Hey, friends! Welcome back to The Speaker Lab Podcast. Great to have you here with us today. I’m pumped for this conversation. We’ve got Dan Martell in the house—an entrepreneur, author, and speaker involved in various things. Speaking with him brings a unique perspective compared to our previous guests, and I’m eager to dive into that. So, Dan, thanks for joining us, man.
Grant, it’s an honor. I’m excited. Every time I do a podcast, I make a statement or commitment, I call my shot. Okay? This is it. I want this to be one of the most valuable, educational, and entertaining podcasts you’ve ever done. I know it’s a tall order with the amazing guests you’ve had, but let’s set a high bar.
Absolutely. We both need to bring our A game. First, set some context for us. Tell us about Dan Martell, and more importantly, how does speaking fit into your empire?
Who is Dan Martell?
Love that word—empire. It’s the subtitle of my book. My empire is different, defined as a life of unlimited creation you never have to retire from. It makes it more approachable. Quick story: I’m an entrepreneur, building companies, mainly in the software space, where I’ve exited three companies and invested in over 60. If you’re in SaaS, you likely know my name. I have a significant online following on YouTube, with over 100 thousand subscribers, and my podcast. My new book, “Buy Back Your Time,” just became a Wall Street Journal bestseller, focusing on productivity and leverage for entrepreneurs.
Now, my empire is not what people might expect. I grew up in a chaotic home, with an alcoholic mom and an absent dad. Got into drugs, became an addict, and hit rock bottom at 16 in a high-speed chase with the police, pulling a handgun. Luckily, it got stuck when I tried to use it. Several bottoms followed, leading to prison and then a rehab center that saved my life. I learned to code, and at 17, after never touching a computer, I followed a Java programming book and got it to say “hello world.” That changed my world and set me on a path of personal development through entrepreneurship, my new addiction.
Even now, I’m proud to regularly speak to kids at Portage in New Brunswick, Canada, where I share my story. That’s my bigger why behind all the business stuff. Speaking has always been a part of my journey. I see it as a platform to reach people, just like this podcast. If you have the opportunity to share a message and a story that could transform someone’s life, it’s your responsibility to do so. I take it seriously. A fellow speaker once told me that if you ever have the chance to get on a stage to communicate with others, bring your A game. It’s the highest honor. While speaking isn’t my primary profession, it holds a special place in my life, making up a small fraction of my income compared to my investments in the software world.
I view choosing speaking opportunities as a way to serve others. So, unless the audience is comprised of entrepreneurs or at-risk youth, my answer is usually no. In the past, when I was honing my speaking skills, I said yes to some professional associations, like the nurses union and teacher associations, which were a twelve-minute drive from my house. While they’re great people, there was a significant disconnect between my story and the themes I teach and what they needed to hear. It felt awkward, like I was ready to challenge them to live a bigger life and essentially rip apart their futures. Not everyone is open to that, you know?
Did you realize that early on, when you got those initial invitations and felt like you had a story to share? Facing obstacles, overcoming them, and getting invited to random events—was it a conscious decision, like, this doesn’t make sense, but it’s an opportunity, or did you only figure it out through experience?
How did you get into speaking?
I believe that no matter what we want to excel at in life, people should choose to go pro. Stephen Pressfield wrote a great book about going pro. If you have the honor of being on a stage, decide to be world-class at that craft. Doing the reps is part of it. Initially, speaking was a way to fundraise for the rehab center I went to and address groups like foster parents, as I was a foster kid, and at-risk youth. That felt aligned and great. But then, friends who were professional speakers, aware of my inspiring story, would ask me to speak at various events. I’d say yes because my personal story worked.
However, the challenge was that I was passionate about certain things, but there was a disconnect between that passion and what the audience needed. I was encouraging people to follow their dreams, quit their jobs, defy their parents, and embrace courageous decisions—things that could disrupt their lives significantly if they took that advice. It didn’t resonate with certain audiences, like government associations. Energetically, it didn’t feel good for me. I didn’t need to speak in those situations. My passion was becoming great at communication, which led me to start my YouTube channel where I could get the necessary reps. Speaking in front of a camera by myself without any audience feedback was weird, unlike speaking in front of people like you, Grant, where you get instant feedback.
I wanted to get the reps, so I reached out to my friend Gair Maxwell, a prolific speaker in Vistage and Tech, around 14 years ago. I asked him how I could become great at speaking like him. He said, “Always say yes.” I underlined that and asked how it worked. He explained that most people have opportunities to speak all the time and punt on them by saying no. It could be anything—from giving a toast at a wedding to contributing at a birthday party. He advised me to seize every chance to share anything, ask questions, and be the first to put my hand up. The next day, I was at a co-working space in San Francisco, and the owner asked me to do a lunch and learn for a speaker series on marketing. Normally, I would’ve said no, but after Gair’s advice, I said yes.
