Martin Perelmuter is the Co-founder & President of Speakers’ Spotlight, one of the world’s largest and most respected speakers agencies who have arranged more than 35,000 speaking engagements in over 35 countries worldwide, as well as the Managing Director of The Spotlight Agency, a group that connects high-calibre talent across fields with opportunities worldwide.
Martin is a graduate of the Faculty of Economics at the University of Western Ontario, and the Faculty of Law at Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto. Prior to co-founding Speakers’ Spotlight, Martin was a corporate lawyer at a prestigious international law firm. While he realized early on in his legal career that he needed to do something more entrepreneurial, he learned valuable best practices that have shaped his approach to client service and business management.
Martin’s views on the speaking industry have been reported in various television and print media, and have been published in over 60 countries. He’s been a guest lecturer at several colleges and universities and was a keynote speaker at the Public Words Speaker Forum at The Center for Public Leadership at Harvard’s Kennedy School in Cambridge. Martin is an unapologetic idealist. He’s passionate about people and ideas, and after 25+ years in the speaking industry, Martin believes more than ever that a great speech can provide the impetus for action and be a catalyst for change.
Martin Perelmuter: Sounds good.
Bryan Wish: Martin, welcome to The One Away Show.
Martin Perelmuter: Hey, great to be here, Bryan. Really looking forward to the chat.
Bryan Wish: Yes. So good to be here and just thrilled to be able to do this. I know it took a bit of time, so we’re here. Martin, what is the one away moment that you want to share with us to today?
Martin Perelmuter: Yeah. This goes back a little while. It goes back about 25 years for me, but I had finished law school. I was working in a very prestigious law firm. And that was sort of the route that my life was taking. And through a series of events which I could describe to you the week or two that led up to it, the moment was, it was a nice summer morning in Toronto. It was July, I remember.
And I was on the subway on the way to work and decided today’s the day I’m going to quit. And I hadn’t really planned it out. I hadn’t told anybody I was going to do it that day. I mean, I’d had conversations with my wife. We had just gotten married a few weeks earlier. But I didn’t know that was going to be the day until I got off the subway and I said, “You know what? I got to do this today.”
And so the managing partner in our law firm, I worked in a pretty big law firm, there’s a few hundred people that worked there. So managing partner was obviously a busy guy and a hard guy to pin down. So I had to walk past his office to get to my office every morning. And it was probably about 7:00, 7:30 in the morning. And he was one of the only people who actually locked his door at night.
So when he left at night he would lock his door. So I knew if his door was open it meant he was already in. And I thought, I didn’t know what I was going to say, but I thought, if he is in, I’m just going to go in and I’m going to do this. And as I was coming up to his office I could see that it was slightly a jar and I knocked on it and he was just getting in.
I remember he was putting his car keys and his wallet and stuff in his desk, and I said, “Hey, can I just get a couple minutes of your time?” And he looked at me a bit concern and said, “Sure, is everything okay?” And I said, “Yeah. Every thing’s fine. I just need to chat for a few minutes.”
So I sat down and I told him, I said, “Look, this is probably going to come as a little bit of a surprise to you, but I’ve given this a fair bit of thought. And I decided I’m going to leave the firm and I’m going to leave the practice of law.”
And he looked at me, he was a little bit confused, I think it startled, it was the last thing I think he thought I was going to say. And he basically, said like, “What? I can’t let you do this.” And for a moment I thought, is there something in my employment agreement or something that doesn’t allow me to quit when I want to.
But he said, “You’re making the biggest mistake of your life. And I can’t let you do it.” And I’ll tell you what, he said, “I will let you walk out this door and I won’t breathe a word of this to the other partners in the firm. And we’ll just pretend this didn’t happen.”
And I said, “Look, I really appreciate it. But I know this is coming out of left field to you, but for me, I have actually thought about this a lot and I need to do it.” And so then he said, “Okay. Well, you know what? Let who we need to know know at the firm, and let me know when you’ve done that. And we’ll send out an email and notify everybody.”
And then so I gave my two weeks notice, and from that day forward I’ve never taken a paycheck from anybody else. I’ve been an entrepreneur since then. And it was very scary day. And when you’re 25 years old and someone tells you’re making the biggest mistake of your life, which is what I was told, it gives you pause for thought. But I knew in my heart it was the right thing to do, and I’ve never regretted it for a moment since.
Bryan Wish: Yeah. Well, I got to admire your bravery and encourage that at such a form formative age, right, when careers are maybe stack up the ladder or careers take a term for something more aligned at a heart and soul level, and you pick the ladder. And when you could have stayed and sure made money and been just fine, but you knew it was wrong.
