Saying “Yes, And” in Your Speaking Business with Mike Ganino

different colored pyramid shapes forming what looks like an arrow pointing up

When Mike Ganino moved back to Southern California from Chicago, he was ready to become a TV host in his own travel show. Hoping someone would discover him on Sunset Blvd didn’t work. He ended up going to a wine party, and after a few glasses of wine and a conversation with a business owner, he was asked if he could help their business scale beyond their 10 locations and double in size. Having done it many times before in business, he said yes. And what he learned was he didn’t like consulting. Instead of saying no, he spun the idea of working with them into doing a two day workshop to teach the leadership team, instead of consulting where he’d have to come back every year. And that was the start of Mike’s speaking business. 

When Mike began his speaking business, he combined his theatre and improv background with his business experience. Once, he was asked to give a talk and thought an honorarium was something he would have to pay until he Googled what it meant. He would actually get paid! Eventually, people who had hired him to talk, asked him back. They didn’t want him to talk again, but they did want him to work with their executives on how to become better speakers. So today, Mike’s speaking business is a bit meta. He speaks about speaking. And he got to where he is by using the first rule of improv. Saying “Yes, and…” to opportunities instead of saying no.  

What other lessons did Mike Ganino share? 

  • The 3 things Mike realized when he started his speaking business – and the 1 thing he would’ve done sooner
  • Speaking for free can be very valuable – if you are speaking in front of the right audience
  • Know the industries you’ve worked in and who’ve you worked with – you know how you can help them and they already know you
  • There’s no magic number when it comes to what you charge
  • How paying for 15 minutes with Dorie Clark provided business insights
  • Think of people who can hire you. What publications do they read? What podcasts do they listen to? Start writing and being a guest on those 
  • Create opportunities to “Speak for me” 


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Who is Mike Ganino (in Mike’s words)?

I’ve spent over 20 years working with high growth, experience-driven organizations from airlines to hotels, from restaurants to wine distributors, and from tech startups to real estate brokers to craft stories that create bottom-line results, beloved brands, and engaging employee experiences. I’ve helped to grow iconic brands like ChowNow, Uber, Pressed Juicery, Protein Bar and a slew of other big name brands you know and love both behind the scenes and on the big stage of business.

Fun fact: I also trained and performed improvisation at the world-famous Second City, Upright Citizen’s Brigade, and Improv Olympics throughout the years.

Blending the entertainment and business worlds gives me a unique blend of performance expertise that has directly contributed to raising over $200 million for startups by delivering talks and pitches that inspire contributors to “give us a shot.”

Other cool things I should probably mention include writing Company Culture for Dummies (named a Top Ten Culture book), being named a Top 30 Organizational Culture Guru by Global Guru, and Executive Producing TEDx Cambridge, the longest running, independently organized TED event.

These days I focus on what I love: working with brands to create the kind of stories that engages employees, attracts top talent, creates collaboration, and boosts customer experience. I deliver keynote speeches, and lead workshops on all the things that make a great story: collaboration, leadership, vision and values creation, human resources, and customer service

And last but not least, I live in Los Angeles, collect wine, travel a lot, and have a mild obsession with craft coffee

That’s me.

You can with Mike Ganino on Facebook, or where he loves hanging out: Instagram , and check out his website and get his free Story Craft guide . 


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Show card for Saying Yes, and in your speaking business with Mike Ganino

Below is the full transcript from the show with Mike Ganino. Please note that there may be some errors as it was auto transcribed using (referral link that provides us with a 1-month Premium Pass

Tim McDonald 0:01
All right. Well welcome everybody to the business of speaking show. I am your host, Tim McDonald. And today, I’m really excited to be joined by my special guest, Mike Ganino, how are you doing?

Mike Ganino 0:13
I’m doing well. Thank you. Thanks for Thanks for having me.

Tim McDonald 0:16
No, and it’s so exciting to have you here. Your baby at home and I got plenty of coffee and everything. So I’m sure we’re ready to rock and roll. Right.

