In this week’s episode, we’re chatting with Crystal Washington – futurist, technology speaker, and author.
She’s also the host of the National Speakers Association’s very own podcast – Voices of Experience.
We chat about the technology you need to run your business, where the industry is heading, and how Crystal successfully navigated a COVID world with her speaking business.
If you’re looking for the secret sauce to tech, you’ve come to the right episode.
Let’s dive in!
Listen to the Podcast 🎤
Watch the Podcast 👀
Show Notes 📓
✅ Check out the Voice’s of Experience podcast: https://www.nsaspeaker.org/voepodcast/
🎤 Thank you to our sponsor, Auxbus! Want the best podcasting solution out there? Get your free offer here: https://auxbus.com/speakerflow
🚀 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 are really excited about today’s guest, Crystal Washington. Crystal, welcome to the show.
Crystal: Thank you for having me. I’m so excited.
Taylorr: Yea, we’re definitely excited to have you on. So, for those of you who don’t know Crystal, she was once attacked while riding in a convertible by a bird wanting a piece of her Afro for its nest, but that’s quite honestly why we brought her on the show today in fact. All kidding aside, Crystal is a Technology Strategist and Futurist and works with organizations that want to leverage technology to increase profits and productivity, crystal has educated and entertained audiences across the globe, she regularly appears on major television networks and in business publications for her expertise. She’s also the author of the books, One Tech Action and The Social Media Why, she’s even the host of National Speakers Association’s very own podcast, Voices of Experience, make sure you give it a listen if you haven’t already. And outside of technology, crystal considers herself to be an adventurous travel fanatic. In fact, she was once followed by a random barefoot and mountain man with a machete up an active volcano. Luckily, she lived though, and she’s here with us right now, if you haven’t connected those dots, but anyway, Crystal, it’s so great to have you what an awesome bio welcome to the show.
Crystal: Thank you again for having me. I’m just really, really honored to be here with you and chatting with my peers.
Taylorr: Yeah, absolutely. Okay so, technology Strategist and Futurist, let’s talk about that title for a second. So, how did you end up in the world of speaking and what made you want to take that leap and engrain yourself so deeply in the speaker world? And then in addition to all of that, why technology strategist and futurist?
Crystal: Sure. So, my degree is in hospitality and that’s where my career was. I worked in the hotel industry for years as sales manager, revenue manager but a revenue manager over each channel. So, I was managing Expedia, Priceline, all that kind of stuff and some marketing as well. And so, the path to speaking was a very indirect one because I didn’t know that really existed. So, it went from me working in corporate, making my company tons of money, and then there was this thing on the horizon called social media. And so this is back in the MySpace days and I’m in my early twenties at the time, I’m a little millennial and I went to my boss and I said, hey, this social media thing, I have a feeling, this is going to be a big deal and eventually companies are going to get on here and talk to clients. Now, for us now we’re like, duh, but it actually wasn’t happening then.
And I said give me a little bit of time to explore how we can do this. It’s just a little small side project. And you all, he looked at me, he’s an older man and he said, look, kid. He said, you’re cute and you make us a bleep load of money. He didn’t say bleep, he said, stick to what you know. So, oh, okay. So being a millennial I was, I quit my job a few months later and I started a digital marketing firm because everything in me said this is going to be huge. And so, I built up clientele from there, starting off with small Mom and Pops, but then I got Google, Microsoft, British Airways as clients and the speaking came in there.
Because all of your clients are members of different professional organizations and they would say Crystal, you and your team do such a great job, can you speak at XYZ luncheon? And I would just do it as favorite of clients, but I kept getting so many requests that I was like, I can’t keep doing this, this isn’t billable hours. And the first organization they called me after I made the decision, I said, I’m so sorry, I don’t have time. And they said, but we’ll pay you. And I said oh, and I Googled professional speaking and I was like, I’m doing the wrong thing. And that’s how I became a professional speaker.
