Orators Unplugged: Interview with Chris Heivly, Managing Partner at The Startup Factory, & Co-Founder of MapQuest

Chris Heivly discusses his experience as a public speaker…


Sara Capra: Hi, I’m Sara Capra, kicking off the second interview for Orators Unplugged, a blog series that provides insights on tips and tricks for speakers and event organizers as well as what the latest and greatest is in this space. I’m sitting here with Chris Heivly, co-founder of MapQuest, current managing partners at the Startup Factory in North Carolina. Chris, thanks so much for being here today.

Chris Heivly: Thanks for having me, Sara.

Sara Capra: Before we get started, tell us a little bit more about what you’ve been up to since MapQuest and what the Startup Factory’s all about.

Chris Heivly:  Sure, well you know, other than kids, moving houses, cars, and all kinds of entrepreneurial endeavors in between, most of the time I’ve spent working with companies, being the guy that investors bring in with the grey hair to shepherd a great start-up to maybe the next stage. All of that coalesced nicely and working with one company is fun. I thought maybe working with six at a time would be a complete blast and so that’s what the Startup Factory is all about, making 10 to 12 seed investments every year and working with those companies, roll up our sleeves. Like I said, if one is fun, then 10 at a time should be a complete blast.

Sara Capra: It sounds like a lot of work but really exciting. There are a lot of tools out there for someone to build their personal brands. In addition to speaking, you do a lot of writing for inc.com and for your blog, can you talk to us about some of the other tools that are out there to help speakers build their personal brand?

Chris Heivly:   Sure. Let’s talk about, I think there’s four things that are must-haves today. First of all, you do have to write. I think that’s the best way to establish yourself and tell people that you have an opinion and that you have a point of view and you’ve got to share that point of view by your writing. Now, whether that writing is, whether it’s a book, whether it’s blogging, whether it’s writing for somebody else, whether it’s posting information on LinkedIn, whether that’s 140 characters via Twitter. I think you have to do all of those things because that’s how people get to know you, is usually what you say and how you say it.

Of course, speaking augments the writing very well. I think speaking, Twitter, LinkedIn, and then writing usually by your blog.

Sara Capra: That’s a nice segue into the next question which is what is the value-add that you see or you’ve experienced from public speaking?

Chris Heivly: First of all, anybody who’s gotten to know me says stick me with a microphone and an audience and I’m now kind of in my sweet spot. To that end, speaking gives you a chance to reach hopefully a fairly large audience, maybe 200 to 1,000 people at a time. That’s very hard to build up in just your writing or your Tweeting, but allows you to do that. It’s a captive audience that get to know you. You get to share things like your LinkedIn URL, your Twitter handle, so you get this nice cross-pollination effect.

I think more importantly people get to know you as you. They also get to see a face and not just the text that you put in place. I think speaking is a great way to augment your personal brand.

Sara Capra: Absolutely. One of the things that Orators really tries to do is to alleviate some of the issues, some of the stressers that speakers are experiencing out there when they’re getting booked for speaking engagements. Can you talk to us about a frustrating experience that you might have had being booked as a speaker?

Chris Heivly: I think the first frustrating thing is just finding interesting relevant opportunities for me to get in front of an audience. Even though I have a nice pedigree with MapQuest and Startup Factory, still there’s many people around the country who are not sure who I am and are not sure who I am as a speaker. I think it’s frustrating for people that aren’t named Dick Costolo or Hillary Clinton or Mark Cuban, it’s hard for the rest of us mere mortals to find an audience.

I know that once I get in front of an audience, that the event organizers enjoy what I share, so I think it’s just the frustration is I know there’s a demand but how are we able to connect in a fashion that gets us both what we’re looking for.

Sara Capra: What is the single most important piece of advice you would give someone who is just starting to get into the speaking world and starts speaking more professionally about their areas of expertise?

Chris Heivly: Sure, if one piece of advice is the question, I’m going to give you two. I’m going to give you double your money and I think it’s two things. One is, I think in the beginning you need to take whatever speaking gigs you get because first of all, it’s like anything else, the more you do it, the better you get. I know even I continue to up my game and deliver a better and better product.

I think the second thing is that given that you do get a chance to get in front of people is, don’t give them something that they get from everywhere else. Give them something unique. Give them a piece of you. Speak from the heart and tell personal anecdotes and stories that make it sincere and engaging, not unlike what you do in any kind of pitch. Give people a piece of you and I think they’ll appreciate that, come away going, “Hey, I was glad I was able to spend 15 or 20 minutes with this person.”

Sara Capra: Yeah, I think you did a great job of that in your talk about the fort, which everyone should check out online.

Chris Heivly:  Obviously, everyone should check that out online.

Sara Capra: Tell us how you measure success, the success of the speaking engagement.

Chris Heivly: Well, there’s two ways. I guess they’re both maybe quantifiable, maybe not. One of the things I enjoy is that after I give a speech, I always measure how many people are able to come up. Some people just want to thank you for being there, some people want to talk business, some people want to get a business card. If there’s a given amount of people mulling around, I say, “All right, cool, I nailed it.”

The other thing I do is that I make sure that my Twitter handle is obviously presented through the entire speech and so I measure how many new followers or re-tweets I get, whether it’s a tweet about a certain line or a phrase that I used, or just a following — that there’s some kind of engagement. That’s how I measure whether I’ve done a good job or not.

Of course, if they ask me to come back, that’s also ultimately a great sign.

Sara Capra: As someone who is pitched and presented to a lot, what is it that you think that makes a presentation or pitch most compelling?

Chris Heivly: Well, I get back to the piece of advice that I gave for speakers which is I want to know you. I want to know that, I want to see a piece of you come out. I want to see the passion and the interest, and that when I’m being pitched, I want to see this is the most important thing in your life right now. You can use all the fancy words and all the fancy graphics. You can have a great PowerPoint. It can be designed by the best designer in the world but delivered flat and delivered too intellectually with not enough of you in it, and I’m going to get turned on. I need to be turned on by you first and the business second.

Sara Capra: Yep, absolutely. You talked about this a little bit already in terms of conveying passion and even with social media, getting people to engage on their phones, but what are some other specific tactics that you use to engage the audience?

Chris Heivly: Well, I try not to spend 15 or 20 minutes preaching or talking to them. I try to get the audience engaged and so I’ll ask questions, I’ll create an interactive piece in the middle or the beginning or the end. I don’t do a classic speak and then Q&A. I’ll ask for a raise of hands around who believes this or who thinks that — just ways to get them involved in what I’m talking about so they don’t feel they’re just being preached at.

I enjoy that. I actually get my energy off of that. That’s the biggest way I use to engage the audience.

Sara Capra:  That’s great. What is one of the most surprising experiences that you had so far as a public speaker?

Chris Heivly: Just the fact that people seem to enjoy it is still surprising to me and that they ask me back. You know, I guess the other thing is that I never thought that I’d enjoy it as much as I do. That’s a fun thing and it’s why I’m interested in doing more of it.

Sara Capra: Well, we hope to see more of you at different engagements. If you want to hear more insights from Chris, please go to his blog at Heivly.com. You can also follow him at Chris Heivly, C-h-r-i-s H-e-i-v-l-y, and to check out the Startup Factory Accelerator Program go to www.thestartupfactory.co.

That’s a wrap for Orators Unplugged today. Thank you again, Chris, for being here and sharing your thoughts and wisdom with us. We look forward to seeing many more videos and speaking engagements to come.

Chris Heivly: Thanks, Sara.

Sara Capra:  Take care.