Wednesday, December 09, 2015

7 Tips for a Professional Speaking Career

Recently the number of calls I have received from people who want tips on starting a career as a speaker has skyrocketed (I got two today).  Clearly the business of professional speaking has become more popular lately, and individuals from all walks of life are interested in sharing their expertise (and wanting to be compensated for their efforts).

The speaking business is an amazing field.  I have made some of the best friends of my life with other speakers, and the helpful nature of many successful speakers is unparalled in any industry. I am honored to have earned my living as a full-time speaker for nearly seven years (part-time for four years before that), and am grateful to all the people who have shared their thoughts and ideas with me.  

Countless speakers and meeting professionals have guided me on ways to improve my practice, and that is why I always take the time to help others who call and seek my advice.

I am writing this blog post as a "pre-call reading" for those who want to know more about the business.  I hope these tips are helpful.  I am happy to chat with anyone who is committed to getting into speaking as a career, as long as they promise up front they will respect the business and those who work in the meetings industry.  There are too many who think "speaking" is a way to "get rich quick" (it is not),... or who are "too busy" to help other speakers. If you want to get into this industry, commit to referring other speakers all the time.  I offer referral ideas to every client.  

Cavett Robert (Founder of the National Speakers Association) advised generations of speakers to not look at each other as competitors.  He is famous for saying:
"Don't worry about how we divide up the pie, there is enough for everybody. Let's just build a bigger pie!”
Here are Seven Tips for a Speaking Career: 

1.  Know the difference between being a "Public Speaker" and a "Professional Speaker".  While speaking skills are very important to having a career in the business, it is not enough.  The "gift of gab" does not equal earning a fee.  To be paid well and consistently you have to be committed to the industry of speaking.  This business looks like one thing from the outside and something very different from the inside.  Study the business.  You would not found a bank without learning the industry, why do you think you can wing it here?

2.  You need a good website and video.  Those who hire speakers are accustomed to working from referrals.  Hiring a speaker is a scary thing, as we who present at a conference set the tone for the whole event.  A bad speaker can ruin a meeting.  But few meeting organizers use a Google Search (or any other online speaker matching site) to select speakers.  They ask around for ideas and ask peers who they have used recently.  Then they check them out online before calling.  If you do not have a website and video that properly showcases your talents, you might never hear from them at all.  

Some will tell you that you need a good brochure or "one-sheet", but most of my clients simply go to my website.  

3.  Have a topic people want and position it in a unique manner.  Many people get excited about a topic around a personal passion that has little commercial value.  They think a unique concept is what meetings are seeking.  While it is easy for each of us to get excited about our own ideas, that is not enough to get paid to share your concepts.  If nobody has a budget for your topic, you not only have to sell them on why you are a great speaker, but you have to sell them on their spending money on something they may not understand.  Ask yourself how your talk will help the person who is hiring you and how it will impact their audience.  Does this match up with the goals of the organization paying the money?  Don't know?  Find out.  Study the business and see who has similar topics and identify the type of clients who are hiring them.  

4.  Speak.  Stephen King famously gave advice that you become a writer by writing.  Same is true for speakers.  Speakers speak.  Don't worry about the money, focus on getting experience and feedback. Legendary speaker Roxanne Emmerich once said to be great you need to give 300 speeches.  I concur.  Now that I have delivered over 500 professional talks in my career, I am way different (better) than I was at number 100.

5.  Be honest.  Do not try to be something you are not.  Lately everyone calls themselves a "speaker" and I see many people pretend to have more experience as part of their marketing.  I believe there is a stage for everyone at every level, but if you try to leapfrog (without a legitimate reason) you are hurting yourself, your audiences, and your clients.  I learned this over a decade ago when I accepted a keynote without enough experience for that particular audience.  I was just okay, but this audience was accustomed to more experienced presenters.  Nobody was happy, and if I had been honest with myself and the organizer I would have had a different outcome.

6.  Make friends.  If you want to be a professional speaker, hang around with other speakers.  This does not mean stalking the celebrities hoping they will throw you their crumbs.  I am talking about developing real friendships with peers at your own level and growing up together in the business.  Get to know working speakers and create mutually beneficial relationships (that means help them succeed, too).  If while promoting yourself you are not finding opportunities to refer other speakers you are missing the boat.

7.  Be ready for a long road.  Success as a speaker takes time.  While some people brag on their fast-track in the business, most of those people burn out or become "yesterday's news".  A multi-year speaking business is about more than a trendy topic with lots of PR and social media.  You need to be focused on building a long-term reputation and serving the whole meetings industry.  Meeting professionals are hard working people that often are too busy to notice any one speaker who is trying to sell themselves.  But over time they hear your name and take a look at what you have to offer.  One recent client told me she saw me speak 10 years earlier, and only now was she ready to hire me.  That is a long sales cycle, but I plan to be here for 20 more years, so I am cool with that!!!

My experience has shown that doing these things will help you more than reading a book or attending a get rich in speaking seminar.  I could not have done it if I had not joined the NSA and learned from people who were willing to share ideas without charging me for their insights.  If you hire a coach, be sure they are earning a living in today's marketplace, as things are changing fast in the industry. 

If the above was helpful, leave a comment and let me know.  Feel free to reach out to me anytime if you have other questions.  I am all about a bigger pie.  If you want to commit to helping the business of speaking (and the meetings industry) all along your path, then I want to know you!!!

Have A Great Day

thom singer

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