How does one become a professional speaker? Dr. Diane Hamilton chats with Mikki Williams on the show to talk about her road to becoming a Hall of Fame keynote speaker. Mikki is also an author, executive speech coach, a TEDx speaker, radio and TV personality, and transformational storyteller. She shares how she helps her clients structure their speeches and gives some advice on content delivery.
What kind of stories do people want to hear these days? Dr. Diane Hamilton talks with the Founder and CEO of BrEpic Communications, Justin Breen, to answer this question. Justin is a visionary entrepreneur, strategic coach, and the bestselling author of Epic Business. He explains how he and his team work together in setting individuals and companies up to be noticed by a bigger audience. He also talks about how to create a good story and the kind of stories people would respond to.
I’m glad you joined us because we have Mikki Williams and Justin Breen here. Mikki is a Hall of Fame keynote speaker. She’s everywhere. She’s done some of the most amazing speaking events you can imagine. I’m excited to talk to her. Justin is the Founder and CEO at BrEpic Communications. He is a PR wiz. He knows everything from twenty years of journalism to make you know everything you can know about PR and being successful. We’re going to talk to Mikki. We’re going to talk to Justin.
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Transformational Storytelling With Mikki Williams
I am here with Mikki Williams, who is a Hall of Fame speaker, author, executive speech coach, TEDx speaker, radio and TV personality, and transformational storyteller. She was chosen as one of the best speakers in the country by Meetings & Conventions magazine along with some names you might have heard of, Tony Robbins, Bill Gates, Rudy Giuliani, Colin Powell, Zig Ziglar. Who else can you have on here? Jay Leno, of course. I could go on forever. It’s nice to have you here, Mikki.
Thank you, Diane. I’m delighted to be with you.
I was looking forward to this. I get fortunate enough to interview everyone from CEOs to billionaires to Hall of Fame speakers. I have to say, I’ve had quite a few of the Hall of Fame speakers on my show. They’re always so much fun and entertaining. I had Willie Jolley sing to me, Joe Calloway, and all the group. They’re great. It’s a prestigious group to be part of. You don’t get a lot of women in that group. I’ve had a few Hall of Fame women speakers on, but you’re one of the few and I’m curious. Before we get into how you made it to that level, I want to know your background. I’ve watched your TED Talk. I loved it. How did you get to this level of success when it’s challenging for a lot of women to do that?
First of all, let me say, Willie Jolley and Joe Calloway are two of my good friends. You have great taste in guests. I feel like I should be interviewing you and asking you how you got to do this.
That would be good.
My answer has been the same throughout my careers and my life. This is number nine career or something like that, I’ve lost count. They’ve all been the same. I am authentically me, which has always been outside of the box for everybody. I grew up with a single mom who affirmed that who I was, was enough, good enough and fun enough. I never knew I was different and I am different. I often talk about there are prejudices against religion, ethnicities, gay, and straight. I’ve experienced the same prejudice my whole life, “She’s got big hairs. She’s got big jewelry. She’s flamboyant. She’s outrageous.” There’s a judgment that comes with that and yet I go back to mom and thinking, “I am who I am and that’s how I show up. Authenticity served me well.”
I love big hair, by the way, as you might have noticed. I like that. I tend to relate to a lot of what you’re saying because you can get easily in that, “I have to fit in this box thing.” That’s no fun. I don’t know if you know, my research is in curiosity. I love it when people explore, ask questions, get outside that status quo, and you obviously did that. I’ve watched a lot of TED Talks. I’ve interviewed more than 1,000 people on my show. You’ve got to imagine a lot of people had a lot of TED Talks who’ve been on. When I watched yours, I’m like, “Another TED Talk.” I got goosebumps. It was impactful the way you speak. No wonder you’re a Hall of Fame speaker.
I don’t do this with all of my speakers and make a big deal out of people. I found it moving the way you spoke. You had a serious story that you had to tell. The way you told it, I don’t know if you call a crescendo, you go up and you go down. I’m taking this roller coaster as I’m going along with you. You emulate the kind of speaker I would like to be. How did you learn to do that? Every speaker I’ve ever talked to said they gave 100 talks free first and they were awful at the beginning. Were you ever awful?
I’m not going to address that question that way. I will tell you that I didn’t give 100 talks for free. I might look back and think I was awful. I don’t think so because of what I did and I share. I now coach people to be speakers. I run a speaker school. This is one of the things that I get asked and this is how I say it, “I never went to Toastmasters. I never had a coach. I was an astute observer.” When I made the decision to become a professional speaker, I watched the Joe Calloway and the Willie Jolley’s of the world. I looked at what I liked and what I didn’t like. I never copy but if I saw a concept that I like, I adapted and I made it my own. If I saw something that offended me or I didn’t like, I say, “I’m never going to do that.” My own style is who I am. That’s always given. I learned how to do it by watching others and seeing what I liked and what I didn’t. That’s what I tell everybody to do. I didn’t do any of those other things. I would look back and say, “I was awful.” I don’t know if I was awful.