But it came, the titles Digital Marketing Strategist and Futurist, all those things, they came from what I’ve always done. Even in corporate America I was the techie when I was using tech where others were not, I was using programmers where others were not, which is how I got really good results. And in my own firm, obviously, it was about digital marketing strategy. And the futurist piece came in the fact that while it’s a designation and you go to school for this and you take courses, which I have done, it also is a frame of thinking, and something I’ve always done. I’ve always been good at looking at alternative futures and planning for A through D versus just what everyone’s expecting, which is A.
Taylorr: That is so cool. And I’ve got a question a sort of a follow-up to this because you’re so humble and I love that about you. However, like Futurist is an interesting title because eventually the future comes and you’re either a Futurist that guess right or you’re a Futurist that guess wrong. And maybe fortunately though, I don’t think it was just fortune, I think this was calculated, you guessed right and obviously, social media is maybe like the biggest channel that companies use in a lot of instances to drive attention, because for the first time ever, you don’t have to put up a billboard and pray that enough people drive by and see it, you put up a digital billboard and then the whole world sees it. So, that’s pretty cool. Have you ever wanted to be, like I told you so to those people that didn’t believe it, or was it more of a gradual progression that he never really went like, oh, I was right all along, what’s up people?
Crystal: Well occasionally, occasionally. But honestly, a lot of people don’t understand what a Futurist is. I’m not sitting here with a crystal ball, it’s, it’s not the same thing as psychic. A Futurist is basically someone that looks at things that are going on in the environment, they collect something called signals, they’re doing atmosphere scanning, and it’s very specific, you’re answering very specific questions. So, I’m a Technology Futurist. If people have questions about healthcare or transportation or building cities, I can’t help you, that’s not me. And what happens is, is you look at what people are expecting to happen, maybe over the next five, 10, whatever years, and then you look at what are two to three alternatives. It could happen based on everything we know. And then when companies hire you, like Shell was one of the first large organizations to actually employ Futurist, what happens is you come back to your client and you present these alternatives and the client prepares for these alternatives as well.
So, it’s not about saying this one thing’s going to happen, you all prepare, it saying these are a couple of different things you might not have considered. How about we insure our bets and make sure we’re okay in these instances? But you can’t predict Black Swan events. So, for instance, COVID-19, I didn’t predict that. Now, there are Medical Futurists that did though so I think it’s worth noting that there are people that are in this lane that have actually said you know, this is possible and we were like, ah, we’re good, don’t worry about it.
Austin: That’s fascinating. It’s a lot more calculated than I think I would give it credit for at times.
Austin: That’s cool. I just [cross-talk 07:10].
Crystal: And I don’t get to sit around and just guess stuff. I have to be able to back it up.
Taylorr: Wouldn’t that be amazing huh? That would be a Nostradamus of the tech world.
Max: Crystal, as you’ve got that dual title of the Technology Strategist and Futurist, I’m just curious because speaking of the Black Swan event of COVID, it’s kind of here, it’s in our lap, if you were looking ahead no crystal balls involved in this obviously, but what are you seeing? Are there any immediate recommendations that you want to make to the folks that are listening to people that are trying to make decisions about wrapping up the year and getting into next year?
Crystal: Well, I think this is really a time to lean on technology that helps you with relationships. Because I think that a lot of speakers right now are surviving on hope, they’re waiting for things to get back as they were and I don’t see that happening in any future, I don’t see that happening first quarter next year, I don’t really see it happen second quarter next year. And because I know so many people in the medical establishment, it’s not looking good for next year, honestly. We’re still getting some in-person meetings, I’ve turned down stuff myself for things are going on this month. But I think right now having a really good CRM and that it’s not about the technology, but making sure you’re staying connected because you know, Max, to give you an example, I have a list of 20,000 people. I have tons of clients; I haven’t marketed that I do virtual events one time this year. Not once of I marketed or told anybody, I could do it or pitched to one person and there’s nothing wrong with that, I probably will eventually, but I’ve stayed busy because I have great relationships with clients and so they literally, right after all the events started canceling and postponing, I started getting clients calling me saying Crystal, can you do a virtual event?