Mike Ganino 0:25
Very new baby at home last night was actually her first night home. So this is this is me unfiltered and exhausted.

Tim McDonald 0:34
Oh, I don’t know about the exhausted part. But I love the unfiltered parts.

Mike Ganino 0:39
We’re gonna do it all. No, nothing. Nothing’s off off limits here today on the business of speaking.

Tim McDonald 0:45
All right, well, for those of you just tuning in for the first time, to let you know the business is speaking show really isn’t to focus on what the speakers talk about onstage. But it’s really to talk about how they got started on their journey to the stage and what they’ve learned along the way since they’ve been on stage. And I always like to say what they wish they would have known when they first started. So if you are a first time speaker, if you’re thinking about getting involved in speaking, or as 2020 has taught us, no matter what you think, you know, life has a way of reminding us that we don’t know shit. So with that being said, um, before we dive into how you started, Mike, can you tell us a little bit about, you know, what your accomplishments are now what you talk about and some of the highlights of you know, your career is in the business of speaking.

Mike Ganino 1:37
I think Yeah, I’m kind of like a meta person at this point. Because I, I speak about speaking, which is a which is like a very meta thing. I these days, I find myself helping people around storytelling around giving presentations around how to show up on camera, that’s a lot of the work these days is how to give better video presentations, or how to deliver really captivating, you know, videos for their websites or something like that. But I work with people around storytelling around how to show up and perform on stage my background was in I was in the business world as a as a restaurateur for a long time. And simultaneously was an actor, I was doing improv I was in Chicago doing commercials doing things like that. And so when I first started speaking, I kind of combined those two things and said, Okay, well, I know business. And I know the you know, how to create an experience whether, you know, on stage for someone, or in I think restaurants are kind of like business theater in a way, you know. And so that is kind of how I ended up in that world. And then slowly people, I would go and speak at a conference for, you know, a hotel chain, or a national restaurant brand or something. And the people would say, Hey, can you We would love to work with you again, this year. We worked with you last year. And I was like, oh, sounds great. What do you want me to speak about, you know, this is you want me to do the same talk? And they’re like, actually, no, we don’t want you to talk. What we want is for you to help our executives, because everybody loves listening to you. And they hate listening to our executive team when they speak at our conference. So can you help them and coach them? And I was like, Oh, yeah. And that’s what I realized. You know, there’s this magic and helping people figure out how to show up and how to communicate and how to actually really deliver a message that that is meaningful, and it does something and so that’s, that’s what I’ve been up to, that’s how I spend my days these days.

Tim McDonald 3:31
Well, I love it. And I know I just recently connected with you online and get to listen and watch some of the stuff that you put out the content and it just you know, you are really good at what you do. So I can understand how people are gravitated towards you wanting to help them improve their storytelling. So let’s get jump back to how did this all start for you? How did you go from being in restaurants to actually getting up on stages?

