Keynote Speakers Can Transform Your Events and Audiences

Maximize ROI by Choosing the Right Busienss Keynote Speakers

Strategic Innovation & Ideation Consultant & Facilitator

Keynote Speaker John Di Frances Speaking on Strategic Open Innovation

How do you choose the business keynote speakers for your conferences or events who will actually aid in the transformation of your corporation or association members? That is the question executives and meetings professionals are asking themselves.

Today, meeting and event ROI is front and center and the business keynote speakers who address your audience are the primary business transformational component in your meeting or event agenda. But not all keynote speakers have the same ability to lead audiences in recognizing and embracing disruptive change. Nor do all keynote speaker’s topics yield the same dividends in terms of positive ROI.

I have been speaking professionally since 2000 and prior to that I instructed for numerous educational entities including universities and colleges, for profit seminar companies and government agencies. Motivating an audience to think and act transformationally consists of three aspects for professional keynote speakers.

Keynote Speakers Must: Equip, Empower, and Motivate

  1. Equip – People can only apply what they know. Many business keynote speakers are ‘motivational.’ Motivation is important. In fact, it is critical, however, unless your audience has the tools with which to act, your highly motivated attendees will soon run out of steam once they are back on the job. Top keynote business speakers begin by educating their audiences, providing the information needed to change the way your attendees and their organizations think and work.
  2. Empower –  The most effective business keynote speakers follow up equipping by empowering their audiences through demonstrating how they can turn what they have learned into immediate actionable results. Let’s face facts, we have all attended conferences where we learned new ways of doing things (information), but the keynote speaker then failed to show us how to put that knowledge into meaningful action. Audiences not only need to hear, but to also be shown—to see—through real world examples, how to quickly put that knowledge into action.
  3. Motivate – Armed with knowledge and prepared through real life examples that are applicable to the audiences’ industry and experience level, the business keynote speaker can then properly motivate the audience to energetically respond. They are equipped, they are empowered, and now they can actually make a difference. Excitement stems from knowing that you have the ability to make a positive difference.

Business keynote speakers who do all three: Equip, Empower, and Motivate, create positive ROI for the meeting or event sponsors who hire them. And that’s what meetings today are all about — Maximizing ROI.


Are You Finding the Best Keynote Speakers for Your Events?

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You Invest a Great Deal of Time and Energy in Professional Speaker Selection

Professional meeting and event planners and others who hire professional keynote speakers, many of whom are CMP’s (Certified Meeting Professional), invest a large component of their time in search of finding, hiring and working with the very best professional keynote speakers. These speakers run the gamut of business subject matter content experts to celebrities, pundits, former sports stars and high energy audience motivators…but all have one essential attribute in common, that their participation in your event, meeting, conference or convention should result in your attendees wanting to come back again and again.

Elite Meetings Speaker

Today, more varieties of professional keynote speakers are available to meeting professionals than ever before and the range of fees they command are similarly broad. There are those who speak for an honorarium, typically in the $2,500 and below range. These may include academics as well as professional speakers addressing not-for-profit audiences who cannot afford their normal corporate or business association fees. Then there are speakers who are just beginning their careers, who are simply seeking experience in speaking before a live audience, market exposure, testimonials for use in gaining future engagements and also, the harsh reality of needing cash flow just to survive. Fees for this group of speakers are generally below $5,000. And lastly, seasoned professional keynote speakers who earn their living, or at least a part of it, from highly paid speaking engagements. This latter group’s fees typically range from $7,500 to $50,000 or more.

The real question those responsible for hiring professional keynote speakers need to ask them self is first, are you finding the very best speakers for your events? And secondly, are you maximizing the investment your organization is making in them?

The Power of WOW & the Even Greater Danger

Rousing, high energy name recognition motivational keynote speakers who deliver a high ‘WOW’ factor can add excitement to your meeting or event. They can be powerful motivators for the moment, however, such highly emotional ‘motivation’ rarely lasts beyond the day. Within a week, it has typically has worn off.

The problem with the high ‘WOW’ motivational speakers is that they relate almost exclusively to the audience on the emotional level. Their extreme experience, exciting adventure, great sports victories…provide little that audiences can personally apply to their own lives and work. ‘Overcoming’ is a popular theme of these motivational speakers. But overcoming what? And how does it apply, if at all, to the individuals in your audience?