I’m like sure, you need me to run a stage? You want me to be at my desk? What do you need? So, those relationships are what get us through and we’ll stay top of mind for people, even when they don’t even know what we’re capable of. They like us, we’ve maintained the relationship and so, if there’s one thing that I would suggest speakers really, really invest in outside of the basic technology you need to do good virtual presentations is technology that helps you maintain relationships.
Max: Got it.
Austin: That was so practical. I love it. That’s not even just a rule for COVID times, either. I mean like a good business, people are always focused on the relationship and it wasn’t because you suddenly pivoted to that when COVID happened, that was because you had focused on that for decades, probably building and maintaining those relationships.
Crystal: And part of it, mine, isn’t so much methodical and I teach people to be methodical because we operate differently and I think that as business owners, we have to do what works best for us. Now, for me, it’s not so much the technology, I’m just really good at making people feel seen and that’s what’s worked for me. So, I’m not going to touch as many people, but the ones I do touch, they will not forget me because I’ve done something that let them know oh my gosh, Crystal gets me. Whether it’s a really weird gift, that would be very valuable to them, but no other human on earth or whatever else. So yeah, it is, it’s not just COVID, but boy, you know that’s saying that older people say you have to dig your well before you’re thirsty? This proves it.
Taylorr: I think it was a way too to future proof your business. I feel like Crystal, like you said, you didn’t have a crystal ball no pun intended there, I would like one of those though that tells you the future and what to expect, and all of a sudden gigs started disappearing, but because of the relationships that you had, you said people started calling, you started picking up business and you haven’t really needed to forcefully market the fact that you’re a Virtual Speaker, you just provide the services and the solutions that they need when they need them through whatever medium is required in that moment. So, I think on top of the relationship building and its funny, Technology Strategies and Futurist like it’s not the technology, it’s really not it’s about the relationships, but what the technology does though, is it’s an assist for you.
Without the technology, you wouldn’t have been able to, all right, let me grab my list of all of my past clients and make sure I’m following up with that very specific group to make sure that they know I’m here, they feel seen and I’m present for them. And I love that you said that, that you’re not throwing spaghetti at the wall and hoping it sticks sending that message to a thousand people, you send it to 50 of the most highly qualified and make it extremely personal and still get results out of that and that’s definitely something we focus on. So, that’s really validating to hear and I think for those of you listening, if you’re looking for the magic wand to future proof, your business, it’s really not so magic as it is just building your relationships.
Crystal: Well, it’s funny you talk about relationships, when all of this first started and the events were postponing and I was actually very much good with it, I contacted my clients before the postponements happen, giving them options. Hey, if you keep doing this, I’m not going to leave you hanging, I’ll show up, but here are three other shiny options for you because I was afraid of being…
Austin: Being proactive.
Crystal: Like horrible vector directing people, so they already knew what their options were. But what was funny is when those clients started calling me, I’m pretty sure three of my clients, and I told my husband this, I’m pretty sure they tried to throw me business because they were concerned about me, if that’s interesting. Because they were a few of them were I was like, this is interesting. Like, well, crystal, how are you? Well, you know what? We could kind of use videos right now, but the way it was presented, I was like, wait a minute, they’re just trying to make sure I have business, how sweet. So, relationships matter because people will look out for you, but it takes more than just these transactional business situations to develop that.
Taylorr: So, one question that comes to mind is, obviously you help lots of organizations, benefit from technology, you’ve been doing it for a long time, we talked about having something like a CRM to help manage your relationships. What other tech do speakers need to be successful right now? And let’s talk about both the virtual end of things, let’s talk about like the presentation stage craft and so on, let’s talk about the business stuff, what have you taught other organizations that have benefited view in your own speaking business?
