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The Most Important Skill In Business - Adam Markel

succeed through speaking tom bailey Nov 11, 2022

Tom Bailey, founder of Succeed Through Speaking, interviews Adam Markel.

In this episode we hear about our guests journey with confidence, public speaking and presentation skills and how it has helped them succeed in life and in business - in other words, how to succeed through speaking.

Bestselling author, keynote speaker, workplace expert and resilience researcher Adam Markel inspires leaders to master the challenges of massive disruption in his new book, “Change Proof — Leveraging the Power of Uncertainty to Build Long-Term Resilience” (McGraw-Hill, Feb. 22, 2022). Adam is author of the #1 Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Los Angeles Times, and Publisher’s Weekly bestseller, “Pivot: The Art & Science of Reinventing Your Career and Life.” Learn more at

Resources / Links

Instagram: @adamdmarkel

Facebook: @adammarkelfanpage

Twitter: @adammarkel

LinkedIn: @adammarkel

Facebook:  I love my life page:  /Ilovemylifecommunity


More from Succeed Through Speaking

Succeed Through Speaking helps Coaches, Consultants, Entrepreneurs and Experts how to amplify their Expert Authority & get their message to market with both confidence and clarity so that they can raise their profile and attract new clients.

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Listen to the Podcast -


Tom Bailey  00:07

Hello and welcome to succeed through speaking the place for experts and entrepreneurs who want high value ideas to boost business results Hi, I'm Tom Bailey. And in today's speaker stories episode, I'll be getting to know Adam Markel, whose best selling author, keynote speaker, workplace expert and resilience researcher who inspires leaders to master the challenges of massive disruption. So Adam, hello, and a very warm welcome to today's episode.

Adam Markel  00:44

Hey, Tom, it's good to be here. Very good to be here with you.

Tom Bailey  00:47

Thank you so much for joining and just out of interest for all of our listeners, whereabouts in the world are you right now.

Adam Markel  00:53

I sort of trade time between Martha's Vineyard, this little island off of Cape Cod and San Diego, California.

Tom Bailey  01:00

Fantastic. Thank you so much. And I just want to just share a little bit more about you before we do get started. So Adam is author of the number one Wall Street Journal USA Today, Los Angeles Times and publishes weekly bestseller, pivot the art and science of reinventing your career and life. And his most recent book is called Change proof, leveraging the power of uncertainty to build long term resilience. So Adam, as well as being a best selling author, I know you're an awesome, incredible keynote speaker. And that's really where I want to play stay around that topic of speaking. Sure. So my first question for you today is, how important do you think public speaking has been for you in your career to date?

Adam Markel  01:43

 I mean, in my current career, it's been, it's been the most important thing. So I'll say for the last 15 years or so it has been the most important thing in my career. I love what Warren Buffett says about public speaking or about speaking as in, in its entirety. He says, The most important skill you can have in business. That's Warren Buffett. So he's arguably the most successful investor of our day, and is a widely listened to watch public communicator himself. So I think when when somebody like that says that it's worth it's worth seeing.

Tom Bailey  02:19

Absolutely. And I guess just just prior to those 15 years of I guess, being a keynote speaker, how important was speaking for you in your earlier career as well?

Adam Markel  02:29

I was sort of terrified. Yeah. Publicly, I was a lawyer. So part of my career journey has been that I spent 18 years in the practice of law in New York and in New Jersey. And for the most part, when I would get up in court, I would have butterflies, I think people often do that have those butterflies? And as soon as I would get going get started, you know, sort of the butterflies would disappear a bit, but it was agony.

Tom Bailey  02:53

Yeah. And is there a particular memory right back to the beginning, it might have been at university or college or that first time you had to stand up and speak in front of a live audience? Can you remember what that was and what it felt like at

Adam Markel  03:04

the time? I do. I remember what it was like, and it wasn't back that far. But I just remember being in a in an audience. Again, it was a courtroom audience. And it was a gallery filled with very, very experienced attorneys. And I had a very seasoned adversary and a judge who'd been on the bench for a number of years. And when I got up, I was just, I was I could barely put words together. Yes, it was pretty, pretty embarrassing. And I got pretty well. shellacked that day. Nice slice to ribbons. The good news is that after that did happen, it was several weeks later that I had to be back in court, I was a bit more ready, prepared myself for it, and came out quite a bit better than the first, which wasn't saying much, but it was definitely an improvement.

Tom Bailey  03:54

Yeah, so I guess what you know, now after having been a keynote speaker for so long, what's the one piece of advice you'd have given to a young Adam, back in that courtroom? What what do you think that advice might have been for him?

