For 15 years, Elisa Hays, CSP served as the Founder and Chief Daydreamer of an award-winning touring entertainment company focused on building kids’ confidence in front of audiences. In her own words she, “served on boards, won awards, and drove big Fords!”

After getting stuck on the highway in an ice-storm and safely evacuating two of her staff in the face of oncoming traffic, an 18-wheeler semi-truck going 65 miles-per-hour hit her body…outside of a vehicle. She was propelled 90 feet through the air and ultimately into the position she is in now.

As an authority on leadership, resilience, and inclusion Elisa inspires audiences internationally with her empathy-fueled principles for achieving Extraordinary IMPACT.

Victor Ahipene: Speaking nation. Welcome to another episode of Public Speaking Secrets podcast I’m your host Victor Ahipene. I’m super excited to have you on today. If you’re looking to get into consulting things, then we’ve got this episode for you. Because for the last 15 years and Elisa Hays has been chief daydreamer. She eyes from time to time, but she is a keynote speaker, a consultant and author. She speaks to audiences and transforms them on the public leadership, resilience and inclusions. I’m super excited to have you on today, Elisa. Welcome to the show.


Elisa Hays: Thank you very much. Happy to be here.


Victor Ahipene: Let me give you a bit of a background. How did you get into speaking? Everyone’s got their own story on the turning point. We don’t all just go, “Oh, I might be a public speaker where I’d go up.” How did it all kind of come about for you?


Elisa Hays: It was Doug Carver an eighth grade teacher, actually. In middle school, I took a beginning public speaking class. I don’t even remember why I was super nervous and super nerdy. I did one speech and then he came up to me afterwards. He said, “You know, I would really like for you to transfer to the advanced class. I’d like for you to audition for the play. Will you do that for me? And be in the advanced acting class as well.” So I said, “Um, okay.” He pretty much set the direction for the rest of my life. I was 13 years old.


Victor Ahipene: How did that transitioning into the professional realm?


Elisa Hays: Well, I did public speaking competitively throughout high school and college. Won trophies all over the country of which was great. I also did theater and then went on to get a Fine Arts degree in theater performance. Ultimately as an actor, it’s actually really hard to earn a living. So I fell into doing some other work in children’s theater actually and ultimately through a whole big long story that we don’t have time for.


That led me to doing a one woman show devoted to helping kids build their confidence and self-esteem in front of an audience of adults and helping the adults to let loose their imagination and loosen their grip on being stern and stiff and very professionally presented and to actually lighten up and play and use their imagination because that’s how creative things get done.


Victor Ahipene: Nice. Through that, how, what was your steps to being able to grow that side of the business? I mean for a lot of speakers that speak to me, they usually get a group once together. You might have a few insurance that you work with and you apply them and maybe they’re friends and all the parents come along and the units that [inaudible 00:04:10]  “Okay, well that whole same or have been able to put out how I manage the tight day to the next level.”


Elisa Hays: I actually ended up starting a company. It started out as just me, like most speakers start out. Then I got pregnant with our third child and there was no way it could just be me. So for the first time had to hire and train somebody. My very first gig, I actually trained somebody else to do for me out of necessity. Then that led to growing a scalable company where I was in multiple places all at the same time, all over North America because I was able to train people to essentially be me.


Victor Ahipene: That’s a massive list. I see it time and time again with really big name speakers that the brand is the [inaudible 00:05:13] you look at, then you wrote buttons and I think in the nineties or something, he tried to transition out from being Tony Robbins and just selling the transformation of the event and things that have going, a little bit sideways for them.


Even now, I’ve been to one of his events and he runs two out of four of the days and pays one of his other trainers and things like that, which is right. Because a lot speakers, a lot of trainers, they really struggled to get to that point. I know even in a strategy of this, a speaker trainer and he’s just at that point have to 10 years of being able to have other people run his events because his business has got enough of a brand name behind it that he can do this. I think I’ve been able to do that. They’re being able to build up a business rather than a brand that’s tied to your name. People searching for you. I think, I’m asking about if you look bigger from the start as well.


Elisa Hays: Right. Well, it’s the difference between a cult of personality. What I do now as a keynote speaker is a lot more tied to the cult of personality because as a keynote speaker, I have a story that really only I can tell, but even that is scalable. I actually teach people how to scale their business because that’s entrepreneurial thinking.


So if the brand is driven by your mission, then you can build the content and train the people. Whereas, if you’re brand is built around you as a speaker and so many speakers just want to get on stage. That’s cool if you want to do that, that’s cool, but that’s different. That’s not a business. Well, it’s a different kind of business. It’s a freelance business. It’s not entrepreneur-ism.


Victor Ahipene: What I’m interested in here is, I speak to different keynote presenters. I think some people use keynote speaking as the end of the line. I want to be a keynote speaker and I want to charge x amount of dollars and there they go. Whereas, I try and tell people you should all try and put them in that duration of that it should almost be your Trojan horse.