I am not in any way against motivational keynotes, as all keynote presentations should be designed to motivate the audience to take specific actions. However, in order to effect a lasting change in the audience’s behavior, motivational keynotes need to meet three criteria. First, it must incorporate usable content and insights gained from the speaker’s own firsthand, real world experience, not something he or she read in book or gleaned from someone else. Secondly, real world learning needs to take place, that is, the content must be highly applicable to the attendees at the present time. And lastly, to have an enduring impact on the audience, it must be delivered in a way that provides a direct application to the meeting attendees’ specific needs. The vast majority of keynotes are either ‘stock’ or ‘customized,’ the latter meaning they have been slightly altered by the speaker to include a few details specific to the company or industry, but in actuality are not in any way uniquely designed to address the needs of that specific audience.

DE-MOTIVATION - Half Empty Leaking Glass

The Risk of De-Motivation

When these three requirements are not met, the high energy WOW motivation can quickly become de-motivational, if the attendee can’t bridge the gap between their own life and that which the speaker portrays. If this great athlete, celebrity, hero…speaker accomplished something so amazing and I view myself as not having any outstanding special talent, then I must be just a schmuck who has never and will never accomplish anything fantastic. How de-motivational is that?

Therein lies the danger! The audience may be mesmerized by the motivational speaker’s stories of extraordinary experiences or accomplishments, but when they get back to work, they are still the same person they were beforehand. When they look in the mirror they are much more likely to see failure, not great success.

However, when high take-away value content and perceptive insights are the focus, then the audience is equipped to function with a new perspective and capabilities. When that attendee returns to work they have been empowered by the combination of content and insights coupled with motivation. Truly a winning combination! They are able to do something, to actually make a difference and that sustains motivation. Give someone a new skill or capability, then motivate them to put it to use and you have a formula for success. It’s the old adage of teaching someone how to fish and they can feed them self for the rest of their life. Events that accomplish this will long be remembered and valued by your attendees and they will want to keep returning to your future meetings and conferences.

How Do You Gauge Keynote Speaker Success?

Some meetings professionals gauge the success of their events by whether the speaker(s) receive a standing ovation. That is their prime measure of meeting success. However, often the most effective professional keynote speaker may leave the audience deep in thought or feeling uncomfortable, having been challenged to think and act differently than the norm. Provocative keynote speakers typically deliver much greater lasting value than those who merely entertain and emotionally motivate. Sometimes muted applause or even silence, is a better indication that the keynote speaker you selected has had a powerful and lasting impact upon your audience.

John Di Frances Speaking on Open Innovation Leadership

I remember one instance when following a keynote, the CEO of a company came to me and said that immediately following my presentation he had gone to his room, called his office and countermanded a financial directive he had given the previous day. Why? Because he had been convicted by something I said, that his prior instruction was unethical. To me this meant far more than any standing ovation ever could!

Finding the Best Keynote Speakers for Your Events Can Make All the Difference in Your Event Outcome

Today’s business climate is rapidly changing, highly competitive and ultra demanding of individuals’ time, talents and energies. A big dose of ‘Feel Good’ may indeed feel good for the moment, but it’s effect also wears off very quickly. Professional keynote speakers who have deep knowledge and experience which they know how to effectively communicate through word and application, will add far greater lasting benefit to your audience.

by John Di Frances

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Turbocharged Association Meetings Maximize Member Benefits

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Association Meetings & Events

Many of the cars we drive today have turbocharged engines and there is an excellent reason for this. Turbocharging allows smaller engines to produce more power than naturally aspired engines of the same size. In the same way, turbocharging your association’s semi-annual and annual meetings increases the benefits your association members receive without significantly increasing the meeting cost.

Associations Hold Numerous Meetings & Events

Today, many association executives are under pressure to hold the line on meeting costs and yet deliver higher value to their association’s members. This can seem like a Catch 22 position for the association executive and board, but it needn’t be so.

There are a number of simple, straightforward strategies which association executives can employ to achieve both of these seemingly contradictory mandates. One highly effective means which I rarely see utilized has to do with with content integration. Certainly your annual or semi-annual association membership meetings have an event theme, but how well is this theme integrated and fostered by the totality of the event and the content presented?

Relevant, High Quality Content is Essential to Association Audiences

Providing relevant, high value content is more important to your association members than ever before. The days when business and trade association meetings where primarily social and party times are past history. Business association members expect to leave with new information and insights which they can immediately put into practice in their businesses. In our increasingly competitive world this is no longer an option, but rather a survival reality.