Adam Markel  04:06

I mean, because our company, I do a lot of keynote, speaking all around the world. And that's both in person and virtual. And our company literally trains other people to be keynote speakers or to get on a TED stage or things like that. And often it's, it's founders of startup companies that are looking to communicate more effectively Allah, what Warren Buffett said if you want to raise capital, if you want to onboard new talent or attract new talent, if you want to sell big or important than the enrollment conversation, then you really have to master this kind of thing. And the advice that I give everybody that we train is simply this. It can't be about you. And it's subtle and may seem like some maybe heard that before or something but we we drill it to it to a pretty decent depth. I think that before you're about to speak, whether it's in a virtual setting, like the one we're in right now, or you're going to be on stage live in front of people, you really have to go inside. Even if it's for just 10 seconds, you have to remember that it's, it's not about me. It's about them. It's about, it's about your audience. And there's a phrase that we we borrow, that we learned some years ago called, it's an old Namaha is the is the expression. And it loosely translates to, it's not about me. And I think it permeates everything you do on stage, when you think that you have to perform or your you must, people must like you or prove you or the feeling that you'll be humiliated or that you will be judged all that stuff is of the ego. Yeah, to be a very effective communicator and impactful speaker, someone that that can really move audiences, whether they're small, or very, very large audiences I've spoken. I think the largest audience was probably 14,000 people when we were in China, and we were doing some, some shows with Tony Robbins at the time. And, you know, it, it has to be that I'm there in service. And if I, if I'm willing to open myself up in that way, whether it's to open my heart to be more of a presence on stage than a pretense things will go right now that I mean, they will literally go right no matter what I've fallen, getting on stage, I mean, literally walked upstairs to trip, as I'm being introduced in the music is playing and is a huge, massive audience. And I've literally gotten on stage falling. Yeah, and, and all of that has worked out fabulously well. And I made tons of mistakes other than that. But when you're coming from the right place, truly, you can correct your course, without even trying and track the course gets corrected, by by the way that you're managing the energy in that room, from a place of service, as opposed to a place of ego.

Tom Bailey  07:05

Right. And I guess my background, a lot of people we speak to is they have this fear of public speaking. And it really comes down to that same point of it. What am I going to look like? What will I sound like? What will the audience think of me? And what we're doing with my hands? How am I standing and putting the spotlight on ourselves? But we should actually turn the spotlight into the audience and to think, how much value can I add to this audience? And it doesn't really matter what I look like or sound like, you know what?

Adam Markel  07:33

It's actually just asking them? Yes. sounds it sounds funny. But the question is there if there's a conversation, if there's a relationship that you've established, then people want to help you. Yeah, yeah, really, they want to see you succeed, believe it or not.

Tom Bailey  07:48

So you've mentioned, literally tripping up on stage, and have there been any other big speaking disasters or failures or lessons learned that you've had along the way that you'd like to share with the audience.

Adam Markel  08:01

I mean, there's been too many to count. And I don't know that I would call any of them disasters or just mistakes. And I feel like you to be successful in in any industry. But I'll just because this isn't, yeah, that I know quite well. You have to be willing to, to practice and practice and practice and get feedback. And hopefully, you're able, you have a process for getting feedback from people that are also bought into that process, or feedback. And when you do that, there's this almost no cap on the improvement that you could see, in your in your capacity to do these things. We have a very simple game when we when we train someone especially to be a TEDx speaker, because that is a very difficult task, to get an idea that, that you can chunk down that you can create a through line of one single idea that that is developed to a great depth in 18 minutes or less. And sometimes TED Talks these days are 12 minutes, or they're eight or nine minutes. So they can be even shorter form than a traditional TED Talk. But when when we're working on those things, we teach people a feedback system, which I don't mind sharing with your folks right now, which is what works for me, what doesn't work for me what could be done differently. And often what we'll do is we curate a group of sort of 10 to 12 people who are all going to work on they're there. They're very different TED talks, but they're going to work on them together over about a three month period virtually. And they're constantly being drilled with this particular feedback loop that we use, so that once you've gotten sort of 50 different pieces of feed, you know, in the the words that often people will say, a critique where they've gotten 50 critiques of their, their script and of their talk and of their delivery mechanics for that had taught. But it's in the format of what worked for me what didn't work for me what could be done differently. They've gotten so used to getting this feedback in a way that doesn't threaten them your feedback. And I think this is an important distinction. And I learned this from an old mentor of mine. It's supposed to be something gives to you, to you. Whereas the way many people deliver, quote, feedback, it's like you're stealing something from someone, you're taking something away, like their self esteem, for example. And that's why people when you say, Hey, can I give you some feedback? Somebody's like, Yeah, I'd rather I'd rather like have needles in my in my eyes than to get your feedback. Thank you so much. Because they've learned that to get a critique from probably school days, early school days, isn't very pleasant. And that's where we have to shift it. Because if you're somehow opposed to feedback, you resist it in any way, shape, or form, then you're put there is a ceiling on just how much growth you can you can attain. Yep, perfect. That's an area. Yeah,