Normally, I’d be like, hey, man, I’m not that great at it. Bob down the hall is like, I know Bob. You should talk to him. He’s got an agency on this. And I would have punted. Not because I didn’t want to do it. I just would be like, hey, he’s a better speaker on this topic. And as soon as he asked me, I said, “Absolutely. It’d be my honor.” And I was like, Whoa, okay. Wonder how many of those I’ve ever missed on. Just such so simple. But it was profound for me, and it kind of got me down, this train of doing.
When you touched on earlier, part of the high and low of speaking is the live high rope type experience and feels like there’s no net. And what if I forget what I’m supposed to say? Or if I draw a blank? Or what if I tell a joke and the audience doesn’t laugh? What if they laugh when they’re not supposed to, or whatever happens, we have all these doubts and insecurities. So even going back to that moment when you get invited to and the immediate default response is like, no, because I know someone who’s better at this thing than me.
But going back to what Gair said, it’s like the way that you get better at speaking is the way that you get better at anything is that you do the thing and you just keep showing up time and time and time again. And so some of the best speakers in the world are not because they have some special charisma or talent or ability that nobody else has. It’s just that they’ve been taking the craft very seriously. So even going back to that moment when you are invited to something, the doubt creeps in, but then you’re like, no, I got to overcome that. Walk us through a little bit more of that, because there’s plenty of speakers who are in that same spot of like, Dang, I would love to be on stage.
However, I know that I’m not going to be as good of a speaker as Dan or Gair.
What’s your take on how to get better at speaking?
The blank well, and here’s the cool part about this, grant, is you can decide to put in this is my philosophy. And I learned this through hearing about and I think it was Louis CK. Or one of these comedians know when they do their specials, they kind of shoot them. They work on the material sometimes two years, three years, four years, and then they do their special, which is they record it, sell it to Netflix, that kind of thing. But it’s kind of well baked, right?
And he says, I think it was an interview I was listening to where he was talking about most comedians will save their best stuff for last. And they do that because there’s this recency bias with humans. It’s called primacy bias, which is like the first thing, the last thing, and the middle, which is why most things are delivered in threes. It’s part of our psychology.
They always save the best for last so they can end on a high. What Louis CK recommended is you start with your best. And his argument was this, which I thought was fascinating, is that we want to force ourselves to come up with new and better stuff. So if we save the best stuff for the last, then we’re not really pushing ourselves. And I think that’s what happens with a lot of speakers is and I’ve seen this, they get on a kind of a keynote process, right?
Like, they hire a speaking coach, they outline a keynote, whatever it is, and they have a core message and it’s their thing. And I’ve seen some people and this is how it used to be in the comedy world as well, where these old school, like, probably dangerfield and many others, they had this act and they did it, but they didn’t switch it. I think that’s the one thing I did completely different, not by design, but by default, just because I kept saying yes to speaking gigs that were so I got not only did I get reps, I got reps across different topics.
And for a long time, Grant, which I do not recommend. Every talk I did for probably five, six years were custom talks every don’t do that. Why?
Don’t do that.
What’s that? I understand. Initially, I thought that was the correct approach because I lacked better knowledge. Eventually, I realized that while the constant practice was beneficial, it prevented me from excelling in any particular area. Every time I spoke, I discovered nuances that elicited positive responses, like the first time I recognized the impact of adding humor to my talk. It happened in Michigan when I shared a funny incident at Starbucks where I left my money, chatted due to bad weather, ventured outside in slushy snow with tennis shoes, and ended up with soaked feet.
Forgetting my money and having to return became an amusing story that lightened the mood of the audience. Since then, I’ve made it a habit to consider recent unusual experiences for opening stories, creating a 30 to 42-second introduction to set the tone with laughter. When facing a new audience, I believe they wonder if the speaker is nervous, if they’ll deliver valuable content, and if they’ll be likable. Over the years, I’ve honed my speaking skills through repetition, figuring out a rhythm to engage my audience effectively. While I acknowledge that experts like you, Grant, likely teach these principles, for me, it’s about knowing where to start, where to end, and earning the right to share lessons.
