From time to time a member of our community, the world of professional speaking, passes away unexpectedly. While death is inevitable for us all, when an individual who has made an impact in your life dies, it can shake your world for a little while.
Keith Harrell was in the speaking business since before I came to Keynote, and thus I got to know him after he was already a successful and popular speaker. Our agents here were all fans of Keith, whom we booked and recommended a great deal.
Though Keith was already a successful speaker when I met him, I know he must have understood, or remembered, how beginning speakers struggle. This must have been so, because throughout all the years I knew him he always seemed to have at least one "protege", someone whom he was helping to in their path to success, or someone he was hoping to inspire, or someone who just needed more encouragement along with practical advice.
He was known for his trademark phrase "super fantastic". Those words would sound over the top perhaps, coming from someone else, but from Keith they were genuine.
As someone who evaluates speakers for a living, I can spot a phony (or so I like to think, anyway) from a mile away. And Keith Harrell was someone I respected as being absolutely genuine.
Clients hate phony canned speakers, which was probably one of the reasons Keith was so phenomenally successful, and had such a tremendous rate of repeat bookings and long-term clients. Almost no one wants to rebook you unless you walk your talk. Keith absolutely did that, and it showed.
While I was his business associate, rather than a close friend, nevertheless I can understand how Keith touched so many lives. He had drive and enthusiasm rarely found in this world, even among inspirational speakers: his famous, and inspiring, "attitude".
I'll close with a few lines taken from a letter from his close family members, about Keith's life and the experience of his death.
"....Keith fought a courageous battle with cancer and he fought it with the same positive attitude and energy that he pursued in every aspect of his life. If you asked Keith how he felt each day, you knew his answer would be “Super Fantastic".....We will miss his laughter and the smile that lit up any room...”
To Keith's family and close friends, I am so sorry for your loss. We will miss him too.
The times, they have already changed. Back in 'the day', whenever that day was, people who went to business school aspired to work for big-name corporations. Most of them were getting their MBAs in order to rise to leadership positions in those big-name companies.
Nowadays, large percentages of MBA students are in business school with the goal, not of working for someone else, but in having other people work for them. In other words, they want to start their own companies. Whether it's the next Facebook, the next Google, or the next Apple, or even the next Presidential campaign, they are hoping to find success at a new company, not an established one.
And often such students find themselves standing in the lobbies of venture capital firms, palms sweating, waiting for their turn to 'pitch' their company to the powers that be, asking for venture funding for their startups. And this is where those venture capitalists have an opportunity to spot those "diamonds in the rough", getting in early on those companies that are going to, hopefully, be a major success.
How a startup representative presents that "diamond" of an idea is often the difference between whether they get funding or not. And how much funding, and what that funding is going to cost them down the road. Gosh, I wish there was a way to learn how to do that better. Wait, you guessed it! There is!
First there are books. My favorite written advice comes from longtime Keynote favorite speaker Guy Kawasaki, legendary for giving the down-and-dirty, cut-to-the-bone kind of advice that entrepreneurs really need.
And if you want your learning in person? Guy is terrific in person, of course, being one of Keynote's most requested speakers of all time. But he's only one, er, guy.
Hopefully, you are lucky enough to attend a business school, or belong to an entrepreneurs' association, that books David S. Rose to teach you what to do.
David S. Rose has seen it all happen in person in the venture capital/startup world. He can give you the short version or the long version: the essence of entrepreneurship, how to fund your startup, how to get into the world of angel investing.
For business schools and entrepreneur groups he is often asked to present his "Boot Camp for Startups", full of useful information, the kind it's sometimes hard to absorb or even find in a book. David's information is so practical, he often has people following him out of the lecture hall, asking yet one more followup question....And his rapid-fire style means you should bring your notebook, whether it's the kind with a battery or the kind with a pencil.
David S. Rose spoke at the 2007 TED conference, which you can find here. An invitation to TED often speaks for itself, but if you aren't yet familiar with this event, a bit of fishing around on the website will show you what kind of prestigious company this puts David in. Think Al Gore. Jeff Bezos. Tim Berners-Lee. Jimmy Wales. Bill Clinton. Bono.
David has been an extremely successful venture investor himself, and is much in demand by many sectors. But he enjoys sharing the wisdom he's learned along the way with those who may have the next great idea.
It used to be, back in the day, that great success stories like David S. Rose didn't share their hard-earned knowledge with other people. But the times have indeed changed.
Thanks to the world of social media, a friend recently put me on to this book, Sh*t My Dad Says, by Justin Halpern. I thought it sounded funny, so I got a copy, not even realizing that it's been a fast-climbing bestseller reaching Amazon's number one ranking in June 2010.
Also not yet realizing that Justin Halpern was already a successful magazine writer. And a major Twitter phenomenon. Or that the book has been made into a new TV sitcom, staring Captain Kirk...No wait, TJ Hooker... No wait, it's Ranger Bob from Howdy Doody (I'm totally serious on that, check this out) ... Whoops, I meant William Shatner.
Not my ordinary reading, though I love a book that makes me laugh. But since I have so many books and business magazines piled up on my nightstand (and dresser, and floor, and bookshelf, and also under the bed) that I'm supposed to be reading for work, I seldom get a chance to read anything just for fun. Happily for me, this ended up counting as both.
Justin Halpern was recently profiled in the New York Times, though you will need to be a registered NYT subscriber (which is free) to read this. It explains the history of the book and its success better than any other source I've found online.
I'm pleased to say that Justin accepts speaking engagements, and he is a heck of a funny guy. Yup, just as you guessed, lots of swearing in the book. And I wouldn't count on Justin's speech to be 100% free of swear words, either, but I think you probably didn't need me to help you figure that out.
Justin also is involved with various other sites and publications, including the magazine Maxim and HolyTaco.com. (Warning: not even remotely PC or free of swear words. Lots of racy non-PC pictures, too. Hence no link from me; this is a business blog, after all - you can find those websites on your own, if you're interested.)
In the world of serious keynotes, programs that really make audiences think, and inspiring messages, sometimes it's nice to take a break, laugh a lot, and enjoy some humor. If there are occasionally life lessons included therein, well, then, that's just a bonus.