Crystal: So, right now I get a lot of requests to show people what technology they need to do good meetings and not just speakers, I’ve done stuff for the National Speakers Association, but for instance, Financial Planners, I’m doing a lot for Financial Planners because now they have to have their meetings remotely. But if you’re dealing with people that are high net worth individuals, you can’t just show up on a grainy screen, you still have like, you still have to give them the feeling of that nice polish office. Or I’m getting a lot of stuff from tourism professionals who are trying to figure out other ways to monetize their businesses and I’ve given them some really innovative ideas that I haven’t seen anyone else do yet where I’m like look, there’s opportunities to monetize this. So, those are the types of things that I’m getting requests for. But if I can give just a couple tips that I think would help speakers. That is if you’re going to do virtual presentations, you do not have to create a whole home studio. There are speakers who have done that and t looks amazing and I love it because that’s what their clients expect of them.
But I remember when all this first started you all, I had one client where I was like okay, well I can do this, and my living room set up this way of standup and I can run a stage, I could do this and this and the client was like you know, we really love Crystal? And I said, what? And they said we would love for you to sit down in front of your laptop and I was like it really depends on what clients are expecting. So, really you need a very good quality webcam, it needs to be a USB whatever’s already on your computer, don’t do that. Logitech has some great ones, you really can’t go wrong with Logitech, not that there’s not others, but I’m trying to be simple here. You need a good quality microphone and it needs to be external, the one on your laptop or your computer don’t do that, just trust me. There are many different kinds. You could do a Lav, I have a Blue Yeti and it works really great. I can position it over me, I can have it standing next to me, great quality sound, and you need good lighting.
Most of the time, I actually just face an amazing window in my house and the lighting is, I look like I’m on a photo shoot, but get a good quality ring light. I know there’s different types of lights, but the stadium lights tend to be harsh, if you want that Oprah effect where your skin looks creamy, get a nice ring light. Those three things alone are enough to get you started, but there is one more thing that you need for all of those things even matter and that is really good quality internet. You have to have ultra-fast internet and for some people where they live, that’s problematic. So, you might have to rent space someplace else, don’t be afraid to go somewhere but if your internet is junky, none of those other things will matter. And if you have those three things alone, that is enough to get you start on virtual.
I have seen people, even when I do this simple setup, I’m talking about, I get paid five figures for one-hour webinar for that simple setup. So, I don’t want people to think that you’re working for nickels or something over here, you really don’t need the most technology and unless that’s expected of you. And I’m a technology strategist, but I’m known for pragmatic practical tips so, people actually want me to keep it simple. But if you don’t have a topic where you have to have a bunch of, for instance, there’s Brian, Fanzo [inaudible 16:55] he’s another technology speaker, he’s known to experiment and have tons of cool stuff so he has to have that, it makes sense. But if your topic is on a stress relief, or if your topic is on empowering leaders, you don’t need all that. If you can do it and it makes sense for you, great. But don’t feel the pressure and don’t wait for everything to be perfect.
Taylorr: Yeah. It kind of boils down…
Austin: I think it’s interesting because like we’re comparing ourselves a lot of time to other speakers and usually, we’re comparing ourselves to the flashiest that you can find, that’s the bar gets set up, but really this is new for everybody. And I think most organizations that you talk to, they don’t even have a box to put this in. If you show up and you just look clean and crispy in a clean office and with good audio, it’s going to be more enough and they’re going to be impressed. And I don’t know, I think it’s easy to forget that really simple. Isn’t bad, really simple sometimes can already be higher than a lot of people’s expectations are set at.
Crystal: I think we should just focus on being polished. And polish can look different because there can be simple polish, there can be complex polish. So, for instance, I usually have a backdrop, I have different color backdrops and stuff like a photography backdrop. I don’t like to do virtual backgrounds because I do not, it’s very rare I say something like this, I do not think it looks professional. It’s okay for conference calls and things like that but as a professional speaker, it looks crazy when you have the Pac-Man stuff eating into your head, unless you have a really good green screen and excellent lighting and I’m married to an international photographer so I know what it takes to do this, most people don’t have the setup to pull that off. So, get yourself a nice solid background, I actually know speaker who bought a shower curtain that looks beautiful. Clients are always like oh my gosh, it looks amazing.