The vast majority of the association meetings at which I speak provide excellent content through their plenary sessions, BUT, and here is the problem, most often this highly valuable content is not well integrated. What do I mean by ‘not well integrated?’ Simply put, the content, presented across the two, three or four days of the meeting may all be in keeping with the event theme, but it is not highly cohesive and therefore, difficult for members to apply to their businesses in an comprehensive manner.

The content and insights tend to come in bits and pieces and not as a cohesive ‘thought stream.’ This results in the participants grasping individual ‘tactics’, but missing the larger ‘strategies’ which could have a far greater positive impact on their businesses. Think of it in terms of a panel discussion, which many association events incorporate into their meeting agenda. Such panel discussion can be moderated or unmoderated. If you are familiar with both, you know from experience that moderated panel discussions are far more likely to produce succinct, on topic panel responses where participant builds upon the previous comments, whereas unmoderated panel discussions tend to wander and provide far less ‘take-away’ value for your association members.

The same principle holds true for your entire event. Most events are essentially ‘unmoderated.’ In other words, there is no ‘single voice’ for the content provided during your event. Now you may say, ‘Of course not! We have a dozen or two or even three dozen speakers over the course of our event. How can there be a single voice?’

Association Meetings Organizations

The Value of a ‘Single Voice’

By a ‘single voice,’ I am referring to one overarching message that your association members leave with. Another way to think of it is providing a context for each of the individual keynotes delivered by the various presenters. This context ensures that your desired theme is reinforced and built upon through each plenary session.

Most of the association meetings at which I speak include at least two presentations by nonmember professional speakers, typically the opening and closing keynotes. And almost always, these are presented by two different professional keynote speakers. Thus, your members hear one keynote speaker and topic at the beginning of your event and another at the end and numerous industry speakers in between. Diversity of topics and speakers may make your event interesting, but does it produce the most beneficial outcomes for the attendees?

Cohesive and Integrated Association Meeting Content

I believe that there is a better way which will result in a far more optimal business outcome. That is to have the same professional keynote speaker present the opening and closing keynotes and to introduce your other plenary speakers. In doing so, they can also provide a brief segue between speakers which ties the individual presentations together, thereby providing that flowing context which integrates the individual presentations into your overall conference theme and objective. An experienced professional keynote speaker should be able to listen to the other plenary presentations and contemporaneously create those segue’s on the fly.

Additionally, this accomplishes a second goal. You want your meeting to open with a BANG! That is one of the primary responsibilities of an opening keynote speaker. To excite the audience about what will follow over the course of the event. You want a strong start. A speaker who will actively engage your members and create passion about the meeting, revving them up!

What should happen next? Following the opening keynote, each presentation should build toward the conclusion. You don’t want your audience experiencing peaks and valleys as the event progresses. Instead, you want a great start, followed by growing anticipation and a steady build-up to the culmination, that point at which the closing keynote speaker draws together everything your association members have heard over the course of the event and concludes with a rousing call to take action and implement the knowledge and insights gained for your association members maximum benefit.

Unfortunately, this rarely happens! Instead, your members hear a series of loosely related or as is more often the case, unrelated presentations with no cohesive message or call to action. They then leave for home with a basket of great bits and pieces which soon fade away without action being taken, as the press of business as usual envelops them back at their business.

Paris Association Meetings
As an Association Executive, You Work Hard Planning Meetings

Is it any wonder why all of your hard work and exhaustive planning over the course of six or twelve months results in so little positive forward action on the part of your members? They left the event with information and good intentions, but without a roadmap for implementation. The event presented many great ideas, but those ideas lacked integration and cohesion. And you shouldn’t expect your members to invest the time to create that roadmap them self. That’s not their job. Truth be told, it’s your job to do so. And you can accomplish it without adding one iota to your own workload.

Hire only one professional keynote speaker. Task that speaker with both the opening and closing keynotes and also with segueing between your other plenary session speakers. If he or she is truly a professional, they not only can effectively do so, they will jump at the opportunity to help you create a cohesive learning experience for your members which will result in them being your event’s ‘single voice.’ In return, they will receive far more referrals to speak at other meetings and events.

Make Your Association Meetings a WIN – WIN – WIN Event

You will WIN for providing a truly integrated and cohesive learning experience for your members. Your association members will WIN, because they will leave with an integrated game plan of how to effectively implement what they have heard. And your professional keynote speaker will WIN, because they have opened the conference with a keynote that created audience passion and excitement and kept the momentum building to an outstanding event conclusion which greatly benefited the attendees.

