, bugging us, bugging us, but what we do want is speakers to communicate with us and a number them said email’s fine, that here’s what I do. Here’s my positioning strategy. Here’s what I do can help your association of whatever, oilwell diggers or podiatrist whatever. And I think a lot of speakers…and I’m going to go back a little bit. I’ve spent a lot of years around the country doing my selling to associations intensives and I spent a lot of years speaking to most of the NSA Chapters and the Canadian CAPS Chapters and other speakers’ societies around the world and here’s the thing that I’ve really come to, to learn.
So many speakers do such a crappy job of positioning themselves. These people go, oh, I’m going to save the world. Oh, I was with my husband all through his death and I’m going to make people better and I just said no-one’s going to pay for that. What is it you do? And getting people to understand association meetings, their conferences have basic content slots. Yeah, there’s the keynotes which can be a little bit broader from entertainment to high content, but, if you’re going to do with workshops, the pre post, the breakouts which they all pay decent money, that you be able to articulate which pigeonhole, nobody likes this but which pigeonhole. Do we put you in the sales pigeonhole, the leadership pigeonhole, the social media marketing pigeonhole?
Do we put you in the supervision pigeonhole? Do we put you in the PR pigeonhole, do we put you in the marketing pigeonhole? And so forth and so on. And unless the speaker can understand that there’s categories and as an example, somebody might say the category I’m best known for is leadership. How I’m unique in the leadership category is I ABCDEFG and explain to the value that you bring the speaking. Well, these people aren’t interested in that. And all of them on today’s call which was different than two weeks ago call, all of them said you don’t have good up-to-date video. and one the CEO said, good up-to-date means you could have just shot it on your iPhone yesterday. That’s okay. But he said so many of these speakers are wanting 15-grand for a keynote and their videos from the 1980s and it’s like, Whoa, we’re not going to hire you. So, I think that’s the key there’s money there for the speakers that know how to position themselves and communicate their positioning strategy and how they create value for the association and its members within that market or in that category.
Austin: Yeah. That makes intuitive sense, right? People solutions, not entertainment especially in today’s world. Have you seen that increase in importance as COVID has come along? Do you think that there’s an increased interest in having really updated new video, let’s say, or is messaging more important now than it was before? I’m just curious if COVID had any effect.
Ed: The thing is if you, like for instance, the, the NSA speakers that went on eSpeakers and got the what’s it called Certified Virtual…
Austin: Virtual Certification.
Ed: Okay, whatever it’s called. I spent my money. Anyway, if you’re going to do that well, then you really need to have a pretty cool video of you doing a virtual presentation on your website or at least make it available. I think what’s going on is the members, let’s just talk about the members of a lot of these associations. They’re going stir crazy so year and a half ago, some of the soft topics about feel better about yourself and all that, we’re losing favor. I can’t tell you how many association execs have totally, that’s the kind of stuff more people are asking for right now, because they’re locked up at home, they’re going stir crazy, we all know suicide rates are way up. But the people that do that kind of content to help people have some kind of life balance, t feel better about themselves, a lot of people were really asking for that, but that doesn’t mean that the people with high content that teach people how to do things, aren’t also very important.
So, there’s that ebb and flow like five years ago, a lot of the humerus really, really, really popular and then a lot of their popularity kind of, not that they’re bad or anything, but its kind of waned and some of the soft skills kind of waned, but right now I think the soft skills are going to be very important. So, anybody that listening to this, I lovingly refer to you as wooloo, if you just [inaudible 22:54] they got science behind [inaudible 22:55] but if you’ve got stuff to help people balance themselves, feel better about themselves, be calm, those kinds of things this year, you can do really well.
Austin: Yeah. That’s a good distinction to make. Thanks for pointing that out.
Austin: I want to call back to something you said a couple of minutes ago too. And this next question is really just about like how people can position themselves, if they’re going to be seen in the best light by associations, but you pointed out this, what sounded like you helping associations pigeonhole you into a broad category and then giving them a reason as to why they’re distinctive or they’re the best one for that pigeonhole…
Ed: In that category, yes.
Austin: Did I capture that correctly? Is that a good way to start?
