Robin Farmanfarmaian, author of The Thought Leader Formula, is an entrepreneur and an angel investor. She drives business development for cutting edge medical and biotech companies that are poised to impact 100 million patients. Pretty amazing.
But that’s actually not what this episode is about. Robin is a professional speaker and she has over 100 speaking engagements in 12 countries and she’s learned a lot of really valuable lessons along the way, as she’s become a professional thought leader. That’s what this episode is really about—the lessons that Robin’s learned going from zero to professional thought leader.
And this stuff really works, I mean, she’s helped other thought leaders build new careers or take their business or their careers to the next level. If you want to become a professional thought leader who has a business around your ideas, this is the episode for you.
Robin Farmanfarmaian: I actually sat down and very specifically decided to become a professional speaker. I created a five year project plan around making that happen, which is what ended up turning into the book. But my whys for actually doing that, there’s actually three major whys.
The first reason I wanted to become a professional speaker—and by default, of course, a thought leader, because if someone’s paying you $10 to $20,000 for a 20 to 60 minute keynote, you’re a thought leader.
But my first why was to drive business development for the companies I’m working with, because I come from the event space. I understood if I was on stage, my funnel would come to me and then I could do high-level deals or get products placed or do the high-level business development for whatever I was working on at the moment.
My second major reason was because I wanted to build out more than one revenue stream in my life. A lot of us have just one revenue stream in our life, right? Our salary. I realized with the future of work, because I have a lot of experience running conferences around that specific subject, is that we really need multiple revenue streams in our life in order to survive what’s going on over the next 10 years in the world of work.
“I wanted to add that additional revenue stream of keynote speeches.”
My third reason was because this was years before the #metoo movement started. I was in Silicon Valley, and I was just being sabotaged and crushed by some of the men. Not a lot of them, this was a very small number, but sexual harassment, abuse, bullying, being deleted off websites. Some men just touching me all over, it was crazy. In front of other men.
There was one that I almost went into shock over that it was so blatantly horrible. It was an attorney that was doing it to me. I was like, “Are you kidding me?”
I tried to fight against it, the normal channels. Which you see some women trying to fight this through normal channels, it does not work. Even in the pieces of gross abuse, men will look the other way and let it happen.
I said, “Okay, well how do I protect myself? Because fighting this through normal channels doesn’t work.”
I want to become a thought leader and a celebrity for my brain, and then maybe that will help. Let me tell you, it worked 10 times better than I have ever imagined.
Better Than Expected
Charlie Hoehn: Really? What do you mean by it worked 10 times better?
Robin Farmanfarmaian: I thought that it would allow me to get a seat at the table and talk and people would hear me and people would stop putting their hands on me and calling me an executive assistant even though I was raising millions of dollars for companies and things like that, just because I’m a small, petit, very outgoing personable blonde.
I got a lot of this.
But the day my book published, The Patient As CEO, it was like turning off a light switch. The sexual abuse and harassment stopped completely, overnight.
It’s just because now I’m known for my brain and I command people’s attention.
If you do something to me, you’re going to get caught. Versus if you do something to even say a vice president who other men are calling an executive assistant, you’re not going to get caught. They’re all going to laugh.
Now, I stand there in front of audiences to 3,000 people giving 60 minute keynotes.
I want to teach other women how to do this. Not just women, I want to teach anyone who has faced any type of bias or bullying or sabotage or anything negative happening to them in the workplace. I want to drive career goals. I want to help those people.
Who Needs This Book
Charlie Hoehn: I do some speaking myself and I’ve been on the thought leader trajectory, I published a few books and I kind of actually went the other way where I was like, “I don’t know if I want to do this because there’s pieces of this puzzle that I feel like I’m not figuring out.” I just don’t quite know how to get there and be full time and doing it at the level that you’re describing doing it.
Let’s dive into it. Where do you want to start?
Robin Farmanfarmaian: Why don’t we start diving in by who this actually will benefit? Because I thought long and hard about exactly who this particular system would benefit, because it is different than say, if you wanted to be an Instagram influencer. If you want to be that, I don’t know how to do that. This is not the book for you.
I’m not going to teach you to be an influencer, which is what we call a cash transaction essentially. They are selling something specific and they are getting paid to sell that and market it.
Thought leader is very different. You are famous for your brain. Your specific ideas. It’s a fantastic formula if you are an entrepreneur, if you are a corporate executive or an employee. It’s fantastic if you are healthcare professional of any kind, whether you’re a physician or a chiropractor or a nurse, anyone who touches a patient in any way, therapy, any of that kind of stuff.
