All of my speaking gigs for the rest of the year have been canceled, so I was tickled when an event organizer offered me a virtual keynote for a major user conference.
Great company. Great audience. Great opportunity.
But since it was a virtual event -- and all the people who make the bulk of their living from speaking have made this a buyer's market -- the fee offered was 25 percent of my normal rate.
Granted, speakers often give "local" discounts when travel isn't involved. And I often reduce my rate if I like the company, organization, or organizer. And it was a topic I know well, meaning my prep time would be minimal.
So I was about to agree.
Then I remembered a section from Maria Konnikova's outstanding new book, The Biggest Bluff: How I Learned to Pay Attention, Master Myself, and Win.
In 2016, Konnikova, Harvard graduate with a PhD from Columbia, decided to write a book about poker even though (and in fact because) she knew almost nothing about the game. (Konnikova definitely does now.)
While she was working on the book, a magazine offered her an article assignment. "Part of me just wants to accept this assignment," Konnikova writes in her book. "It's interesting, I've done a lot of work on the background already, and the money isn't all that bad."
As with my virtual keynote offer, Konnikova was tempted. But poker had already taught her lessons beyond the game. She wrote back, "I'm not really doing much freelance work these days. I'm working on my next book."
That meant the door was still open. And since she didn't make a counteroffer, the "power" had shifted her side: All the assignment editor knew is that the initial offer was too low.
The next offer was higher than the magazine had offered her in the past.
"Old me would have jumped at it," Konnikova writes. "New me decides I don't actually have to jump at anything; the smarter strategy might lie in another direction. 'I'm not sure that will be enough,' I counter, 'since I really need to be paid more than I am at my home magazine to make it worth my while given the constraints on my time.'"
In poker terms, Konnikova didn't raise. Nor did she fold. She called, staying in the hand to see what would happen next.
Which was an offer for $3 per word, a rate she happily accepted.
"I've won the hand," Konnikova writes, "and extracted more value than I ever thought I could from it."
So instead of accepting, I decided to channel my inner Konnikova.
I'm not really paid for my time, I thought. I'm paid for the ideas, perspectives, strategies, tips, etc. I deliver. (Buy an Adam Grant book and you don't pay for the time he spent writing it; you pay for the value you receive.) And I'm not desperate, since speaking is only one of the things I do.
New me decides I don't have to jump. "I'm not doing much speaking at the moment and am busy with other projects," I respond. Both statements are true. And I won't be upset if he walks away.
The organizer immediately doubled his initial offer. Before I accepted, though, I realized there was more value I could extract: The company's CEO is the friend of someone I've always wanted to interview.
"Done," the organizer responds. So I happily accepted.
The Biggest Bluff is a great read if you play poker.
But it's also a great read for those, like me, who don't play poker. For us, the game provides the backdrop for a fascinating look at human nature, at attention and focus, at game theory (applied much more broadly than to just games), and at making better decisions.
And how to better deal with the outcomes of those decisions -- and not just learn, but keep moving forward.
Which makes The Biggest Bluff a must-read for most entrepreneurs.