As a professional speaker, I’ve learned to adapt to various time frames, whether it’s an hour, 45 minutes, 25 minutes, or 15 minutes. The key lies in understanding the format: core message, story, metaphor, and call to action. What I enjoy most is what I call “collecting beliefs” by observing unique scenarios that others might overlook. Comedians, I assume, share a similar approach, finding lessons in seemingly mundane situations. For instance, a mishap with my shaker and spilled green juice in the bathroom taught me a valuable lesson about slowing down. These experiences become part of my repertoire, tested and refined to create impactful stories.
Learning the art of speaking has yielded substantial benefits in my life. I’ve raised over 600 million in Capital Storytelling for my clients, attracted top talent across various disciplines, and built a significant social media presence. Storytelling has influenced people to join my movement, facilitated fundraising efforts, and more. Even if I never received payment for speaking, the return on investment from mastering this craft has far exceeded its cost. I consider myself fortunate to have had the opportunity to study and practice it extensively.
I’d like to delve deeper into that point because, as you mentioned earlier, speaking represents a small fraction of your overall financial gains. Yet, it provides numerous intangible benefits. Given your busy schedule and diverse commitments, what motivates you to prioritize speaking? Many entrepreneurs face the challenge of choosing where to invest their time amid numerous options and distractions. Why, for you, does speaking remain a priority?
Why is speaking a priority for you?
Sure, let me break it down. Speaking holds a crucial role in my life, and though my perspective may differ due to my current stage, I’ll share a framework that applies universally. At the top level, it’s about building a personal brand—defining what “Dan Martell” means in the marketplace. Platforms like LinkedIn have highlighted the importance of a recognizable personal brand. It’s akin to a LinkedIn resume, shaping perceptions when people hear your name. The personal brand is the cornerstone, and it influences how you’re perceived in various interactions, whether through email signatures or casual encounters.
Beneath the personal brand, there’s the realm of media. For me, media encompasses spoken talks, recorded speeches, podcasts, internal meetings, coaching calls—all avenues to capture and share content, messages, stories, and lessons. My media presence extends across platforms like LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and even TikTok, where I’ve amassed half a million followers without resorting to funny dances or crop tops. If the brand is the thought, media serves as the distribution, and speaking becomes a means of monetizing that media.
However, the love for speaking lies in the fact that I approach it differently. I don’t engage in speaking solely for the moment; instead, I integrate it into my daily routine. I have three cameras on my desk, recording my day continuously. My team sifts through the footage, extracting valuable content used across various platforms. Even during speaking engagements, there’s always someone capturing the moment. For those who can’t afford a dedicated videographer, coordinating with event organizers or internal team members can ensure you capture the footage for future use.
Beyond media, speaking is part of a broader monetization strategy. I have a fund, Big Band Software, where I buy software companies. Speaking generates deal flow for acquisitions. Additionally, my SaaS Academy coaching company, focusing on coaching software CEOs, benefits from opportunities generated at speaking events. Elite Coaching, tied to my new book’s framework, aids entrepreneurs in reclaiming time and scaling their companies. It’s an eight-figure business that thrives on the back end of speaking engagements.
Here’s a valuable tip: for those curious about the inner workings of my world, particularly how I manage multiple eight-figure companies with my Executive Assistant, head to Instagram, find me at Dan Martell, and send a message with the word “EA Executive Assistant.” I’ll share, with no opt-in, my internal SOP (standard operating procedure) and playbooks detailing how I navigate interactions with my Executive Assistant. It’s a behind-the-scenes glimpse into my structured approach, including North Star principles and travel structure. No strings attached, just a way to provide valuable insights. When people reach out, my team engages in conversations, and if there’s an opportunity for deeper assistance, they’ll present it organically.
Absolutely, let’s break it down. Suddenly, I find myself getting paid $50k or $100k for a keynote on stage where I share valuable frameworks, much like I’m doing with your audience now. The goal is not just the immediate audience or paycheck but also building relationships with these individuals. There are speaking opportunities and numerous other possibilities that can stem from these connections. Plus, if you can provide ongoing value, engaging in conversations through chat becomes a powerful tool. My team doesn’t rely on phone calls; it’s all about organic chat conversations.
Now, let’s talk about the organic way I approach sharing valuable content. Many speakers have their strategies, such as monetizing courses or building email lists. My approach is more straightforward—I teach something valuable, and if someone wants that valuable content, they can just message me. No gatekeeping, no opt-ins. From there, we start a conversation.
I’ve seen friends who are professional speakers, and their routine is clear: pre-call, customize content, deliver the keynote, and leave without any interactions before or after. To me, that’s crazy. When you’re in a city for a speaking engagement, there are podcast opportunities, in-person interviews, and more that can be leveraged.
