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When Nido Speaks, Speakers Listen -- Bonus Interview with Nido Qubein, CSP, CPAE

You've heard of his stewardship and business savvy. Professional Speaker interviewed Nido Qubein, CSP, CPAE, recently on content and business development. Qubein started speaking at age 24, having just learned the English language, and went on to become the masterful mentor we know him to be today. He was inducted into the CPAE Speaker Hall of Fame. at age 27 and was presented with the Cavett Award at 35. Nido's mother taught him, "If you want to be great, you must first walk hand in hand and side by side with great people." No denying Nido has built a premium franchise in the speaking/consulting arena and has achieved both success and significance along the way. Below is an interview Nido granted Professional Speaker.

PS: You make a distinction between a transactional & a transformational speaker. What do you mean?
Nido: Transactional speakers "tell" their audience a body of knowledge. Transformational speakers seek to "influence" their audience with wisdom and practical application. The former is focused on what they want to say; the latter on what the audience members need to feel and believe. Our beliefs lead to our behaviors and our behaviors lead to results. It isn't what you & I say that matters; it's the effect it has long after we said it! Transformational speakers recognize that a speech isn't something we do in front of an audience or to an audience but, rather, something we do with the audience. When listeners "own" what we share and "invest" themselves in it transformation is a likely result.

PS: And how do you know when you're transformational?
Nido: You feel it and hear it and see it! For me, I've noticed the compliments I get at the end of a presentation have changed from "You're a good speaker" to "Thank you for the pain you caused me today" suggesting the listener benefited from the experience beyond the performance. Transactional speakers change behaviors; transformational speakers change hearts and minds.

PS: You also make a distinction between "training" and "education".
Nido: Absolutely. I guide my corporate clients through this learning journey regularly. When you train employees you teach them the "how"; when you educate them you teach them the "why". A person who knows the how will always have a job but a person who knows the why will always be their boss! Training is a program; education is a process. The three questions I ask: What do you want your people to do, what must they be to do that, how do we get them to be?

PS: You refer to "relationship building" versus "calendar filling". What do you mean?
Nido: So many of our colleagues are focused on filling their calendars with singular dates. They refer to this quarter being "booked up" but the next one being "soft". We all want speaking dates and having a full calendar is a good thing. In our ever-so-more-competitive marketplace, though, the winners in the future are the ones who know how to build long-term relationships with clients who'll give them repeat business and who'll recommend them for more deals. In my view, there are four capitals we ought to strive to achieve: financial capital, reputational capital, intellectual capital, and the best one of all -- relational capital. It costs seven times as much to get business from a new client than from an on-going client. The cost of sale grows measurably if we keep looking for new assignments to fill our calendar. We need to concentrate on branding, positioning and effective communication to get, grow and guarantee long-term business.

PS: What do you concentrate on as you seek long-term business?
Nido: First, I ask this question: If consumers consider their primary bank the place where they have their checking account, what would I have to offer so my clients can see me as their primary source for learning & growing? I also ask: What does this client NOT have that I can supply to enhance their success? For example, a company that doesn't have a continuum of educational offerings for their employee family may benefit from my firm developing a matrix for a development syllabus. 

PS: You also speak a lot about achieving significance in your career. How does one get there?
Nido: For me all things begin with trust. Authenticity is much more important than charisma. When my clients trust me we can together chart a course for a better future. Trust leads to reason. What is; wishing something is so doesn't make it so. So we have to work diligently at developing our critical thinking skills. Reason leads to focus. Focus is more important than intelligence and the one choice we consistently make is whether or not we choose to be in focus. Focus then leads to value, which is measured by the size of problems you can solve, and not by how much you get paid (although often the two are akin). Value then leads to success and success can lead to significance. Success is secular and significance is spiritual. Just like happiness is transient but joy is lasting. Significance is influenced by passion and passion is the result of purpose. I choose to believe that "being" leads to "doing". I am and therefore I do not I do and therefore I am. Sounds heavy but really it's basic understanding about life and living and how work fits into all that.

PS: One of the big lessons in your speakers & consultants symposium is about intentional congruence. Define that term for us.
Nido: Intentional congruence is a purposeful system to maximize your potential through synergy, leverage, and interlocking opportunities. Its litmus test: When two or more of your activities & strategies cumulatively create more than either can separately. So if you look at my business model carefully you'll find that my speaking feeds into my consulting and my consulting feeds into my magazine publishing and that leads to business in our pr firm and all of those create opportunities for Great Harvest Bread Co and so on. Everything I do has an interlocking relationship with everything else I'm involved in. The result is maximum effectiveness and productivity. 

