Monday, May 07, 2012

How I Became A Professional Speaker

What do you do for a living?

I am a professional speaker!

How did you get into that line of work?

I am regularly asked how I became a professional speaker.  It is a wonderful career.  I respect the business of speaking (yes, it is a business), and I am honored that I have had success in this unique and mis-understood industry.  But there is no one path to earning a living as a speaker, and for every professional speaker you find there will be a different back story that stands alone.

For me it began 15 years ago.  I was working in a sales and marketing job which lead me to often attend events with speakers.  I became captivated by the idea business.  I had the honor of meeting one of the industry super-stars at the time (and he is still a super-star today), Harvey Mackay, and he told me that if I wanted to be a speaker, I could do it.

I believed him.

It took me a long time, but I worked on the skills and became educated on the industry.  I watched everyone I ever saw who gave a speech and viewed them as a teacher and myself as a student.  I named this process "Speaker University", and I earned the equivalent of an advanced degree from all the people I witnessed talking to crowds.

Great speakers were captivating.  Others presentations were blah.  I was curious about what was the difference between those who could touch the soul of an audience and those that were mundane.  Experience was clearly part of the equation, and I began to speak regularly to gain experience.  I set a goal of 50 talks per year and soon was getting the opportunity to speak for a variety of organizations.  I listened to the audience feedback and looked everyone who heard me speak as a guide that would lead me to better speaking skills.

I started coaching executives on their presentations, and being the teacher also made me a better student.

In 2009, at the height of the recession, I was laid off from my day-job.  While I had been working to build a speaking and training career, I was not in the game full-time.  I had a choice to make.  I could follow my dream or go get a job marketing others.  I decided to go for it.

2009-2011 were the worst days for the meetings industry, and many might argue a bad time to start a speaking career.  Additionally there were few companies doing employee training classes.  It was a rough time to enter the business, but also the best time.  The journey has been half the fun!

I am happier in this phase of my career than any other.  I enjoy it when I connect with an audience to be a catalyst for action.  But it is more than just being on stage and getting applauds.  It is about helping transform the experience at an event.  People come to meetings with the desire to feel connected, and the speakers set the tone for the whole event.  When it all comes together I have gone beyond doing a job.

Meetings matter.  The gathering of people is more than just something that brings attendees and sponsors together at a business center.  It is primal.  Humans have been gathering in groups since the beginning of time.  But too many conventions, trade shows, conferences and seminars have become stale.  I love it when there is something more than blah happening at an event, and I am staging a one-man movement to help create real experiences at the conferences where I speak.

How did I become a professional speaker? One presentation at a time... and all stacked upon the ones that come before.

With over 300 professional-level talks under my belt I am seeking to work with meeting organizers who share my belief that a speaker is more than someone paid to talk, but instead a partner who helps create the culture of the event.

Speaking is not just a career, it is a calling.

Have A Great Day.

thom singer

Thom Singer is known as "The Conference Catalyst". He works with meeting planners and conference organizers to set the tone for a meeting. His presentations educate, inspire and motivate attendees to engage deeper in the event and make meaningful connections.


Nancy Myrland said...

I love your description of the process you went through to get to where you are, Thom. I admire you for what you've built.

Dave Lutz said...

Thom, thanks for sharing your story. It was very wise for you to evolve into coaching and realize that teaching others made you a better student. Awesome!

I'm a fan!

Randy Hennen said...

Great inspirational story, Thom. Meetings matter the most when they include the experience!

Gina Carr said...

Terrific story, Thom. Thanks so much for sharing. Very inspirational!

Leslie M said...

Part of becoming a professional speaker is hard work. Another part of it is getting help from your network.