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So do you want to be a professional speaker?

So do you want to be a professional speaker?

I had my first paid public speaking engagement in 1985 and it’s been a love-hate relationship ever since… I love speaking, but I’ve always hated dealing with the details of booking new engagements. Even though getting new speaking engagements hasn’t been a problem for some time (everyone do me a favor and find some wood to play), I know it’s still a problem for many emerging speakers. So in today’s post I’ll share my thoughts on what works and what doesn’t in regards to finding someone who wants to listen to what you have to say.

The first thing to keep in mind is that you have to have something to say. Firstly, I am an experienced subject matter expert and secondly, a speaker. Speaking is something I enjoy…it gives me a break from my other business activities and gives me the opportunity to share my passion with people who can benefit from my experience. Take the time to develop your expertise on the topic, and then build a great presentation on the topic. Work tirelessly to refine your presentation, then customize it for each audience. I NEVER give a canned presentation. I take the time to understand my audience, how they can best benefit from my experiences, and then I tailor the presentation accordingly. In fact, in most presentations, I spend a few minutes asking the audience what they hope to get out of my presentation and I make sure and deliver… Quality, custom, personalized presentations will get you invited back.

I’ve never used a speaking agent and while I’m sure there are quality agents out there that produce results, I really don’t think they’re necessary for successful public speaking. I belong to a few different speaker agencies and I find they will produce a few engagements here and there, but I certainly don’t depend on them to fill my speaker schedule. So how did I build my speaking career? Old Fashioned… I worked hard in the early years… Here are my tips for speakers looking to raise their profile and receive more invitations to speak:

1. Service organizations: In the early years I used clubs and service organizations (Rotary, Kiwanas, Lions, Chamber of Commerce events, etc.) to hone my presentations and gain local exposure. They are always looking for speakers and you can be as busy as you want here. While they don’t pay a speaking fee, I’ve rarely spoken at a service club that didn’t lead to a consulting assignment or other speaking engagement. This is a low fruit and I strongly suggest you take advantage of this coming when you start.

2. Trade associations: Most industry groups and trade associations need participants for thematic panels and round tables at local, regional, national and international events and conferences. This is an easy way to establish credibility among your peers which, over time, can lead to paid keynote presentations. One advantage of speaking at this venue is that these events are well covered by the industry media and you can usually get a few quotes, or maybe even an interview as a result of speaking.

3. Get published…Whether you write articles, white papers, books, or blog posts, you need to associate your name with your subject area of ‚Äč‚Äčexpertise. Nothing says “expert” like being published. I have written over 200 articles, authored our corporate blog, and have written or contributed to dozens of white papers. While writing takes time, I can tell you that nothing has contributed to more speaking engagements than the published works that I author. The more media exposure you receive, the more speaker requests you will receive. I started with local newspapers, worked my way up to trade publications, and over time found my articles published in The Economist, The Wall Street Journal, CIO Magazine, Institutional Investor, Inc. Magazine, etc. Never listen to those who tell you that writing is not a good use of time… It is the most powerful way to boost your personal brand.

4. Prepare for organic speakers: While many speakers spend thousands of dollars on a professional bio, video clips, etc., I simply have a three page document posted on our corporate website. I use a professional bio that has attached an overview of the speaker and references which you can view by clicking here. Keeping it simple, I don’t “overexpose” myself and by putting it online, my information is available to the widest possible demographic.

5. Rates: Unless you’re just starting out or speaking pro bono, don’t speak for free. Set your fees and test the market to determine if your price is right or not. If you set your price too low, you won’t get many commitments because most organizations won’t value you if you don’t value yourself. On the other hand, if you price yourself too high, you can eliminate a number of opportunities that might otherwise have presented themselves. My fee is currently set at $7,500 plus expenses. Given my experience and qualifications, I’m likely to be priced below what some of my peers charge; however, at this price I receive a number of inquiries that I can choose from. I have also chosen to waive my fees when speaking to business schools and other student groups.

Establishing myself as a subject matter expert and working hard in the early years, I now receive a few to several unsolicited inquiries each month about potential speaking opportunities. If you enjoy speaking and are willing to work on your speaking career, you can easily create a significant supplement to your annual income.

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