Whatever you do for one thing, whether it be consulting, whether it be workshops, whether it be keynote presentations. All of those things should just be your Trojan horse to then be able to do one of the others. Is that what you, when you assign, speaking can be scalable? Is that what you look at from there is, how can I live with just the back of that?


Elisa Hays: Absolutely. Absolutely. That’s a great way to describe that as a Trojan horse. I like that. I’m probably going to steal it from you.


Victor Ahipene: I’m pretty sure I stole it from another guest. I’m deciding that I invented it. But, I actually had a guest recently and he– this is something that I think if you like the Trojan horse side of things. He described his I guess Trojan horses offering his keynote presentation as a discount  at times on the proposal that he can have lunch on the event day with A, B and C within the company.


The Chief Financial Officer or the chief technical officer of that place, whatever it may be. They go, “Oh, we want you to run workshops after we see your presentation.” That kind of confirms that because he charges exponentially more for his out of side of things. What is your decision model look like if from a keynote presentation?


Elisa Hays: Well, it’s, it’s interesting. So obviously I can drive people into hiring me as a consultant into their organization or buying books or other speaking gigs from people in the audience that are there. That’s all the pretty usual model. The other thing is that my company has started now doing consulting for events in ADA disability inclusion work, connecting the event to the disability community and making the event, first of all, so that the disability community knows that the event even cares and removing barriers to access.


Then creating essentially a concierge service at the event for people with disabilities. So as a keynote speaker, I can be brought in as a keynote speaker because I have this fantabulous story of being hit by a truck and as part of the deal, as part of the financial deal, if they have a trade show there, I can request, “Hey, you know what, I’d like a trade show space.” So then people hear me speak, they want to talk to me as people always do afterwards.


They want to talk to the keynote speaker. I can say, “Hey, you know what, I’m going to be in the trade show, come by and talk to me there.” That gives me an opportunity to then introduce them to a whole other arm of my company, which is this disability inclusion consulting practice.


Victor Ahipene: Nice. Generally, I mean there is the way it’s about being able to have that next conversation with the right person. Like I say, they always want to talk to you, but you don’t want to be in that flustered and rushed position that you have got, 15 minutes in the break after your presentation that you can talk to a couple of people and one of them is happy to miss the next speaker and you just speak to one person in the unit.


Everyone wants to speak for the next shiny object bit just been on stage. I think that is really cool insight into being like, “Hey, I’m going to have a shower booth at the trade show.” One of my students did decide that it was, he’s spoken at height of it. He said the difference between the two years where he just didn’t have know, like, and trust factor, which people end up per stage of being on stage that people associate with, “Oh, you’re there. Much more of an expert because you don’t only have a stole, but you also have spoken to us.”


Has the amount of business he was able to generate off the back of it, having spoken for 60 minutes prior versus not, which was this year was like exponentially different, six figures different and until his business from this. I think it’s a really good insight that a lot of people, I forget about particularly when they have that I’m a keynote presenter, that is my end game. How much can I potentially charge for this keynote presentation? Rather than the fact of what will I get both thrown in and effect and then we’ll have a breakout session factored into it and all these other ways that you can build a niche. Because I think for the majority of us, we all realize that consulting or running workshops or things off the back of that as probably a more lucrative thing in general. They want a keynote presentation. Maybe again, it’s obviously different.


Elisa Hays: Well, it’s longer lasting. I can do consulting work with a client and have a year round relationship with them where depending on the event, they may have me on retainer whereas the keynote it’s a one off. So while I’m there anyway, and this is why I always tell my clients. They hire me to come in and do a keynote, I said, “Would you like me to do a breakout?” Usually what the problem is, is their conference planners and they’re trying to fill spaces in their schedule.


So I’ll always say, “Hey, I know that you’re scrambling to try and fill spaces in your schedule. You’re trying to bring in industry speakers, people on the cheap, whatever you can do. I would be happy to just throw in a breakout session because I’m there anyway.” That gives me more time with the people. It’s that what you said. Know, like, and trust and building that relationship with people. So arrive early, leave late, throw in the breakout sessions, whatever I can do to spend as much time as possible with the people while I’m there anyway. That will lead to more business.


Victor Ahipene: What percentage or what does your usual, if there’s such a thing, month look like when it comes to speaking?


Elisa Hays: Well, there’s not really such a thing is there? I don’t like to travel a whole lot anymore. I used to travel a ton, but now because I do live with permanent physical disabilities and traveling takes a lot more effort and it takes a lot more out of me. I try to limit my travel to just a few times a month and where I’m just flying in as the speaker kind of thing.


It’s different if I’m going to an event and I’m going to be in one place for a few days at a time as a consultant because that’s actually easier than all of the mayhem of hauling, you’ve the luggage and the travel. For me it’s a wheelchair included in that and then to come in and do my thing the next day and fly out. That’s a lot. So I really only tried to do that a few times a month.


