A Diary of 4 Kinds of Adventure Talks

At the time of writing I am three talks down in a set of four talks, each one to very different audiences, with different purposes and rewards. Only one is paid but each one brings its own kinds of challenges and rewards. 

Being able to give compelling talks about your past adventures is a skill well worth cultivating. Here are four ways you can leverage that asset, and a variety of ways you can get 'value' from giving talks.

1. Contribute to your community

Aixovall Vocational Centre Student Talk

The client: I will be doing a talk for the Sports and Leisure Activities Department at the Centre de Formació Professional in Andorra. (We postponed the date after massive snowfall in Andorra brought the traffic to a halt!) 

The event: A talk for the students.

The audience: A group of about 50 young adults in vocational training, all with a limited command of English. 

The brief: My brief was “your experience of climbing Everest” and the outcome they want is simply a chance for these students to extend their English skills through an interesting adventurous story. 

The challenge: This audience has not chosen to be at this talk, but they should in theory be interested in outdoor sport. The challenge for me is to keep the story interesting while not telling it in way that exceeds their level of English. Lots of photos help, as does turning the session into a series of questions to the audience. 

The return: I am not paid for doing it, but it’s close to home and what I gain is a chance to contribute to my local community is a way that is easy for me to do. 

2. Extend your network (& sell your books)

ISPO Globetrotter Adventure Night

The client: Matthias Aßmann of Mandel Consulting (which focuses on PR & marketing for high quality brands in sports, outdoor & lifestyle).   

The event: "Adventure Night - Close up with two outdoor stars: internationally known adventurers Cathy O'Dowd and Staffan Björklund"  

The audience: The most active customers of Globetrotter were invited - approx. 100 people. The event was held at Globetrotter Munich, one of the bigger stores of the biggest outdoor retail chain in mid-Europe. It is done in conjunction with ISPO, which is the largest trade fair in the sports business.  

My brief:  From Matthias “My general idea is to get deeper in the motivators for “ordinary” people to go out and get involved with an adventure/nature goal. How can the outdoor industry and retail be a (better) motor to engage people to become adventurers for real.”

The challenge: The audience are interested in adventure, but likely at very different levels, and they have a varying command of English.  I need to design a talk that highlights my adventure career, but also steers them towards The Business of Adventure as a resource. 

The return: I am not being paid - not even expenses. We are all doing it off the back of attending ISPO anyway.
I hope to gain:

  • Industry contacts - at ISPO, at Globetrotter, through the contacts of Matthias and Staffan.
  • Widen the audience for my The Business of Adventure material.
  • Possibly sell copies of my book. But that has problems in this context:
    • I couldn't bring that many with me - I have a few copies in German and English, but books are bulky and heavy!
    • Globetrotter may not let me sell direct in their retail store. (In fact they were very gracious and I did sell both English and German copies.)

3. Trade your talk for value in kind

WEMSki 2018

The client: Mark Hannaford, MD World Extreme Medicine

The event: A week of talks, workshops and skiing in the Italian Alps, focused on “content centring around real-world experiences of extreme physical and psychological challenges, impacts of stressors, excellence in leadership, medicine in the extremes.” 

The audience: about 50 medics, mainly but not all British, involved or interested in extreme medicine and adventure. 

My brief: to do a talk about our Nanga Parbat Mazeno ridge expedition that I had already delivered at the Extreme Medicine Expo in Edinburgh in Nov 2016. 

The challenge: In some ways this was easy as it based on a talk I had given a number of times before. But given that there was a strong focus on dealing with stress, failure and uncertain outcomes, I added an extra block about how and why I chose to give up when other in the team went on, and how I felt about my apparent ‘failure’ in the face of their ‘success’. 
(Designing a speech in blocks in a common technique among professional speakers. It lets you memorise your topic in chunks, and it lets you move the units around and add / remove / adapt units as required by the timing and the brief.)

The return: I was not paid. But I did receive an all-expenses-paid week of skiing in an Italian resort - all travel, accommodation and meals, ski pass and ski hire.
In addition I got to hang out with other speakers. They included ‘Eddie the Eagle’, Aldo Kane, Jason Fox, Dr Mike Stroud, Prof Chris Imray, among others.
Totally worth it! I've already agreed to return in 2019.
(At corporates events when I am often the only external speaker - all the other speeches are internal to the company.)


