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He built a business around the power of gab

By Thomas Heath
Sunday, September 26, 2010; 6:19 PM

'The Facebook Effect," by David Kirkpatrick, is the story of how a 20-something Harvard dropout named Mark Zuckerberg built a global Internet site with more than 500 million members.

The book touches on how Zuckerberg (who donated $100 million to the Newark, N.J. , school system last week) sought out an executive coach and learned how to speak in public as part of his corporate education.

He also had the sense to seek out a mentor to emulate: in this case, Washington Post Co. Chairman Donald E. Graham, who is on the Facebook board.

Most entrepreneurs, whether they are building a sprawling juggernaut such as Facebook or pitching to a handful venture capitalists, need to learn how to communicate.

Arnold Sanow, 57, helps them.

Sanow teaches executives, salespeople, managers and entrepreneurs and others how to hold an audience. He also helps people become more entrepreneurial by adding public speaking - and its healthy fees - to their business repertoire. Last week's Value Added subject, tutor Ann Dolin, hired Sanow to help her build a career in public speaking.

"People who speak well are perceived as being smarter, more competent, more trustworthy, likeable and successful," said Sanow, who spoke to me by cell phone from Syracuse University, where he was visiting his son. "People want to do business with those types of people. You can't afford to do shy."

The job allows Sanow to work from home, work when he wants, travel to cool locations and meet interesting people. He charges an average of $5,000 to $7,500 for audiences at places as varied as Kaiser Permanente, the International Nanny Association and Phillips Seafood Restaurants.

Sanow said he still gets nervous before a speech, even though he has given 2,500 of them. He grosses $500,000 a year, but his income is half that because of agent fees and other costs.

Speaking didn't come naturally to the Bethesda native, who attended the University of Maryland. To overcome his fear, he joined Toastmasters International, an organization that teaches people how to speak effectively before an audience. He polished his act at the U.S. Marine Corps, where he made frequent training presentations as its director of marketing for morale.

In 1985, a friend told him about a bakery in Arlington County that was looking for someone to speak about customer relations to its 30 employees. The fee: $250 and box full of desserts.

It launched his new career.

"That was the first time I realized people paid speakers," said Sanow.

Looking back, Sanow said the best move he made was to aggressively market himself. Just being a smooth speaker wasn't enough.

"You must be a marketer first and a speaker second," he said. "The business of speaking is paramount."

The thing I love about Sanow and others like him is that they are such go-getters. They market themselves 24/7. Sanow is always doing business, building and maintaining relationships either with his clients or with professional agents and speakers' bureaus who find him jobs, in return for an average of 25 percent of his speech fee.

He started at the Learning Annex, where he would advertise through a newsstand brochure available throughout the Washington area. He first pitched himself as an expert in how to start a business, but he has since broadened himself into a communications trainer and specialist.

If clients can't afford his fees, Sanow is willing to make deals. One prominent D.C. hotel added $1,500 worth of hotel credit to his fee, which he used to entertain current and future clients.

He also bartered with an accounting firm to get an all-expenses-paid, seven-day Alaska cruise for his family in exchange for three two-hour speech-coaching sessions.

Sanow is resourceful. One agent, who is a salesperson for a long-distance commercial mover, tipped him off to every business moving to Washington - even suggesting his name as a teacher for public presentations.

"It generated a lot of work," Sanow said.

Sanow is an effective networker. He keeps a list of people who help him the most, including one client who sets up luncheons with other decision makers at her company.

He stays visible by advertising in the Yearbook of Experts, Authorities and Spokespersons, which helps the media find experts. That has produced appearances on CBS Evening News, ABC World Morning News and other outlets. He uses a Web site called isnare.com, an article distribution channel, to increase exposure of press reports where he is mentioned.

He has authored six books, in part because being published confers a sense of expertise that clients value. His books include "Nobody to Somebody in 63 Days or Less - The Ultimate Guide to Networking and Word of Mouth Advertising." He co-authored a forthcoming tome called "Deliver Every Presentation With Power, Punch and Pizzazz."

Sanow advocates preparation as the best advice for giving a good speech. He jots down words and phrases on index cards to keep his mind focused and remind him of where he wants to go with his talk.

When he occasionally loses his train of thought in front of an audience, he makes a joke of it and asks for their help. "What's the last thing I said?" he asks. It also helps refocus the audience .

I didn't want to let Sanow get back to Syracuse University's homecoming weekend without some advice for entrepreneurs, and he provided an e-mail with some do's and don'ts.

"Don't be stiff," he said. "Be loose; gesture. Show facial expressions. Be funny. I recommend not leading off with a joke. A lot of times they fall flat and ruin the presentation."

He also advised staying away from technical terms, which is like turning on the snooze button. Instead, talk in conversational terms, and be energetic and enthusiastic. A surprising piece of advice was to know when to shut up.

"Know how to use silence to emphasize a point," he said.

Like anything, public speaking comes more easily with frequency. Sanow's motto: "Practice, practice, practice."

Before we got off the phone, I had to ask.

Who delivered the best speech he ever saw?

Disavowing any political bias, Sanow didn't miss a beat: Bill Clinton.

"I saw him around 1997 in Washington, and he knows how to connect. He had charisma, was energetic and down to earth. He jokes about himself and talked to people in the audience on his way in. He asks questions about people when he talks to them. There's a saying: Don't be interesting. Be interested."

By the way, I saw some of Zuckerberg's interview on Oprah Winfrey's TV show last week, where he announced his $100 million gift to the Newark schools.

Zuckerberg was confident, buoyant, articulate.

You would be, too, if you were worth $6.9 billion.

Follow me on Twitter at valueaddedth.

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