The COVID-19 pandemic has put our daily lives on pause, especially on the business front. For speakers who normally do their work on stages and outside venues, this current situation has become a game-changer. Sharing with us how she is coping and even becoming a leader at it is CEO and co-founder of Talk Boutique, Andrea Sampson. As a TED and TEDx trained speaker coach, Andrea has definitely felt the weight of the health crisis. She tells us how she has been experimenting in the way she works in her business and reveals how others can do the same. Andrea also talks about her virtual speaker series and the process of setting it up. On her leadership, she then shares the ways she keeps in touch with the people in her business while maintaining her sanity in this seemingly lonely position.
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Experimenting With Business Models During The COVID-19 Pandemic With Andrea Sampson
I'm here with Andrea Sampson, who's the CEO and Founder of Talk Boutique, a full-service speaker agency that develops and promotes changemakers. Those who are making a difference in the world, Talk Boutique works with individuals, teams, and organizations to communicate with clarity and authority. As a former business strategist and consultant, Andrea has over 25 years in marketing advertising, presenting, and helping companies create and execute communication strategies. Andrea is a TED and TEDx trained speaker coach. She works with speakers globally, including highly sought-after TED speakers, and Singularity University faculty, as well as others who have a story to tell and helps them with their content and presentation skills both online and on stage. Welcome, Andrea. It's great to have you here.
Thanks so much, Melanie, and thanks for the kind words.
I'm excited to talk to you a little bit about what it means for you to be leading. I want to start by hearing a little bit about your business and what's going on right now.
It's been an interesting time. We are in the midst of the COVID outbreak and the impact that it has had globally. Certainly, as a business that's focused on speakers and events, we have seen pretty much our entire industry put on pause, as COVID necessarily has required us all to retreat to our homes. That has created both a challenge, but more importantly, an opportunity for us. We are in the process of pivoting our business from doing most of the work that we do on stages to doing most of the work moving forward for probably the next 3 to 6 months being in front of a computer. While there are some very obvious things that are easily adaptable, there are some less obvious things that we're having some fun with experimenting as we go along.
Can you dive a little deeper into those experiments? What are you trying in these times?
There are a couple of things. I want to take a step back and talk about what our experimental approach is. My team and I have always worked in a very quick way because as an entrepreneur, we like to get results. I think I speak for most entrepreneurs when I say we're pretty impatient people. We like to see stuff happening quickly. Experimenting is a great way to do that. I have always encouraged my team to consistently take small risks so that we can learn. I do the same with my speakers as well. Picking things that are controllable, so that you can learn from them.
We actually represent a whole roster of speakers and many of them right now are finding that they have some time on their hands as most of the events have been canceled. In this business environment, one of the things that we're experimenting with is taking all of our speakers and launched a virtual speaker series. This is our way to have some fun experimenting in the virtual realm. How do we create engaging and connectivity with speakers when the way in which we're doing it is across a computer screen? That virtual speaker series started and the program is called the Sense Making Conversations. It’s looking out into the world and saying, “How do we make sense of what's happening around us?”
We also launched something that we call a Virtual Lunch & Learn. It's at 12:30, and we invite people to come. Honestly, we didn't know if anyone would show up, but what we did know was that we had some amazing subject matter experts who could, in fact, sense make for our audience. We took a little bit of a risk. We did an experiment, invested a little bit in some software, taught ourselves how to actually run the meeting, and we had it up and running in a day and a half, and people showed up. We were shocked. They showed up, loved it, and we learned a whole lot about what people wanted and what we didn't know. Using new software was a little bit of a risk, but we figured it out.
We got better. We had debriefs. We figured out the things that we didn't do so well, the things that we did well, and then we adjust it. We launched another and more people showed up. We got brave, and we said, “What if we actually added more days?” We added another version of it that we thought would be fun, which we call the Changemaker 20, which is twenty minutes with a change maker. It's just an ask me anything. Again, it was another way for us to engage our audience. Each time we're taking some small steps, getting some incremental learning, and then we're adding to it.
As a leader, as you're experimenting, how do you think about profit margins, costs, return on investment, and experimentation? How do you process all of that as you're trying new things?
It depends on what we're experimenting with. I'll go back to the virtual speaker series that we're doing. They are free, so there is no profit on it, but of course, there will be eventually. A lot of times our experiments, and this one is a good example of that, is an experiment in how we can innovate our business. We didn't have a virtual speaker series. We added it, which allowed us to, in a low-cost way, showcase our speakers and create some valuable content for our audience and hopefully create some goodwill along the way. Although we don't know yet, but we think there will be a value proposition later when we start to see those very same speakers we had in the series start to get booked. That's something we're tracking.
We did this when we first opened the company. The way in which we opened the company was we did something called Salon, which was a live event where we showcased two speakers curated to very big and interesting, and in some ways, unanswerable questions. We put that event on with the hopes of generating awareness about our business. What we found was that the people who came, not only did they remember who we are, but they referred people. We thought we could launch the company and we would see, “We'll put these two people on stage, and then people will see them, and then they'll book them.” That's not what happened at all. We put the two people on stage. We had people in the room and they absolutely loved it. They started talking and the value proposition on that one wasn't the booking, but the more people that came into our business who bought our services. Sometimes experimentation is less about what you think the outcome will be, and more about letting the outcome show you where you can go.
How do you hang on to your true north? How do you hang on to your vision and mission when the way that you do business changes overnight?