So I want to go to that, you said you didn’t know it was the day that you needed to stop. Did you have any, just so, let’s just call it physical manifestations inside of you that weren’t right or just felt different or off that like you just knew it was the day. What led up to that?
Martin Perelmuter: That’s a great question. So yeah, I don’t think everybody is wired this way, but for me, I was having almost a visceral reaction to work. So what had happened was I’d gotten married just a few weeks before. And so I went on a short honeymoon, came back. And work wasn’t going great up until then for me. I mean, I think I was doing a good job.
I think they were very happy with me. But personally, I wasn’t fulfilled with my work and I wasn’t enjoying it at all. And so I decided, you know what? I have a lot going on with the wedding and everything else. I thought, I’m not going to quit my job two weeks before the wedding, probably freak out my in-laws and my wife’s family.
So after that though, it was sort of like, okay, we’re married. And my wife was very supportive. We had a lot of conversation and she was like, “You got to do this whenever you ready,” but she was obviously on board. And when it happened, I’ll kind of walk you through the last week or two before it.
So I remember a couple weeks before the day I quit going to the office and then at lunchtime, going up to get a sandwich and thinking, God, I feel like just going home and just calling in sort of sick and saying I wasn’t feeling well. But I went back to the office and I finished the day.
And then the next day I remember getting into the office first thing in the morning and I had this, I’d get in pretty early, usually by 7:00 or so. So remember I had this feeling like, you know what? I think I’m just going to go home. Maybe I’ll just turn around and go home. No one even knows necessarily that I was here, and I’ll call in sick.
And then the next day I remember getting to my subway stop and not feeling like I wanted to get off the subway. And then the next day, the next morning, I remember I was standing on the platform before getting on the subway, and thinking, I feel like just turning around and going home and not even getting on the subway.
And then the next morning, or the next morning, which is probably now the three or four days before I quit. It was like, I didn’t feel like getting dressed in the morning and leaving the house to go to work. And then the next morning it was like, I didn’t feel like getting out of bed.
So every day it sort of got closer and closer, and sort of earlier and earlier the day that I just didn’t want to do it. And so that was sort of the point where I was like, okay, I’ve got to get out of bed and I’ve got to do this today. And I don’t think I was like clinically depressed or anything like that. I think I just hated my job to be honest.
And I think if I had stayed though, I think it would’ve led to a lot of other health issues, potentially, physical, mental manifestations of what I was feeling. But I was sort of pushing through, pushing through, pushing through as long as I felt like I could. And then when I felt like I couldn’t do it anymore, I was like, “Okay, this is it. And I got to just cut the cord right here and do this.”
Bryan Wish: Yeah. So special that you listened internally and maybe saw the long-term outcomes. Or didn’t see them, but knew they could be bad. Clearly, I also heard growing up, my mom always told me, she said, “When the pain of staying is greater than the pain of leaving, that’s when it’s time to go.”
And it seems like the pain of staying was right in front of you and you listened and you left. And it’s neat that your wife was well, right, in such a young period in your marriage, making a really hard decision. You had full support, right, during the foundational level.
Martin Perelmuter: Yeah. That huge. I mean, I knew that she didn’t like me for my job. That wasn’t the attraction. So yeah, I mean, that was incredibly important because I knew that whatever happened we were in it together and she was right beside me and in these decisions. So that was really, really helpful because making a decision like that was hard enough, but if you were doing it on your own or against the wishes of your partner, that would be tough.
And to be honest, again, my family didn’t even know I quit until I let them know. They actually had no idea I was even thinking about it because I didn’t want to worry them too much. And they’d think that I’d lost my mind because you go through all this school and you get a great job and you have a nice office with a great view and a prestigious job that lots of people would love to have and you turn your back on that.
And a lot of people probably thought, have I lost my mind, because who does that? And I was only six months into it, right. I think I might have set the record that may still stand to this day at the firm of shortest tenure before deciding to leave. So I wear that proudly if that’s still the case.
Bryan Wish: Absolutely.
Martin Perelmuter: Yeah.
Bryan Wish: And I just appreciate your candid nature around that point in time in your life because I’m sure that gives hope for maybe others listening who also feel the need that they need to go do this too for themselves.
So I’m curious, Martin, when you make a decision like that, it can create a ripple effect, internally for those watching. And I’m curious, how did your, let’s just say, boldness to take a stand for yourself have any follow domino effect for anyone internally at the business or did things from what you recall just hum along?
Martin Perelmuter: Yeah. Well, it’s interesting you say, like people said, “Oh, that was so brave of you to quit or you have so much courage to do that. I wouldn’t have had the guts to do that.” And the truth was at the time I actually felt like a coward. I felt like the exact opposite.