So, do whatever polish looks like for you, don’t compare it with a bunch of tech because whatever technology you have, if you focus on making it beautiful. Like mine, I make sure that I look like a piece of art on my presentations, the way I do colors, because normally on stage I’m in all black or all white, but on these bright colors, bright color lipstick, the background, it looks like art. That’s how I do it. I think everyone has to figure out how can they put their… there’s a old black person saying when you talking about putting your stank on something. How do you put your stank on it? How do you make it you? Uniquely you.
Austin: Yeah. That was awesome.
Taylorr: It’s funny, you mentioned this, I think I’ve heard you said the word like five or six times now, but simple. One of the things we hear all the time and especially as we teach technology and strategy and all that stuff to speakers, it’s overwhelming. There are 50 tools that do the same thing, there are a billion different choices of cameras and backdrops and so, I’m curious from your perspective as somebody who has to stay informed about technology, look at trends for big organization, even for your own business as a business owner, how do you limit the overwhelm and sift through all the noise to really, I don’t know, isolate what needs to be changed for your clients or for your business? How do you limit that overwhelm while still staying ahead of the curve of technology and what practical tips, if any, do you have for other speakers who are running their own businesses to also keep that in mind?
Crystal: Yeah, well I think number one, don’t panic. When we come from a place of fear, what happens is we make a logical decision. So, for instance, when all the cancellations first started this year, for the first two weeks, speakers were freaked out and then after that, there was like this call all across the industry where people were like technology, and they ran out and they just started buying as much stuff as they could. And just because you have all this stuff, does it mean you have clients, it doesn’t mean that you’re making money.
Austin: That’s right.
Crystal: And so, I think you can be aware of what’s happening, read a tech blog a week, listen to a podcast, that’s one of my favorite ones, but at the end of the day, I adapt technology that fits particular needs. So, if I haven’t found a need, I actually don’t buy the technology. I’ll share something really funny with you all that will probably freak some people out. I bought my first tablet two months ago. I’ve never owned a tablet in my life. Now, here’s why, now my husband has, he’s a photographer so it worked great for him to show his portfolio so he wasn’t lugging around old school books. I actually never had a logical reason, a need to have a tablet. I always either need a laptop or could do it from one of my smartphones. Well, now that I’m doing virtual and there’s times where I actually need to be able to how did I just lose the word? I need to be able to read the words that I’m speaking, everything I have the… helped me.
Crystal: Thank you. I have a teleprompter, but it connects to… thank you, to a tablet so I bought a tablet. So, I always tell people don’t get something because it’s new and shiny, that doesn’t mean tablets aren’t valuable, they are, but for me, there was no reason to have it so I could have bought it. And it’s it wasn’t a financial like oh, I’m trying to save money, it just didn’t make sense, logical sense. And so, in your business, if you’re seeing that your CRM is not cutting it, or even if you’re seeing that your CRM has too many features and it’s too confusing, simplify. If you’re seeing that you’re having a hard time keeping up with all of your customers, all right, well now it’s time for you to sign up for a service where you can have email broadcasts sent out to your clients. I typically recommend that people, whenever you need technology for something, find the piece of technology that has the least amount of features, but has all the features you need.
If you only need a bicycle and you buy a Maserati, the problem here isn’t that the money that you spent, that’s piece of it. But the other problem is if you don’t know how to drive now, you just created more tension for yourself, you’re freaked out. So, whenever you see a need in your business, if there’s a pain point, yes, now you can look for technology to solve that pain point, but find the simplest technology you can to fit that pain point. Don’t overcompensate, because then you won’t use the tool because you’re going to be overwhelmed.
Austin: That is golden. I love that advice. I’m constantly putting nails in my wall with sledgehammers and I feel like what you just said will simplify that for me where I can [cross-talk 23:24].
