As I write this, I’m sipping a cappuccino in a cosy little café in Greenwich village.
I just took a snap of Carrie Bradshaw’s famous brownstone steps after flying in a helicopter over the city.
Yesterday I shopped on Fifth Avenue.
And tonight I’m having dumplings in China town.
Well, I’m speaking at a copywriting conference that just happens to be in New York.
And it’s chilly, so I’m wearing the woolly hat I bought when I spoke at YoastCon in the Netherlands last month.
Ah, the life of an international speaker.
Well, yes. And no.
Very much no.
Today I’m going to take you through the pros and cons of speaking at international events.
Ready? Then grab a cup of tea and a bun and let’s go.
Last year I spoke at 37 events around Australia. (Here’s where I talked about the positives and negatives of that experience.)
But this year I wanted to spread my furry little wings, and so I applied to speak at three international conferences: one in New York, one in San Diego, and one in Holland.
I didn’t expect to get into any of them.
I ended up getting into two.
I was thrilled. I was taking my brand global. And I’d fought off the competition to nab a spot at two awesome events.
Now I hadn’t given any thought to the actual logistics of doing all of this. (I’m a ‘leap before you look’ kind of girl.)
But in the end it worked out well for many reasons, such as:
Most of us are impressed by public speakers.
We either have:
- a morbid fear of it, and so we’re wowed by their bravery
- the mindset that only the best of the best get to speak about a topic, and so the speaker must be an authority.
Put anyone on a stage and you have to look up to them, right?
[Tweet “Put anyone on a stage and you have to look up to them, right? @katetoon”]
I’ll admit the positive response to my speaker announcements plumped up my ego to Augustus Gloop chubbiness levels.
Speaking overseas was already impressive. But the fact I was standing shoulder to shoulder with the big names in my industry elevated me to their level.
There’s no denying it. The show-off factor is a big part of international speaker gigs.
I think by now I’m fairly well known in certain circles for my SEO and copywriting skills.
As Amazon founder Jeff Bezos said,
“Your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room”.
And I think my name is being muttered in lots of rooms in a largely positive way.
But the Australian market is small compared to that of the US or Europe. So the more people who know about me, the more chance I have of attracting relevant clients to my courses and resources.
It’s a simple maths thing.
And by targeting conferences where my audience already is, I’m putting myself on a faster track to building a big, juicy brand.
And it’s not just the event. There’s also the marketing before and after the event.
- A single tweet from Yoastcon garnered me about 200 new fans in a few days.
- My podcast listenership has increased.
- My Facebook group has grown.
- My email list grew so big I had to chuck a whole heap of people off it because I’m too tight to pay the next level of subscription.
There’s power in numbers.
I’m a big believer in facing your fear.
Hell, I’ve been threatening to write a book about it for the past year (Be More Shark – I’ll finish it one day).
Schlepping to the other side of the world solo. Negotiating planes, trains and automobiles. Staying in strange hotels. Not knowing a soul. Standing on stage in front of a few hundred randoms.
These are all scary things for most people.
It’s been a while since I’ve travelled overseas extensively. Since having kids the most exotic thing I’ve done is gone to Woolies instead of Coles.
So it’s hardly surprising that speaking at international conferences raised my ugliest imposter syndromes and made me face them head on.
Every time you conquer a fear, life becomes a little easier.
Every time you conquer a fear, you grow as a person.
Every time you conquer a fear, a baby otter gets a cuddle.
[Tweet “Every time you conquer a fear, a baby otter gets a cuddle. @katetoon”]
In my day-to-day life, sometimes the most extensive conversation I have is with my 96-year-old next-door neighbour.
Don’t get me wrong. Daphne is awesome. She plays in a ukulele band and is everything I want to be when I grow up.
But there’s only so much talk of pot plants and the weather I can handle.
Heading to events allows you to meet amazing humans.
And at YoastCon it was a veritable smorgasbord of awesome.
I enjoyed breakfast snorts and evening drinks with quick-witted, super smart, inspiring people who made me laugh and think deep thoughts.
I even got invited to lunch by one of my SEO heroes and his stupidly amusing wife.
I turned twitter avatars into real-life friends.
And none of these things can happen over the interwebs.
Edit: Since writing this I’ve also attended TCCIRL where I met even more amazing humans. My amazing human bucket is FULL to overflowing.
The ROI of speaking at event isn’t immediately transparent (unless you’re getting paid, which I’ll be talking about soon).
I know from my experience speaking in Australia that the people who see me at events are far more likely to buy my courses, resources and memberships.
I have a personal brand, and so that personal connection makes a difference.
My take is that if I sell a few tickets to my big course, seven or eight membership sign-ups, or 20 or so smaller courses, the event has paid for itself.
I love to travel.
I can’t bear the Groundhog Day of parenthood at times. So escaping to explore a new city just ticks and tickles all my boxes.
In the past few months I’ve
- Swung on a swing in a Dutch office block basement
- Visited a seedy strip club with two friendly Italians (long story)
- Biked the streets of Amsterdam
- Flown over New York
- Wandered through Central Park
- Shopped, eaten, partied and snoozed in amazing hotels
Some of the joys of speaking at international events are the bits before and after the conference.
Well that all sounds good doesn’t it?
You’re now sold on speaking at international events, and rooting around for your passport and international power adapter.
Hang on my friend. Read on.
Everything I’m about to say comes with a caveat. In the past three months I’ve done three international trips—a planned trip to the UK to visit family and then two speaking events in quick succession.
And as you can probably tell I’m not a planner. A more sensible person would have spread this stuff out.
But I didn’t, and so I’m writing this as a tired and slightly jetlagged human.
Take what I’m about to say with a pinch of salt and pepper.