I thought all these people around here are just sucking it up and going to work every day and make going to work. And for me, I thought, I was actually in a way taking the easy way out. I was like, I’m going to cut and run. I’m I’m out of here. And so I certainly did not feel like I was brave or courageous or anything like that at the time.
I felt actually, quite the opposite in many ways. It’s, for some reason, I didn’t have what it takes to stick it out. And I remember a couple people I spoke to, family members even, were like, “It’s only been six months. How do you know? You haven’t done it long enough.” And I’m like, “No, I’m pretty much sure I know. And after six months I know this is not getting better, it’s getting worse for me.”
There was a few other people that I know that left the firm other times. But most state, I mean, it’s a very good firm and most people are there and some are still there to this day. But it’s interesting, I think it’s called Lawyers Weekly or something. There’s a magazine that’s published up here for lawyers. And I was actually interviewed for a story.
I don’t know how they found me, but they did a story on non-traditional careers for lawyers. And I think part of the reason was they’re graduating more, I don’t know if this is still the case, but at the time they were graduating more law students than there were available jobs. So they were trying to demonstrate that there were lots of other things that lawyers can do using the skills that they learn in law school or practicing law.
So actually, there was a conference that was put together and there was a number of us who had sort of “non-traditional” jobs. And I was interviewed for this story in this magazine. And since then to still, to this day, a few times a year, I hear from young lawyers or articling students who are going through something very similar to what I went through and they read the story and it kind of resonates with them and they want to just chat. Yeah. And so I’m always happy to chat.
In COVID, it’s been mostly just by Zoom and phone, before that I used to sometimes go for lunch or meet someone in the park near our office and just sit and chat and just listen to what they’re going through. And it’s amazing how similar it would sound. And all of these people, it’s funny, men, women, different ethnic backgrounds and cultures, it’s like they’re all describing the exact same thing, which is exactly what I went through.
So it’s weird. I think there’s some people who are just wired in a certain way. I’m not saying it’s better or worse, in some ways it makes things tougher, but that have sort of very strong visceral reactions to what they’re doing. And if they don’t make a move, I think it’s ultimately going to have an effect on their physical and mental health.
Bryan Wish: Yeah. Well, it’s neat to see the impact of your own experience. Right. And how many years later, you’re still making an impact through an article that people reach out and feel safe and you can share with them.
Martin Perelmuter: Yeah. The article must be somewhere on the internet because this magazine did not have a very wide circulation. I don’t think it’s an industry type thing. But yeah, it’s out there somewhere because I get these LinkedIn messages. And it’s nice, if I can help someone sort of navigate this part of their career or their life, then that’s great. And save them a little bit of the heartache maybe that I went through.
But the other thing is I’m always really careful not to tell anybody what to do and I don’t tell people, “Oh, you should quit your job and follow your dreams,” because it’s easy for me to say. But you need a plan and you need the support. And so it’s usually like just kind of listening and hearing their story and understanding what their circumstances are and just helping them know that they’re not the only one that’s felt like that. Yeah.
Bryan Wish: No. That’s neat you don’t tell them what to do, but you just kind of give them guidance on your journey and let them make their own decision.
Martin Perelmuter: Yeah. Is what I went through and this is what I did, but your journey is yours. So yeah.
Bryan Wish: So I want to ask a question about what things led to after that decision, but before I do that, something that kind of came to me was, when we talk, Martin, I just feel like you are a, let’s just say, a more emotionally developed person in my opinion and my sense and maybe most. Age, whatever, I think doesn’t really matter, but you get the sense with you where it’s so easy to talk to you and you really care.
I’m curious, do you have any childhood experiences or parents or things that maybe have contributed, if you agree with that yourself, that have contributed towards that? Or do you think it’s that moment that you talked about, was maybe one of the first formative moments that maybe shaped that emotional development to kind of keep that path?
Martin Perelmuter: Yeah. That’s a really interesting question. I didn’t grow up in a household where we talked about our feelings a lot, so we probably talk with our kids way more about this kind of stuff than I did growing up. But I had a bit of a unique upbringing in the sense that, so both my parents are immigrants and they were both Holocaust survivors.
So they were babies during the war and it was miraculous that either of them survived. But they had a pretty miraculous life to even just survive. And then they moved to Canada sort of towards the end of high school. And they met in Canada. They didn’t know each. They lived in different cities in Poland where they were born and raised.
And we didn’t talk about it a lot growing up. We weren’t the family that talked about the war and all of that. I think my parents just didn’t want to burden us with that. And also they were so young during the war. It’s not like they had really many memories of it themselves, but it’s something that I always grew up knowing that they came from this. And we had no first cousins. It was just my sister and I and my parents.
