Expert vs. Speaker: Are you the Coke Machine or are you the Coke?

Several years ago, my NSA colleague Randy Pennington was talking about positioning as an “expert” vs. a “speaker” and he asked the question “Are you the Coke machine or are you the Coke?”

The Coke is our knowledge, our expertise, our content.  The Coke machine is the distribution channel for that knowledge, and speaking is just one of those in most situations.

When we sit next to someone on a plane and they ask, “What do you do?” The answer might be, “I help sales people become top performers” or “I help women be bold and brilliant”.  And they might ask, “oh, how to you do that?”  That’s when your distribution channels (or how you deliver your message) might come into the conversation. “Well, I write books and a blog, I coach executives, and I speak at conferences.”

When we open a conversation with, “I’m a speaker”, people often say, “Oh, you mean like Tony Robbins.” We’ve all had the experience where people really don’t “get” our profession or their eyes glaze over when we mention it.

[Tweet “Remember that speaking is typically just one of the ways that we deliver our knowledge. “]

You don’t visit a bestselling author’s website (for example Dan Pink) and see “Hire me, I’m a speaker”.  You see “Dan Pink…big ideas reshaping our work, transforming our businesses, etc.”

That’s expert focused.  Not speaker focused.

See the difference?

Are you the Coke machine or are you the Coke? Share your story here on our blog!

See you soon, Wealthy Speakers! (Or should I say Wealthy Experts?)

PS: If you are a seasoned speaker looking to reshape your expertise, check out our Masters Platinum Class starting in March and drop me a line with questions.


  • Stephen Shapiro

    The Coke/Coke Machine analogy has been my favorite on mine for a LONG time. I share it frequently with others (and credit you & Randy). Having said that, it is amazingly easy to fall back into the Coke Machine mentality. When people ask me what I do, my first natural response is, “I am a professional speaker.” I have to stop myself…over and over again.

    • speakerlauncher

      It does make it cleaner and clearer in your own mind I think. Thanks to Randy Pennington, it’s his genius that thought it up!

  • This was one of the first pieces of advice I heard when I became self-employed nine years ago and it stayed with me. And wouldn’t you know I heard it from Stephen Shapiro! So I’m not surprised that he commented on this post already! Small world.

    • speakerlauncher

      Ha ha! Stephen and I have been friends for many many years! I’m glad you took that advice to heart.

  • Thank you, Jane, for the great advise (as always!) It is so easy to get caught up in “what we do” as opposed to the problems that we solve, to say, “I’m a professional speaker” as opposed to saying what solutions we offer (I guess in the Coke metaphor it would be how we taste ?) — in other words, establishing our expertise. Thank you, again, for sharing and inspiring!

    • speakerlauncher

      How we taste, now that could really complicate things Laura!!! LOL. Thanks for commenting.

  • Betsy

    Wow needed to hear this one today. Just yesterday on the plane when asked what I do I said Motivational Leadership Speaker, but today when I get on my plant to head back home, I’m going to say, “I help CEO’s and Managers motivate burnt out, paycheck employees to be contributing and committed leaders for their organization.” Thanks Jane!

    • speakerlauncher

      Much better Betsy!

  • Dr. Mary C Kelly

    Great article, Jane! I like how your phrased the responses the common question: What do you do?

    • speakerlauncher

      Thanks Mary!

  • I’m reminded how quick we jump to the easy and shortest answer, instead of the most telling answer, which almost always leaves out the most interesting part! Thank you Jane, for the article.

    • speakerlauncher

      You are most welcome! It takes some time to get used to a more intriguing answer, but eventually it feels more natural.

  • It seems so natural to define ourselves by “what we do” and fail to realize our simple titles rarely portray what we really do. Thanks for the reminder Jane.

    • speakerlauncher

      Thanks Jon, I hear you!

  • JR Randall

    I’m the guy putting the coins in the machine b’c I like the stuff so much I want to figure out how to make it myself! Or something better and give it away!

  • JR Randall

    (I actually don’t drink soda….) Go figure!!!!

    • speakerlauncher

      LOL JR!

  • Because of my accident and the direction my life has went, I speak on about every subject you could imagine. When you are speaking on so many things and I have the background to do this. It’s hard to be what I would call an expert in any one thing. In the sport of Track & Field that’s why I loved the decathlon because you got to do 10 different things for just one event. Any suggestions without limiting what I can do well like the decathlon? Thanks!