In today’s episode, we’re talking with keynote speaker, communication expert, and previous event planner, Jo Burns.
Jo has been a long-time friend of ours here at SpeakerFlow. She has an incredible background organizing events for associations and helping facilitate the decision-making process for hiring speakers for events.
She shares with us what works, what definitely doesn’t work, and shares how to get the best ROI for reaching out to associations.
If your goal is to up your association game, this is the episode for you.
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Show Notes 📓
✅ Get Jo’s free goal writing exercise: https://joburnsconnects.com/bonusmaterial
🎤 Thank you to our sponsor, Libsyn Studio (formerly Auxbus)! Want the best podcasting solution out there? Learn more here: https://www.libsynstudio.com/
🚀 And as always, don’t forget about all the mind-blowing free resources at https://speakerflow.com/resources/
Read the Transcription 🤓
Taylorr: Welcome to another episode of Technically Speaking, we’re your hosts, Taylorr and Austin and today we are talking about associations and what’s awesome is today we brought an insider’s perspective in to help us understand what works and what doesn’t work when reaching out and selling to associations. And a perfect person for that is a long time and dear friend of ours here at Speaker Flow, Jo Burns. Now Jo has an incredible background on organizing events for associations and helping facilitate the decision-making process for hiring speakers for events. She did that for over three years and then segwayed into professional speaking herself. So, she shares with us what works, what definitely doesn’t work and shares how to get the best ROI for reaching out to association. So, if your goal is to up your association game, then this episode is for you. As always, we hope you enjoy this one and don’t forget to stay tuned for some awesome resources at the end.
And we are live. Jo it is so awesome to have you on today. Welcome to the show.
Jo: Well, thanks so much. I am excited and thrilled to be here.
Taylorr: Yes. It has been a long time in the making, we feel like.
Austin: It certainly has.
Jo: It happens.
Austin: You’re just like a walking ray of sunshine, Jo. I feel like I’ve never talked to you where you haven’t just been glowing with positivity so, appreciate that about you.
Jo: Oh, well thanks Austin.
Taylorr: Hopefully that’ll rub off on the show today. We’ll get all [cross-talk 01:46] those glowing rays of sunshine.
Jo: I’ll send out my shiny Juju of some of nature to everyone who is listening.
Taylorr: Gotcha. Alright, maybe that’ll be the title. Shiny Juju.
Austin: Good idea, that’s catchy.
Taylorr: We’ll run with that. So, Jo, the way we love to kick off this episode is just talking about your background. How did you end up in the professional speaking space and now as a speaker and from your association upbringing, just fill us all in, what was your journey like? How’d you get here?
Jo: Well, I really started doing a lot of my speaking when I was at camp director and it was really my job to train a hundred to 150 college students to be prepared to work with kids with disabilities. And so, I had to come up with really creative, really engaging, really fun ways to do that training. And so well, that’s how I kind of started doing the public speaking thing and it was part of my job at that point in time and so I did that for about 10 or 15 years. And then when I decided it was sort of time to transition into doing something else, because I wanted to spend more time with my personal campers, as opposed to all of ones that I worked with, I transitioned into, well, maybe I could teach.
And so, I ended up teaching at Metro College here for several different years so I was speaking in class and talking about parks and recreation and leisure and that kind of stuff, and was looking for a way to transition this bond into something bigger and ended up working part time with our Colorado Parks and Recreation Association here for about three years. And so that’s kind of how it transitioned and then I was like, ooh, well, these people that we hire are really having fun on the other side of this, maybe I should cross over to the dark side. And so, then I kind of started exploring, well, maybe I can do something with this facilitation and training and speaking, and ended up in the Colorado National Speaker association academy because Ruby, a new leg nurse suggested that I should really, if I want to do this, go that direction. So, there you go. That’s the long and well, mostly the short of it.