So it was very obvious that we had a bit of a different background than most of my friends did because my friends would always be, “Oh, I’m going to my cousins. Over there for dinner.” And for us, we didn’t have any. Right. So we had a very small family and it was just a bit of… When your parents grew up in a very different culture than you, they often have unique, let’s just call them, unique parenting approaches because it’s hard for them to relate to some of the things that you go through as a kid.
So I think a lot of it just had to kind of figure out on my own. But the reason I mentioned that is that I always sort of knew in the back of my mind that it’s a miracle that any of us are here, not to go too deep. But if you think about it, like any one of us, the chances of us being here are one in a gazillion basically and somehow we’re here. Right?
But for me, I always felt that it was miraculous that either my parents survived and managed to somehow meet each other and that I was born. And I always felt I need to do something with my life that counts. They didn’t go through all they went through in my their families and my ancestors didn’t suffer and go through what they went through for me to make a shit show in my life basically. Right.
So I always felt, not the pressure to do something big or great, but just to do something meaningful and to make the most of the opportunities that I had. And so I think I was going down this kind of success career path which was fine, like becoming a lawyer and having that great job, but I just found it somehow meaningless to me.
I didn’t care about the money. I didn’t care about the prestige of having a job like that. So I just knew I had to find something more meaningful and where I could have more of a positive impact. And so I think that’s how kind of my earlier life may have shaped that is just, it wasn’t anything we really spoke about, but it was this unspoken thing that you have this one life and you don’t get a do over.
And you’re lucky to even have the opportunities that we have here, so try to make the most of it. That was, I think, kind of the, I don’t know if I actually articulated that to myself at the time, but that was sort of the underlying feeling.
Bryan Wish: Yeah. No. I think you articulated, well, wonderfully. The fact were here in the first place is a miracle. The fact my parents went through what they did, I should live for so much more than maybe what I’m currently doing and going out and maybe grabbing life a little bit more by the horn.
So in lieu of that beautiful answer, what did you pursue? Right. You quit the job and saw more for yourself. Take us down that journey. I mean, start wherever you feel called to share.
Martin Perelmuter: Yeah. So one of the reasons I didn’t like law, I think, was, there’s a few. One, I’m not adversarial by nature. So dah, I should have known, lawyers, that’s the job. It doesn’t matter if you’re doing corporate law, family law, criminal law, whatever you’re doing, it tends to be adversarial in nature. And I don’t particularly love fighting or arguing with people.
So the path was really like this. So my wife was working in advertising and marketing and she had a job at a small marketing firm. She loved the job, but she hated the place. She worked for not the nicest boss in the world. So we’ll leave it at that. So she loved her job, but didn’t like the culture. I didn’t like my job.
Liked the culture, actually, the people were great for the most part. But it was just not meaningful work for me. So my wife’s uncle was actually doing a little bit of speaking workshops, that kind of thing, nothing on a big scale. And when he found out that his niece is in marketing and PR, said, “Hey, maybe you could help me market my workshops and my seminars.”
So she kind of stumbled into this, and I remember this is when I was still at the law firm. We would talk about it sometimes, and she’d be like, “Yeah, I’m doing this research to help my uncle out with this.” And she’s like, “Do you know that people go out and get paid to speak about different things?” And I was like, “Oh, that’s interesting.”
So she decided that she was going to, as like a side, I guess, what you today call side hustle. But in addition to her job, would do marketing and PR, first for her uncle, and then thought maybe there’s other speakers who I could do marketing and PR for. And so she started looking at that and I was helping her a bit just with the research. And this was Pre-Google. This was like 1995. So it was not easy to do research back then.
Now it’s easy to find out anything about anything pretty much. But we did some research and I just found it fascinating because to me, I’m really interested in people and their stories and I’m really interested in ideas. And we realized these are people who either have really interesting ideas or really interesting stories that they’re trying to share with the world.
And hopefully make it a better place, whether that’s at work, at home, in the community, whatever the topic happens to be. And so we started looking into this more and more, and we came up with this crazy idea that maybe we could start a business together and represent speakers and booked them for speaking engagements. So she would do the marketing and the PR, and I would do the sales and business development.
And the only challenge was like A, we didn’t know any speakers other than my wife’s uncle. B, we didn’t have any business experience of our own. C, we didn’t have any contacts in the industry. But when you’re young and 25 you can be sort of young and naive, or maybe stupid is maybe the better word. But you think, “Oh, how hard could it be? We’ll start a business together.” So that’s what we did.