Ed: Yeah, that’s it. And like I said, I can’t tell you all the years of doing my selling association intensive, this year, I’m not doing any live ones so many people had that problem. They just didn’t understand that people aren’t buying… as an example, if you speak on life and times and Gertrude Stein, how many people are going to hire you? Not many. But if you teach things around resilience, people are going to hire you. So, it’s understanding how to shift what you do to where it’s there, and I hate to call it a pigeon hole, but that’s what it is. To fit into their pigeonhole so they can understand where to put you on the program and then beyond that, you have to sell your value on why you’re so much better, different, you know, quote unquote, better than all your competitors. But you got it.
Austin: It’s simple.
Taylorr: Yeah. That’s definitely what I was going to say. They don’t want fluff, they just want to know what do you do and how can you help us navigate whatever times we’re in and make it as concise and easy to understand as possible and the right positioning and the right mix of not being too fluffy and you’ve got yourself some business. So, thanks for sharing all that Ed. Now we would be remiss not to ask this question. We’ve been to a number of Cigar Peg gatherings at this point. Why do you call it philanthropy through fun?
Ed: Thanks for asking about the Cigar Peg. I and a friend Grant Doyle started the Cigar Peg back in 1999 kind of as a joke and it kind of evolved. And then somewhere around 2005, my accountant told me, he says yeah, you can’t be doing this through your business anymore, you got to start a charity. So, in 2006 old high school buddy we’re in DeMolay together a youth group sponsored by the Masonic Lodge. He’s a lawyer. We were in Los Angeles buying some suits, eating at this greasy Mexican restaurant and told them about it and he goes, ah, give me a box of cigars, I’ll set it up for you. And so, we became a charity legal IRS recognized charity in 2006. So yes, I can write you a letter of donation if you give me money.
And what we found at the National Speakers Association back then, there was just a big hole. And what the big hole was, the speakers’ association kind of… we used to joke about it being called the Southern Baptist Speakers Association, because so many of the people in leadership and empower you were very religious right, and nothing wrong with being religious right but it was so much. You go to the meetings every year and you think you’re going to church. But we created just something fun. And NSA, they used to have something every night and then to save money in 1998, they stopped having a Monday night activity saying, oh, we did this so you can network. No, BS. You just wanted to save some money.
And a bunch of us were talking about, well, if they would have told us we would put something together. So, the next year I got Ed Robinson, it was in San Antonio, got him to help me find a place and we put on a great party. It was a lot of fun. So, we got Tequila sponsor and they gave us six dozen of their shirts. And if you bought the shirt from us for $15, I don’t know, 20% off on your dinner but you went into the party at the bar, tequila was the cro and either it was $2 for shots mixed, blended, any tequila drink was $2. And so, you could imagine how blitz we all were at the end of that one. And it grew and grew and different people wanted to help and I think that it’s like everybody has their buying motive and some people really like to come to the Cigar PEG because it’s fun.
Some people like to come to the Cigar Peg just because it’s a great deal. You can’t drink in the bar as cheap as you can join Cigar Peg and drink for free. Some people really care about the philanthropy that we do, a lot of money that we put into the NSA Foundation. So, everybody’s got their different reasons, but we try to keep it a lot of fun and we created environment, the nightly suite at the convention, you guys have been there, and the party. We try to make it a place where everybody can get together, they can network, they can be real, they don’t have to put on this stupid plastic mask of IB speaker, I do 5,000 speeches a week and all that crazy stuff and they’re just real. And we get people like you guys, you guys have donated and it made your service available and people like you that maybe want to get a little exposure in front of some speakers donate things, we auction it, we make some money, we give it away.
And, let’s see, 99, what are we 22nd year? Whatever it is. I lose track of the things. It’s my Alzheimer’s. But it’s been a fun ride. It really has been a fun ride. And for me, I’m in the suite and I see you guys and others just having a great old time, it’s like, yeah. And like, we have our big party and everybody having a great time and making some money, and then at the end of the year, when I write the checks to the charities we support, it just feels good. So, it’s been a great ride. It’s been a great ride.