A little anecdote, Diane, I’m running a dance studio. I had a dance company. I can remember one day I was sick. There was a parade and I was going to be sitting in the convertible with a microphone. I had no voice. I had the flu. They put a microphone in my hand and I was on. My dancers used to say all the time when they got hung up in a costume change, I would grab a microphone and I would adlib until they were ready. I’ve always been a speaker. I’m just now a professional speaker or as I like to tell people, I was a talker because that’s the thing I differentiate now. Whenever people call me up for help and they say, “I’m a good speaker,” I say, “I bet you’re a good talker.” Talking is a social resource or a God-given gift. Speaking is a skill that I’ve worked out for decades. There’s a huge difference. Back then, I was an awful talker. Now, I’m a smooth speaker.
That is a huge difference. It comes easily for some of us to talk. I do a lot of talking in what I do. Speaking is a lot more challenging. You have to be a good storyteller to be a good speaker. When I was watching your talk, you were great at setting the stage. It’s all about getting you motivated and make you feel good, but they didn’t impart much knowledge. It’s more, “That was fun.” I liked how they spoke. I felt like it would stick. There was a purpose to what you were saying but you’re also telling a story. It’s challenging for some women, especially, to get up on stage and let go. I’ve talked to a couple of speakers about why women sometimes are more criticized. You’re talking about big hair or if we have a certain outfit. I love your red shoes, by the way, on your talk. No one cares what a guy is wearing. There’s a lot less criticism for men. How do we change that?
You’re asking the wrong person that question only because I don’t deal with what’s around me. I keep coming back. I show up as me. I don’t worry about my competition. I don’t worry about what people say. If I did, I wouldn’t have done half the things I’ve done in my career. My catchphrase is my brand, “You can’t do that. Corporate America is blue.” I’m purple. It’s always been trusting my heart, my gut, my instinct and not worrying about those other things. A lot of the things came naturally to me in a sense that I was doing and before they were a thing. People often interview me about my brand. I was a brand before they even had a term brand. I know what I was doing. I exploited what people said about me. Isn’t that what a brand is? People would say, “The speaker with the big hair, the speaker with the big jewelry.” Whatever it was, I would listen to that and then I’d use it. I like to say I’m an accidental brand.
Your mantra is being outrageous. Did you get bigger hair or bigger jewelry because of it?
I’ve been like this since I was a little girl. It goes back to mom again. I was dressing up and doing the shows in my living room when I was a little girl. I never met a sequin I didn’t like.
I get it. I’m the same way when it comes to a lot of that. It’s funny because I love to dance as well. I wasn’t great at ballet because the plié of my knees would crack. I was much more of a tap dancer. What kind of dance were you into?
I dreamt of becoming a ballet dancer. I started as a ballet dancer when I was four and all the way up through one point. As they say, my body took a different shape. I didn’t have the long arms and the long neck. All of a sudden I was curvier. I segued over to jazz and tap and the rest is history. I did nightclub dancing. I did Broadway-type of dancing, choreography, and then training dancers, same thing, same pattern.
All the training I did with dance, the sales jobs I’ve had, or taking improv classes, all that stuff can let you loosen up. What kind of training have you had in terms of theater, improv, or any of that stand-up comedian? Did you do any of that or not?
I’m laughing because one time on one of my evaluation forms, somebody wrote, “She should do stand-up comedy.” I looked at them and I went, “Why not?” I’m always this ready, fire, aim kind of gal. I booked myself in New York City at the Roosevelt Hotel. They had a comedy club. I never had done stand-up but I figured if I booked myself, I’ve got to do it. I did and I hated it. Here’s why I hated it and why I love speaking. In speaking, you can make a difference in people’s lives and businesses. That’s part of my core values. I love doing that.
In stand-up comedy, you’re getting applause but it’s vacuous. I’m sure I’m insulting every comedian that’s out there. When I say it’s vacuous, I mean it’s in the moment. You get a great laugh, you get applause. I don’t know if you’ve changed anybody’s life or made a difference, anything about them. For me, I realized that I have to do it one time. I can be funny but I could be a humorous, not a comedian. Humor is part of being a professional speaker. That’s what I do.
I met Erma Bombeck a long time ago. She always inspired me.
I love her.
I thought, “If I could be Erma Bombeck.” She represented. She was the nicest person too if you ever met her. She had the self-deprecation thing down, of course. You never forget your interactions with her. I could see that you have that same style. I’m curious if anyone inspired you. Was it Erma Bombeck or Ellen? What speakers out there have inspired you maybe from a female and a male perspective?
I do get asked that and there’s no one. I’m such a conglomeration of everybody I’ve ever watched who I’ve liked. I remember my first convention seeing a guy from Disney, I don’t know his name. I remember him holding pictures of his family and telling a story about it. That stayed with me, the family picture, and the story. I realized I was attracted more to storytellers than I was to people who are spewing out facts. That’s probably why that’s my main thing, teaching people how to tell impactful stories. I don’t know if there’s any one person that comes to mind. I’m inspired by many.
The storytelling thing is a real art and that’s challenging for a lot of people. That’s hard for me. I got inspired by your story. It was a sad story. You lost your husband at a young age. To have something like that, that’s such an impactful story. A lot of us haven’t had that adversity so much. I was asked to speak to a group about how I overcame adversity. I’m trying to think of something that was bad that could make an impact. I’m fortunate I haven’t had horrible things happen. If you haven’t had those types of stories, what do you tell people when you’re helping them come up with impactful things? Does it have to be adversity? Can it be anything? How do you get a good story?