For example, I do podcast tours during my speaking trips. Recently, I had three days in Phoenix and booked twelve podcasts. Extending my stay allowed me to create content, get paid for speaking, build relationships with the audience, and potentially monetize—all integral parts of my media empire. Speaking is just one component, and the way I approach it is with a focus on the brand first, playing the long game, using media as a distribution channel for my message, and speaking as a way to monetize.
Connecting the dots here, you’ve mentioned the real-time feedback you get from live speaking, the importance of playing the long game with your brand, and how speaking fits into your broader media empire strategy. Now, let’s dive into using social media to test out ideas that may eventually make it to the stage.
How do you use social media to test content?
Absolutely, let’s delve into the behind-the-scenes process. It might seem overwhelming at first, but I want to give you a glimpse into how I operate. I have a notes file on my phone filled with ideas—scrolling through it feels like unraveling a never-ending scroll. It’s a collection of captured ideas that may not have an immediate “AHA” moment, but they’re marinating, not microwaving.
Absolutely, let’s break it down. When I capture an idea like “marinated versus microwaved,” it’s not just a cool metaphor; it’s a seed for a potential story. I play with it, find the right story, figure out the call to action, and refine it until it feels solid. Then, I take these ideas to social media for testing.
Testing on social media is crucial. We take it to the next level on platforms like TikTok, where we split-test clips. If you search for “damartel clips,” you’ll find different edits of the same content. Even on YouTube, I have a section called “damartel clips,” and the team live-tests three separate edits of the same content.
Why do we test? Because it makes a significant difference. The same message, presented with variations in editing, can have a tenfold impact. This process is taken seriously. We split-test edits, opening hooks, supporting diagrams, and more on secondary accounts. The winner becomes what gets posted on Instagram stories, YouTube shorts, and other platforms.
This level of testing might seem intense, but consider someone like Mr. Beast, worth tens of billions, who spends $20,000 just on a YouTube video thumbnail. Thumbnails and edits can have a dramatic effect, and the level of sophistication in testing can be profound. It’s about capturing ideas, using social media for repetitions, and refining the message based on audience response.
Once I sense a core message resonating in comments on social media or virtual keynotes, that’s when I bring it into a keynote format. It involves going back and forth, refining, and making sure it aligns with the audience’s engagement.
Quick sidebar. If you haven’t checked it out, listen to the interview with Mr. Beast by Colin and Samir—it’s phenomenal. Also, Dan’s book, Buy Back Your Time, is a fantastic resource. Hold it up for us!
So, for speakers looking to reclaim their time, could you provide a quick overview of your book, Buy Back Your Time? What’s it about, who’s it for, and how can speakers effectively reclaim their time?
Tell us about your book.
Great question, and I appreciate it. I wrote Buy Back Your Time to guide entrepreneurs in building businesses they don’t grow to hate. This isn’t limited to big businesses. It applies to podcasters, speakers, social media editors, and even logo designers—essentially, anyone in the entrepreneurial space. Many entrepreneurs find themselves stuck. Over the years, I’ve helped them navigate challenges related to time management, calendar processing, hiring, onboarding, training, vision, alignment, and strategy.
The book, Wall Street Journal bestseller number two, aims to teach people to value their time differently. It’s not just about big business; it’s about creating a business and life that aligns with your values. I wrote it partly to share my knowledge but also to reclaim my own time. I love helping people, but sometimes they need to go through things at their own pace. The book covers various aspects, including stories in the third chapter titled “The Five Time Assassins.” Addressing common mindset challenges entrepreneurs face.
The stories are anonymized scenarios from friends I love. I’ve detailed how I’ve helped them overcome blockers over the years. The book is also tactical, providing specific guidance on implementing the teachings. I’ve intentionally crafted a high-quality life for myself. People often ask how I’ve built this empire while maintaining a great lifestyle. The answers lie in the book, tailored for creatives, solopreneurs, and anyone seeking more out of their life.
I’ve read and recommended the book, so I encourage everyone to check it out. If people want to learn more about you, where can they find you online, aside from the book?
Where can they find you?
Certainly! Instagram is my favorite platform for conversations, so you can find me at instagram.com/danmartell. For real tactical business strategy content, head to my YouTube channel. I share how-to videos, with over 600 videos posted every week. Additionally, you can explore more about the book and download bonus resources at buybackyourtime.com. The bonus resources include internal blueprints, scripts, and processes from the book, offering additional structure and detail.
It’s been a pleasure, Grant. Thanks for having me.
Absolutely, my pleasure!