We went from two incomes to zero. After doing a few months of research into the industry we thought, “If we’re ever going to do this now is the time. We don’t have any kids. We don’t have a mortgage. We got no responsibilities to anyone but ourselves.” So yeah, so we quit our jobs and went full-time into representing speakers. We started an agency called Speakers’ Spotlight.
It was just the two of us, we were working out of a spare bedroom in our apartment. And it was challenging, no speakers, no clients, no industry experience or contacts. So it was really like starting something from scratch, but it was incredibly exciting. And every day you’d wake up. I was saying to someone the other day that paying your bills is a great motivation, right?
So no problem getting up out of bed in the morning to try to sort of start to build the business because we had bills to pay. But we figured we could probably live for about a year on the savings that we had. So we figured, okay, we didn’t take a loan from anyone. We didn’t have any seed capital. It was just, Okay, we’re going to use our savings and we’ll have to live like students again, which was fine.
So we went from going out for nice dinners and nice vacations when we were both working to like, when our friends were going out we were like, “Hey, we can’t go. We’re staying in. We’re renting a movie.” Couldn’t really go on vacations because we just had to kind of buckle down and change our lifestyle a bit. But that was easy, that wasn’t difficult. And so that was the start of our business Speakers’ Spotlight.
Bryan Wish: I was thinking, all along, do you think to take on the marriage of just personal relationship, but now you’ve tied a whole nother full-time job to it with work, which is crazy. Well, maybe not, maybe for you it’s just okay, in such a cool way.
Martin Perelmuter: Not for everyone. I wouldn’t recommend it for every couple. That’s for sure.
Bryan Wish: I won’t ask, but maybe offline I’d love to know more. So give us the snapshot. What year was this, for what it’s worth?
Martin Perelmuter: Yeah. So this is 1995. I mean, I can’t believe how old I am now. But yeah.
Bryan Wish: Pre mostly internet, to what it is today.
Martin Perelmuter: Yeah. Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Bryan Wish: Two questions, what was the speaking industry like then versus what it is maybe today? Well, yeah, let’s just start there. What was speaking industry like then versus today?
Martin Perelmuter: Yeah. So the big difference, I mean, it’s really different. One of the big differences is that I think up until about 1995, 96, most agents played the role of gatekeeper. Right? So you want to book a speaker? Well, guess what, I have their phone number and you don’t. So if you want to with them, you’re going to have to go through me and I’m going to get them for you.
I think that was the mentality of a lot of agents. Right? Yeah. So they were gatekeepers in many ways. They were people who had contacts to celebrities, authors, speakers. And so if someone wanted to book someone, unless they happened to know how to get ahold of them. Think about it, like before the internet, how did you get ahold of somebody? It wasn’t that easy.
So that was our role. And so our timing, I think, was pretty good because if we had started our business even a couple of years earlier, we would’ve started in one world, the pre-internet world and then had to take the business online. And I think some of the agencies had troubled doing that at that time. They were still in the gatekeeper mindset.
So for us, when we started one of the first things we did, I remember a friend of mine showed me the internet. I didn’t know what it was. He was trying to explain it to me. And he is like, “You should get a website.” And I’m like, “What’s a website?” And so we got a website early on with a good domain name, speakers.ca. And started the business from that point of view of with a website and realized like we didn’t think of ourselves as gatekeepers.
That didn’t make a lot of sense to us. So we were like, we’ve got to add value and deliver a valuable service for both our clients who hired the speakers and the speakers themselves. So that was kind of a big change back then sort of as the world kind of moved online. The other big difference in 2021 compared to 1995 is who the speakers are.
So back then, we were young, we were 25, 26 years old. Most of the speakers were at least in their 40s or 50s. Most of them were male. Most of them were white. And that was just the way the industry was. And if you hadn’t been around for 20 years in the workplace, most people didn’t want to hear from you. If weren’t a white male, maybe it was tough to get speaking gigs.
Today, first of all, the age of speakers gets younger and younger I think, because there’s obviously things that a 25 year old knows that maybe a 50 year old doesn’t know whether it’s about technology or whatever. So speakers age is getting, I think, younger overall. People are valuing that people from all ages have something valuable.
And then this shift, really, we’ve seen it more and more pronounced in the last couple years. This has been one of the really good things to come into the last few years is just more and more diversity. So more women, more people of color speaking. And the speakers at conferences are more and more representative of the audiences.
Which I think is really important and just makes for a richer learning experience when you’ve got diverse ideas, diverse thoughts, diverse perspectives. So that’s the other big difference. And a client not too long ago said to me, gave us a briefing for what they’re looking for, and said, “Oh, and by the way, don’t send me anyone male, pale and stale.” And so that’s not something you would’ve heard 25 years ago, that’s for sure.