Tom Bailey  11:03

of course. And I guess I'm back to those people that are just starting out and maybe a little bit a little bit scared. And we almost wait until we perfect before we get started. But that's never going to work it in that way. So you have to have that amateur phase when you're going out there practicing delivering small presentations when a small audiences make mistakes. And you know, no, that's okay. Because you're gonna learn it from every time you make a big mistake like

Adam Markel  11:25

that. Yeah, I mean, I have a one year old grandson literally just turned one couple of days ago. And he you know, he's fallen all over the place. Yeah. If he was concerned about how perfectly he was starting to walk, you know, he probably would never even try and walk. So I think it's good example, just, as you put it, you know, you have to have those. Give yourself a break. A little kinder, a little gentler with yourself that that you're going to suck at something at the beginning. Yeah, are you are you courageous enough, and there is courage involved in this, you're courageous enough to, to be to suck at it for a little while, yet long enough to be able to learn some things so that you can get better and better and better. And you will see, over time, this sort of exponential curve, you know, the compounding effect on your willingness to just be humble, and humility, and, and you

Tom Bailey  12:21

can have some fun in the process as well. Oh, you're

Adam Markel  12:23

gonna have a ton of fun. Yeah. So.

Tom Bailey  12:24

So taking a guess a step forward. So these people are just starting out? And what about those people that want to break through from I've been doing a bit of speaking, I've been getting some gigs, but I'm not yet making any money from it. I'm not yet getting paid to speak. What's the advice to transition from a speaker to a paid keynote speaker,

Adam Markel  12:41

reach out to me make an appointment to talk, you know, I'll say this the biggest transition honestly, there's, there's a transition of mindset. And then there's this transition of skill set and, and tools, resources. So in a mindset side, a lot of people just do not actually think they're worthy. And we can dive into that for hours. We won't do that now. But a lot of people don't really at their core believe that they're worth more than $1,000 or $1,500, for one of their for an hour of their talk time. And that's nonsense. And I mean, I'm not gonna play the game of tennis, boxing, you know, like the way things sometimes make it that simple. But the truth is that most people could get paid anywhere between 10 and $15,000. For a good talk, yep, no, not at the very start, I get that. And no one wants to be a fraud. Nobody wants to feel like they're, they're selling something that's not worth what, what they're charging or whatever it is. But in part, what keeps people stuck in in a lower range to begin with is their mindset. The second thing is skill set. And that is really developing a very, very good talk. And I mean, everything from a killer slide deck that goes along with it, a very tight group of ideas, and the way that you structure those ideas and deliver those ideas. So they're not just, and I don't, again, not not to sort of poke fun at it, and past things that were considered conventional wisdom, but you know, that old adage about something like, you know, tell them what you're going to tell them and tell them and then tell them what you told them that it's, it's bullshit, that people see that coming. And nobody wants to feel like they're back behind a desk in school, not because for most people, their early school experiences were not excellent teaching experiences. I've spoken to enough people to be able to make that generalization. I know it wasn't the case for me. So you just don't want to model those bad habits with skill set is vitally important. And then there's resources and that means how do you build a speaking business while it's like any other business that involves marketing? That involves a tremendous amount of astute work on on online with respect to your website with respect and SEO and SEM and things like that. And like I said, you know, if people are interested in finding out more about those, those three buckets, they could certainly reach out to me. And I'm always happy to chat with people even, you know, without charge. Just give them our thoughts. Thank you so

Tom Bailey  15:15

much. And I've got a quite recently topical question. We obviously went into a global pandemic, not not that long ago. And the speaking world, I guess, stopped or some people thought it had stopped. So how did you personally transition during this period? And I guess what learnings have we taken from the pandemic in the world of