So inevitably, as soon as I’d booked the WEMSki week, a corporate client asked me to speak at their Global Leadership Conference in Orlando, USA. They approached me directly, after someone in the company had heard me at another event. 

The one big downside of the speaking business is that you - the speaker - seldom have any control over the dates. And you can only 'sell' your time once. 

Turning down a talk loses you more than just that one event. Conferences like this tend to bring in just one external speaker to a major annual event. If that speaker bombs, it can sink the career of the event planners. Planners rely heavily on personal experience and recommendations to source suitable speakers. If I turn down this event (because I’d agreed to the ski week for WEMSki), I lose both this engagement - and all the possible talks it might lead to in the future.

I’ve had people get in touch, saying they heard me speak 15 years ago, and now want to book a talk. The long tail of corporate speaking can be very long indeed!

So I negotiated with WEMSki that I would go to Orlando, and then travel direct Orlando - New York - Milan - Livigno to attend their last 3 days.

4. (Finally) Earn money

The client: global events and travel management company with 18,000 employees in 150 countries, generating $23 billion in annual revenue.

The event: Global Leadership Conference

The audience: About 80 people - their top leadership team worldwide, including the CEO and the Chair of the Board. 

My brief: At their request, I sent over PDF summaries of my two most popular talks, along with my terms and fee. I then did a phone call with the Head of Global Employee Communication and the Head of External Communication to discuss what I could offer and what they wanted to achieve. Based on that I wrote up a summary of what I had pitched them on the phone. A month later they finally confirmed the booking. 

The challenge: I was doing a talk that in outline I had done before, but it was tailored to their event theme of Dare Forward. I sat in the speeches of CEO and the Chair of the Board, which were before mine, and borrowed a line from the Chair’s speech “What can we learn from this?” 
The key challenge was that it had to impress an audience that would have heard many such motivational speeches and might well have no interest in mountain climbing, and it had to be useful to their business concerns. 

The return: Money! Plus (hopefully) future paid opportunities.
(And they flew me to the USA business class, plus two nights in a 5 star resort hotel). 
In addition, they were filming so I got a copy of the video of my presentation. 
And I got a trip to Orlando. Honestly - Florida isn't on my list of must-visit places, it's a bit hot and flat. I only stayed for the two nights necessary to make the flights work. However, off the back of the travel, I got a stop-over in New York to see friends and take part with them in the Women’s March.

Things you can get in return for your talk

  • Money
    (if they don't ask your rate upfront, it's always worth asking if it’s a paid offer)
  • Reimbursement of your travel and accommodation expenses  
    (If you are being paid a fee, it's often worth negotiating a travel buyout or just folding this into a slightly higher fee, so you are not fussing with expense invoices afterwards.)
  • Exchange in kind - what can they offer you that is useful to you?  
    • extra days at the venue
    • an introduction to their database through a blog post, video, interview, etc
    • product - in days gone by I have 'exchanged' for office desks, and for wedding rings! 
  • Sell your books (product)  
    • It is best if they buy the book in bulk beforehand to give to the delegates as gifts. You get one payment and no worries about lugging books with you that may or may not sell. 
    • Next best is to have the books for sale after the talk
      (this makes you more money if it's a self-published book, rather than you having to buy your book back from the publisher at the author discount and then resell it).
    • It doesn't need to be a 'book'. People are often buying more as a way to say thank you and to have an attractive souvenir of the event. What can you create that will look good, be low-cost to produce, and sell for more than you paid to make it? 
  • Professional photos and/or video of the event  
    Video is particularly useful, most people who pay for speeches want to see video evidence of your content and style first. And video extracts and photos are great to share on your social media and website. 
  • Testimonials  
    It can be useful to connect with people on LinkedIn and then ask for a ‘recommendation’ as that is then a public testimonial. 
    If you ever try to break in with speaker bureaus to get corporate work, you are going to have to have video and testimonials from past work to show them. 
  • Onward recommendations and introductions   
    Who can they recommend you to and/or introduce you to that might get you your next speech? 

If you've managed to gain other things from your adventure speeches, please leave a comment, and I'll add them to the list.