Austin: That’s a really cool story. I like it. One of the, probably the most common thing that we get told when we ask that question is, well, I fell into it, I stumbled into it and it seems like it’s kind of true for you as well. You inadvertently were a speaker, unintentionally were a speaker and then decided to make it intentional and got started in the NSA, which is interesting. What was that like going through the speaker academy there? I know there’s a lot of people that have thought about it or have gone through it themselves, but I’m sure there’s a lot of our listeners that would be curious as to what actually happens in that program.
Jo: It was such a blast. It was a little intimidating because there were definitely folks who had more experience than I did at the time, but it was so amazing to be put in front of, with and around other people who are aspiring professional speakers, some were already doing it already, but to be exposed to folks, who’d been doing it for years and they were so willing to share their tricks of the trade, their experiences, their knowledge, resources, it was really welcoming and really engaging and most of my speaker friends originally came from that core group of folks that I did academy with because well, we were all in it together. But it taught me all the basics because I did not realize when I decided to do that, all the complexities of the business side of things, I was like, I can get people that talk to me to ask them to come…I’ve done that, but there’s like this whole other side of it so I was exposed to that first. It was really enlightening to say the least.
Austin: That’s good. Sometimes we need to have that.
Austin: Shout out to the National Speakers. The best part of that whole organization is just the community. At the time that we’re recording this Taylorr and I are just coming back from the influence conference and there’s tons of great content there and people love the sessions and it was so good to see everybody and everything, that’s all true. But the number one thing that people were telling us while we were there was, it’s just so good to be back with my friends, with my colleagues, come together and do this as a unit.
Austin: It’s a very cool, I’m glad that you experienced that too.
Jo: Yeah, it was very cool.
Taylorr: Yeah. What I experience too, going from the association perspective, because you were planning events for those entire three years, is that right? When you moved into the association, did you just immediately start planning events when you got in?
Jo: Well, I had some planning experience being a camp director, you’re planning all the time programs, events, you’re basically converging all these different types of needs together from medical to facility, all those kinds of stuff and food all at the same time so it was a really easy transition to kind of jump into doing that for an association. Yes, it was unexpected. It was one of those things that I was looking to work part-time and I loved the folks that worked here at our association. They’re like, Jo, can you come help us do this? And I was like, yeah, pick me, pick me. And it was great because I got to work with so many awesome members, I got to see that whole entire flip side of what it is like to bring in all those education sessions, work with the committees that get to help plan those and pick those because they’re really an integral part of picking those sessions that end up in front of the members, as well as working with our program education manager and the whole entire thing. It’s a lot of work just kind of seeing how the parts fit together and making that smooth and seamless for everybody on the front side for members and not letting them know how much we’re paddling like ducks on the backs. [cross-talk 08:02].
Taylorr: Just sums up business. Period.
Austin: I think it does. Yeah. So, I know like a lot of speakers are probably listening to this and are curious from their perspective, what it’s like behind the scenes and we’ve touched on that a little bit already, but I’m curious for you, Jo, you’ve been on both sides of the fence. You’re a speaker you get hired by associations, you’ve worked inside of the associations, hiring speakers. What’s the process like when you’re in an association and you’re bringing in a speaker? What are some of the things that you’re looking for? What are some of the things that you’re planning for? I’m curious.
Jo: We really would sit down well, well in advance and look at what’s our theme going to be, we’d almost try to reverse engineer kinds of some things like what do we want our members to be able to get out of this conference this year and themes would blossom out of that. And then we would take that theme and anything and everything that we were doing, the speakers, the education sessions, everything would have to fit aluminate or be some way tied into that theme. And a lot of times that stuff starts like 12 months before it happens. And so, then we start looking for the people that do that. And we ask our committee members who have you seen? Where did you see them? Are they inspiring? Were they fun? Were they engaging? Do you think other people will like them? And honestly, we start searching and we start trying to get feedback from either our members, our committee members who are planning that as well for who they think is good. Very, very rarely did we go out to someone randomly and say, we want you, unless there was a referral from somebody else. Because that was a way that we would know from somebody that we know, likes, trust, et cetera, they had some sense of what kind of impact, what kind of value that speaker would be able to provide.