Adam Markel  15:35

public speaking? That's such that is literally a brilliant question to be asking, because we're not out of a pandemic. And the changes that started at the start, maybe March of 2020, are still permeating right now. They're still percolating, and things are still changing. So the business did stop, I would say it stopped on a dime, in that month of March, and in that month of April, and even a little bit of May, when it came to sort of just the gigs that people had booked, were all cancelled, or were suspended, or were postponed. That happened across the board. You know, travel was shut down. And that's how people were speaking back then. We were using Zoom our company had was kind of early adoption on zoom back in 2016. So we were familiar with that platform. And we immediately just started to put content out without charging for it. And I was making videos and sending them out, putting them on YouTube, publishing them doing summits, we did a few virtual summits at the time, I invited some other people to come and join us. We did like a nine hour long live summit early in April. Yeah, tell people to see that. There were going to be opportunities that were going to come out of the disruption. I think we hadn't booked a gig, a virtual a paid virtual gig until June. So literally between sort of March, and I don't know, when we booked that gig, may we booked it may or something when people organizations had finally come to the conclusion, oh, we're not just going to come right out of this. Like, even though we were hearing Oh, it all be good by may wait until then, and wait and see. And when we got to May and everything was closed down and still look like months and months more. There were organizations that said, yeah, we've got to get together with our people. I love corporate gigs. My brand is very much around resilience and resilience training, etc. This recent book change proof came out in February, this just this past year, 2022, very big bestseller and all about how we leverage uncertainty and all the unknowns to become changed. And secret ingredient there is no no surprise here is resilience, right? Wearing an im resilient t shirt. So for us it was we booked that first gig, we realized, from our standpoint, we were going to be doing virtual work for the near future for the indefinite future, in fact, and we booked a lot of virtual gigs toward the end of that first year of COVID. And then we booked more gigs in the second year of COVID. Than we had booked in the year before COVID more gigs in the second year of COVID than in the year prior to COVID. Yep. So I hear speakers say that they they were sidelined for two years or something or that that was the prevalent wisdom that you wouldn't be able to speak or give, you know, just we knew it wasn't true. We know it's not true even today.

Tom Bailey  18:45

Yeah. Love that. And so I guess so now, are we back to where we were pre COVID? Are we in a hybrid world like, like what's happening now and what will happen over the next few years in your your estimation?

Adam Markel  18:57

Oh, you're really giving me a lot more. You're so we are in a hybrid mode. For sure. I don't I don't personally think based on just everything that's inside is telling me that we will ever go back to just 100% ever again, I mean to put on a virtual event is about 70% less cost than to put on a live event or an in person event. And we have to get together in person people want to get together in person. There are some associations, for example, that their members said from this point forward, we don't want to see any virtual, they're done with virtual. So there'll be some groups that will not go back. There will be many, many groups, companies and associations etc. That will be virtual and in person in a combo of some sort. Sometimes it's in person in their live streaming to an outside audience that still doesn't feel comfortable traveling etc. And I think that that's going to continue and that that option will be with us for the indefinite future, which is great news, especially for people who are just getting started in the industry. Yes. I'll quickly give you an example of why one because when we work with folks who are just getting started, they say, Well, you know, one of their biggest concerns is, how do I break into an industry that has a lot of speakers already, that have been speaking for a very long time, and I am new, and I don't have anything you know, to show, I say, Well, you couldn't have been any luckier than to be starting up this business in COVID. Era, because the fact of the matter is, many of the assets that we now can create for people with people to get them speaking gigs, meaning assets, like a demo reel, for example, biggest right, we can create using virtual platform and and the audiences of the people that would be consuming that the people who are buying that that virtual training that virtual speaking gig, they see that virtual asset as something that's relevant. Yes, yes, the art. Whereas before COVID, if you tried to come in with a demo reel that was all based on you in front of a screen kind of thing, like this is, what is this? Yeah. So yeah, timing wise, great time to get in this industry.

Tom Bailey  21:18

Awesome. Thanks so much for all your advice and guidance as well. So I guess one last question before we before, before we close is, and if anybody wants to work with you to develop their TED talk, or anything to speak at all, in fact, book you as a speaker, what's the best place to get in touch with you?

Adam Markel  21:33

That's really easy. Adam at a marketing comm is the simplest place to find all those assets I was mentioning, rail, etc. And people that want to themselves just sort of because I my my goal overall is to see people develop greater resilience, and you have to be tremendously resilient. To be on stage, whether you're a Broadway, you know, actor, or you're a rock star, or you're a public speaker, or whatever it might be, or you're just raising capital, your new venture, right? So you have to be tremendously resilient. Pete folks can go to rank my, rank my And in three minutes, take an assessment that will help them know very quickly how resilient they are mentally, emotionally, physically, and even spiritually through literally three minutes, they'll get their results, and it's entirely free.

Tom Bailey  22:24

That's amazing. We'll all do as well, Adam is I'll post links to both of those in the show notes as well. So we can just click on them and they can dive in and find out more. Thank you so much again for your time, sir. I really appreciate you coming along and sharing again such great value with our audience. Thank you, Tom.