Fantastic for attorneys, consultants, accountants. Anyone who charges an hourly or a fixed rate fee for a project.
Because, let me tell you why, if you are a thought leader and you are a physician or an attorney or a consultant, you can charge significantly more money for your services.
Imagine if you were sick and you had two doctors or two surgeons to choose from and you googled them and one surgeon has gone around the world and given talks on his experiences and written a bunch of books and is much higher exclusivity because if that.
You will end up probably paying two or three times more for that particular surgeon, and a patient may want to do that.
Same thing with an accountant, same thing with a consultant of any kind, right? If you’re an entrepreneur, it’s huge because most entrepreneurs, they may not have a name for themselves and their company is unknown and they’re doing something new, that’s three major strikes against them in terms of getting marketing sales and getting in front of investors.
It doesn’t matter if you have the best idea and the best company and you know you can turn it into a multibillion dollar company. It’s getting in front of the people who will fund it, that’s the hard part.
By being a thought leader, it’s really easy to get in front of the VCs. I mean, almost everybody now takes my call. Complete strangers.
Charlie Hoehn: Do you have an example that comes, you don’t necessarily have to name exactly who they are but an example of that playing out where you’re like, I can’t believe I just got on the phone with that person, that never would have happened.
Robin Farmanfarmaian: Yes, I have so many. I mean, 30, 40 examples to this. Two of my favorites weren’t funding specifically, but it was getting an early stage company…I got them in front of the CTO of the VHA system, which is the largest healthcare system in the United States and then I got them—we’re talking in their office.
I got them an hour long call with the CMO of Walmart.
This is a company that still doesn’t have a product, they were three years to market, but I was able to get into the doors of two of the biggest entities here in the United States.
If you are an executive, say you are working for one company with a salary, the way this benefits you dramatically, in addition to adding those revenue streams like we talked about keynote and speaking and things like that, it can help you drive your own career goals, it can get you promoted, it can give you much more negotiating power so that when you go in and talk to the CEO, whoever negotiates your contract, you say, “I want to only work in the office four days a week, I want to travel one day a week, I want to do my own external keynotes, and I want to work on a couple of projects.”
“Once you are a thought leader, they will say yes to that kind of thing.”
Because you can drive marketing and sales, and companies, especially large companies, want to have thought leaders. You’re not only driving marketing and sales, even if you don’t work in that particular department, you can work in any departments. But you also are helping drive more people to apply for positions at that company.
“Famous person number X that I saw at this conference, they’re working for startup Y or even large GE or Google or whatever it is. I want to work at a place that would employ this person.”
The Thought Leader Formula
Charlie Hoehn: I know I usually guide but you do a good job at this type of thing. Where do you want to dive in for your book?
Robin Farmanfarmaian: Sure, I’ll just take a little bit through the system but really focus on chapter nine. Chapter nine is by far the longest chapter, and it’s the one that everybody is going to want to read. Because it talks about how to get on stage and who pays for what.
One of the biggest questions, before you get to that point of trying to get yourself on different stages, you really need to have a very solid platform. A thought leader platform and that’s the steps that I take you through in the beginning.
My life goal is to impact a hundred million patients. Everything I do kind of revolves around that in the world of medicine. Now, your goal could be to get funding for your startup company or to drive business goals or to drive career goals—but you need to understand what that goal is because that is the foundation of what we’re going to build.
I take you through examples in the book, so don’t worry about “My gosh, I don’t have a goal yet.”
I take a few examples and then we start to add on the revenue streams, I have you identify all the revenue streams in your life and I have you start brainstorming other revenue streams you would love to add to your life. Including things like keynote speaking.
You really understand your own business model.
“I like to reframe people’s brains to think of themselves as a company.”
Because as a thought leader, you’re now bridging both worlds. You’re a private citizen but you’re also a public celebrity figure for your ideas and brains, which is very different from being a public celebrity or say, being a singer or an actor.
You’re really blurring those lines. I call myself Robin Inc., and Robin Inc. right now is working with four different companies to help me build up this thought leader platform.
Charlie Inc., probably, not only has where you work but you might have other companies you can hire to bring on to help you build out your platform.
I take you through that, whether it is a script writer or a designer for your slides or speaker coach or improve coach or any small thing that you need done, in The Thought Leader Formula.
Not for Everyone
Charlie Hoehn: I’m curious Robin, before we get too swept away, are there any downsides to being a thought leader?
