Episode 15 – Thom Singer, professional speaker, trainer, author, and more, explains his long path to second career success
In this episode, Marc interviews Thom Singer. Thom has worked in sales, marketing, and business development roles for Fortune 500 companies, law firms, and entrepreneurial ventures. He is now a professional master of ceremonies, motivational keynote speaker, and the author of 12 books on the power of business development, networking, entrepreneurship, legal marketing, and presentation skills, while also serving as the host of the popular Cool Things Entrepreneurs Do podcast. He regularly speaks at business and association conferences across the United States and beyond, and has presented to over 600 audiences during his career as a speaker. He lives in Austin, Texas, with his wife and their two highly-spirited daughters. Marc and Thom discuss several topics, including Thom’s start in business, discovering his untapped talent, his interest in preparing for a job pivot, and the push that kicked him out of the corporate nest into a career he had dreamed about, and prepared for, for years.
[2:30] Thom sold advertising, computer training programs, and financial printing, which led to employment in marketing with two large law firms, a bank, and a consulting firm.
[3:15] Most of Thom’s income comes from presenting and speaking at conventions and conferences of 200 to 1,000 people, as the MC, or as the opening keynote speaker.
[4:32] Thom reveals the steps he followed to transition from marketing to being a successful public speaker. Why did he choose that career, and how did he pivot?
[7:00] Thom spoke at events for years, improving his skill and gaining confidence. He wondered where the people were who made money speaking. He found the National Speakers’ Association, and attended their local and national meetings, interviewing all the speakers he could, to learn the business model of regular people who spoke.
[8:08] Thom decided he wanted to do it, so he wrote a book, created a website, and started speaking for free! He spoke at meetings of the Chamber of Commerce, and Rotary Clubs, and anyone who would let him, for exposure.
[8:36] Thom had planned to go full-time by 2011, but on April 1, 2009, at the bottom of the recession, he was laid off. There were no jobs in his marketing field. He jumped into speaking. He had already been earning about $20K on the side, speaking and training. How did recession conditions allow Thom to jumpstart his speaking career?
[11:27] Thom planned to earn 50% of his income from training law firms, and 50% from association conferences. In the recession, law firms stopped training, but associations still held meetings. He lowered his rates to fit conditions, and got jobs, but not the money he had hoped. For 3½ years he went into debt, and it took 3½ years to get out.
[14:55] Thom found that a keynote speaker is not one thing. 25 speakers have 25 very different business operations, topics, and deliveries. Thom’s message was network, brand, and community engagement. At one conference Q&A for his keynote talk, it was clear he had transformed the culture of the event for the next few days, as a catalyst.
[16:35] Thom took the moniker The Conference Catalyst, not for a business name, but as he is known. Others have copied it, but the name is his. He says you have to listen, and you must stand out. Thom advises to find a twist on what you do, that is uniquely you. Thom has a signature story, only true for him. You try things, to find what works.
[19:42] April 1 is Thom’s eighth anniversary. He keeps raising the bar of success, but he is doing what he loves, and making his living in a crowded field. It’s a learned skill. Thom has given over 600 professional speeches, and he can inspire an audience. He sought the CSP certification, and is one of only 800 professional speakers who have it.
[22:21] Looking back, Thom doesn’t see much he could have done differently to succeed in speaking. He had to learn what he didn’t know, and he had to work at it. He only would change this: to invest more on his website, and less on PR and marketing. His advice is to be around, and make friends with, people doing what you want to do.
[27:45] Marc’s notes: Thom was already sidestepping towards his new career; Thom planned his career pivot, but the layoff was the kick in the pants; Thom adapted to conditions. This fits the pivot pattern: Thom had a plan to act, but didn’t; there was an event to trigger action; things did not turn out as expected, but he was willing to adapt.
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