Dr Rohan Weerasinghe: Why the recession has boosted the self-help industry
Described as one of the UK’s most inspiring speakers, Dr. Rohan Weerasinghe travels the world and trains audiences in areas such as wealth creation, property, health and relationships, something that he has been involved in for the last 20 years. Anna Nathanson sits down with the entrepreneur and hears his thoughts on the self-help industry.
Has the recession impacted on the self-help industry?
In America the industry has been very active since the 80s but in the last five to 10 years there has been a real boom in the UK and that I think is linked directly to the recession. People are genuinely frustrated; they now realise that the institutions they believed in like banks, some of the big industries and even the education system, aren’t actually supporting them. The so-called ‘job for life’ doesn’t exist anymore. We’ve been sold a lie that no longer applies and now it’s about re-education. Also, the industry has essentially evolved because we are not taught certain things conventionally in schools. I would love to see basic money management on the curriculum for example.
Does it bother you that those on lower incomes might be missing out on often costly seminars and do you think that the industry as a whole should be more accessible to all demographics?
It’s definitely a challenge because ultimately my goal is to make the tools I teach accessible to as many people as possible. There are big costs to running an event and holding seminars somewhere like London can cost thousands of pounds per day. That’s why my current focus with my team is to create digital, lower cost products to reach a much wider audience.
Won’t that discourage people from coming to your actual events?
Reading or listening to a personal or financial development program at home is very different to experiencing a live event. When people have made a financial commitment to attend, they are far more prepared and open to making that positive shift. Sometimes you do need to be engaged in a live environment and to have someone do an intervention with you, or to witness someone with a similar problem to you go through a shift.
Do you think that the industry has become, or is in danger of becoming, too commercial?
Like any industry, there are those who over-commercialise it and who have a focus on profit rather than people. They will charge unnecessarily high prices and offer no value to what they’re delivering. But then there are people who do really want to add value and who want to provide an experience and tools that transform lives. They do still need to make their business work but they want to add massive value and it’s up to the client to ask; ‘Is this somebody who I feel has integrity? Are they practicing what they preach and will they help me get the results I want?’
How does branding fit in with all of this?
If you think about established brands, let’s say a car, a BMW, as a customer you know what you’re getting whenever you buy the product whereas certain brands you don’t go anywhere near. It’s the same with personal development. It’s important for people to say; ‘I feel comfortable with this brand, in this environment’. Therefore branding is very important. As with any industry, you can’t develop a business that provides a service without a clear message behind the brand. You have to promote it and keep it profitable in order to keep it going, and in turn be able to help more people. The difference is between being greedy and making a reasonable margin on your business.
You have quite a laid back, no-nonsense and accessible approach, perhaps quite an unorthodox one in your field. To what extent was this a conscious branding decision?
Years ago I realised that an audience is most engaged when the speaker is just themselves, no bullshit. An authentic voice is very important and so I made a conscious decision early on to always be open and honest. You can’t get a message across if people can’t relate to you. And standing on stage with a suit for three days just doesn’t feel natural to me which is why I often wear jeans. I want people in the audience to think; ‘this is just a normal bloke, who’s just got some tools he’s learnt and is able to share them with others’. When it comes to language, sometimes you need to use adult, unexpected language to create impact and to stop someone’s negative pattern of behaviour. It’s just a tool and it’s my view that I should do whatever it takes to create a positive shift and help people redirect their focus. In this environment remember I am dealing with people who have experienced sexual abuse, bankruptcy, divorce and health issues. They sometimes have withdrawn and need a wake-up call. As a whole we are hearing more authentic voices in the speaking world, although overall I think most speakers are more formal in their nature.
The nature of your work involves helping people feel more productive and positive. Do you feel a personal pressure to appear this way all the time and how do you manage the times when you don’t?
The reality is that we all face challenges in our lives. If I’m going through a personal shift in my life or there’s something in my life that is out of balance, I’ll talk to my audience about it. Recently I was prepping for a seminar so much that it put a strain on my relationship, so I used that as an example on stage and to show which tools can be used to put things back into alignment. I don’t feel the same pressure to prove myself as I may have done in my late 20s and early 30s. There are people in the industry who do feel that pressure though, they put on a pretense and when you meet them away from the stage, they’re a totally different person.
Is there a pressure in your industry to not rehash the same concepts that have already been done?
I never ever profess to creating this myself. I don’t think anyone in self development can say; ‘this is brand new’. I don’t think there are any truly original messages anymore, just messages delivered in different ways. There are some great speakers out there and we each find different ways to teach and inspire people. Two actors can present the same scene; one viewer might be able to relate to one of the actors, another to the other. It’s the same with teachers. It’s about having a voice and message that different people can relate to.
How would you describe your audience demographic?
Very diverse. Anything from an 18-year-old lad or young girl who want to help their family, through to a 63-year-old single man who feels like he can’t attract the right person into his life because he feels unworthy. Also entrepreneurs, couples, just a very broad demographic. Often people will come to a seminar to work on one area in their life, such as their finances and very soon it becomes clear that it’s actually another area, such as relationships, that they realise needs more urgent attention. Many of us look at the symptoms and think that’s the problem. When you dig a little deeper you find that the cause is a totally different area. Therefore often people come in trying to fix the structure but really they need to work on the foundations.
Do you have any advice for anyone wanting to get into the self-help industry or do you think that the market is already over-saturated?
Choose to be one of those people with integrity and find out what you’re really passionate about, maybe it’s a niche area. Get to know it, understand it, bring some of your real experiences to the table. While I worked in civil engineering, I also went into schools and colleges voluntarily to deliver talks on mind mapping and personal development and how that can be used for revision. It was then that I realised that this was what I was passionate about and it evolved from there. So I would advise going and doing some work for free. There’s definitely scope if you have passion and I think niche is key, there are already a lot of people in the industry but many are very general and also commercial. Don’t make it about you. If you’re doing it from an ego perspective, to be a star, people will see right through that. The world is changing, we want authentic messengers in all areas from music to politics to self-help. We’ve had all the bullshit, people just want a straight message.
To find out more about Dr Rohan Weeransinghe and his work, visit www.rohanlive.comTagged in: personal development, self help
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