I am the proud mum of a desperately funny, kind and clever nine year old. Just looking at his face makes me happy (well, most days), and when I’m away I miss him terribly.
Of course, I know it’s good for him to see his mum being a confident, independent and financially secure woman.
But he also wants to see me as… well, just his mum.
He’s happier when I’m pottering around the house, complaining about crumbs on the sofa and swearing at him when he talks about Fortnite for the thousandth time.
He misses me.
And he won’t be young for much longer. Every day I spend on a conference is a day not spent with him, and that pains me.
I also miss my partner, my dog, my house, my garden, and my routine.
Travelling is hugely discombobulating—not just while you’re away, but also in the runup and the aftermath.
I have a hugely patient and flexible husband who also gets to go on trips. But the toll on my family is still big.
And after talking to the speakers at YoastCon it became clear that serial conference speakers generally have:
- grown-up kids
- no kids
- stay-at-home partners who don’t work (or work part-time)
Being a happy parent and confident international speaker is not an easy thing to achieve.
Speaking at events is undoubtedly a luxury. But it’s a catch-22.
You need to speak at events to build an audience and make money.
But you can’t afford to speak at events until you’ve made money.
In Australia, where I’m better known, I can now usually get a speaker fee, hotel, flights or enough book sales to cover costs.
But overseas I’m a nobody.
(And I need that book space in my suitcase for the clothes I’m going to buy.)
While the copywriting conference generously put me up for the night and gave me a small fee. YoastCon was entirely self-funded.
And unless you’re a BIG name, you’ll find most conferences don’t pay their speakers. I’m not a big name.
Want to know the cost?
- Netherlands trip: approx. $5k + spends
- New York trip: approx. $7k+ spends
I could fly economy and stay at shitty hotels.
I could stay in my room and eat crisps.
I could restrain myself from spending the GDP of Belgium in the shops.
But I do none of these things.
If I’m going to do it, I’m going to do it big.
And then there’s the loss of earnings.
My bottom line gets a firm spank when I go away.
So take those earlier costs and double them. No, triple them.
I’m yet to see if it financially works out in my favour.
(I’ll have a better idea when the next round of Recipe launches.)
Whenever I travel, I get sick.
Spending 20 or so hours in a metal tube with 300 other humans emitting smells and vapours is the perfect way to test your immune system.
The jetlag messes with your sleep, and the air pressure messes with your tummy.
At YoastCon I developed chronic tonsillitis on day two of my trip, resulting in a trip to a rather hot Dutch doctor and two days in bed unable to move my head.
I was a long way from home feeling like death, and 100% conscious of the fact that I Could. Not. Cancel.
For this trip to New York I’ve taken more precautions—a chilled week beforehand, multivitamins by the fistful, no booze, and melatonin for sleep. But I still don’t feel fully functional, and fear I’ll hit a wall when I get home.
Travel makes you feel poorly—it’s that simple.
International trips are a huge time sink.
Australia is a long, long, long (long) way away from everywhere, making trips to the US and Europe an easy 30 hours of travel.
(Asia is a little easier.)
While I have great plans to work on the plane, I don’t.
And my plans to work when I get here don’t usually pan out either.
It’s not just two days for the conference. It’s an easy two weeks of preparation, being there, and recovery.
I don’t get to get home and get stuck into work to play catchup. I need to give my husband a break, spend time with my son, and catch up on household things.
It will be better when I can start taking family with me.
(I’m taking my son to the Artful Business conference in Adelaide, which is awesome. He’s going to me my videographer.)
It will be better in ten years’ time when my son has headed off to uni.
But right now time is a huge negative for international speaking.
I have an amazing part-time team, led by the indefatigable Leanne Woff. They keep things ticking along beautifully.
But I’m still essentially a solopreneur.
I have no full-time staff.
I am my business, and my business is me. And that’s how I like it.
So I can’t completely bugger off and not check in at all.
Decisions need to be made that need my brain.
And there are issues my team needs help resolving.
I don’t want to ‘uplevel’ (just typing the word makes me gag) and remove myself from my business.
And that means that weeks away are challenging and put my team under immense pressure.
We f*ck up.
It’s not the end of the world. But it is difficult, and I don’t like it.
Events take a huge amount of mental focus.
It takes me on average 2 -4 days to pull a presentation together.
Then there’s the time spent planning the trip, and the mental load of thinking about how to juggle family, etc. while I’m away.
It all takes my focus away from my core business, my memberships and my courses – the things that make me money.
I am one human who works around 20 hours a week.
I need to choose how I spend those hours carefully.
If you’re still here, you’re probably wondering, “Which is it, Kate? Good or bad?”
Well, both. And neither.
I’m not virulently against speaking at events like some of my peers.
I don’t think it’s “a waste of time” or “self-indulgent”.
But I don’t think it’s the pinnacle of success or the be-all and end-all either
And I realise that there are way more cost effective ways to reach my audience – my podcasts for example reach around 14k people a month.
And I can do those in my undies in my ToonCave.
Like anything in business, doing International speaking gigs is all about balance.
[Tweet “Like anything in business, doing International speaking gigs is all about balance @katetoon”]
There are many much quicker ways to make money. If I spent $7k on Facebook ads I’d probably get more sign-ups than I would spending $7k on a trip.
But I wouldn’t get squiffy with my fellow podcast host Belinda Weaver.
Or meet my potential customers face to face.
Or eat bagels in Hell’s Kitchen.
Or sit on Carrie Bradshaw’s step.
Will I speak at more international events? I hope so.
Am I looking forward to not doing it for a while? Absolutely.
Clear as mud.
Like most things involved in running your own show, it’s a constant juggle.
But at least you get to choose your balls.