Taylorr: By using a hammer?
Crystal: If you have a partner, I’m sure they want to thank me too at this point because I’m a man and all these holes and I’m like oh no.
Austin: Yeah, it’s bad. She’s been telling me for a long time, but I thought that I needed that sledgehammer. So, I got to ask about that bio, the beginning, you have a story behind the volcano and the mountain man and the machete and all that stuff. So, now that we’ve talked about technology and really simplified that whole thing, tell us that story. Where did that come from and how did it land in your bio?
Crystal: Well, I’m a lunatic. I’ve done the story at improv nights, like explaining with an improv troupe. I’m going to try to make it as short as humanly possible.
Taylorr: Got it.
Crystal: But basically, there was a wedding, my husband’s friend is a photographer, he needed a wedding photographer, my husband’s a photographer, he brought in my husband who would do a good job. A couple days before the wedding, you know guys and girls, they split up and do they separate activities, girls were going to go to the spa guys decided they wanted to hike an active volcano. I’m looking at the ladies and I’m like that’s stupid, I don’t want to do that because I do adventure stuff. So, I was like hey guys, can I come with you? They said sure. So, as the car picks us up to drive us up the volcano where we start hiking to the point, the gentleman, this was an Island says hey, is your guide waiting for you at the top? The top groom says, no. He said, but people die here all the time, you need a guide. He’s like oh no, I asked my uncle, he explained the way we’ll be fine.
The guy’s freaking out. We get at the top of the mountain; the guy doesn’t want to leave us. He’s like please let me just find you a guide, I’m afraid you’ll die. Nope, groom decides to go on ahead, I’m like I don’t like this, but I have to follow it. Basically, to make this as short as possible, we almost died several times, okay. It was very dangerous tracks at some point, the path was maybe two feet wide and if you fell in either direction, it’s a 200-foot drop so we could have died at any point in time, okay. And people are slipping and slide. We’re trying to hold each other. There came a point where we enter deeper into the rainforest, the ground was beneath us everywhere were we sit down for a moment and breathe and think over our life decisions. At this point, we saw the trees moving so we knew something big was coming behind us.
I can’t explain it to you, maybe it’s that futurist thing, I don’t know, but something in me was like, thank gosh. I was actually relieved, all the guys jumped up, ready to fight, out walks of barefoot man with the machete, matted hair, apparently, he lived on this mountain. The guys are like at attention because this dude actually has a machete, and he says hey I met a guy in a bus and he said there’s some crazy Americans that are about to die and I should help you. Yay. So, the groom was like, we don’t need your help and I was like, ignore him, I don’t have any money on me because we’re on a volcano, but I have a bag of granola and another guy was like, I had sandwiches. And so, the guy led us through to the very top in return for being paid with granola and sandwiches and we did not die.
Max: That’s a really good story.
Taylorr: That is one for the books. That has got to be one of my top five favorite stories that I’ve ever heard before. So good. Incredible. Well, thank you for sharing that with us Crystal. This has been a loaded episode you guys, we talked about technology relationships, how to make it all simple and how Crystal almost died on a volcano so hopefully you enjoy this one. Crystal, so as you know, we’re all about creating value for audience, what are some of the things you’re working on that they can benefit from?
Crystal: Sure, sure and I know you mentioned beforehand, I could mention the fact that I am over on [inaudible 26:52] of the chair and the host of the National Speakers Associations Podcast, Voice of Experience, and then in addition to that, I’m just doing a lot of video series right now for my clients, a lot of them are [inaudible 27:01] series and some other speakers who’ve hiring me to get on series with them. So, if anybody needs a fun partner to bounce things off of to create video series for your clients on different things where there’s a technology lean, then I’m girl.
Taylorr: Perfect. Well, we’ll make sure all of your info is in the show notes. And for those of you listening, if you want more awesome resources like this, don’t forget to subscribe and 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.