Bryan Wish: I feel like that should be the opening line for the promo video. Probably not. But no, Martin, it’s amazing to me, one, just the evolution, right, of the times that we’re in today. So that’s a good comment where cultural relevance makes a lot of sense, but to see the trajectory over since 25 years now. Right?
I mean, just to see how things have shifted, but also that perspective, right, is so neat. And then also just, yeah, I’m sure how that’s impacted the evolution of your business and who you work with. One of the questions that I have, which I find…
You said you didn’t have, let me back up, you said you didn’t have industry contacts, didn’t have a ton of experience. I mean, this is such a relationally driven business. What did you and your wife do, I’m sure it was a team effort, do to go out and build these relationships and piece together what is your business today? I mean, that’s fascinating to me.
Martin Perelmuter: Yeah. So it was a combination of things. We joined a couple of sort of industry associations, like meeting professionals international and that kind of things. So we started going to events where there were meeting professionals, conference organizers attending, and just started sort of networking. Didn’t really know how to network, but just did that started meeting people.
So that was part of it. My wife was spending a lot of her time doing marketing and PR, so we were lucky enough to get a few nice pieces of media coverage that helped give us a little bit of exposure. But a lot of it, and I think a lot of entrepreneurs can relate to this, was, and back then it was literally picking up the phone and making cold calls.
And I was probably making on average 80 to 100 calls a day, maybe for the first six to 12 months. So you’re calling people, they’re hanging up on you, they don’t answer, you got the wrong number, but you just keep going. The best way I can describe it is like, so to someone it’s like banging your head against the wall 100 times a day.
The good thing is, after a while it doesn’t hurt as much. And you just get used to the fact that most of the time you’re not going to… The goal wasn’t to get a sale. It wasn’t to book a speaker. The goal is just to reach the right person in an organization who might be the one who actually has a decision making or the job to hire speaker, and then just try to connect with them.
Send them some information about who we are, what we do. And just start to try to build a relationship. So I would measure the success of any given day on one thing, not how many speakers we booked, because the answer to that was usually zero. But if I made 100 calls and manage to get 10 people on the phone and six of them said, “Yes, go ahead and send me the information.”
I’d walk over to, there’s a post office five minutes away from where we lived at the time. And I’d walk over in a day with five envelopes, throw them in the mailbox and go, okay, that wasn’t a bad day. Five today. If it was 10, that was better. If it was one, that wasn’t so good. But it was all about the input, right? I wasn’t so worried about the output.
I wasn’t worried about how many speakers are we going to book? Because I knew that everything I was doing, or at least I hoped, at that time was going to hopefully pay dividends three months down the road, six months down the road, 12 months down the road, whenever. It was just the beginning of just getting on people’s radar, let them know who we are and keeping in touch with them. And at some point, hopefully, when they had a need they would think about us.
Bryan Wish: Yeah. Oh my God, goosebumps. It’s goosebumps because you took such a long-term approach and you saw how it would compound over time and that you didn’t sacrifice maybe the short-term too, maybe just to achieve mind monetary goals when maybe you could have. But you said, you know what? I’m in this for the long haul and you saw how it would build.
So I want to ask you a question and if nothing comes to you immediately, no worries. But if something does come, I think could be a good story. So let’s just say those early years of sending those envelopes day in and day out, did you have any, let’s just say one of the envelopes that you sent, any crazy stories that it’s led to and maybe still impacts you to this day.
Martin Perelmuter: I don’t know if there’s one that still impacts. There’s a few speakers we met way back then that we ended up having relationships that lasted for decades. But I have a kind of a funny story. So once in a while, when you’re making 100 calls a day, once in a while you get lucky, right? What’s the expression, “Even a broken clock is right twice a day?”
Bryan Wish: Yeah.
Martin Perelmuter: Right. So once in a while you call someone and they actually would be like, “Oh wow, your timing is perfect. I just came out of a meeting. I’ve got to hire a speaker for a conference. I’m so glad you called me.” And you’re like startled, right, because that’s a lot. But if you make enough calls, once in a while, you actually get someone at the right time on the right day.
So this person was like, “I need some ideas.” And by the way, remember this is mid 90s so there’s no email, there’s no internet really, like it’s very crude. So the way that we would have to get proposals to clients is we would have to make video cassettes, like VHS tapes of our speakers and then send them out by overnight courier or delivery service to get to clients. Right?
So we couldn’t just send them a link to a YouTube video. So it’s like 4:00 in the afternoon and I get a hold of this person and they give me the briefing and they’re like, “Oh, the only problem is I have a meeting at 8:00 AM tomorrow. Is there any way you can get this to me before 8:00 AM tomorrow?” And I said, “Okay. Where’s your office?”