That’s what I term a WIN – WIN – WIN and nothing could be better for all involved!

by John Di Frances

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Keynote Speaker: Love Thy Audience, Not Thyself

True Success as a Professional Keynote Speaker Requires More than Skill

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Successful business keynote speakers must embody a range of skills, talents and a mindset, but I believe that one attribute stands above all others. It is the requirement that professional speakers – Love Their Audiences!

Sound trite? Possibly, but it is however, TRUE! I have been speaking professionally since 2000 to corporate, association and government audiences globally. During this time I have heard and shared the stage with numerous speakers. There styles and content or lack thereof, varied widely, but one attribute always came through loud and clear. Their reason for speaking professionally. It was either that they had discovered a great way to ‘make a living’ by pitching them self, their other services and products from the stage or they were doing it because they ‘loved their audiences’ and wanted to help them to survive and prosper in the wake of the post 2001 and 2008 economic crashes.

Elite Meetings Business Keynote Speaker John Di Frances

John Di Frances keynote speaking at an Elite Meetings Event

Many Audiences Today Are Overworked & Highly Stressed

Professional speakers are no different than anyone else in wanting to earn a good living by being compensated for their services, as does every true professional, but for the best professional keynote business speakers, that is not the primary motive for their speaking. Today’s business audiences, corporate or association, are frequently comprised of people who are ‘stressed to the max’ by global competitiveness, long working hours, stagnant wages, down-sizing, right-sizing and a multitude similar influences, which are not positive. All of these combine to create enormous emotional STRESS!

Understanding these real world stress factors and honestly empathizing with the audience differentiates the true professional from the ‘hired man or woman,’ for whom the fee and their ego are the primary drivers of their speaking career. Certainly content delivery — providing value in terms of insights and information which the audience can use to increase their own personal as well as career performance and value, is critical to every keynote. But there is more to professional speaking that just excellent content.

Empathy Requires Investing Time to Understand the Audience

When a speaker truly ‘loves their audience’ they take the time to understand where their audience is coming from and what are their listeners needs. This goes beyond speaking to their ‘general’ business needs. During the heart of the Great Recession, I had the privilege of addressing two large audiences a few days apart, both comprised of retail store owners in the floor coverings business. As part of my preparation, I visited several of their members’ stores and spoke with the owners as well as a day at the parent organization’s corporate offices.

I came away understanding that these people were hurting! Hurting badly! Nearly a quarter of their group had gone out of business during the preceding several years and many of the others were literally hanging on by a shoestring, praying for an economic turnaround miracle. I made a point of having breakfast with each group the mornings of my keynotes. Typically these types of annual industry meetings of business owners who have known each other for years are ‘fun’ affairs, with much laughter and joking. Not these two groups. They were ‘bruised and bleeding!’ And SCARED of what the future held!

The content I provided in my keynote was similar to what I would have typically provided, ‘How to Use Strategic Innovation to Grow Your Business!’ But the way I presented was much different.

This group desperately needed my content on how to grow their businesses, but they couldn’t hear it until they realized that I understood and identified with the pain they had been experiencing during the prior several years. They had to ‘know’ that I was there because I really wanted to help them, not because they were my ‘meal ticket.’ When they understood that I was truly for them, then they began to listen.

Keynote Speaker, Forget Yourself, It’s All About YourAudience!

As a professional keynote speaker, loving your audience means that as I walk up the stage stairs, I forget about myself. My sole focus is the audience. Professional speaking is NOT about the keynote speaker! It’s about the audience! Is Efficiency

by John Di Frances

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Employing Strategy + Open Innovation for Accelerating Profitable Growth

Strategy + Open Innovation

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Top CEO’s recognize that excellent strategies resulting from effective strategic planning together with the aggressive pursuit of open innovation are important to the growth and future of their business. However, they do not always fully grasp the close correlation between these two critical aspects of business.

Strategy + Open Innovation Business Keynote Speaker

As a business consultant and keynote speaker who focuses on Strategic Innovation, it is my desire to raise senior executive’s awareness of the synergistic power of integrating these two distinct, but related disciplines. Although each is in itself a powerful business driver, together it is possible to achieve exponential results through the combination of strategy + open innovation.

Just as lighter fluid acts as an accelerator to fire, open innovation can provide an accelerating dynamic to corporate strategy and vice versa. Rather than viewing these two crucial business activities as separate silos, understanding the interrelationship will positively transform both their performance as well as the results that ensue.

Strategy and open innovation are really two sides of the same coin. Innovation Empowers Strategy and Strategy Directs Innovation. Sounds circular? That’s because it is circular. The two activities should feed each other in one continuous loop.