Robin Farmanfarmaian: Yes. For certain types of personalities, first of all, you have to get over the stage fright. 100% of us feel stage fright, it is a terrifying thing. That is very hard. The other thing is that you really open yourself up to a lot of rejection. That is true with anything that you’re going to do in the public eye.
Really, you have to get used to hearing the word “no.” I think I talk about this in the conclusion—really tightly framing what no means in the world of business.
No isn’t personal, it just means the two businesses are not aligned in their goals at that moment in time.
“I spell that out for you, but the rejection is going to be big.”
There might be some audiences that don’t like you or you know, I’ve been insulted, not insulted, actually, because I’m a chronic disease patient, so I’m thinking that might protect me a little bit from some of the haters.
I remember there was an article in Medscape Germany that went out on my first book. A physician actually wrote at the bottom, in German. “When this happens, patients taking control of their health, I’m quitting medicine.”
If you don’t have a bunch of haters, you’re not taking your big enough stand on something.
In the book, I call this your fundamental truth. What is your fundamental truth? That thing that you believe that you know that you are working towards, that other people don’t necessarily know about or don’t believe.
Become a Networking Ninja
Charlie Hoehn: I want to talk about networking ninja. Networking is a word that of course turns a lot of people off, what do you mean by networking ninja?
Robin Farmanfarmaian: Well, because that is chapter seven. By now, you understand your basics of your platform. You understand your goals, we’ve gone through and we’ve written out your revenue streams, we’ve gone through and figured out not only your fundamental truth but your tagline and your catch phrases and some signature catch phrase is that you can start to pepper things in.
By the time you get to networking, you understand who you need to meet.
I think it’s either in this chapter or in the previous chapter, I actually take you through a spreadsheet, which I give to you with the book. It’s a 10 tab spreadsheet that outlines all these different action items for you.
You identify conferences that you want to speak at and you also have gone through this spreadsheet and you’ve identified other thought leaders and speakers who are in your space, right? Basically, it’s marketing 101. You just map out your ecosystem, and I take you through that earlier in the book.
By the time you get to network and you’re going to go back to that spreadsheet and you’re going to look at the conferences events and speakers that you have already identified, then you re going to go to those places and you’re going to go to those events.
You can have it in a piece of paper, electronic, whatever. You’ve got a list of three or five or seven people that you need to meet at that event and you know why you need to meet them.
You’re not going to ever just go to an event and just show up and then, let’s just serendipity, I’m just going to bump in people who will dramatically help me achieve my goals…the world rarely works like that.
There is some serendipity only because you’ve gotten yourself to the right places for that to actually happen.
So make it happen.
“Be intentional with the people that you need to meet.”
I do not go to an event unless I understand who is in the room and I have my goals of who I want to talk to, what do I want to talk to them about.
Or else I don’t leave my house, it is a waste of time.
Charlie Hoehn: Yeah, totally. I love how intentional you are. Are you typically how do you meet them? Do you meet them for coffee? Do you go on a walk together? Do you do an activity together?
Robin Farmanfarmaian: So it totally depends on my goal. That’s why before I even actually go to the event I have written out, “Okay I want to meet Jeff, Carrie, and Ann.” And the reason I want to meet these ones is: Jeff, I want him to be a mentor; Carrie, I want her to fund my company; Ann, I think she would be a fantastic partner for one of my startups.
So I know exactly how they’re going to fit into my life and my business model of Robin Inc., but first you want to just start building the relationship. So it is not necessarily the next step is going to be a cookie cutter template.
It’s going to be based on what you want to do with them. With the mentor, maybe it is a coffee, but with someone like Carrie who would be potentially funding a company, my next step would just be to set up a meeting with the CEO.
Charlie Hoehn: Preparing for your first presentation. You know it wouldn’t be my first presentation but I have a feeling you have some good preparation notes that any speaker can apply.
Robin Farmanfarmaian: I want to remind people that they’re experts in their content, but no one probably taught them all the rest of the stuff that goes along with having to be a thought leader, right? Which includes potentially presenting on stage.
If you have never been on stage before, all of us get stage fright—even sociopaths. I have watched it happened to them. You need to understand how to give a performance and how to deal with that kind of stuff.
If you have never done any of that kind of thing, I recommend hiring an acting coach just for maybe one or two sessions or joining an intro to acting class for one or two sessions. Improv is incredibly valuable, especially for things like the Q&A and the podcast that you will be doing.
Charlie Hoehn: I just have to interject here real quickly and say improv literally destroyed my fear of messing up on stage. I no longer have to take like a beta blocker before giving a huge presentation because I have died enough times on stage through improv and I couldn’t agree more with doing it. It’s amazing.