PS: Another area of strength for you is fiscal literacy. You've built several businesses, you now own half-a-dozen successful companies, and we all know you came from very meager beginnings. How did you do it?
Nido: Oh gosh. I'm so blessed on so many counts. And I'm so grateful for the opportunities America has afforded me. Making money isn't hard. Perhaps keeping it and growing it are a little harder! There is no better way to build wealth than by saving. If you don't save you can't invest. If you're not making money, change the way you're doing business. Some people think because they can cook & eat they can run restaurants. Some speakers reckon because they can think and speak they can run thriving businesses. The fact is we all need to learn the basics of financial management and the focal elements in building wealth. For me I always pay myself first (i.e. save), think in terms of triple net (gross fee minus bureau minus operational cost minus taxes), assess decisions based on their lifetime value, I never borrow to buy depreciating assets, and I'm selectively extravagant but prudently frugal. I don't want to "recreate" my income each year so I seek to grow residual (not linear) income recognizing that wealth in America is really capital gains deferred from taxes.

PS: So, you might say that an empty bank account could be a sign of an ineffective past history.
Nido: I guess so. But hope is eternal and it is never too late to begin to build a nest egg for the future and to alter the way you do business to ensure more substantive equity in your company. And remember that it isn't "timing the market" that gets one best results in anything. More often it is "time in the market". In other words, it takes time to hone a consulting practice, to grow a cadre of faithful clients, to master a body of proprietary systems, to sharpen one's presentation skills in ways that best meet the client's needs, and certainly to achieve financial independence. Successful professionals always learn from the experts because the experts have their knowledge in order. If your knowledge isn't in order, the more of it you have the more confused you'll be. Nowhere is that axiom truer than in financial literacy.

PS: Let's move on to other topics. How do you distinguish between branding & positioning?
Nido: Positioning is the journey. Branding is the destination. Both must be handled with mastery in marketing, sales, and promotion. To acquire your brand you must position yourself in such a way to "earn" the brand. 

PS: What do you think about the most in terms of running your business every day?
Nido: I think about two words: Pipeline and Backlog. My pipeline contains whatever prospects I have in the development stage towards "signing" the business. My backlog contains committed business not yet delivered by my company or me. As we speak, I have a backlog of some 520 speeches & seminars to be delivered over the next five years plus a dozen important projects and my pipeline has seven "hot" prospects for on-going relationships a two-score "holds" for speaking engagements. You can see how I'd be relaxed (not stressed) about business.

PS: It obviously took you some years to get here . . . What are some of the criteria one needs to evolve into such a successful & profitable business?
Nido: All the obvious traits of honesty, integrity, giving without remembering, hard work, tenacity, learning and growing everyday, recognizing that what we do is about them (the clients) and not about us! Einstein said "Try not to become a person of success but rather a person of value." Ultimately value is king! I use the word DUST to define value as follows: Desirability (does the market want what I offer), Utility (how useful are my services), Scarcity (how commonly available are my services & solutions), and Transferability (can someone else buy & run my company). Ultimately, the issue isn't whether or not we render value. The challenge for us is to be value interpreters -- showing our clients exactly how they benefit by working with us. In the absence of a persuasive value interpreter, everything degenerates to fee!

PS: And how do you Nido measure the value of your clients to you?
Nido: I use another acronym: FRAPS. Flexibility (how flexible is the client in scheduling & changing the dates), Repeatability (will they do business with me again & again), Accessibility (do I have direct access to the top brass), Profitability (how profitable is this account given resources we invest in it), and Stability (is this a stable company in a stable market sector). Not all clients are equal. We respect each individual and we value each relationship. 

PS: Given all you do in business, in your community, in NSA and across the country how in the world do you balance it all?
Nido: I invest 1/3 of my time in earning, 1/3 in learning, and 1/3 in serving. Simple, really. I believe that philanthropy and stewardship are at the center of who I am so I engage liberally in causes that befriend humankind. Balance for me means a proportionate degree of gravity to spiritual, intellectual, physical, familial, social, and financial segments of my life. I love what Robin Sharma says: "Some people are driving so fast they forget to stop for gas; it eventually catches up with them." He also says "The richest person isn't the one who has the most things but rather the person who needs the least things." For me, that says it all.

Quote from Nido Qubein, CSP, CPAE -- "It takes time to hone a consulting practice, to grow a cadre of faithful clients, to master a body of proprietary systems, to sharpen one's presentation skills in ways that best meet the client's needs and certainly to achieve financial independence.”

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