And honestly, I used to be that call blocking person for when speakers would call and say, I do XYZ, PDQ and WL MO and I want to talk to your [inaudible 10:20] and I’m like, thank you for calling. You can find out our wonderful process online at this place. Because one of the things we were looking for is for speakers and educators and stuff to respect our process because it was already there, it was already laid out and people trying to kind of jump the queue, so to speak would be very off-putting at times. Unless someone had told them to call and ask about doing this and stuff, that was one of our members.
Austin: That makes sense. I’ve talked to different people at different associations and when it comes to the outreach component, it seems like different associations just have different status quos. Some people I’ve talked to say they only select speakers that reach out to them since it seems like they care, talk to other associations. Like we will not accept anybody unless they were referred because that’s how we, yeah. So where did your association fall on that spectrum? And how open would you be to somebody that was reaching out to you as opposed to being a referral?
Jo: It would depend. I think part of it was had they done their homework. Had they checked online to see what our theme was? Were they able to talk to us about how they might be able to bring that theme to life? And then I would pass them onto our program management coordinator and stuff, because then they could have that bigger conversation. Would they fit into? We could see the stuff on their website, we could check them out and then [inaudible 11:49] did they fit into or could they fit into our budget schemata at the time? Because you know that the budget things real man. It’s hard because you really put this much, you pick where it’s going to be, you get the sponsors to be able to afford the stuff that you want to afford, but you still have a finite budget. It’s not limitless. So, we definitely had to look at speakers that fit in to that. And a lot of the speakers, like our keynotes, our middle keynotes, our plenaries and our in keynotes, those got paid, but a lot of our education session speakers were from our industry. And so, they were professionals there and some of them would get paid for education sessions and some of them would volunteer their time, effort, energy, and expertise so that people could learn from their peers.
And that’s another big part of it. So, there’s this really fine balance of professional speakers’ folks in the industry, as well as, folks who were like focusing on education session, programming, facilitation workshop, that kinds of stuff. So, it was like, how do we fill out that puzzle with a great amount of balance?
Taylorr: Yeah. Honestly, it sounds like it just needs to start with the relationship. I can imagine the people who called you and told you ABCD, the entire alphabet of what they do. I can imagine that that initial response of course is knee jerk just follow our process. But yeah, if people really don’t put in the time to figure out what’s actually happening for the event or work with you on your budget, like actually be a true partner and putting on something great, I can imagine that it’s extremely off putting as a decision-maker and part of a pretty large process. It sounds like not only were there committees involved, but there’s also a program manager involved too so it sounded like it was a pretty big decision just to choose a set of speakers, right?
Jo: Yeah. Like we would probably narrow it down. We’d get probably three to five keynote type speakers in the running, the ones that we decided that we liked and then we would, we would take that to the committee, to the conference committee and say, okay, here’s what we’re looking at. Check out these snippets, what do you think? Who do you think is going to best resonate with our members around what we do? They would give us their tops and quite frequently that would be who would we would go after in some way shape or form. And sometimes there would be some that we would have seen somewhere else we’re like, oh, we want them to come to our conference now because we had seen them somewhere else. So, the team that I worked with was amazing because they had so much skill. Our education program manager had been doing it for, I don’t know, 10 or 15 years and so learning from her was essential for me to kind of learn that backside and stuff, because when I was doing trainings and facilitations, it was me doing it and there wasn’t that extra step. It was just like, oh, I put this out there for training my staff, but it was really a great learning process.
Taylorr: Yeah. That makes.
Austin: So, one of the things that you mentioned are these educational sessions that, that you run. And we were talking before the show about CEC and CEU credits, and I’m sure there are some of our listeners that know what that means and there are others that have no idea what I’m talking about right now. So, Jo, if that is in fact what you’re referencing, can you help us understand how CEC credits and CEU credits played a role in the decision-making process for you in the association?