Mike Ganino 4:01
Yeah, that’s like a weird, like, how did this How did this occur? It was initially kind of accidental. I had sold a restaurant brand that I was a partner in, in Chicago and so we moved to LA after that because we were like, you know what, let’s get out of Chicago. We’ve been here a long time. Let’s go I’m from Southern California. So we said let’s go back to Southern California. And when I first got here, I thought I would do like a travel show like I would become like a TV show host because again I had been doing I had been at second city and improv Olympic and The Annoyance I’d been on stages performing as a as a as an actor for a long time in addition to working in the restaurant industry. And so when I got here, I was like I’m gonna do like a travel. I want to do like a travel show host I want to be like a travel and foodie show host. And I and I guess I thought like, do you just wander around Sunset Boulevard until someone says you you deserve a show! That’s not how it works, by the way. So I was at a party one night and I There was somebody who owned a retail like a food retail brand. And we’d had glasses of wine. And he was talking about the challenges as they were growing beyond their, you know, 10 locations to doubling in size and going out of state. And I, that was my experience. I was very good at growing brands like that. And so I’d had enough wine that I was like, Well, here’s what you got to do. You got to do this, you got to do that. You got to make sure this and you got to tell these people that. And he’s like, Oh, cool. I’d love to connect with you. Sure. So I gave him my number. He called me and said, Can you come talk to our, to my executive team? I was like, yeah, I’ll come in. And at the end, he said, Okay, so we’d love to work with you. How do you work with people that I was like, Oh, I have no idea. Like, I have no clue, like, what do you want me to do. And so I started consulting. And I pretty quickly realized I didn’t like consulting, I did not like deliverables. I’m horrible at it. If I owe you anything, you’re not going to get it. I’m never gonna send it to you. So that isn’t a positive thing to be if you’re in business, you’re going to be out of business quickly if you don’t deliver what you promised. So I thought, maybe instead of doing these consulting gigs, I can go teach workshops. And so instead of coming in and doing it for you, I can teach your team how to do it. And I so I kind of spun that as why spend the money to have me come back every year versus me teaching your team to do it in a day or two workshop. And that worked. So I started doing workshops, and then somebody who had been in one of the workshops that I lead, she went on to run, she was like the president of an association. And she reached out to have me speak at their event. And I thought, Oh, this is so cool. I thought you had to be famous or an author at the time. I’m an author now, but I wasn’t then. And so I went to speak at this. Actually, the funny thing is, she reached out she said, here’s the honorarium. And I thought, I have to pay them this money to speak, they want me to pay them to speak, I didn’t realize they were going to pay me and I thought, well, I don’t know. Is it worth it? Is it worth? You know, am I gonna get that much money back out of this? I don’t have anything to sell these people, except if they buy a workshop someday. And so I googled it really quick and was like, how does an honorarium work, and I realized, they want to pay me that much money to come talk to them. Sweet. So I did that. And then I thought, great, I’m just gonna do that all the time, I put speaker on my website, speaker on my LinkedIn speaker on my Instagram, and they’re just all gonna show up much like I thought they were going to give me a travel show, if I just walked around Sunset Boulevard. And probably no surprise to anyone listening and watching the show. Putting speaker in my bio everywhere didn’t mean anyone hired me. So I went from having a really great first paid gig to, you know, thinking that that was going to keep happening, and it didn’t. And so I had to get really good at figuring out how do I go and find those gigs? How do I get in front of the right people, and that was in 2015. And that was the start of my speaking career, which led to creating the business I have now, which led to being the author of a book, I wrote one of the books in the dummies series, The for dummies series. I’m the executive producer of TEDx Cambridge. And it all started by me going out there and telling some guy what he needed to do in his business at a wine party. I don’t recommend that as a path to success, but it works for me.

Tim McDonald 8:05
Well, I love that. I think that you didn’t start out with a plan of this is what I’m gonna do. It really just started by having a conversation and probably being lucid enough to be able to say, Yeah, I can do that. So you know, I’m kind of curious. So as you really recognize that you could get paid for actually speaking up on stage on and like you mentioned, it’s not as simple as putting speaker in your bio. What were some of the things that you were learning back then what did you have to, you know, kind of figure out to kind of get people to know that you were a speaker and had something to offer versus just you labeling yourself as one?

