Do You Need a Crazy Gimmick to Make it as a Speaker?

I’ve recently started participating in a few social networks, one of which is geared towards professional speakers and other people that make part of their living through speaking. One of the things that jumped out at me as I started receiving notifications and messages from other folks on this network is that many of them had nicknames or gimmicks. Now I’m not talking about someone named William going by “Bill” but instead people having names like “Mr. Make the World a Better Place Through Small Talk” or “The Make Things Happen Right Now Guru.” For a moment I thought I was checking out the roster for the WWE.

In this global society where everyone is vying to grab everyone else’s attention, I suppose wearing a clown outfit and calling yourself “The Silly Speaker” has some value – I’m just not sure what it is. Maybe if you’re targeting the circus market or clown colleges, this is a good idea but I just don’t see a lot of companies hiring you to come in to train their employees. Now this is an extreme and fictitious (I hope) example, but it illustrates the point. I know using your name followed by your specialty and the word “expert” is too boring for our short attention spans, but there is such a thing as being too out there.

I remember once meeting someone at a National Speakers Association meeting who had such a gimmick. After he introduced himself, he said “they call me Mr. So-and-so.” Now, I’ve replaced his real gimmick with “so-and-so” so he won’t feel embarrassed if he ever reads this, but here’s how it went:

Me: Really? By “they” who do you mean?

So-and-So: (with a puzzled look) What do you mean?

Me: Who calls you so-and-so? This group? Other people? I wasn’t sure if it’s what the people in NSA call you because you have a role within the group or it meant something else.

So-and-so: Oh, my clients call me that.

Me: That’s cool. It shows that they like you if they gave you that name.

So-and-so: Well, I was the one that made it up.

Me: Well it stuck. That’s good. What type of clients do you have?

So-and-so: Well, none yet. I’m just starting out.

Now, it’s tough to tell the tone of a conversation when it’s typed out but my tone was actually friendly – I was also new to speaking at the time so I was in the same boat. My first thought was that I needed a gimmick as well, but it was one of those things I never got around to (thank goodness for procrastination). Look at the most successful speakers out there today. Do they have gimmicks or silly nicknames? Does Tony Robbins need to call himself the “King of All Infomercials” or should Al Gore go by “The Guy Who Was Almost President Turned Eco Warrior”? No, these guys use their real names. As do nearly all of the top paid speakers.

So do you need a gimmick to get up to the upper echelon? I’m not convinced. These days they are hundreds, if not thousands, of people who call themselves professional speakers. Some of them make six figures per speaking event while others make zero. What separates the two groups from each other is how they market and position themselves. I sincerely doubt that coming up with a clever nickname will help position you better. It may help with name recognition provided it’s not too corny and makes your name or topic easy to remember. But don’t count on someone looking through the phone book for a speaker and deciding to hire you because your name is listed as John “Mr. Speaker” Doe.

I believe that you’re better off branding your company (even if you’re a sole proprietorship) and your presentations and programs than you are yourself. The only exception is if you have the same name as another speaker that’s already established so you can avoid confusion. If you have a book, “Author of [book title]” will give you more credibility than any nickname.

As a speaker or as a business owner, we all know how easy it is to brand ourselves whatever we want. Do so wisely so that it helps grow your business and ensure that people can take you seriously.

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