Many times people think to be a motivational speaker, you have to have tragedy. That’s not true. One of the things I offer is called Keynote Kamp where I design someone’s entire speech. I’m going to make a big bold, audacious statement because I do. There’s nobody that I have met, that I have not been able to ask the right questions to bring out the adversity in their lives because nobody gets through this thing called life without adversity. It shows up in different ways. It shows up as regret. It shows up as disappointment. It shows up as what we think of failure. All of those are heartwarming, heartfelt stories. My mantra in my storytelling is real learning takes place heart-to-heart and not head-to-head. I work with mostly executives. It’s challenging to get the data out. I’m working with a guy who was a former actuary and I keep saying, “You went to head. Stay in heart. You’re going to hit me with facts and it’s not true. Facts tell and stories sell.”You don’t need to have gone through tragedy to be a motivational speaker. Click To Tweet
I like to share things I did that are goofy and stupid. When I’m talking to salespeople, I’ll give an example of some mortifying sales experience I had. Those are fun to tell. Some things you don’t want to share, maybe they’re personal and you don’t want to share. I’ve had people on the show who gave me suggestions of things to talk about, “Say this, it would be funny.” For example, I have a beautiful daughter and then I have another one. I’m like, “It’s not me.” That’s a guy thing that a guy could get away with. It doesn’t feel comfortable for me. When you’re talking about adding humor, you have to have it based on your sense of humor but you have that fine line of you don’t want to go over and be too insulting or self-deprecating. It’s challenging. That’s why I thought the stand-up comedy might be helpful to learn that part. How do you know what’s going to fly and what’s not? Have you had a lot of things land flat?
I don’t use canned humor. The jokes or the ones that the stand-up comedians use are the ones you find in books. My humor comes from everyday life and those never fall flat. Everybody relates to them because it happens to them.
I’d love to hear some examples.
I used to do my Speakers School. I also run Vistage groups. Vistage is an executive organization. I chaired to these groups and I speak for groups all over the world. My Speakers School and one of my members’ facilities was the oldest architectural firm in Chicago. He put all his architects through my Speakers School. At one particular morning, we were talking about how to use self-deprecating humor. It’s the best time when you don’t take yourself too seriously. You’re not apologizing for your weight or your skin color, your hair. You’re taking yourself lightly. I kept talking about how to use self-deprecating. We took a break. At that time I had one of his architects, Peter, who was from Poland in my session. Polish was his first language. On the break, Dave, who is my Vistage member, sees Peter walking through the halls of the architectural firm and he says, “Peter, how are you enjoying Mikki’s Speakers School?” Peter says, “It’s good.” Dave says, “Tell me one thing you’ve learned so far.” Peter says, “I learned how to use self-deprecating humor.”
That is funny.
I know that story as part of the humor. Who wouldn’t laugh at that? It’s one of your natural things. I have a shorter one. I was coaching a guy in Chicago for an event and he didn’t ever smile and I thought, “How am I going to get humor out of him?” I do ask questions that pull out the humor and the path. I said, “Tell me something about your family.” All of a sudden I get this gorgeous smile and I said, “What are you thinking of?” He said, “The other day I was in the kitchen and I was putting stuff in the blender for this program that I’m on. My seven-year-old son walked in and he says, ‘Dad, what are you doing?’ I said, ‘I’m on a juice fest.’ The kid looked confused and he walked away. The next morning, he comes back in and I was again putting everything in the blender and the kid goes, ‘Dad, can Christians do that, too?’ He thought it was a Jews fest.”
I wish I’d written down everything my kids had said.
For me, that’s where humor comes from. It’s observing again and collecting everything. My theory is if you laugh, Diane, ten people laugh. When I see that or when I’m part of that, then I’m going to make a note and remember it.
It’s funny, it’s the Erma Bombeck, the Seinfeld, noticing the things and saying something funny about what you’ve noticed. A lot of people keep notebooks and write down stories. Are you one of those?
I passed off a homeless guy in the street. He had a sign on his chest that said, “Please contribute to the Jack Daniels research foundation.” I’m standing in front of a homeless guy and writing that down.
That’s great advice. The problem is nobody wants to drag things around. Do you keep it on your pocket? I can’t see on my phone. What do you do? Do you have a notebook? Where do you keep your notes?
I do. I keep a notebook with me. Don’t tell anyone, I still use a paper calendar. It has no paper in the back.
Whatever works, I say. Speakers are having a tough time because of COVID. We can’t travel. We’re doing things in a different way. I know you do a lot of webinars. Do you feel like you come across the same way on a webinar as you do in person? How much does that take away from the experience?
You should do an interview show, Diane. You’re good at this.
I’ve done the magic pivot with the new buzzword. I learned something valuable as a speaker during the recession and also right after 9/11. It’s something I call MSI, Multiple Streams of Income. I’ve always leveraged what I do into 6, 7, or 8 income streams. Everything I do is not dependent on one. I saw many speakers go out of business during those two times because all they did was speak. I’ve never done that. I’ve continued to do that. When this happened, I thought, “Some of the things that I do, I have to reinvent.” I am the queen of reinvention. I don’t think twice about it. What’s the worst thing that can happen? I’ve gone through life like that.
