Is Collaboration for You (Should You or Shouldn’t You?)

An Article for Professional Speakers and Consultants on the Origins of The Odd Couple® Seminar and the Value of Collaboration

Would you go into partnership on the spur of the moment with someone you barely knew? I did. And it was one of the best business decisions I ever made.

Of course, we’d met and knew each other by reputation. Alan Weiss (PhD, CSP, CMC, CPAE) is a high-priced corporate consultant, trainer, and speaker who had been president of his local NSA chapter. At the time, I was primarily a keynote speaker, one of the original founders of the NSA Northern California chapter and National President in 1984. Alan and I are opposites in many ways. He is a self-proclaimed introvert, happily married to his high school sweetheart, Maria. His life is well balanced, and he charges top dollar so he doesn’t have to travel more than necessary. I, on the other hand, am an acknowledged extrovert with a very different business policy. I always charge slightly less than I could so I am booked solid. Being single, I can stay on the road much of the year and not feel guilty

It all started with some emails in 1996. I wrote Alan, regretting that I couldn’t attend a seminar he was doing in my hometown of San Francisco because I would be speaking for the Denver NSA chapter that day. “Hey, Fripp,” he shot back, “You certainly seem to speak to a lot of NSA chapters.” I acknowledged that I loved speaking about speaking. “We should do a seminar together,” he replied. On the spot, we arranged to meet and discuss it.

Finding a Topic and a Format

We quickly realized that we have very different approaches to the same issues. Rather than abandon the idea of working together, our differences became the core of our joint presentations. From the participants’ perspective, it is often more instructive to learn when opposite, or at least different, views are taken by the instructors. My favorite topic of discussions is how to improve platform performance. Alan often starts the session with this comment, “We will not discuss platform skills—except to mock them.” (Our fundamental dissimilarities follow through in the seminars. My side of the stage is filled with binders, notes, and samples that have been diligently prepared over many months. Alan arrives with notes scribbled on a cocktail napkin that he jotted down over drinks the evening before.)

Because we would be appealing to an audience who already knew us, we started out exaggerating our differences for entertainment value. My pal, copywriting genius David Garfinkel, helped us write the promotional copy. He said, “People love watching other people fight, especially when you know there is a great affection and respect underneath. This is what comedy acts and sitcoms are built on.” Our promotional brochures read “Come and hear them agree and disagree on the topics that matter most to you.”

Once our approach was set, we needed a catchy title. We settled on “The Odd Couple®” because of our differences; not only in our personalities, but also life styles, business model, and education. You can imagine our amazement when we found we could trademark the name for a seminar format.

Getting an Audience

It was fairly easy to fill seats at the seminar—which, to our surprise, turned out to be the first of a long series. One of my specialties is helping other presenters develop dynamite presentations. Alan writes books showing speakers and consultants how to charge by value, and he always has a large audience waiting for his next offering. It helped that we each had a high profile among other speakers.

At the first few events, we attracted an audience who already knew us by reputation, along with some people from our individual communities. However, soon we began drawing attendees from as far away as Europe. They came for the content even though some were not familiar with the speakers. Over the years, we have continued filling seats by mentioning the seminar during presentations in front of audiences who would be interested and mentioning them in our own email newsletters. Initially, we printed a brochure, but we no longer need to do that. Our Internet marketing attracts at least half the new attendees, people who never heard of us before. As we always change the content slightly we have many attendees who are repeats.

Dividing up the Work—and the Profits

You must tuck your ego away. Mutual respect is essential. Alan and I take turns leading the presentations. Alternately, one will start and then the other contributes additions and different points of view. There should be a separation of tasks and accountabilities based on individual strengths. Alan handles the legal and financial issues; I take care of the website marketing and organizing the associates who help out. We take turns finding the location and negotiating with the hotels. In our case, Alan manages the collective money, but we handle our own merchandise individually. Absolute trust is mandatory.

Who Should You Partner With?

If you are considering collaborating on a seminar, your first step is to decide on the best partner. It should be someone who compliments your style and expertise, but how? Should it be someone who contrasts sharply with your approach, creating dramatic tension? Or someone who doubles your emphasis and can finish your sentences—like the “Two Fat Ladies” on the cooking show?

Alan and I enjoy both. Although there are big differences in our style, personalities, and opinions on some issues, there are obvious compatibilities. We’re each willing to try something new, no matter what the outcome. My point of view for every situation is: Will it be fun? Will it be educational? Will it be profitable? Two out of three are usually good enough. Alan usually wants all three!

How Do You Choose a Topic?

You and your partner should each add something to your subject that is more than your individual contributions could be—different areas of expertise, different experiences, or different approaches to solving the same problems. One and one should add up to four. One partner might provide background and the other practical how-to’s. Or each could offer perspectives from different geographical areas, generations, departments, or industries. Maybe one has an encyclopedic ability to provide facts and figures while the other is skilled at humor and eliciting audience responses. Choose someone to balance your skills on the platform as you would in marriage.

Partnership Guidelines

Are you ready to consider teaming up? Here is our best advice.

  • Find a partner where you can combine communities.
  • Carefully consider their ethics, organization, and reputation.
  • Delegate the chores to the person who is best equipped to handle them.
  • Have a collaboration that feeds your other services or offerings.
  • • Constantly improve or change your presentation so you build repeat attendees.
  • • Be prepared (at first) to work harder selling seats than delivering the seminar.
  • • Build your own database so it is easy you can keep in touch with potential attendees.
  • • Use technology to promote without spending a fortune.
  • • Do it more for fun and education than $$$. (However, financial rewards may come!)

How We Have Changed as a Result

Alan’s method of asking questions to establish the value of your service from the client’s point of view has taught me how to be more profitable. I no longer waste time with people who can’t say yes, and I am more willing to go meet with prospects whenever possible. Alan lives the lifestyle of the Rich and Famous. As a result of his influence, I now take more vacations, have bought a vacation home, am hired to work with smaller audiences more as a consultant, coach and trainer, and—yes—I’m more profitable.

My biggest surprise over the years is that we have grown more alike. I think we may even be friends. Can you imagine my thrill to be invited to the highlight of the social season in Rhode Island, the wedding of Alan and Maria’s daughter? His relations were all coming over, asking, “Are you the one? The other half of The Odd Couple?”