And it was about 45 minutes out of town. So 45 minute drive from where we were. It was a agricultural group and they were out in sort of a country kind of thing. So I said, “Yeah. No problem.” So we put together a package of three or four speakers we recommended, included all their promotional materials, the video.
And we get in the car now it’s like, let’s say, I don’t know, 5:30, 6:00, because there’s no delivery service that can get it there before 8:00 the next morning. Right. It’s too late for the overnight service. So we decide we’re going to drive it out ourselves. So we drive out to the middle of nowhere and we get to the address. And I thought it was going to be an office building or something.
And it’s not, it’s like this kind of industrial or not industrial, it’s a building within a fenced area in a rural farm area. So I can’t even get up to the building. The whole thing is fenced in and the gate is locked. So I’m like, “Oh man, we drove all the way out here.” And I remember it was raining a little bit.
And I’m like, “You know what, Farah, wait in the car. I’m going to hop the fence. Okay. And I’m going to just leave the package at the front door of the office and I’ll be back in a couple minutes.” So I hop the fence. So it’s like a good 10 foot fence, right? So I go over the fence, it’s like about a 30, 40 meter yard run from the fence to the building.
So I’m running across this field. I get to the building. And just for fun, I actually just pushed the door just to see, because it was raining. So I thought, well, it’s probably not open, but if I could leave it inside, I thought, huh, even better. So I pushed the door and the door’s unlocked. So I’m like, oh wow, okay.
So I’m now in this empty building and I’m like, what’d be really cool is rather than just leaving it here in the hallway, I’m going to put it in this person’s office. So I found her office, like her name’s on the office, and I put it on her chair. And I’m walking out and as I leave, I went through the door.
I could hear what sounded maybe like the alarm going off or something. And I’m like, oh shoot, I think I actually might have tripped a security alarm. So I’m sprinting back to the car and I’m yelling at Farah, like, “Start the car. Start the car.”
And so I hop over back over the fence, we get in the car, and we’re driving away. And as we’re pulling away and getting onto this road to head to the highway to take us back home, we see two police cars coming the other way. And we’re like, “Yeah. They’re probably headed there.” So anyway, we get home, we don’t get arrested.
And I leave a message to the client saying, I just want to make sure you got the package. And she was like, the next day I spoke to her, she’s like, “How did you get this to me? I don’t understand how you could have gotten this to me so quickly.” I’m like, “Oh, whatever, we made it work, not to worry.”
And so that was kind of cool. It was fun. That was a fun night. It was just one of the crazy thing you do, especially when you’re a young entrepreneur and you’re starting out and you’re willing to do just about anything you can without breaking the law to try to please a client or win a piece of business.
Bryan Wish: Yeah. That sheer will and dedication, right, speak-
Martin Perelmuter: A little bit of stupidity too, but-
Bryan Wish: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. No. That’s-
Martin Perelmuter: … it all worked out.
Bryan Wish: Not stupid at all. I mean, I love those, live for those stories. So, wow.
Martin Perelmuter: Yeah. It’s fun.
Bryan Wish: I’m glad you could share that here. Super cool. So with that hustle and that drive, right. Clearly, you were going to do whatever it took to win, right? That was clearly you’re baked in the DNA of what you felt today.
So with that, I’m also curious, you have seen some of the best speakers in the world, represented them, feel free to share if you’re called to, if not, no worries. But when you look at your experience, and you may not be right every, but how do you know when someone is going to be a great speaker? What’s it take?
Martin Perelmuter: Yeah. It’s great. I mean, there’s an intangible. I mean, there’s certain things obviously that you need. I mean, you need some expertise in the topic. So whether it’s life experience or you’re a practitioner and you’ve done the work in whatever the field is or you’ve worked in a certain area. So obviously, you need a huge amount of that sort of credibility and experience and expertise.
And obviously you need great communication skills, and there’s not one way to do it. There’s not a right way to do a presentation or a wrong way. I’ve seen speakers do many different ways, different styles. But I think the thing at the end of the day is there’s an authenticity that the great speakers have. That it’s not a performance. It certainly takes a lot of work.
Some people it comes more naturally to than others, but at the end of the day you put in that work, you work on your craft, getting better as a speaker. And you do all that so that when you get on a stage, I think, you can actually just be yourself and be authentic. And the audience, I think now more than ever audience can sense when someone is being authentic and when someone’s just putting on an act.
