Why I’m OK With 2% (How I Got Started Speaking)

by Dan Gheesling

dan-gheesling-red-deer-college-public-speaking-helpAbout a year ago, I sat down to look at the “business” behind public speaking.

I often get asked how I got started speaking, and it all stemmed from one speaking opportunity at Rider University in NJ. (Thanks Nick! If you have attended one of my speaking events, send Nick a quick tweet – because he gave me my first shot!)

After that first presentation, I tell people it just “grew from there” but how did it grow?

From Idea To Action

A few decisions helped to expand opportunities to speak. The first being I hired an assistant to handle all of the bookings, and sales calls. The second was starting the Student Ambassador program.

This has been mentioned before in the blog, but no matter where I speak, I’ll always get messages on Instagram and Twitter saying, “please come to “X” college!”

After seeing this happen time and time again, an idea came to mind to do something about it. Why not actually put the students in a position to make this happen?

Being fortunate enough to have people actually post that they want me to come speak at their school, we put in place a program for them to do just that.  The hardest part about public speaking is getting in contact with the person in charge of booking events on a campus.

There is no one director, or universal position across campus to get in touch with. The Student Ambassador position puts the student in charge of getting in touch with the person on campus, and then hands off the contact to my assistant.

It takes legwork from the student (amidst their hectic college life) so I wanted to make it worth their while and give them something of value in return. That was the important part for me, to actually give them something of value in return for their effort. After sending out a survey to students who were interested, the vast majority just wanted to hang out and grab dinner.

Initially I thought the survey would come back and say they wanted to get paid, but they’re actually really smart. Our most valuable commodity isn’t really money, it’s time. Because of that, I try to make my time with the converting Student Ambassador as valuable as possible for them.

Being OK With 2%

Since the Student Ambassador program is now in its second year, we have had a few hundred applicants, and around 200 accepted ambassadors. And of those two hundred over 2 years, after this week 4 students have actually followed through. If you do the math that is a 2% conversion rate.

2%. While most people look at 2% and say that’s awful, I look at it and am OK with it.


Because that 2% allowed me to reach college students I normally wouldn’t have. More importantly, it also allowed me to connect with some high achieving young individuals (it’s not an easy sell or task to pull off a conversion for a student) that I’ll always stay in touch with.

Do I think we can increase the conversion rate from 2% to 4%, yes! And I know what needs to be done to do that (more interaction with the students, better follow up, etc.).

It is more important to put an idea into ACTION and experience mild success, than to to never take action at all.

Heck, I would have been OK with 0% conversion, because that would have told me the idea to start the program wasn’t going to work. Whether you are successful or not, you still learn something by taking action.


Cardinal Stritch University Presentation

This past week in Wisconsin, I had a chance to meet one of the 2%!
I was brought in to speak at Cardinal Stritch University thanks to student ambassador, Hannah Bergland.Dan-Gheesling-Hannah-Cardinal-Stritch

She brought her friend Aubrey with her to lunch and we had a great time.  It was impressive to hear Hannah’s story, and even more impressive to hear about all of the things she is involved with on campus. At this point I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that the students who follow through and finish the student ambassador program are extremely high achievers on campus!

After each presentation, I’m always tuned into the audience on Twitter to see how they reacted to the message.


Keeping a pulse on Twitter after the event really helped me understand what worked in the presentation and what didn’t!

Red Deer College

Dan-Gheesling-Joe-Red-Deer-CollegeI was brought in to speak at the Red Deer College Open House thanks to Joseph Fittes. After getting a chance to speak with Joe, I flat out asked him why he wanted to bring me to Red Deer.

He said he saw that I had spoken at a nearby college the year before, and he had the idea to make this event happen. Another example of someone having an idea and taking action on it. Whether the event was successful or not (I tend to be biased and say it was) it is always impressive to see someone follow through and take action on what they want to make happen.

Red Deer College did things a little bit different from one of my normal talks. They actually used the presentation to help market their open house.

From a business standpoint, I thought it was a great move, it helped them get a few more people on campus than they normally might not have.

After getting a chance to walk around the open house, it was shocking to see how many people on staff Red Deer College had there. Faculty, administrators (including the President), and volunteers all worked on a Saturday morning to make the entire open house a success. Very cool to see!

If you live in the Alberta area, I am going to be speaking this upcoming Wednesday at MacEwan University. You can get details on the event here!

I will be closing the week out by speaking at Towson University on Friday Nov 21st.  This event is open to the public, so if you live in the Maryland area you can find out more information on the event here!


Taking Action

There really is no secret formula or motivation to take an idea and put it into action. It really comes down to a decision.

Do you think your idea is worth more than the pain, inconvenience, or growth it is going to cause for you?

After these two experiences it has motivated me to answer that question on a daily basis, more so than ever before.

If you’d like to book me for your speaking event, you can find out more here. If you are a student that would like to help bring me to your campus, you can find out how to do that here.

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  • Colleen Kelly

    I have a feeling the Student Ambassador Program will grow even bigger. Sometimes things take time. :) I’ve actually noticed over the past few months, more students have been asking about the Program! :)
    Hey Dan, thank you for taking time to write the blog especially being “on the road”.
    Good Job! :)

  • http://getbusylivingblog.com Benny Hsu

    I hadn’t realized you came up with the student ambassador idea. I think that’s a great idea. Get students to go after something if they really want it and they get a really great reward out of it. You just get the feeling that the 2% who did what was needed to get you there are going to go on to big things in life.

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