I started doing virtual presentations and I was listening to everybody else talk about how to do it and it wasn’t sitting right with me. I said, “I’m going to do it the Mikki way.” It worked. I don’t put anyone on mute. I don’t use slides. I won’t share screen. It’s me doing exactly what you see me doing. It’s me calling on people and staying as interactive as I had. It violates everything that everybody’s told me about Zoom and webinars. I’m doing a webinar for my alma mater, which is cool. I said, “If it’s a webinar, do you want me to use slides? I’ve never used PowerPoint in my life. I wouldn’t know how to use it now.” I said, “Can I be on the screen?” She said, “Yeah.” I pivoted to make the things I do virtual but I’m still doing it the way I always do.
Don’t have your eggs all in one basket. I love that you brought that up because like you, I teach at universities. At my company, I would speak. I do all these different things. It’s challenging, especially if you’re a speaker if something happens like what we’re having. Do it in this way. I’m thinking of the first talk I gave. Forbes had me speak on a stage. I didn’t even want to do it. They asked me to do it. It was a long time ago. I got up on stage and I’m thinking, “I’ll look at my slides and I’ll know where I am.” I can’t memorize anything. I’m terrible at that. In speeches, you shouldn’t memorize anyway.
At that point, I was like, “I need my PowerPoint to know where I’m going, where I am.” It was a huge screen behind me only. There was no other thing and there’s a bright light on my face. I thought, “I don’t know even where I am.” I know you don’t memorize. When you’re doing TED Talk, you almost have to have it set within a certain number of minutes and specifics. When you did your TEDx, did you memorize any of that? When you look back and you go, “I wish I had that. I forgot this sentence. I forgot that story.” How much of that do you do?
Over the years I’ve developed techniques, which is now what I teach other people who are at Speakers School or coaching or any of those things. I have a structure for speech. I have a technique for remembering things. I don’t ever want people to memorize. I want them to tell stories that sound conversational all the time. I teach them how to do that through a keyword technique. I teach them how to create the speech so there’s never any winging it. The only thing they may have to memorize is the quote that we put in somewhere. It flows through the structure I’ve created and the keyword techniques. I’ve done some of the same stories probably thousands of times. Nobody has ever said it sounds canned. The ones you heard, I’ve done them over and over. Every time I tell it, they’re not memorized. I have another phrase that I teach people, “Relive, don’t retell.”
Sometimes they take different amounts of time to tell. I noticed for a lot of speakers, they want you to speak 45 minutes, 1 hour, half hour, or whatever the timeframe is. If you stick to a certain structure, you’re within that timeframe. Sometimes you speak faster or left out something. Do you have like, “I’ve got five minutes left. I got this extra filler story?” Do you have little techniques like that to fill time? Do you usually go over? No one cares if you go over because you’re good.
I never go over. Professionals don’t go over unless you might ask permission, “Do I have an extra five minutes?” Stick to your time. Of course, I have those in my toolbox because I’ve been doing this for so long. If they give me a timeframe, I know how long all my stories are. I’ll tell you stories that fit into that timeframe rather than cut a story. I won’t cut a story because the stories are intact. What I will do is choose to use different stories for different programs to honor the timeframe that they gave me.
In the end some people say, “Don’t do the Q&A.” At one point, it’s better and more impactful if you end with this instead of the Q&A. Some people say, “End with Q&A.” Where do you put the Q&A?
Absolutely never end with Q&A. Have a fabulous ending and then you open for Q&A. What you have to do when you’re talking about stories and some people talk longer than other people. I’m sure other coaches would do too, I can only speak for myself, I call it cutting the fat. I call it crystallizing. I want you to hang on every single word I say in the story. I don’t want you to leave for two seconds to think you’ve got to pick your kid up at school or your clothes at the dry cleaners. That means I’ve got to get rid of all the fluff that doesn’t move the story forward so that you’re hinging on every word. It takes a professional to be able to help someone to do that. Your average great storyteller because they’re good storyteller, they haven’t learned the craft. It’s a craft. If I can play tennis, it doesn’t mean I’m good at it. Because you talk, it doesn’t mean you’re good at speaking. It’s a craft that you help people understand the techniques and they eventually develop it and they get good at it or better.
To get good at it, sometimes you get some critiquing. Have you ever been criticized and/or had somebody say something that hurt a little bit?
I often tell people this and this is a standard joke within professional speaking. You get 500 people who think you walk on water and you focus on the one idiot. I look at evaluations because I still ask for them. I’m a work in progress until the day I die. I always want feedback. I look for commonality. If I see the same thing said over and over again, “She spoke too fast,” I’d pay attention to it, but what I call the one-offs, no. I’ll get someone in the speech that says something, “I disagree with you.” I’ll say, “There’s an outlier in every bunch.” That’s okay. You don’t have to agree with me. You have the right to be wrong.