Jo: Oh yeah. So continuing education units or continuing education credits, whichever genre of the world you’re in, they’re basically the same thing. So, for anyone who is certified or licensed in any type of industry to keep that certification or license, they have to get a certain amount of those continuing education opportunities throughout a finite period. Some are three years, some are five years, et cetera. And with our association, we would be working with folks who needed those to be able to continue their certification and so there’s a process and a form, and its why speakers get asked for a lot more stuff than just filling out a proposal and sending it off. But there’s a board a lot… well, we would have a professional certification board review those and those forms is how we would select as a committee, which sessions would get picked. Do they have stuff that’s going to be able to provide continuing education so that our members who are certified can use that to continue to grow? So just being able to define all those components and looking for speakers and folks in the industry and members who could fill that out and do it well, sometimes could be a challenge.
Austin: Sounds like it’s pretty detailed. There’s a fair amount of information that goes into that form that you’re referencing.
Jo: Yeah. So mostly it’s online now, which is really great, but it’s a lot the basics, and then it goes a little deeper. So, you know, title and session description, the big one is measurable goals. There have to be measurable goals and expected outcomes that the listeners or the audience members have to be able to take away. And it can’t be a one where like grow. It actually has to be measurable or something to the effect of like, by the end of this session, participants are going to be able to take three takeaways from this event so that they can grow better beards. It’s that specific, but it’s also that small. And what we would see as a lot of folks trying to make it really, really big with 47 and in it, like, I want them to do this and then this, and then this, and then this it’s like, no, take it down, take it smaller, give us a chunk of what you hope that your audience are going to get from that. And we would see everything from like one-word goals to grow, become more fulfilled. I’m like, that’s not a goal to huge, gigantic ones and stuffs and it was hilarious.
But then there’s kind of the meat of it, which is give us an outline of what your presentation is going to look like and how you’re going to present it. What types of engaging components are you going to use? How are you going to engage the audience? Are you going to do polls? I love to do game shows because I think those are really fun lecture. if you put something in and it’s all lecture all the time, they’re going to go because that’s boring. But then you got to look at, how does this create a difference? So, you get asked questions, like, what’s the need assessment for this? How are you going to put forth your idea and what kind of need is it going to meet? What’s the why behind it? And you have to be able to articulate that. Well, the easy stuff is just the demographics kind of junk, but everybody, every association, every organization that you might be applying to, does it just a scooch different. And so, the challenge sometimes is to sit down with your keynote or with your session and identify all of those kinds of stuff, and then break it down into big pieces, small pieces, and even smaller pieces, because sometimes they say, please describe this and 60 characters or less so, you have to really be able to be concise with it.
Taylorr: Wow. Was this the same process too, that you would use for keynoters and then breakout sessions? They would still have to do the form and the proposal and the whole thing you just outlined or was it for the continuing education seminars?
Jo: So, all of our education sessions were required to fulfill the CEU requirements or they didn’t get to go. Our keynotes, a lot of the time we would bring them in, ask them for the information. Sometimes we had keynotes who could do that really well and sometimes we didn’t. So that would be, sometimes my job would be to fudge those and create that CEU content and goals and expectations and that kind of stuff from the information that we garnered from them, because sometimes we as speakers don’t necessarily do that kind of academic part well, unless you come from that academic world.
Taylorr: Yeah. That makes sense. So then, they were hiring keynotes because there was a committee involved and you and your program manager would have to bring three to five, your short list speakers to potentially bring in maybe for the main stage or breakouts and things how did the committee make decisions? What, like marketing collateral, were they looking at when they were making a decision about the speaker, aside from your own input? Were you making them based with demo reels based off of one sheet, based off their website? How did the committee actually process the information of the shortlist?
Jo: Yeah. Any and or all of those for our keynote speakers, for our education sessions and stuff, a lot of those decisions were made solely on how well they were able to complete those CEU forms and give us really good information and quite frequently some of it was like, if it wasn’t written well, it’s like, who knows this person? Who has talked to, or seen this person present and can we call them and say, okay, we really like this idea, what you brought to us was really intriguing, can you unpack it a little bit more for us because we want to see what that’s going look like in real life? Because part of that outlining kind of how you’re going to presenting gives you kind of like, okay, well, what are they going to be talking about along the way?