Mike Ganino 8:47
I think the three big things I did is that I really quickly I realized that Where could I get the easiest, yes, was a great way to start. And for me, I thought, well, who wants to do what I’ve done, who wants to do what I’ve done? Who wants to hear from me? Well, I’m an award winning restaurateur. I’ve built and sold many companies, I’ve built and sold many companies, for other people and help them make a lot of money. The organizations that I’ve run, have won awards for being great places to work and favorite places to be we’ve won Innovation Awards. And so I thought, well, I could go out there and try to convince all of these people to hire me to come speak about leadership at their tech company or their bank. But that’s going to be a much harder road than going to the restaurant hotel world and saying, Hey, I know where you are. I know where you were, what you want. And I’ve done it. So let me come and help you. And so that was number one was realizing where’s the easier yes for me, where can I you know, it’s always about reducing risk for the buyer. And that includes speaking in workshops and training delivery. And so for me, that was the easiest yes was to go back and work with people in the restaurant, hotel space, even retail where they had a large number of hourly workers, creating an experience for guests. That kind of was my specialty. So that was number one. Number two was recognizing that the that I needed to go where they were. So once I realized that those were the places that the that I wanted to speak to restaurants, hotels, franchisees that I had to think about what do they read? And what kind of conferences do they go to? And that made it really easy for me to start to find like, what are all of the restaurant conferences in the US, and you start to realize, okay, there’s every state has a restaurant association, every state has a Lodging Association, then there are topical ones, the the Asian American Association of hoteliers in the US, there’s all of these different groups, I mean, McDonald’s franchisees have a ton of organizations of their own. So it made it so much easier for me to find them, because I knew who I was looking for. So I could reach out to conferences, I could write guest posts for brands that they would buy from, I went to food distributors who produced you know, blogs, and I said, Hey, can I write a blog for you, and I just was doing all of this, to get my name out, I went on every podcast I could find in the restaurant, hotel retail space, to really start to build a brand that people thought, Oh, I know this guy. And a year ago, they had never heard of me. So that was the second thing. And then the third one. And this is probably the I don’t know that it was a harder lesson learned. But it was the one that when I learned it, like really clicked for me. So there’s this idea that that some people, you know, feel negatively or put shame to people for speaking for free. Speaking for exposure. And I will tell you, I’ve made more money speaking for free in many years than I have made money speaking for a fee. So for me, my speaking fee is is between 10 and $15,000 for a keynote, I’ve done a free gig, which I’ve turned into two or three more keynotes, two or three more workshops. And then those one of those I got a keynote for another association that led to more gigs. And the challenge there the learning for me, because in the beginning, I did a bunch of free gigs and nothing happens because I was like, I went to a conference, I did a breakout session, I showed up like a keynote speaker. My presentation was very much that and I was speaking to people who owned, you know, a chain, a small chain of pizza restaurants, or they owned a bakery in Minnesota or something like that. Those people don’t hire speakers ever. And so I was speaking in front of them, I was in front of big audiences, 500 people 1000 people at the beginning, and no one was hiring me. So I wasn’t I was traveling on the airplane, I was paying my own thing I was speaking for free at these things. And all I had to offer them was me as a keynote speaker. And I realized that you know, the lady who owns the donut shop comes to this conference to learn tips and tricks and check out the latest hardware and software that she could use in her business. But she doesn’t come here to hire someone to lead a workshop for her team. And that was a huge lesson for me was that if you’re going to speak for free, then you need to make sure that the people in the room can can buy the thing that you have. So if you have workshops, if you have programs, if you are a keynote speaker and you’re speaking for free, then you need to be speaking in front of audiences who hire keynote speakers. Otherwise, you’re going to just spend a bunch of money traveling around the country and speaking in, you know, side rooms at the Holiday Inn or something. And so for me, that was a huge, that was the third lesson that I learned very quickly. I got because there was a moment where I thought maybe I suck, because nobody’s booking anything. I’ve done 10 free gigs and nothing, you know, people join my email list. But no one’s booking me for anything. So maybe I’m not good. And you know, and then I realize like, well, that’s not true. I’m pretty good. I know what I’m doing. I’ve been on thousands of stages. I’ve performed thousands of times as an actor. I’ve done thousands of orientations for new employees over the years. And I thought, okay, no, I probably pretty good. I could probably keep working on it. But that’s not the problem. What is the problem? And I realized the same thing that I knew from the restaurant industry, the same thing I realized from producing theater was that you have to go to a willing audience, and those audiences just couldn’t buy. And that was the third lesson and there is no shame in speaking for free. I’ve made hundreds of thousands of dollars speaking for free, because I knew I was in front of an audience who could hire me in the future.