What you do is fascinating in terms of getting the stories in such a way that people could relate to. To be listed with that group, with Bill Gates and all that, that’s got to blow your mind. This is where you are. You started talking about how you are a mother and you’re at home with your family. You had to find a career. You went above and beyond in that respect. Do you see yourself doing this indefinitely? You said you reinvent yourself. I do that a lot as well. What is the next reinvention? Is this your best invention and you like this?
When everybody asks me that question, I often get it, they’ll say, “Which of your nine careers do you like the most?” I always say, “The one I’m in.” I never know what’s next. I’m still creating me. I’m still reinventing. Circumstances sometimes dictate that as this pandemic did. Who knew I’d be doing all these bird running my Vistage virtual meetings, speaking virtually, living on Zoom? Sometimes circumstances dictate as what happened in my early life, being a 29-year-old widow with a two-year-old child and no money and no job. Circumstances dictated what I did with my life in some ways. Along the path, there were choices. Other times there was rise to the occasion type of thing. In the future, who knows, it’s a new phase of life and I’m looking forward to it.
I am with you on that. You never know what the next innovation will create for a job and for interests. I wanted to ask you about your event that you normally do in Naples that you do a couple of times a year. Is that something you’re going to be doing virtually now?
Yes. Speakers School, that was one of those, “What?” Sometimes when we’re forced into this change, it turns out to be a blessing. Speakers School is always live in Naples and Chicago. It used to be four times a year. I cut it down to one because I have homes in both locations. All of a sudden, people who didn’t have the time, the money or the opportunity can join virtual school. We’re doing one and it’s fantastic because all these people that have said over the years, “I couldn’t come at that time of year. I couldn’t fly to Chicago.” There are almost no excuses for them. It’s been fantastic. I did one already. This is going to be my second one.
What can you leave that school knowing? Are you ready to give your first talk? Are you ready to be the top speaker? Is it newbies, high level? Where are we going in and where are we coming out?
It’s like the way you phrased that. I may steal that tagline. On Thursday it’s all day. I like to say it’s my 33 career in a day and in a manual. It’s all skills. You don’t know what you don’t know. Friday is all individual, one-on-one video coaching. Saturday is business development. I like to tell people, “Do everything I teach them in those three days and you’ll have a great career.” What hasn’t happened and why all my other services came along was after when someone said, “Can you coach me now individually on what I need?”
In the school, to your point, Diane, there are beginners, there are professionals, wannabes, comedians, and executives. I keep it small so I could work everybody at their own level and then came the coaching. After that, two years later, you call up and say, “I still don’t have a speech. Could you create my speech for me?” Keynote Kamp and then take speakers bureau. There are 5 or 6 levels now that all continue. I like to say they stand alone but if you need the next and the next, I’m here for you.Focus on your unique abilities, on what you are good at, to excel in business. Click To Tweet
Are you teaching them how to write these stories, take their stories and make them sound better in that? To me, that would be one of the hardest things for people.
Sue, who you briefly saw, I’m working with her in my Keynote Kamp because she’s been working on it for years and she finally said, “I can’t get out of my own way.” This is what happens to people. The methods, the questions I said, the questions I asked are full proof. I get the best stories out of people with these questions and they’re like, “How did you do that?” I’m like, “That’s my gift or what I’ve learned over the years that I get to share.”
It’s been interesting because I’ve noticed a pattern in all of my careers. My first one is a dancer, a choreographer, and then a teacher. I enjoyed the teaching part of this more than the performing. I was in the wings, watching them get the applause that I initially got. I’m finding almost every career and full circle to speaking. I still speak. I love that I’m coaching people to their goals, I get to sit back, rejoice in their joy, fame, achievements, and it’s cool. I love it.
I’m glad we were able to talk about everything that you’re doing to help all these speakers. It’s such a challenging profession and you make it look easy when I know it’s not. A lot of people would want to know more about how they can get better. Do you have websites or something that you can share? How can they follow you if they want to know more?
Go to MikkiWilliams.com and be prepared. It used to play Mickey, you’re so fine, which knock people out when they put it on in their office. It doesn’t play that anymore. It’s still me. I will tell you that. You can email me from there. It has all my services on there too.
Mikki, thank you so much for being on the show. This was so much fun. I knew it would be.
We’ll have to do it again.
We will, Diane. Thank you so much. You’re a great interviewer. This was a lot of fun.
It was fun. Thank you.
Delivering The Right Stories Through Media With Justin Breen
I am here with Justin Breen, who is CEO of the PR firm BrEpic Communications and author of the book Epic Business. BrEpic is a PR firm that writes compelling, newsworthy stories for its clients and pitches those stories to media across the country to amplify their messaging. I’m excited to talk to you, Justin. Welcome.
Dr. Hamilton, it’s great to talk to you as well.
Please call me Diane. Thank you. Congratulations on your book. I’m interested to talk to you about that. I want to get a little background on you before we get into our discussion. How did you get interested in PR and communications and all the things that you’re doing?
It’s great to be on the show. I’m genuinely living the American dream. I was a journalist for twenty years and created my entire business model based on how PR firms annoyed me. Everybody laughs at that. That’s why it’s been successful. My firm does one thing at a high level, writing these stories that are interesting and pitching those stories to media around the world. It’s been cool doing something I like to do and something I’m good at and only working with the best people on the planet.