And yeah, a lot of it was that combination of that process. And with our education session folks, a lot of times we didn’t ever really go look at their webpage because a lot of those folks were just industry folks and industry specialists. It was when we were looking at our keynotes that we’d go check out any available stuff that we could find. Is like, what do they look like when they’re presenting in their real, what do they look like just with their writing? And then who had seen them and gave them a thumbs up or a thumbs down that combination.
Austin: Yes. There’s a really good lesson to be taken away from this. There’re so many people that get so caught up in all of the glamour of really cool marketing stuff and great websites and amazing demo videos. And I’m not saying any of those things aren’t important so let me be super clear about that, but that was not the thing that you said was the main distinction that was going make the decision for you in one way or another. The thing that you mentioned was clarity, was them plugging into the process that you already had, was them following instructions and doing the things that they asked from you. Those things can be repeated no matter where you’re at in your business. You could be the most successful speaker on the planet, or you could be just brand new and regardless of whether you have tons of resources or a beautiful website, you can always be really clear about what the outcomes are going to be, very good at following instructions and you can always be good about plugging into whatever process the organization uses to select their speakers.
And I don’t know, that’s just an ease of being worked with thing it’s not a flash and glamour thing, you know, am I hearing you right? That really is the thing that makes the difference.
Jo: Oh yeah, you’re spot on Austin. It’s very, very different than working with corporations or nonprofits or the you might go about being engaged there. Working with the associations, I think they’re pretty similar. They all kind of have kind of their own unique way. The one that I worked with that’s exactly what it was, is we wanted to work with people who made it easy for us, but we’re also participating in our process wanting to be able to give the things that we were required to do to make sure our members’ needs were met related to the type of education that they would need. And I think in our agency, we had 1200 to 1500 members and I would say at least, well, close to half of them were certified or licensed in something. And so, we had to make it, so those folks needs were met, not just the other half.
And it was an extra added bonus for those folks who weren’t certified at that point in time is they got a higher quality education session and education experience through our conference because we knew we had vetted all those people, we knew that they were approved by our certification board or our professional certification board, as far as what they had written, what they were creating for us and hopefully it came out and was present when those presentations were made during our conference.
Austin: Yeah. So much helpful information there. I hope everybody’s listening to this intently. So, I got to ask from your angle, having this inside knowledge, which you’ve just graciously unpacked for us. What are some of the things that you personally do when you’re applying for conferences or associations or whatever that give you a better chance let’s say based on that inside knowledge that you have.
Jo: Well, I do my homework. I really go research their website, try to find their process, I like to reach out to their education managers and ask them if it’s before they’ve posted stuff, call not and say, oh, pick me, pick me, but could you share with me what your process looks like? Can you share with me how you decide what you’re going to pick for your theme? Or what are the things that are going on right now that are important to your members right now? So that I can see if I’m even a fit and if I’m not a fit at all, I don’t send anything in. If I talk to them, they’re saying, you know, we are really focusing on X, Y this session and stuff, I’m like, ah, thank you so much for telling me. I said, do you know that doesn’t really fit what I do and stuff, but I know two people who would really do, and I try to refer folks or say, hey, I just found out that they’re focusing on what you do send in a session proposal, send in a proposal.
And some of them have very different processes for education sessions. Those one hour, hour, 15 minute, two and a half hour sessions versus their keynote process. And sometimes just a referral to be able to say, go talk to them. So, I’m very conscientious because I’m talking to people who are me, and it was, what did I want to hear from people when they were calling me on the phone to ask if they could speak at our conference. And then I try to be very timely and very specific and make sure that all of the information that has been requested is there, it’s very succinct, it’s very clear. I always follow up with my proposal go through, and please let me know if you have any other questions, just so they know that I am in their process with them.