Taylorr: Yeah. What more can you ask for in life? Just more of that. That’s really cool, Ed. Thank you for all you do and all the support you give to everyone in the NSA world, the association world. This has been a phenomenal episode, just being able to pick your brain and learn more about what’s going on the association side. So, thanks so much for sharing that with us. And as you know, we’re all about creating value for our audience so what are some of the things that you’re working on that our listeners can benefit from?
Ed: The coolest thing that I’m just having a lot of fun with is this, I don’t know if it’s going to be a video series, workshops series, what I’m still figuring out, but it’s a conversation with association executives who hire speakers. And I’m making this, and this is going to go into my library for speakers that are in my round table, which they have to pay to be part of. But here’s what’s been really fun. You guys know I’ve done the selling to associations intensives for years. Last year, this year, Aiden Crawford tells me we’re putting it all online. So now at sellingtoassociations.com, I’ve got a 30-day challenge, which without breaking my arm, patting myself on the back, it’s pretty gosh darn good.
At least that’s what people have been telling me. And a little something to do every day for 30 days. And if you do that, you’re going to have a really good understanding of associations and you’re going to be on your way. And it’s 59 bucks, it’s two bucks a day. And so, I’ve got that. And then I’ve got… we built from live video of my selling to associations intensive into an online course, and I keep putting new modules in there. So that’s awesome. Then I’ve got a round table. Do you want me to tell you what these things cost or just let people go find it for themselves? [cross-talk 31:20].
Taylorr: Go ahead.
Ed: So, 59 bucks for the challenge, 11.99 to be in the round table and then we’ve got an elite advisory, which is 42. 99, and then we got something way more expensive than that but I’m not going to talk about that right now. It’s ways to help speakers. I found some ways that during this pandemic, I love, love, love doing my intensives in Las Vegas. I love the party, I love being with everybody, I love the cigars in the evening and just love it, but we can’t do that right now. So, Aiden Crawford helped me and we found a way, we’ve been partnering on this and we found a way to put up some really cool courses that’ll help speakers and, and making them very timely. It’s all available, just sellingtoassociations.com. To T O, not the number two. So, selling to T O associations.com and you can you can go look at all the stuff and if you want to buy stuff from me, that’d be awesome. Happy, happy, happy to take your money, happy, happy, happy.
That that’s been a lot of fun and probably it’s not ready for prime time yet, but I’m working on, I just started this week, I’m working on Ed’s Little Blue Book Life Plan or Life Roadmap or Life Guide. I forgot exactly. But I went back for the last 30 years of speaking, you know how you keep telling stories and stories and I looked at it, what are the core truths? And I’m at 11 right now and probably the next couple of weeks, I’ll shoot the video. I’m going to shoot a video and then take the transcription, make it a small book, and who knows where it’ll go. But it’s a project that I just started on just for fun, but not only for fun, because we all know that when the pandemic is done, we’d better be ready and positioned to grab that business and things like life’s little playbook are things that people are going to want to hear about. And so, I’m doing it for fun, but I’m also doing it with the longer game, knowing that January 2022 they’re going to be doing a lot more looking for live speakers and even though they know me as the member recruitment guy, hey, I want to just some other stuff also just for fun.
Taylorr: Yeah, definitely.
Ed: So those are most of my projects.
Taylorr: Alright, Well, we will put all of those links in the show notes. We have firsthand experience of how awesome that 30-day challenge is. A lot of our clients have partaken in it has seen awesome results so we’ll make sure that’s all in the show notes. And hey, if you found this episode valuable, don’t forget to rate it subscribed to it and if you want more awesome resources like this, go to speaker flow.com/resources. Thank you so much for chiming in. I just wanted to take a second to thank our sponsor Auxbus. Auxbus is the all-in-one suite of tools you need to run your podcast and it’s actually what we run here at Speaker Flow for Technically Speaking. It makes planning podcast simple; it makes recording podcasts simple; it even makes publishing podcasts to the masses simple and quite honestly, Technically Speaking wouldn’t be up as soon as it is without Auxbus. Thank you so much Auxbus. And if you are interested in checking Auxbus out, whether you’re starting a podcast or you have one currently, get our special offer auxbus.com/speakerflow, or click the link below in our show notes.