Interview with Orate Speaker, Jeff Hoffman: Part 1

We had the pleasure of interviewing Jeff Hoffman - a worldwide speaker, entrepreanuer and Hollywood film producer. You can learn more about Jeff by checking out his speaker profile on the Orate website. Since there are a lot of great insights throughout the entire interview, we wanted to be sure to share them with you in different blog posts. Below is the first of many to come!

What’s your favorite topic to engage audiences with?

It is a form of the entrepreneurship topic, but not really and here’s why. When people talk about entrepreneurship they are thinking about launching companies and making money, right? [That] is sort of the root of it, but part of what I’ve learned traveling around the world speaking on entrepreneurship is the more interesting topic is self-determination. That’s the topic I like talking about. It’s designing and owning your own future. It’s people being in charge of their future. That’s what I am going to talk about to these kids here today at the Family Empowerment Conference. Entrepreneurship is a tool you can use to design your own life. But, the topic of getting people to realize that they can design their own future instead of waiting to see what it brings, that is what I like talking about most. A lotlot of times you have people wondering about their future. When you wake up one day and say, “I don’t even know why I am doing this. It’s not doing anything for me. I’m not growing and it doesn’t make me happy.” So then to stop at that moment and say “What does? What do I want to do? What would make my life where I couldn’t wait to get to work in the morning?” It’s finding that path and then building it. I always tell people that entrepreneurship is the shovel you use to dig a path to a better future. It’s not the future just the shovel, but when people realize…”Wait a minute, now I know what I want for my future and I realize I could actually design that future.” That’s what I like talking about. Because you see, you can actually push people over a cliff sometimes, but at least push them off the starting line.

If you give a speech and even one person sends you a letter that says “you positively impacted my life,” that was a speech worth giving. So that’s why that topic matters to me and it’s my favorite to talk about. [It’s] because I have had instances where people came back and people said this impacted me in some way.

Is that how you measure success, or are there other things that help you measure the success of the speaking engagement.

So there are a couple of things. The first part is that when somebody tells you personally, email, whatever, when someone in the audience comes back and says something you did in a speech had some positive, measurable  impact (meaning they did something different), that is a big measure for me. What is really interesting now that I’ve learned another new way to measure the impact of a speech…is Twitter. One day I was sitting there talking and had my phone right here just for the timer, but I made a point about something and all of a sudden ‘BANG, BANG, BANG!’ a zillion tweets light up, but they all tweeted independently. People all over the room tweeted the same five words and I said, “Wow, that sentence clearly resonated with people.” So it’s funny because the next speech I gave – I really did this I – I said “now that I realize I can stand here and talk for 10 minutes and you are all going to tweet one sentence and whatever that one sentence is I should’ve just said that and skipped the rest.” So I only tried this one time – I gave a speech, the whole speech in tweets.  Basically each of my slides was just a tweet. If no one tweets or quotes anything you said, then you didn’t impact anybody and you start to see it helps you really refine as a speaker.  When one day people were talking about you know The Money Factor of entrepreneurship you start a company Priceline is a $60 billion dollar company now so people are always fascinated with our market cap and with money. I was explaining to them that I have never cared about money, I have never chased it. What I have always cared about is doing something that mattered and something excellent overall. So I summarized and said to kids, “Look, don’t chase money, chase excellence and money follows excellence.” Well, they tweeted it word for word everywhere and I saw that tweet just bouncing around the planet that said “Don’t chase money, chase excellence.” I told them if you build something excellent the money will find you and if you don’t it doesn’t matter anyway you are not going to get paid for a crappy company so quit worrying about the money and worry about the excellence of the thing you are building, and everything else will happen. I still see that tweet.


It’s about the relationship - the interest - of the audience and that topic. I’ve seen people come in and give a talk on something that in five minutes the audience, they were doodling, they were texting they were glazed over. I was like ‘who thought that this audience wanted to hear that?’ As the event organizer, it’s not your audience necessarily nor your conference that you are booking for, but it’s still your responsibility to drive the conversation with the person that called and asked, “is this really a topic anyone in your audience cares about?” I have been at events and I have been backstage when a speaker said, ‘Why…did they even bring me here? No one wanted to hear that; no one even cares.”

Do you think that maybe it has something to do with the speaker not knowing how to tailor their speech to the audience appropriately?

Yes, I think sometimes it is the speaker’s fault. As a matter of fact, I almost always try to start off every talk with something that is very directed at that audience, that company or that organization, even if it’s joke. The first step in engaging with the audience is making the audience feel like you are in the same room with them; that you are not a robot. I’ve clearly seen some speakers and thought to myself, “Do you even know what these people do for a living?” because you wouldn’t have said any of those things if you paid any attention to who you were speaking too. So, it’s the speaker’s fault too. On the other hand,  if you are the event organizer and it’s your job to make sure the event goes well, then why don’t you make sure the speaker speaks on relevant content? A lot of times organizers don’t prepare speakers enough. From the beginning, I always ask organizers “When I’m done what things do you want them to have learned?” and often they don’t know. Organizers should know what they want their audiences to walk away from the meeting with.