When I say that innovation empowers strategy I am referring to the fact that through open innovation new strategic opportunities are revealed to the organization. Innovation is by definition: “Change that creates a new dimension of highly beneficial performance.” It is these new dimensions of beneficial performance that open the way for new strategies. For example, if a particular innovation initiative results in a new product or your company’s entry into a new marketplace, these clearly require the development of new strategies in order to properly implement.

Likewise, it is the organization’s strategic plan which determines the direction in which you’re people will focus their innovation efforts. This prevents you’re people from wasting valuable resources on merely creative ideas which hold no real potential for moving the organization forward. Creativity is wonderful, but unless it is actively directed toward achieving the desired strategic outcomes of the business, namely sustainable growth and profitability, it simply dilutes productive efforts.

Some years ago, the Vice President of Manufacturing for a company that produced bio-feedstocks for other research companies requested my assistance. Their R&D budget amounted to more than one half of the company’s total operating expenditures. The vice president’s primary concern was that although the company was highly profitable, the vast majority of their revenue resulted from legacy products which would soon lose patent protection. Their pipeline of new products was full, unfortunately they had been unable to successfully commercialize any new products coming out of R&D for several years.

It was clear that the researchers were very intelligent and actively pursuing new breakthrough products. However, it soon became clear to me that they were doing so within their own silos. Each PhD researcher had total autonomy as to what potential products their team conducted research on. Also, this was done without any collaboration with either the marketing department or manufacturing. The steady stream of new products which emerged from the pipeline during the prior several years either had no viable market or we’re discovered to be extremely difficult to scale from test tube and beaker into commercial production. This company represented the classic example of wonderfully creative and innovative R&D which was literally destroying the company’s future.

In stark contrast, meaningful R&D and in fact all innovation initiatives across the entire organization should have the clear objective of creating highly beneficial ‘new’ value. It is the active, continuous loop of open innovation and strategy which can result in the synergistic integration of the two activities, thereby maximizing the benefit to the company.

Synergistic Integration of Strategy + Open Innovation Objective

Establishing the synergistic integration of strategy and open innovation should be a clear and critical objective for all employees to pursue. Only in this way will the company be assured of obtaining the optimal benefit from the resources employed. This is not a difficult task, however, it does require the active and sustained leadership of the executive team in both encouraging and enforcing this objective.

by John Di Frances

If enjoyed reading or listening to this blog post on the value of Strategic Open Innovation, use the icons below to share it with others who may benefit from it. (Colleagues, friends, enemies, countrymen…)

Strategy & Open Innovation Keynote Speaker

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Achieving Sustainable Growth & Profitability in Times of Disruption Pt.1

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Last week, I was the keynote speaker for a business association on the theme of Achieving Sustainable Growth & Profitability, the subject and title of my latest book. I began by illustrating the fact that we are living in a time of unprecedented ‘disruption’ in virtually every aspect of our lives, both personal and business and that this disruption will continue to increase in pace and scope.

John Di Frances

Even our upcoming presidential election has been marked by disruption as never before. Forget for a moment the politics and partisanship involved and just focus on the disruption occurring. Donald Trump has continued his life long practice of gaining massive free media instead of paying for multimillion dollar ad buys in each major media market as his opponent is doing. Meanwhile there has been the hacking of Clinton’s emails and the DNC computers, the entry of Wiki Leaks into the fray threatening additional pre-election disclosures possibly further damaging Clinton and even accusations of Russian involvement in our federal and state election processes. What comes next is anyone’s guess, but without doubt, it will continue to be characterized by unprecedented DISRUPTION!

The mainstream media, even apart from Trump’s politics, is chagrined by him and well they should be, as he is disrupting their future. Every form of media, whether print, broadcast or web has one common goal, that is to sell advertising, without which they will cease to exist. Trump is showing not only other politicians, but businesses that they can garner massive ‘free’ media coverage. And not only free, but more effective media coverage than paid advertising. Studies have shown that non-advertising media coverage is listened to and believed far more than paid ads.

Now trump is by no means the first to realize and exploit this fact. In 1980, Nicholas Graham began Joe Boxer with an investment of $1,000. Bragging that he never paid a single $1 for advertising, he built the brand of graphically colorful men’s underwear into a $100,000,000 business through media stunts in major metropolitan centers and university campuses.

Smart companies are learning from the Trump media campaign and will be seeking to employ creative strategies to gain free media coverage at the expense of the media. Today, even negative media, if carefully managed and countered can have highly positive impacts. Last year’s protests against Chick-Fil-Lay, which protestors intended to hurt the company’s sales, boomeranged as the company’s supporters responded by frequenting its restaurants more often, thereby boosting sales revenue and profits.