I want to go into why the PR firms annoyed you, first of all. I know but in case I don’t, I want to get your perspective of that.
When you’re a journalist you get hundreds of emails a day with nonsensical press releases from people that you don’t know. These press releases don’t serve anyone but the client, and they’re not newsworthy at all. I was annoyed by people in businesses like that, sending me that information that would get deleted or put into the trash. My firm creates newsworthy stories that become links on the client’s website under news or blog and then I take that link and pitch it to media everywhere.
It’s a streamlined approach and something that if I was still a journalist, that’s what I would have wanted someone to send me, something that’s interesting and serves the journalists and the client. That’s all my firm does and continues to raise rates and double down on that process. The other thing is working with people that look at things as investment is not a cost. If someone asks, “What do you cost or what do you charge?” it’s an automatic disqualifier because it’s the wrong mindset for how my brain works and how the people in my network think as well. I created this giant incubator of geniuses around the world that don’t think like that.
It’s interesting when you talk about that because I’ve had a lot of experience from what I’ve seen people have promoted, trying to get on my show or what I’ve given to promote new ideas for different things. I’ve seen both sides of this equation. I remember the training originally about what journalists wanted to see. You wanted to help them do their job in a way so they don’t have to think too hard and make it quick and stuff. I’d see what they give as an example, some of these trainers. I didn’t like what they were giving me for my business because it didn’t fit what I was looking for. It would be a cute one-page thing that didn’t help me know anything. What I wanted to have was like, “These are the questions. This is the bio.” Something specific is what I wanted to see. I’m curious, what stories do you help write? You write compelling, newsworthy stories, like what?
As background, as a journalist, I would write 2 to 3 stories a day on deadline. One of my superpowers is I know what a good story is from doing this my whole life. The media only needs two things. They need a good story, which pretty much everybody has. That means something inspirational, human interest. You’re doing something cool, clicky, quirky, or things like that. That’s one thing. Everybody pretty much has that. Two, they need a news peg. Meaning, why is it a story? Do you have a book coming out? Are you doing something to combat Coronavirus? Are you running across the country? Did you launch a new technology? Anything like that. Being in a big event, that’s all media needs. It’s simple and somehow that got lost in the process. I weed out all of the nonsense and I’m laser-focused on these things. If you don’t have that, then I’m not going to work with you anyway. When you cut through all of that and you work with people that get it, its utopia, it’s fun.
A lot of people want to get on the Today Show and different things. You get the guys that want to sell you all night long videos that nobody watches but you could say you were on Fox. You get all these different versions of what you can say you’ve been on or what you are on. If someone came to you and they wanted to get on the Today Show, for example, what advice would you have given them?
Everybody wants to be on that and good luck. It’s funny you asked Today Show specifically. My wife and I were on the Today Show. It had nothing to do with my business or anything. It was my idea. It was one of the few bright ideas I’ve had in my life. I’m like, “Let’s go out once a week without the kids.” We have two young sons. I have a giant social media following, like, “Let’s post photos of us going out on dates once a week.” There was no intent to get publicity out of it. It was a fun story. What happened was, the Chicago Tribune, Mary Schmich is one of the top columnists in the world. She did a story on it in our last week. It was week 51. What happens with my clients is a major outlet does it and then other major outlets see it and they want to do their own version.
I’ll never forget this. I was playing with my kids, a video game, one of those arcade places and I got an email from the Today Show, they’re like, “Can you be on the Today Show? Can you send us stuff to be on the Today Show?” I’m like, “Okay.” A lot of it is like, “Whatever.” To get right on to the Today Show, it’s unrealistic. My clients are routinely in major national publications, local, and regional publications. The way my brain works is like, “Here are good places that would be good fits.” Many times, what does happen is if one outlet picks it up, it’s called pack journalism. All these other outlets want to do their own version of it.
In your situation, your story maybe was fun for viewers. How does it help you for your company to get picked up or something like that? Is all publicity still good publicity?
I look at things maybe a different way than most people. Even two years later, potential clients are like, “I remember you on the Today Show. You’re on Windy City Live,” which is a Chicago based. “I’m in the Tribune.” It’s not necessarily a direct, “Here’s $50,000 because you were on the Today Show,” but it’s like, “Here’s a segue or something into that conversation.” People hire my firm for two reasons. One is to grow business right away. More importantly, in my opinion, is to get that long-term validity and credibility. These links don’t go anywhere if you’re in Forbes or Inc. or something. When companies are looking for you or to see who you are and you’re like, “I was in all these great publications.” You can leverage that on your own website and all that stuff. The direct answer to your question, yes. Those have led to major business opportunities and contracts for sure.
I know I link everything. I’ve been in a lot of different publications and things that I put on my site. You’re saying that that’s helpful to do that? Otherwise, they won’t find you. I’ll make sure I understand.
Let’s say somebody has been intro to you or something like that and they’re going to Google your name and they’re like, “He was in the Chicago Tribune.” It’s validity and credibility. It’s not pay-for-play stuff. Smart people know the difference between that type of journalism and then real mainstream media outlets. There’s a major difference with that.Wealth has nothing to do with income, but creating it includes connectivity and networks. Click To Tweet
There’s so much content out there these days and it’s overwhelming. Eventually, they know you so they know stuff that comes through from you is good, obviously. Let’s say they didn’t know you. What was your tip of how you got them noticed?