And I think that’s what makes great speakers really great is that they are not out there to impress anybody, they’re not there for themselves, for their own ego gratification. They’re there actually to serve an audience, to deliver a message that is a hopefully going to help people in the audience to be better.
Again, whether that it means they’re going to be better at their jobs or it means they’re going to be better at home as a parent or a partner or better in their community and in getting more involved maybe in community activities or charitable causes or what have you, just being a better person.
So I think that that’s, to me, the big thing is just people who are really comfortable in their own skin and are not there for themselves, but are there to serve the audience and the client. Tend, to me, to be the best speakers.
Bryan Wish: Wow. I love what you said about the intangibles, but they’re not there. It’s not performative, right? It’s extremely authentic. And I think you are, in a way, you have to be so comfortable with yourself to do that. And so few people are, just in the world. So when you couple that with intangibles of speaking, even harder, but having an eye for that. Right.
But then also saying that you’re, essentially, you’re going to look to represent these more authentic speakers, which I’m sure has cultivated a very meaningful business for you. And with that I’d love you to share, you’ve been doing this number of decades, I think oral class. Where’s the business today? What does it look like? Was your vision then what it is now? And where do you think it’ll be in the next 10 years?
Martin Perelmuter: That’s a great question. I mean, if we were sitting here two years ago, right, having this conversation, nobody would’ve been thinking about that there’s going to be a global pandemic and all events would be moved online for the better part of a year and a half or longer. So I don’t know what the future is going to look like.
And actually, now is a really interesting time to ask that question because as we’re seeing a return more and more to in-person events, we think that virtual events will stay strong and there’ll be a mix of those and there’ll be hybrid events as well. So it’s really hard to say exactly what is going to happen.
I think that some events work much better in-person for sure than virtual, and then they should be in-person, but some times just doing a virtual event allows more people to participate and can keep costs down and so forth. So I think that we have gone through a lot of change and I think we’re just going to continue to see more and more diverse voices speaking.
I think we’re going to see more and more of this types of who are just really authentic and really have either overcome something or accomplished something great or just have real deep expertise in their subject matter. I think that the days of, there was, certainly when we started, you’d see more speakers who they’d be “leadership experts,” but they never actually an organization or a team.
And maybe they read a bunch of books on leadership and put together a talk and they could do a good 45 or 60 minute keynote. But if there was a Q&A that would be when their lack of real expertise would show. So I think people have really deep expertise. And it’s great now because I think there’s no, like I said earlier, I think there’s no right way to do it.
And so a speaker, it’s not like they need to look a certain way or sound a certain way. It’s just really about connection with the audience. And again that, to me, is a lot based on people being authentic to themselves. We work with a speaker named Suneel Gupta and he wrote a book recently called Backable. And one of the things I loved in the book is he talked about conviction versus charisma.
He was talking really about entrepreneurs and who or, but it’s really for anyone who has to sort of pitch what they do and become backable. That’s the term he uses. And he said, “The people who are really backable are the ones that have a tremendous amount of conviction. You don’t have to be the most charismatic person, but you have to have a conviction in what you’re saying.”
And I really agree with that. That resonates with me, because not everybody’s given the gift of charisma. Some people have it, some people not so much. I don’t think I was someone who was born with that and I don’t consider myself a charismatic person. But I have a lot of conviction in what I do and what I believe in and I think that’s really helped me.
And I think for speakers as well, you need to have really strong convictions in what you’re saying because people can tell if you don’t really care that much and you’re just doing it because that’s the flavor of the month or that’s what the market supposedly wants, are speakers on certain topics. So I think that’s really something that’s important.
Bryan Wish: Wow. Wow. Martin, I’m so incredibly just like, I admire the journey that you’ve been down, the way you speak about it in such a humble way, given everything you’ve done and I just feel like I’m following in a similar way in your footsteps and could learn so much from you in the years to follow.
And it’s nice to have such engaging conversations and this was really meaningful. So thanks for showing up. And I wish we had an hour longer, so maybe part two will have to come.
Martin Perelmuter: Definitely.
Bryan Wish: Where can people find you, reach out to you? How do they connect with you?
Martin Perelmuter: Yeah. So our website is speakers.ca. So you can find us there. You’ll find more than you’ll ever want to know about us and the list of our speakers and so forth, and the contact information is there. So that’s our website. So that’s probably the easiest way they can find us.
Bryan Wish: Awesome.
Martin Perelmuter: And I’ve really enjoyed chatting. Although, Bryan and I, yeah, I feel like we’ve just scratched the surface. So I know you and I will have many more conversations. They might not be recorded like this, but I look forward to chatting more.
Bryan Wish: Absolutely. Well, thank you so much.
Martin Perelmuter: Thanks again.