In 2015, John Chambers, CISCO’s Visionary CEO, addressing leaders of the most influential tech companies in the world stated:

“Disruption is the new way of life and all organizations need to not only accept this ‘new normal,’ but harness it to their advantage, as the path forward to achieving their greatest opportunities.”

“Either we disrupt or we get disrupted!”

Speaking to my audience last week, after outlining the risks to their business that disruption presents, I turned the tables and told them that these same disruptions present them with their greatest opportunities for growth and profitability. The choice is theirs. Fight disruption or try to hide from it and the result may well prove fatal for your business. Alternatively, embrace disruption as your weapon of conquest and you can create your own future. The following appeared in Forbes Magazine:

“As consumers embrace the disruptors, the floodgates are open for anyone to become a player and even a dominator in the reconstructed categories. Smart incumbents seeing the inevitable will position themselves for flexibility, becoming virtual platforms that allow their core expertise to be quickly redeployed to new businesses with new partners.”

The feedback from the attendees to my keynote was very positive, although, I think I really scared a lot of them. Good! That was the first part of my goal. They need to be scared! Now they need to ACT!, which was the second part of my goal.

If they do, they can become the disrupting force in their marketplace. If they don’t, it is only a matter of time until they are disrupted out of business.

by John Di Frances

Strategy & Open Innovation Keynote Speaker

Strategic Innovation Consultant StrategicInnovation.Consulting

Office: 262.278.6250 / Mobile: 262.844.0605


‘Speaking Innovation’ – An Effective Means of Reinforcing Culture

‘Speaking Innovation’

Leaders verbally interjecting the principles of innovative thinking and questioning into discussions will over time have a powerful positive affect on an organization.

John Di Frances - Open Innovation Strategist Picture

John Di Frances – Open Innovation Strategist

When I say ‘Speaking Innovation,’ I am not referring to speaking about innovation or the fact that I am a professional business keynote innovation speaker. No, here I am addressing the act of consciously ‘speaking innovation’ as a way to encourage and foster it within your organization.

When we make it our habit to ‘speak innovation’ in the course of our normal workday, what we are doing is actively reinforcing our belief that innovation is the primary way in which we can and intend to move our organization forward to the achievement of our strategic goals. Speaking innovation is the act of incorporating our belief in innovation into the mindset in which we approach everything we do.

Most people have heard various wise adages regarding thinking and speaking positively and how doing so can influence outcomes and this is certainly true. If you approach any task or project with a negative attitude, it is unlikely the results will be exceptional, whereas if you do so with a positive attitude and expectations, the odds of attaining those desired outcomes rises dramatically.

The same holds true for our commitment to innovation. If we inject the theme of ‘innovation’ into our conversations in a meaningful way and encourage those around us to do likewise, it will help set the tone for whatever we are about to do. This creates a positive expectation that our work will embrace innovative thinking and the results will demonstrate exceptional outcomes.

This is especially important for leaders within the organization. Let’s face it, people take their cues from their leaders. They watch and listen for what their leaders are saying and how they respond. Leaders who inject innovation as a basis for action and respond positively when others do likewise, will see their people following their lead.

The old adage, “Do as I say, not as I do,” does not work. However, “Do as I say and watch what I do,” results both in winning our peoples’ respect and admiration as well as positively influencing their behavior. ‘Speaking innovation’ as a natural part of our daily activities reinforces our own commitment to innovation as well as causing our people to emulate our actions in their own approach to business issues.



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John Di Frances is an Open Innovation Strategist and Strategic Planning Facilitator assisting companies and not-for-profit- organizations globally since 1983. John is also an internationally acclaimed keynote business speaker. He is the author of several business books, including his latest, MINDING THE GIRAFFES: The People Side of Innovation (2012). His newest book, The CEO’s Guide to Strategic Planning is scheduled for release in 2015. / / MINDING THE
Office: 262.278.6250 / Mobile: 262.844.0605, Email [email protected]



The Great Keynote Motivational Speaker Myth

The Myth: Anyone Can Become a Business Motivational Speaker

Business Keynote Motivational Speaker John Di Frances

John Di Frances

It seems that every former ‘anyone’ having enjoyed their moment in the limelight, whatever that may have been, is hanging out their ‘Motivational Speaker’ shingle as a professional keynote speaker. Frequently well intentioned and having one or more inspirational, motivational stories regarding their ‘transformational moment’ to share with audiences, they believe that this qualifies them to ‘speak!’