Robin Farmanfarmaian: Exactly, and that’s a safe space because everyone is screwing up and you are just going there to have fun. A lot of the time of the class, you don’t even have to worry about an audience, right? But it is really getting comfortable with interacting at that level.
I also tell people to hire a voice coach if they have any type of an accent or if English is a second language for them so that they are universally understood when they get on stage.
They could revert back to their accent off stage, but once you are on stage, no one can say, “Wait, I didn’t understand you,” right?
And then also speaker coaches. I recommend this for 100% of people. Those three other ones I talked about you may or may not need, but everybody who wants to be a speaker must hire a speaker coach at least once or twice.
They are going to give you a massive feedback on your body posture or how you come across to audiences.
They are going to tweak the way you phrase a few things, use the word “I” instead of “you” or something like that—just very, very few things, but they will show you positioning.
Like with mine, mine told me to open up my arms wider and take up more space on stage because I am this five foot tall 90 pound tiny little thing.
Charlie Hoehn: Now do you have any other recommendations for prepping?
Robin Farmanfarmaian: Yes, so I say hire a designer. I’ll do some of my slides based on some previous design work, but my slides are professional. And you can see the difference between professionally done slides and slides that were done by someone who knows the content but has not been through design school of any kind.
And so, that first slide deck I did, I brought on a script writer to help me because I was putting my personal story with my very first keynote. I had never done this so I brought on a scriptwriter and a very high end designer for that very first one.
Now I use a regular designer. I think he’s 60 dollars an hour. I found him on Upwork and now he is my go-to guy and he refreshes my decks for me. He just did I think 17 new slides for me or maybe it was 16 new slides for about $300.
“You cannot do this alone.”
Once you understand that it is now Charlie Inc., you need departments. Just like any corporation, you need your marketing and sales department, you need your design department, you need your finance department, you need your legal department.
You can’t be an expert in all of those things. You’ve got hire them. You’re a business now if you are a thought leader.
Who Pays for Speakers
Charlie Hoehn: Let’s go to chapter nine, which is on stage. I don’t want you to give away all the gold in this but this chapter alone I’d imagine is worth the cost of admission for the book.
Robin Farmanfarmaian: Oh yeah that everyone is going to be flipping to that chapter. So what you can’t tell from my LinkedIn is that I am actually an events expert. I’ve run hundreds of events in my life and conferences, so I understand the backend of how they work and why people throw events and why companies spend money.
I take you through exactly the kind of events that are going to pay you, the type of events who are going to cover your cost of travel. Who is going to cover your hotel and then who is going to make you pay for a ticket. For you to even grace the stage, so I take you through all of those for basically any kind of event you can think of.
Charlie Hoehn: So a question on this, are there any surprises there? I mean what might be the reader be surprised by when they read that section?
Robin Farmanfarmaian: I think a lot of people who see videos, anytime you see a video on YouTube, most of the time that is a free talk. People don’t realize that. I’ve got a hundred talks probably on video that has never been released because they were private clients.
Charlie Hoehn: Right, and you got paid by getting that professionally done video and the marketing and distribution for that video. I mean that’s in a way your payment, right?
Robin Farmanfarmaian: Yeah, exactly, and that is for if I am doing a free event say at TEDx, those are fantastic for that. They are going to give you a high end video, and that is essentially your payment. But the ones who spend $10,000 to $20,000 for a keynote speaker, those are typically only in the world of corporations and the associations, the giant association conferences.
The SXSW, CES, all these big deal conferences that people want to go to that you hear about none of them pays for speakers.
It’s the conferences that you don’t hear about that are specifically inside of a conference for corporations they are the ones who pay.
One of the easiest ways to get on stage for those first early ones is just to apply. Literally just go to conference websites and a lot of the time it says apply to speak. Those will always be free, but it gets you on stage.
If it is an academic conference of any kind, oh yeah. Unless your thesis and your thesis is just your synopses of your talk, unless it doesn’t fit in with the academic conference at all then of course not. But if it fits in even a little bit with the academic conference figure, they are probably going to give you a space on stage.
Getting on Stage
Charlie Hoehn: Yeah so what about if you are a bit further along, you’re established, you’ve got some books under your belt—at that point, what are the systems to put in place to get on stages?
Robin Farmanfarmaian: It goes back to your business model. I’ll do free talks if it benefits one of the companies I am working with. So that is how I differentiate it, and I take you through that checklist. In your case, a speaker bureau might be a good route.
They lead jump for you, and then they close the contract and they manage it. So to me it is just free money.