Outside of technology, we are interested to learn that you were a movie and music producer. Have you found that any of the skills that you used in those experiences have proven valuable in speaking?

Yes very much so, in a couple of ways. By the way, the reason that I got into the entertainment business (well there’s two) is that I love being around creative people. Part of it was learning that the most powerful marketing machine in the world is Hollywood. That is why half the magazine on the newsstand is celebrity gossip because Hollywood has just captured everyone’s imagination. They can get us all hyped up to spend $40 on tickets and popcorn for a horrible movie that you are sitting there wondering, “What am I even doing here? I was so excited to come to this movie.” It’s the ultimate marketing. And, in the end, public speaking is no different. The job is to connect with people and - in some way - communicate something. So when we were doing the music stuff, I was involved in a lot of pop music; NSYNC, Justin Timberlake, Britney Spears, BackStreet, Elton John and all this. But the magic was watching the connection, even if it was a teenage girl and NSYNC. The power of that connection on their imagination; their emotions - you watch the ability of a song to make people laugh, cry, or remember whatever it is. That stuff is really powerful. If you can get even a tenth of what your favorite singer does emotionally in a love song, in a speech, that’s pretty good.

I got interested in entertainment because of this model. I would watch these guys, and I would watch the audience when we were doing these concerts. When I would go on the road with the NSYNC guys, I would be backstage with the guys and then sometimes, I would come out while Justin and the boys were on-stage singing and watch the effect [on] the audience. It  was just magic.

We would bring some of these girls backstage to meet them and they would burst into tears. I would have these girls ask me if they could meet the band, and they would practice for 3 weeks what they would say to each band member. Then the big moment would come and I would take them back stage and say, “Hey Jessica this Justin.” Dead silence. They would just stutter. I would say, “This is Justin…You practiced this moment for three weeks.” Then they would just stand there and cry and not say a word. Justin would always do his part, and say, “Well, Jeff, I’m trying here. I’m trying to have a conversation, and she doesn’t speak.” So they’d wait all this time and just freeze. How can they be so emotional? JC used to say, “I don’t get it. We just stand on-stage. How is this that big of a deal? We’re not feeding the hungry; we’re not curing the sick. We just stand there and sing pop songs. How do people get so into this?” But they do.

That ability to connect with people in a powerful way appealed to me. There are a lot of things that the entertainment industry does really well. Film television takes you on a journey. Think of a movie from start to end. One of my favorite examples is Steel Magnolias. I can’t tell you how many women have said, “When I need a good cry, I watch Steel Magnolias.” When you watch Steel Magnolias you wind up crying for half an hour, but it is a good cry and it helps you emotionally. So whoever crafted the journey that movie takes you on from start to end is brilliant. They take you some place that you want to go and make you feel some way you want to feel. So maybe I should watch and see what it is. 

Anyway, wouldn’t it be magical if you could take people on a journey in a short time during your speech; the way a movie does, and take them somewhere they wanted to go whether it is learning, educational, emotional, the combination of all the above? That is how I got fascinated with entertainment.

About Jeff Hoffman

Jeff Hoffman is a successful entrepreneur, proven CEO, worldwide motivational speaker, Hollywood film producer, and a producer of a Grammy winning jazz album in 2015. In his career, he has founded multiple startups, been the CEO of both public and private companies, and served as a senior executive in many capacities. Jeff has been part of multiple well-known companies, including,, CTI, and ColorJar.

Today Jeff serves on the boards of companies in the US, Europe, South America, Africa, and Asia. He is on the board of directors of Global Entrepreneurship Week, the US State Department’s Global Innovation through Science and Technology program, the Asia Pacific Economic Council’s Startup Initiative, and others. He supports the White House, the United Nations, and similar organizations internationally on economic growth and entrepreneurship initiatives.

Jeff has been invited to speak in over 50 countries on topics of innovation, entrepreneurship, and business leadership. He is the author of SCALE, a how-to guide for growing your business, and teaches innovation workshops to major corporations.

Jeff received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the national CEO council for his contributions to the field of entrepreneurship, the Champion of Entrepreneurship Award from JP Morgan Chase, Citibank, and Rising Tide Capital, and the George Brown Award for International Cooperation.

Outside of the world of technology, Jeff has produced movies in Hollywood, and musical events including concerts, tours, and charity events with such artists as Elton John, Britney Spears, NSYNC, and serves on numerous charity and non-profit boards.

To learn more about Jeff, you can check out his speaker profile on the Orate website. 

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