Taylorr: Nice. Wow, that was gold. It really sounds like too… what I love about you, Jo, is you really practice what you preach. Your expertise as a speaker is like helping people communicate and empower connection and all those things and you really just take that into your own process. And it sounds like really just being conscientious of them, putting it in the context of them and following their process and making sure that you’re honestly the right fit. That seems like it’s pretty much going to win the deal every time. But I’m curious just on your expertise of communication and connection how did you like stumble on that? I know you have this element of health in there as well so what does that mean to you? And how does it help you, I guess? Your own expertise.
Jo: Well, I think I stumbled onto the connection thing simply because I was doing it all the time, but really didn’t have a name for it, didn’t really realize what I was doing. Like I told you, I was a camp director for kids with disabilities and through therapeutic recreation for a long, long time. And what I didn’t realize is I was bringing all these folks together, almost like multi-sartorially, but in like all these different sectors of the process and I was making it so that everyone knew where they were at, what the goals were, where we were trying to get to, and everyone was included in the process. And at that point time, when I was doing it at camp, it wasn’t different folks from different agencies, but I didn’t realize, I just thought everybody did that.
Doesn’t everybody do that? And then it was sort of like that facepalm moment when I went to another position doing similar stuff, and they’re like, Jo, you’re the only person that we’ve ever had reached out to us and include us and tell us what was happening, when it was happening, how we can contribute with the kids, how we could engage and I was like, really? Really? And so, it, it hit me in a kind of this weird place that, oh, that’s kind of the thing that I do. And so, as I’ve become a speaker, I realized that the things that I enjoy most bringing in these people from different sectors that work around health, community health, that kind of stuff, whether it’s parks, recreation, built environment, folks you’re working with not-for-profit community kinds of folks and utilizing nature and outdoors and recreation as a medium to help people create that connection around how do we do this all together?
And when you have something, people like to do, like most of us enjoy a little outdoor time. We might garden, we might hike, we might walk but when we have those types of things in common, it helps make that connection in that focus towards our overall goal easier. It gives us a medium by which to do that, a medium by which to reach our optimal health, whether that’s personally or organizationally, that kinds of things. So, I like to bring the fun and the energy and excitement into how those connections create the whole puzzle picture. Yeah, I hope that make sense.
Taylorr: Yeah, no, that’s perfect.
Jo: Because sometimes I just get really excited about it.
Taylorr: No, I totally understand that, trust me, I just got back from a week at a lake doing nothing except being outside and it was the biggest recharge I’ve had all year certainly. So yeah, at that time where you’re able to just be connect, be a human being, especially in our digital landscape that we live in constantly as professionals I can really see the value in all that. And Jo, you have added so much value to the show today. Thank you so much for sharing all your insight or knowledge, your journey, giving people an inside, look into what your journey was actually like. And as you know, we’re all about creating extra value for our audience so what are you working on right now that our listeners can benefit from?
Jo: Well, I created a goal writing plan. A fun little way where you can really learn to write goals that associations might be looking at and how to make them measurable and how to make it easy. That’s one of the things I’ll share that link with you so you can share it with all the listeners and hopefully folks can check that out. Some of our SFU members I’ve shared it with them already, because they’re like, Jo helped me do this. So, I try to make it easy and fun so people can learn how to write those goals and objectives so that they’re measurable and what people looking for. And then hopefully cross the fingers, the opportunity to work with both of you and creating a class so that folks can actually learn how to do this. If their goal is to really work with a lot of different types of associations, I want to help folks find an easier way. I want to help them understand how to do it because they’re already creating the content and the information, it’s just extrapolating it from what they’ve already created into the formats that associations are looking for and are all just a little scooch tweaky different.
Taylorr: Perfect. Well, I will make sure those links are in the show notes, Jo, thank you so much for coming the show today. It was amazing to have you and hey, if you liked this episode, don’t forget to rate it like it, subscribe 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/speaker flow, or click the link below in our show notes.