Charlie Hoehn: They have to know you’re a worthy person to take on.
Robin Farmanfarmaian: Well yeah, they are not going to sign—traditional ones, we are talking about traditional speaker bureaus that charge 20% to 30% of your fee commission based. They are not going to take anyone who isn’t charging $10,000. That is like their entry point.
It doesn’t pay for them to negotiate $500 talks for you or $5,000 talks for you. 20% of $5,000, that thousand dollar to run a company and the math doesn’t work out. They’ve got to go for the higher end stuff.
I am working with five speaker bureaus right now. I don’t do exclusive contracts with anyone. So I am working with five different speaker bureaus, and this year, between the five of them I already have six different keynotes booked.
But this is the first year that I have had that many paid, booked talks at my full fee.
My very first keynote was in 2013, November of 2013. So it’s been a little over five years.
Charlie Hoehn: At what point did you feel like, “Okay now I’ve got this figured out”?
Robin Farmanfarmaian: I had it figured out before I started. I just knew it was going to take time. I have been following my own project plan.
I am still following it, and I would say I hit 100 speaking engagements, I want to say about a year and a half ago. That is a lot, in 12 countries.
There was the end of 2017, I went from Greece and Austria to New Zealand, back to Europe and Sweden then back over to Japan. It was back and forth and I’d stop in San Francisco on the way usually do a couple of things, it was crazy.
By the time December rolled around and that was my last talk in Japan and it was in December of 2017, I think I needed to sleep for a month.
Charlie Hoehn: Man that is incredible. You are charging as much as you do now because you don’t have to punish yourself with that many speeches again, right?
Robin Farmanfarmaian: Yeah, well some of them I will take because they are amazing. So there was one I took in Athens and it wasn’t that particular one. It was for TEDx Academy, and they never pay. They did cover my business class travel to Greece, but I went and did that because the experience was one of the best experiences that I’ve ever had.
They put me in this really high-end resort outside of Athens. I had an escort the whole time. They showed me the most amazing experience.
Simple First Steps
Charlie Hoehn: Robin, I have a couple more questions for you to wrap this up and then you’re good to go. This has been phenomenal. So the first question I have is tell me about somebody you’ve helped with The Thought Leader Formula—where did they start and where did they get to because of the information basically in this book that they applied to their life?
Robin Farmanfarmaian: Oh my gosh, I have a huge success story. So Monika Proffitt and I are friends, we met actually in Mykonos, when I was giving a talk in Mykonos for A-Fest. She’s American, she lives in New York and she was coming from the art industry, which is very far from mine. She suddenly decided to jump into the world of blockchain and became an expert and wanted to make it really big in that world.
So I gave her one of my hints, which is in the book. I told her to go ahead and write a PDF. Now what that means is instead of writing a book, write a 20 or 30 page Word document, turn it into a PDF, have someone design the cover, upload it to Amazon and sell it for $4.99. Bam, you are a published author. It is that easy to do now. So we took a step further because anybody can write pretty much 20 page Word doc on the 101 of their industry, right? Because they have been doing it for 10 years or they have been studying it for a year or two.
So you can write Podcasting 101. That will take you 20 minutes or a couple of days to write. It took Monika less than a week to write 80 pages on Blockchain 101, called it Blockchain 101, she launched it right after Christmas or right before Christmas. I mean we’re talking it’s been months. Today or yesterday, she was speaking at MIT.
That took her no time. Then she took The Patient As CEO, the book cover, replaced my picture with hers, replaced the words with mine and you’ve got the same exact design and just launched it instead of hiring a designer. She wanted to do it fast, cheap, easy, and she could alter something as simple as the book cover because she was an art before. So yeah, that is why the book covers look so similar.
Connect with Robin Farmanfarmaian
Charlie Hoehn: The final two questions that I have for you Robin are what’s the best way for our listeners to follow your work and potentially connect with you?
Robin Farmanfarmaian: Oh so go ahead and go to my website, robinff.com. I am the only Robin Farmanfarmaian in the entire universe. You will find it right away.
Go ahead and sign up for my newsletter. But then you can find me on all social media. I am on everything. I am more active on things like Facebook and LinkedIn, but I am also on Twitter and Instagram. So yeah, go find me.
Charlie Hoehn: Excellent, Robin the final question I have for you is give our listeners a challenge. What I the one thing they can do from your book this week that will have a positive impact?
Robin Farmanfarmaian: Figure out what your fundamental truth is. What is that thing that you believe that may not be aware of yet or don’t believe yet?