Our mission is to impact the world through intelligent conversations. At the very highest level, that's what we’re about. Every time we're doing an experiment, the question we're asking ourselves is, “Will this create conversation?” If the answer to that is yes, then we've stayed true to our true north. If the answer to that is, “It will create some conversation, but I don't know, maybe it will take us in a different direction.” That's where we have to start looking at it. Conversation is one of those important things that we do that we don't even realize how important it is. Conversations lead to change. It's like experimentation leading to innovation. We always have to ask ourselves and go back to that question, “Are we, in fact, creating intelligent conversations? If we are, how can we do more of that?” It's always just coming back to that, to your point, the true north and challenging ourselves.
How are you choosing topics right now? What are you choosing to help put in front of people in these crazy times?
I worked in advertising and what I did in advertising was that I was called a planner. As a planner, we were the strategists in the world. We were always looking laterally. Always looking out in the world of what was going on. Because when you look environmentally around what's going on in the world, you find all the gold. I'm trained to do that. As we are asking questions, or as we are finding those topics, it's from what's happening in the world. The world is dealing with a pandemic, but the reality is, the world is always dealing with something whether it's climate change, economic change, or political change. There’re always things going on in the world. When you do two things, one, you look out into the world and you say, “Environmentally, what's happening?” What is the thing that people are talking about? Number two, “What is something that lives at an intersection to that thing?” The intersection, when we look at as an example, a world where the pandemic is driving much of our conversation, the intersection is humanity. While that may seem obvious, there are some less obvious pieces to it. The impact to productivity or the impact at the intersection of pandemic and humanity is anxiety. Another piece that is at that intersection is advances in health. We find topics by crashing together, sometimes dissimilar, and other times similar happenings, and seeing where humanity could be going.
What are you focusing on around stuff and people in your business right now?
Our staff, because they're working from home, and that's a new thing. I am focused on making sure that we stay connected as a community. We are doing daily stand ups in the morning with the entire team where we get together and do a daily focus. It takes fifteen minutes and off everyone goes into their day. We're also using a lot of technology. Slack has become incredibly important for us. We are constantly messaging each other quickly on Slack. We’re also FaceTiming or Zooming a whole lot. There was a time where I think we didn't pick up the phone and call people as readily as we used to, back in my day. I'm a bit older.
I remember when the phone was our main means of communication, and we would pick up the phone at all times, and then it became passé and everybody texted each other. Zoom has become the new norm. I can be sitting up my desk working away, and suddenly my Zoom phone will ring unexpectedly without a meeting. Craziness, I know, but it's great because it will be one of my team just checking in. Maybe they have a quick question they need to answer and now we're looking at each other. I'm concerned that we see each other a lot. I'm concerned that we stay connected. I'm also constantly checking in on how they are feeling emotionally and physically because quite frankly, that's something we have to be careful of.
Leadership can be a little lonely sometimes. When do you notice loneliness and what do you do to care for yourself around that?
It's absolutely true. Leadership can be lonely. I meditate a lot. I'm an early riser. Usually, I'm up between 5:00 and 6:00 in the morning. What I do is I start my day slowly. I don't start with screens. I start with nothing and I connect with myself. I will use whether it be one of the meditation apps that I have, Insight Timer, which is one of my favorites. I'll go to that and find something that's a deep connection piece or I will just sit and be quiet. I often light candles in the morning, and it's just me, the candle, and maybe some incense. Of course, my cats, who never leave me alone. I spend time thinking about my day, my purpose, and why I do what I do, which is important for me. If I have to make difficult decisions, I always have to find the place that it makes sense for me first as a human, for the organization I've created, and for the people who depend on me. That's the order in which I look at my decision-making.
What is your why? Why do you do what you do?
I strongly believe that my place in this world, on this earth, is to share a gift that I have and it's a gift of communication. Why I do what I do is that I see that there are so many people out there in the world doing good. I call them changemakers, but these could be scientists, academics, researchers, medical people, or people who are in these complex fields. They are doing such good in the world and they're so busy doing what it is they do that no one knows about it and the world thinks that we're in this place of darkness. My why is to help those changemakers tell their stories in ways that can engage people in ways that people understand so that the rest of the world can see and have hope that there is a different outcome to where we are right now. I think that is my role. My role is to show people that there's a better world and that when we look in those places, and to those people who are doing the work, we see that world, and I can shine a little bit of light on that.
Thank you so much for being here. I appreciate hearing all about how you're experimenting as a leader. How can people find you, Andrea?
You can go to our website at TalkBoutique.com. You can sign up for our Virtual Speaker series, and I hope you do because there are lots of fun. We’re now four days a week with our Changemaker 20 and then our Sense Making Conversations, Virtual Lunch & Learn Experience. You can find out all about our speakers and our speaker coaching services. We love working with people. I hope that you reach out to us. Thank you.
It's been such a pleasure having you here. Thank you so much for your time.
Thank you, Melanie, for this opportunity. I hope that people read something that helps them.
About Andrea Sampson
Andrea Sampson is the CEO and founder of Talk Boutique, a full-service speaker agency that develops and promotes changemakers - those who are making a difference in the world. Talk Boutique works with individuals, teams, and organizations to communicate with clarity and authority. A former business strategist and consultant Andrea has over 25 years in marketing, advertising, presenting, and helping companies create and execute communication strategies. Andrea is a TED and TEDx trained speaker coach and works with Speakers globally including highly sought after TED speakers and Singularity University faculty as well as others who have a story to tell and helps them with their content and presentation skills both online and onstage.
A public speaker, consultant, workshop leader, author, and Master Certified Coach through the International Coach Federation, from whom she received the Prism Award, Melanie is an expert in problem-solving, constraints management, operations, strategic hiring, and brand development.