Tim McDonald 14:20
I love that because I you know, one of the things I’m hearing from a lot of different people that are on the show is different philosophies on that, right. Like I always get paid or you know, if you’re gonna do it for free only do it this way. But I think that is great advice for anybody thinking about getting involved in or just starting to understand that. I’m kind of curious, like, you know, you mentioned like what you’re getting for your keynotes. Was it always that way or did you start out smaller and grow? How have you kind of known when has been the right time to raise your rates and what to charge?

Mike Ganino 14:57
I wish there was like a magical number. You know, there’s there’s things that I hear lots of people say that they say, oh, i, you raise your rates when you’re getting so busy. So you’re so busy. So supply and demand, you can raise your rates? Maybe, possibly. But if if there was a lack of m&ms out there and m&ms decided they were going to charge $20 a bag, we probably wouldn’t pay $20 a bag, we’d move on to something else. So I don’t always agree with that. I think that you have to really be something people want. And there can’t be someone else who’s a funny speaker, a good speaker, an entertaining speaker, who doesn’t $2,000 less than you. So if you are someone who has a brand, where it’s like, No, we got to get that guy, we need that woman, then of course, yes, you can raise your fee. That’s why Simon Sinek can charge you know, $100,000 I think for a keynote, it’s why Brene Brown can charge $100,000 for a keynote because people want that name there. But for the rest of us, there’s something there’s more of a messy mix. So that very first gig that I did, I got paid $2500 to do. And then the next one, I got paid like $5,000 to do so they came to me with those numbers. And I was like, yeah, that’s my fee. And then I did probably 20 gigs for free. I got paid nothing. I traveled around the country on my own dime. Speaking at every state restaurant and Lodging Association, I realized quickly that my topic that worked was culture, like culture and leadership. And so I started reaching out to every state HR Association. So I started doing that I probably did 20 gigs for free, spent my own money doing it. And it was probably towards the end of that, that I realized, hold on, I need to I need to rethink this because no one’s booking me. Something’s up here. And so at that point, towards the end of that, I said, Okay, well, is it 2500? Is it 5000. And so I just decided myself that it was $5,000 that that was my speaking fee. So when people would reach out, that’s what I would quote. I started getting that pretty consistently. I got I started writing in a national like retailer magazine, I had a monthly paid column, I got paid every month to be a writer. In a in a national column. I wrote about culture, whenever I wanted. That raised my status, I did a huge string of podcasts. So people in that world were really knowing me and hearing me. And so then I started getting comfortable just saying $7500. And I got that many, many times. And then in 2018, the book that I wrote Company Culture for Dummies came out. And ahead of that when I knew it was coming out. And when I was doing all of the the information around it, I was getting ready to move from $7500 to $10,000. And so I did that, right. When the book came out, I did the jump to $10,000. And that was easy. People said yes. And so I was like $12,000 let’s see what happens there. And so it’s pretty consistently now between 10 to 15. For for me,

Tim McDonald 17:55
No, well, thank you for sharing that. Because I know it’s not something that a lot of speakers share is what they get paid. And so I know a lot of people, especially starting are really thinking about how that progression looks and works. So I’m, you know, I’m kind of thinking about, you know, a lot of what you’re talking about, and I don’t want to assume anything, it sounds like you just figure it out on your own. Was there any, any resources, any kind of networks that you were involved with that really, you know, you learn from and and kind of picked up on? Or was it truly just kind of you learning by trial and error?