I do a lot of reaching out via Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn. They’ll see that I was a journalist for twenty years. It’s obvious. They’ll know the sites that I worked at. They’ll see the content that I’m posting. Journalists are smart people. They know the difference between PRPS, which is what I dealt with for twenty years and the real deal, “This person knows what they’re doing.” That’s why I have clients across the world because it doesn’t matter if I know 50 journalists in one city or not, it’s more of like, “One, this is an amazing story. This person knows how to send it to me correctly.” Journalists are usually high fact finders. They dig in themselves. They’re like, “This person knows what they’re doing.” My guess is they’ll Google my name and be like, “He was in the Chicago Tribune.”
As you’re saying this, I’m thinking of many people. I’m in a lot of author groups and they all want to get PR. You hear a lot of them complain that they’re not getting much from what they’re paying for or they’re not getting much from their publishers. It’s a different time than it used to be. More publishers create books than authors. All the money is ahead at a time. Everybody is self-publishing or hybrid. What advice would you give to authors who maybe don’t want to go the publisher route, they’re either self-publishing, hybrid publishing, something like that, but they want to get that same coverage that publishers used to give or don’t seem to do as much of anymore?
One, if they need a good hybrid publisher, mine is amazing. Her name is Rebecca Gruyter. She’s based in California. She’s incredible to work with. She has a good social media following and connected.
What’s the name of her company?
I don’t even know. I talk to her all the time. She’s amazing. She helped make my book an international and national bestseller in terms of Amazon. It’s been a real treat to work with her. All I had to do is write it, which for me is not hard. Her team created the cover, did the editing, helped market it in some capacity. My skillset is getting in the news. I was able to do my own PR for a lot of it. If you need a recommendation for someone like that, I wholeheartedly recommend her.
That’s good to know.
I’ve probably sent her twenty folks since I started working with her.
We’re always looking for good suggestions for different things on the show. I’m curious about the PR aspect. You did some of your stories. Do you think all book authors who self-publish or hybrid publish should hire a PR firm?
Not all of them. The visionary ones I would recommend they do. I’ll go into a room and talk like this, twenty entrepreneurs or twenty book authors and eighteen of them would think I’m crazy or an alien. Those people probably shouldn’t hire somebody like me. The 1 or 2 that smile and get it are trying to change the world. Those are the people that are in my network. I have a PR firm but what my company is on a crazy high level is this incubator of geniuses around the world. We’re constantly introducing each other from mutual gain. The byproduct is every day 4 or 5 intros. The major companies or crazy, genius solopreneurs they want to hire at my firm. Business has never been better because the people that are in my network, they don’t look at things in a scarcity cost mindset. It’s all abundance, visionary, and investment mindset. It weeds out all the panic and all of that other stuff. It only focuses on people that are pivoting and investing heavily.
A lot of people are doing different routes based on what their income is, what they have going on. Are you looking for the top authors? Are you looking for CEOs? Who are you looking for to work with?
It’s interesting because wealth has nothing to do with it. It’s about their brains. I’ve had folks who are dirt poor that made serious investments in my company because they know that the investment now will lead to greatness in the short and long-term. I’ve had two billionaires that are clients. It doesn’t matter because wealth to me has nothing to do with income. It has to do with network and connectivity. My company is years old. These are things I never would have said before I started the business. I have seen from talking to all these brilliant entrepreneurs throughout the world, which is how I spend most of my day. By the way, I talk to people everywhere. It’s interesting. That’s how they approach life. I’m like, “That makes total sense.” It’s not about revenue. My company is essentially all profit. I work with only the best people. I make as much money as I want to. I see my family all the time and do one thing and do it well. We are all scarcity mindset folks and only focus on the people I want to work with anyway.
I was looking at some of your clients. You have Allstate, Morgan Stanley. You’ve got some big names, Salvation Army. Some of these are major clients. Did you get those connections from being a journalist? Is this something you started in the past years?
A lot of this is in the book. I had a giant network from being a journalist. It was sources. It wasn’t the right network of the people that have similar brains to me as now. Most of those, it’s a different type of network. The network I have now, they’re these wackadoo people who talk a big game but they’re backing it up and they’re changing the world. These are the ones that are helping solve COVID. It’s fascinating to be talking to these people all the time. My unique ability is writing these stories and, for lack of a better term, networking with all these amazing people. It’s never worked for me. I enjoyed doing it. I never get tired of doing it. If I didn’t have to sleep, I could do this 24/7.
You are a member of a lot of groups. I noticed that you’re in Dan Sullivan’s Strategic Coach, and EO, ProAdvisors. Are you part of Joe Polish’s Genius Network too?
No, I’m not. That’s probably down the road.
Joe’s group was fun. I got to go to his event. A lot of those networking opportunities teach you a lot of different things. What did you learn from becoming a member of those that you think is important?
This is an excellent interview.