Unfortunately, what they fail to realize is that unless they are seeking to speak as entertainment, which is a valid offering for certain association and corporate events, they don’t belong. Business has become ultra competitive globally and what both corporate and association audiences want and need, are solutions – real life innovative strategies and solutions that audiences can apply to their own problems and challenges.

Solutions that will enable them to compete more intelligently and effectively, as their future employment depends upon it. Gone are the days when business event attendees came primarily to be entertained and ‘have fun.’ Not that meetings shouldn’t be fun, they should, but that is not their primary goal. The goal of association and corporate meetings audiences today is gaining new knowledge and the tools which will enable attendees and their organizations to gain a competitive advantage.

More of the same no longer cuts it. Fresh, innovative strategies for competing and out thinking and maneuvering global competitors is what counts. New paradigms that will allow individuals and organizations to be more creative and innovative in the way they view and approach both their existing and developing marketplaces as well as their competitive landscape.

Certainly, inspiring and motivating audiences is important, but simply making audiences ‘feel good’ about themselves has little benefit if it cannot be translated into winning in the game of business on Monday morning. In our present environment, delivering high VALUE content is at the heart of keynote professional speaking. If a business keynote speaker is not communicating high value content that the audience can immediately put into practice and quickly obtain measurable benefits from, then real VALUE has not been delivered and received by the attendees.

In order to deliver VALUE, keynote business motivational speakers must have authority from which to speak and that authority comes only one way, real world experience gained in the trenches. Whether it’s from operating management or executive positions or through corporate consulting, an effective professional speaker has personally ‘done it,’ not just read about it in business books and case studies. Hands on experience is key. And the wider the keynote motivational speaker’s experience, the better.

Knowledge beyond your industry is critical. Hearing only from within your industry is like swimming in an aquarium. What is outside your little world remains unknown. Business keynote speakers who can enlarge the scope of their audience’s vision are best. Look at it this way. It wasn’t from within the music, telephone, television, publishing and other industries that disruptive innovation came, but rather from outside players with names like Apple, Amazon and Google. Business keynote speakers need to have broad industry experience which they can relate to the unique needs of each audience to whom they speak.

Business has become a constant daily battle for survival. Winning that battle results in a sustainable business in which the employees have a future. The calling and responsibility of business keynote motivational speakers is to provide their audiences with new knowledge and the methods by which they can apply that knowledge to ensure organizational sustainability and a bright future for the individual.


Is George Clooney Facing Un-Employment?

50+ Employment Discrimination is Alive and Well

John Di Frances on 50+ Workplace Age Discrimination

John Di Frances – Visionary Iconoclast

Probably not in Hollywood?  Last I checked, he was still busy making movies.

But would that be true if George Clooney’s career was in corporate America instead of Hollywood?  Would he be employable at 54? Not likely, unless he was already a senior executive with the types of board level and other contacts that would enable him jump to another executive position if at any point he needed it.

That, unfortunately is the truth about unemployment today. If you are fifty or older today in America, you are considered over the hill by most corporate HR departments are concerned. In speaking with recruiters since the Great Recession, the story I have heard repeatedly is that frequently the most qualified candidates are in their 50’s and 60’s, but clients don’t want to see their resumes. Of course employers would say so publicly, but they ensure that recruiters understand that over fifty equates to ‘over the hill.’ What can the recruiters do? To keep their clients, they weed out those their clients deem ‘too old.’

Of course this employment practice is illegal, but it’s also rampant across corporate America. No one will admit it publicly, not HR professionals or recruiters, but it is an all too common reality. Otherwise, why have so many highly qualified and experienced professionals in this age range sought work for one, two, three or more years without gaining employment commensurate with their qualifications? Many with stellar resumes cannot even obtain meaningful interviews?

Federal and state government EEOC departments are turning a blind eye as well. For starters, how difficult would it be for them to conduct a study of some Fortune corporations to compare the age dispersion of those they have hired since 2008, with that of those unemployed nationally? Making an example of a few of our larger corporations would get the attention of companies nationwide.

Hollywood understands that ‘mastery of craft’ has great value, why not corporate America. Consider Maggie Smith. She is 80! Yes, that’s EIGHTY years old. But, have you seen any of her recent movies, such asThe Best Exotic Marigold Hotel or My Old Lady? She’s incredible! And she’s showing no signs of letting up, with more television and movie projects in the works. She is still at the top of her profession. Age hasn’t diminished her skills.