Victor Ahipene: When it counts to, I mean you sort of looked at, I guess the fundamentals in the business side of it from use getting in front of people. Is it just a south perpetuating, let me show you the point where it’s like people are coming after you to speak. Are you actively seeking out particular organizations and putting yourself towards these, that being organizers, what does it generally look like for you now?


Elisa Hays: Honestly, I do what nobody ever advises. People call me because the majority of my business as a speaker is referrals and repeat business. People bring me back. So my advice to people is be really good at your job on stage and your job at building relationships with people and the follow-up with those people. As we all know, it’s a lot less effort to keep a client than get a new one. I do very little outreach marketing.


Victor Ahipene: And if your advice to a person looking to get into the keynote presentation space to land their first paid speaking gig. Their first presentation, what would that be?


Elisa Hays: Well, my first piece of advice would be to practice, practice, practice, practice, and practice a lot. Before I switched over to keynoting from the business that I had before, I had already put it in well more than my 10,000 hours, whatever they say. I had already gone through experiencing all the pain of being very bad in front of an audience and to go when you come off stage and you’re like, “Wow, that was painful.” Super beat up. The best method in my opinion is work with a coach and practice with a coach.


Work with a director, get a lot of feedback, do a lot of video and work off that and feedback so that when you do the outreach marketing and the sales, because so many speakers, new speakers will put far more energy into their sales machine than into perfecting their craft. So perfect your craft, then you can set the sales machine in motion and be contacting an already have developed a follow-up plan. Have a system so that, “Okay, we’ve got the sale. Super, what are we going to do with other than just show up, speak, and get paid?”


You need a way of following up and maintaining connection with that client whether it’s through social media, whether it’s through email, sending them a video. There’s a lot of sending them a handwritten card. There’s all kinds of things that you can do to stay connected to them. But the important thing is that once you’ve sold it to them, when you show up on stage and you’re really good then they are likely to either bring you back because their participants are going to say fabulous things about you or they’re going to have you top of mind and refer you.


Victor Ahipene: I think that’s the big thing is it’s like I say that when I was asking you, it’s self-perpetuating side of things. If you’re good, if you’re not good, people need to be like, “I expected that from a conference that I went to that some of them were going to be great.” They weren’t terrible, but okay, I’m probably not going to change out their person.


That person was good. The general sign of like, you should be getting one being from every event that you speak in at least, off the back of it. If you do, if you transform that and like you say, you’re their sales machine sit up on the back end. Then it’s, you’re getting two events from every one of them and then all of a sudden, you’ve got people contacting you and get him in charge your own speaking side of things and control the demand a lot better. I think it’s a great insight as to practice, practice, practice, practice, and you make sure that you amplify or utilize that practice as much as you’ve possibly can.


Elisa Hays: Absolutely. You can’t just sit back on your laurels as they say. I’m not quite sure what my laurels are, but you can’t sit on them


Victor Ahipene: I’m not sure she is either of them.


Elisa Hays: And so you have to continue to work on your craft. There are speakers who’ve been doing the same speech for 30 years. I guess it’s working for them, but either that or they’re doing really good at sales. That just seems like a lot of work to me. I would rather work on the craft part of it and be of service to the audience in that way.


Victor Ahipene: You got to realize that you bring out the same talk for 30 years, which was that. You might be great at presenting it, but there’s also to be a sense of enjoyment when you’re stepping off on stage. As you talk, you bring value to your audience [inaudible 00:21:35] probably 30 years. I’m not saying, don’t do that. I’ll imagine I do that. It became quite tedious and [inaudible 00:21:43] become that extra, but harder when you start there.


Elisa Hays: Well, just as it sounded like a life. I think you have to build the kind of life that you want to live. Like I said, I only travel not nearly as much as most speakers do, but that has to do with me designing the kind of life that I want to live and then developing a business model that will financially support the kind of life I want to live.


Victor Ahipene: I think that the smart way as why I really try and push people into not becoming keynote speakers become a speaker. Keynote is a part of their whole model bookers. I mean you would have come across it as well. The person who was [inaudible 00:22:25] is something can I think I want to become a keynote speaker. I see that’d be beats you up like flying. Twice in 24 hours, three times a month, five times a month, 10 times a month.


Then you’ll get over that side of things that you need. Well, without sounding a bit more [inaudible 00:22:41]. With all that being said, I just want to welcome you to our speaker nation family. I think everyone would have got a massive insight into how you can even just the trade show side of things I think is that a point of difference that I don’t see enough speakers I think utilizing. I just want to thank you for the knowledge that you’ve been able to share with us today, and if people want to find out more about you or connect, where can they go? What can they do?


Elisa Hays: Easiest thing is to go to my website, which is


Victor Ahipene: Awesome. Everything has it. We’ve spoken about it. Well, Elisa, it’s been absolutely awesome speaking to you. Hopefully, we’ll bump into each other more even time zones. You come into the future with me on the sand, and we can meet up in person.


Elisa Hays: I would love that. I would love that. Thank you.


Victor Ahipene: Awesome. Thanks.