I could talk to people like you all day. A lot of the interviews I do, they have no idea how my brain works. I get frustrated. My wife is like, “You have to be nicer.” That’s my issue. I’m working on that. You asked exactly the questions how my brain thinks. Strategic Coach has helped me with my business mindset. The number one thing that I’ve learned from that is to focus only on my unique ability, which is what you’re good at and what you like to do. I don’t do anything else. Ninety-nine percent of my day is on my unique ability. EO has launched my network to stratospheres I never thought possible. I’m talking to somebody in Luxembourg who’s a genius entrepreneur. Who would have thought that? People in Malaysia, in China and Japan. I know many people in Australia now. It’s crazy. Most of that is because of the EO. Strategic Coach is amazing. There are many people out there with this abundance mindset and that’s the thing. Once you find them, those people keep introducing you to other people like that. It’s infectious. It’s like a drug for me.
You’ve probably met Verne Harnish. He’s part of a lot of these different groups.
I haven’t met him personally but yes.Don't spread yourself too thin by doing stuff that is a waste of your time and doesn't lead to as much investment from other people. Click To Tweet
He has been on the show. He’s great. A lot of these groups are great for learning to become a master networker on a global level. They teach you some of the techniques. You get to hear from people who’ve done things you haven’t done. What you’ve done is important to share your secrets to building a business and to make it epic. Epic Business: 30 Secrets to Build Your Business Exponentially and Give You The Freedom to Live the Life You Want! which is the name of your book. How would you define epic business?
One, I use the word epic constantly even before I started a business. The name of my company, BrEpic, is a joke. I thought it would be funny because BR is the first two letters of my last name and then epic. I use that word on social media. What the book is, I spend most of my day talking to amazing entrepreneurs, business leaders, and then listening to them. What happened is, each of these chapters is one thing that I learned from these folks and then I implemented it into my company. I was a journalist years ago not making a ton of money, a typical corporate type of job with the stresses. Now here I am making as much money as I want to and only working with the people I want to and like, “How the heck did I do this?” It’s like, “Here’s how I did it.” Moving forward, especially because of COVID, I strongly feel that a lot of businesses are going to be more like mine where it’s the high price point. You only do one thing. You do it well better than anyone else. You only work with a certain type of brain mindset and then it’s easily pivotable. That’s where a lot of companies are headed.
It’s funny. I figured that BrEpic was a combination. I name a lot of things with my last name and my husband’s together and my kids. EPIC is the acronym for my process, for my perception of research that’s coming out.
How have you and I not talked before?
How did we meet?
You’re my new best friend. I’ll introduce you to 100 people.
We probably do know a lot of the same people in some of these groups. There’s so much that people need to learn when it comes to promoting their work. I wrote a brand publishing course before I left as the MBA Program Chair at Forbes. In Forbes, it was challenging to write about reaching people with your message at scale. You want to make things personalized but then again, you want to reach people at scale. A lot of people struggle with a lot of this stuff. What’s the main message for readers? If they want to buy your book, what do you want them to know?
Do what you love to do and what you’re good at. That’s the number one thing that I learned. When I first started, I was doing all these different things. I had no idea how to run a business. I didn’t know what a W-9 was. I had no idea what a W-9 was before I started this. Why would I? I was a journalist. What I figured out quickly is that I like to write stories and I like pitching it to the media. I got rid of all the other stuff. I started raising my rates with this one process and kept doubling down and kept doubling down on it. There’s one thing from this, that would be, don’t spread yourself too thin by doing all this stuff that is a waste of your time and doesn’t lead to as much investment from other people. Focus on one big thing.
Justin, I found it interesting that we had so much that we both are focused on. Your book can help a lot of people. If they’re reading this, they want to get a copy, and they want to contact you, is there a website you’d like to share or some way to follow you on social media?
To get the book, you can go to BrepicBusiness.com. All my information is there as well.
Thank you so much for sharing and good luck with your book. This was fun.
Thank you so much. I appreciate you having me on.
I’d like to thank both Mikki and Justin for being my guests. We get many great guests. If you’ve missed any past episodes, please go to DrDianeHamilton.com. You could find everything you need to know about the radio show, my speaking, consulting, and of course, The Curiosity Code Index and Cracking The Curiosity Code there. I hope you join us for the next episode of Take The Lead Radio.
- Mikki Williams
- Willie Jolley – Previous episode
- Joe Calloway – Previous episode
- TED Talk – Mikki Williams
- BrEpic Communications
- Epic Business
- Rebecca Gruyter
- Strategic Coach
- Verne Harnish – Previous episode
- The Curiosity Code Index
- Cracking The Curiosity Code
- LinkedIn – Justin Breen
- Facebook – Justin Breen
- Twitter – Justin Breen
About Mikki Williams
Mikki Williams is a Hall of Fame speaker, author, executive speech coach, TEDx speaker, radio & TV personality, and transformational storyteller. Mikki was chosen as one of the best speakers in the country by Meetings and Convention Magazine along with Tony Robbins, Bill Gates, Rudy Giuliani, Colin Powell, Lou Holtz, Zig Ziglar, Mike Ditka, and Jay Leno.
About Justin Breen
Justin Breen is CEO of the PR firm BrEpic Communications and author of the book Epic Business. BrEpic is a PR firm that writes compelling, newsworthy stories for its clients and pitches those stories to media across the country (to help amplify messaging).
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