Mike Ganino 18:33
Uh, you know, in the beginning, I definitely, like sought out people that I thought how can this Can I can I learn from this person I did, like, back, back when I very first started in 2015. You could, um, I think they still exist, but there was like a program. I don’t remember what it’s called, but you could buy like 15 minutes with an expert, you know, they had like a thing where you could pay by the minute. And so I did that with Dorie Clark, Dorie Clark’s a best selling multiple time author, reinvent yourself and entrepreneurial you. And so I bought like 15 minutes with her. And I was like, What do I need to do? And she gave me really great advice. It was 15 minutes, it was super powerful. And she gave me really clear advice on like, these are the things that are not worth the time. And these are the things that are worth the time. And so she said, if you’re going to start a podcast, then you should start a podcast and you should go and interview all of the top restauranteurs that you would want to work with all of the top hotel leaders, all of those people don’t interview other authors, because those authors are not going to hire you. Go interview for a business sense, go interview the people that you think should know about you, and the people who might want to hire you. She’s like, so go start doing that. I didn’t end up doing that. But I did my own version of that. She talks she talks about getting a an article like writing in a column for for a national, you know, trade magazine or something, which is much easier than writing for like the New York Times or something. And so that advice was really helpful advice. Like, how do you actually like become a known person. And that advice was really helpful to me. And then outside of that, I started going on so many podcasts and kind of building my own community with people there. I went to several speaker trainings, some are great, some are a waste of time, the content was, but I met people through that. Um, yeah, and those are, those are probably the big things I went to, you know, I went to different events, different trainings, different things like that, and just started meeting people through that world. But it wasn’t, I don’t think I had like a group of speaker friends until I was already pretty well known. I was super focused on becoming friends with people who could hire me.

Tim McDonald 20:40
I love that piece of advice. And I can’t believe how quickly Our time has gone on here. So one last question I have for you, before we wrap up is, you know, knowing what, you know, today, if you went back to, you know, five years ago, when you started this business, what would a piece of advice would you give yourself back when you started,

Mike Ganino 21:00
I think the biggest thing is recognizing that I always say there’s three options for speaking there’s speak for fee, you can get paid money from someone else and give you a check, you speak and move on. There’s speak for free, which is what I was talking about. If if you’re going to speak for free, make sure you know how to get value out of it, maybe you need video, maybe you need photos, maybe there’s people you want to meet at that event, maybe you just want to travel to New Orleans or something that was my case, once they were paying. They didn’t pay me but they paid for my trip and I got to go to New Orleans for the first time. And that was enough for me. Or maybe you’re able to leverage that audience to book you for workshops or services that you do outside of it. And then the third one, I would go back to myself, those two I kind of knew quickly at the beginning, speak for fee speak for free. The third one I would have done much earlier, which I call speak for me. Meaning you create your own events, you create your own opportunities, instead of waiting to get picked, build an audience that really wants to hear from you build an audience that you can help, and then do your own event, do your own offering for them. And I would have and I do that now today when I’m working with speakers, when I’m working with people that want to become speakers, when I’m working with leaders who need to communicate better. I put my own events here in LA I do my own events all over the country. And for me, I wish I had realized I could have done that much earlier. Because while you’re sitting around and waiting for someone to pick you, you can go pick yourself

Tim McDonald 22:24
out this has been absolutely fantastic Mike. So how can people watching learn more about you get in touch with you if they want to start working with you?

Mike Ganino 22:32
Nice. Well, I’m super easy once people figure out how to spell my last name. It’s super, it’s super easy to find me. And the last thing by the way is Ga ni no so if you type in Mike Ganino Ga ni no, I’m the one who’s gonna pop up. There’s great SEO and having a name that’s not that common. So you can go to as well. If you’re thinking of like, I want to be a speaker, I want to tell better stories. I have this free guide that helps you figure out how to weave in stories into your speech over at, and then you get my email address. And you can ask me questions or hang out with me. I’m also MikeGanino on all the socials. I love Instagram. And so come hang out with me on Instagram and I will happy to answer questions and chat with you over there.

Tim McDonald 23:16
Well, thank you so much, Mike. And thank you for watching. If this is your first time watching at the end of one of our shows. We’re going to end the youtube broadcast. But Mike is agreed to stay on with me for one additional question that I’m going to ask him and the only way that you get this content is if you sign up for our email list over at speaking dot business and just join up for free and you will get the exclusive content once a week. So we are going to sign off here right now and we will see you next week. And Mike I will see you in just a minute.

Mike Ganino 23:50
Bye, everybody.

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