I have met my share of former managers and executives who are burnouts by their 50’s and 60’s. I certainly would not hire one of them. At the same time, I have also met many dynamic individuals who, due to company ‘right-sizings’ and plant closures, have suddenly found themselves unemployed. Smart companies have been bucking this trend and are gaining a strategic advantage over their competitors by hiring these highly valuable workers.

The past few years I have had the privilege of speaking annually for a local support and networking group comprised of long term unemployed workers, most in this age range. Watching their discouragement change to encouragement is is my reward for doing so.

Many are highly passionate, dynamic, skilled individuals possessing a wealth of experience and knowledge. It amazes me that corporate America is so very blind as to be oblivious to the waste of such a precious resource! Laid off two, three or more years now, some have given up and accepted forced retirement or accepted positions far below their ability, just to be employed.
It’s depressing for them and a loss for the organizations that are missing the opportunity to capitalize on the contribution they would make. They may not have an MBA or other advanced degree which is so highly prized by employers today, however their knowledge and experience gained over decades is far more valuable.

I graduated from college with a Business major and an Economics minor. I ‘thought’ I was prepared for the business world. But after six months on my first job, I came to the surprising revelation that what my education afforded me were fundamental tools by which I could begin to ‘learn the art of business.’ I am not downplaying the contribution of the 20 and 30 year olds in the workplace. My wife and I have five children and three son-in-laws all who have advanced degrees completed or are in process, including several at the MD / PhD levels. As valuable as their degrees are, they are only tools. Knowledge and experience must must be gained on the job.

Through the years that I have been consulting on Innovation and Strategy, I have on occasions encountered recent MBA’s who thought and acted as though their degree made them business experts. They assumed that the case studies they learned in school equated to actual business experience? Those business case studies were undoubtedly instructive, however, many of the currently unemployed, fifty plus years olds actually “lived” those case studies. Now who do you think is better prepared to most effectively apply the lessons learned?

I have taken more flights than I care to remember over the course of my career, including a few that very nearly ended in disaster. Today, as I board an airplane, I glance into the cockpit, hoping to see some gray hair. Nothing wrong with young pilots, everyone has to learn somewhere along the way. I’d just rather not be on one of their flights when serious trouble ensues.

In my college days, I had the opportunity to go sailing with the first TWA pilot to be qualified on the then brand new Boeing 747. He was TWA’s most senior pilot. He earned what I thought was an exorbitant salary and I naively asked him the question, “Do you really ‘earn’ that much money?” He smiled at me and said, “Not most of the time. In fact, most of the time, especially on transatlantic flights, I have to fight boredom in the cockpit. But then again, once or twice a year, when several hundred lives are in my hands for a few terrifying minutes of near catastrophe, I earn every penny of it!”

I never forgot his response. And I learned from it!


University of Wisconsin’s Right to Work Legislation Research Dead Wrong

Reprinted from The Capitol Times newspaper, Madison, WI – Letters to the Editor

John Di Frances: Conclusion on right-to-work impacts unjustified

March 05, 2015 2:15 pm

JDF-Motivational-Speaker-Pic-TransparentDear Editor: The article “UW study: Manufacturing jobs earn $8,100 less in right-to-work states” implies that the $8,100 differential is wholly the result of right-to-work legislation, which at best is ignorant and at worst, disingenuous. Right to work is only one factor in a broad mix that determines prevailing wages. Other factors, such as the history and types of manufacturing prevalent in a state or region, the cost of living (including state and local personal taxes), percentage of jobs that are manufacturing versus other, etc., are just a few of the myriad factors. The cause-effect conclusions drawn in this article are not supported by the other information contained in the article.

This reminds me of a few years back when it was widely reported that individuals with high amounts of dental plaque had higher rates of heart disease and therefore, better dental care could reduce the incidence and severity of heart disease. Was that true or was the reality simply that people with high amounts of dental plaque were typically poor and therefore, had poorer overall health and health care, including dental care, and a higher overall incidence of both dental plaque and heart disease?

It is dangerous to use a few statistics that are not necessarily closely correlated and draw broad conclusions from them. When this is done by supposedly highly intelligent and well-educated university researchers, one can only wonder if a politically motivated agenda is not the true impetus.

A 40-year career in corporate leadership and global consulting has led me to be carefully skeptical of research on emotionally charged issues that is based upon a minimal factual basis. As an innovation strategist, I learned long ago to ensure that cause-and-effect relationships are real and not merely emotionally compelling, before reporting or acting upon them.

John Di Frances