Speaking for everyone – Interview with Leanne Christie

Thirteen years after she opened her training brokerage at home with just $300 for the business name and stationery, Leanne Christie has built Ovations into a thriving enterprise with offices in Hong Kong and Singapore.

The company can match a wide range of professional trainers, consultants, speakers, sporting and media personalities, local and international celebrities and entertainers to clients to get their message across.

Leanne wholeheartedly credits her mentor Nan Pratt of San Diego-based Standing Ovations as her inspiration – as well as the source for the name of her company.

“I thought: if I can be half the woman she is…” says Leanne, who nominates Nan’s grace and powerful client base as her major inspirations. Leanne particularly admires the access Nan has gained to well-known speakers and her “very, very large” clients.

“A lot of Nan’s colleagues in the US are quite parochial, but she has clients from Brazil to London and Italy,” she says. “I want to emulate her global thinking.” Leanne says Nan does business by laptop and travels five months of the year.

Leanne founded her original business and the first training brokerage in Australia, Training Needs, after talking to training managers and asking what their needs were.

Initially working from home, she spent $300 on her business name (later changed to Ovations) and stationery, and within a couple of weeks hired an office from a friend who supported her with secretarial services. She quickly realised the importance of keeping her accounts in order since she had to allow 60 days to receive payment from some clients.

As with most young companies, she built Ovations “by sheer hard work”. But it was two years later, when AMP asked her to match their brief rather than simply supply a celebrity speaker, that Leanne began to focus on diagnosing clients’ needs. For example, despite appearances, “negotiation training may not be what they need”.

Leanne also realised that she was doing too much work for too little reward, so she decided to increase her commission percentage.

“It helped me to concentrate on profitable clients and I let the others go. But every little client you’ve cold-called… it was painful to let them go.”

Leanne now has a database of over 6,000 people, from PAs to CEOs and professional conference organisers. As a member of the International Association of Speakers Bureau, she has access to Australian speakers, trainers and entertainers, and around 3,000 speakers worldwide.

She picks up on trends from clients asking for things or by attending overseas conferences – “thinking styles are becoming a hot topic” – and she suggests that Australian companies should consider opening an office in China in the next two to three years.

“The Olympics are getting close and Beijing has to outsource almost everything,” says Leanne. She predicts we could do particularly well given our proximity, our dollar, the recent Sydney Olympics, and China’s relationship with the US.

Ovations has already put in proposals for the Athens Olympics, and receives booking enquiries about our Olympic athletes, who are very popular with US clients.

Leanne notes that that when she first started her business, speakers and trainers were largely male. “And then there was the token female,” she says. “But that doesn’t happen anymore. Women have emerged as specialists in all sorts of ways.”

According to Leanne, one of the best ways to raise your profile is to become a sought-after speaker. “You’ve got to ask: what is my specialty? How can I use this to leverage my profile?” And so, in addition to its one-on-one coaching and private tuition programs, Ovations now offers a one-day ‘How to be a High Paid Speaker or Trainer’ workshop.

lizzy hodgins