So… You Want to Become a Professional Speaker?
Several times a year, someone asks me to help them out getting started in the speaking business. I’ve created this post to direct you to some great resources to help you get started. Read on only if you’re serious about becoming a speaker…
Professional Speaking 101
I won’t candy coat this. The speaking business is a tough business. 95% of this business is selling yourself and marketing yourself to prospective buyers (meeting planners). Delivering the speech is simply delivering the product after it’s been sold.
If you don’t like sales or cold-calling, or if you can’t take rejection, I suggest you do something else. I’m not trying to scare you away. I’m simply letting you know how it is.
I’m lucky enough to have a great hook (Four-time Olympian) and I’m told that I’m a very good speaker, even so, I have to work hard to get gigs.
It took me about three years of consistently and persistently marketing myself (10-12 hours a day) to develop some good momentum. Along the way I was willing to try anything; cold-calling meeting planners, internet marketing, direct mail, anything to get the job done.
The money can be great but you will work hard for it. There’s enough business out there for anyone that is willing to make the effort. The only competition is yourself.
I could write a book about how to build a successful speaking business, but I’d rather spend my precious time growing my business. So, rather than rewrite what’s already out there, I’ll just refer you to some good sources of information.
Public Speaking Tips from Ruben:
From a 2006 Interview conducted by Johnny Blue Star: Click here
How to Get Gigs:
Once you have a professional looking website with at least one great demo video, you can start marketing yourself.
The simplest way is to call 3-4 key people in Trade Associations. The key people are in order of importance:
VP of Board of Directors,
President of Board of Directors,
Treasurer of Board of Directors,
Executive Director of the Association,
Meeting Planner of the Association.
Call them, introduce yourself, 80% of the time expect to leave a voicemail, send them an email, send them your book, letter, brochures, whatever… Follow up every 6-8 weeks ad nauseum.
There are thousands of associations. They make money two ways. Annual membership dues and Annual Convention ticket sales. They need speakers for their meetings. The speakers better be good or people will stop attending the meetings. So you’d better be good.
As of 2017, State Associations can usually afford $5000 + travel for a speaker. Sometimes more, sometimes less. Depends on how big they are. A Montana association will have fewer members than a California association so they may only afford $2000 or less…
The beauty of speaking for an association is that it’s a paid showcase. The audience is filled with people that can hire you to speak. And those corporate gigs pay more because corporations usually have deeper pockets.
If you are good on stage and really connect with the audience, you should be able to get 2-3 gigs from every association gig.
For a new speaker I would suggest to contact all the associations in your state. If you are from Louisiana, do a google search for Louisiana State Associations. They will usually all have their offices in the capital of the state.
Call them up, send hem stuff, repeat.
In the meantime, call groups in the city where you live. Loins Clubs, Rotary Clubs, Kiwanis Clubs, etc. Those don’t pay but you get to hone your stories at their meetings and get yourself known locally. You never know who’s in the audience. Maybe someone who would hire you to speak to their employees for real money.
By the way, that’s called the “Rubber Chicken Circuit.” Because they always meet for lunch and they always serve overcooked chicken.
The Speaking Circuit
It doesn’t exist. You create your speaker circuit by marketing yourself like crazy. You’re not in the speaking business. You’re in the speaker marketing business.
If you are shy, you’d better hire someone outgoing to make those call for you. Otherwise you’ll have very skinny kids.
Don’t contact speakers bureaus until you have a great website with a great video, impressive client lists and great testimonials. You’ll be wasting your time, and worse, their first impression of you (new, inexperienced, beginner) will their lasting impression of you.
Once you have your sh*t together, definitely contact them. But don’t expect much. A few may add you to their speaker rosters. Being on their roster doesn’t mean they are selling you. The have thousands of speakers on their site to look big to their clients. But they sell their favorite and proven speakers to their clients.
After a while (months or years) they may start selling you. They will call you asking you if you are available on a certain date and it you would hold it for them. Don’t get excited. When they place a hols they you are one of 5-10 speakers they are telling their client about. So it’s still a lottery ticket.
If someone else calls wanting that date, immediately call the bureau, tell them someone wants you on the held date. They will call their client, and usually the next day will tell you to forget about their hold. Go with the bird in your hand. This is business.
Even when you are listed in bureaus’s websites it behooves you to market to all their salespeople so you are top of mind with them. Send them your books, etc.
Bureaus keep 25% of the booking fee. I treat them as gravy.
About 30% of my business comes from bureaus. The rest comes from my own marketing.
Write a Book
You will need to write a book to make it in this business. It’s a big project but anyone can do it. A book gives you credibility and sets you up as the expert because you wrote the book on it.
More information below on how to do it. By the way, self publish it.
I use www.IngramSpark.com as my print by demand company. Lulu.com is good for small runs.
There’s a whole industry of people that prey on beginning speakers. It’s no different than the get rich quick industry. So be careful before dishing out thousands of dollars on useless information. Before investing a lot of money make sure the so-called experts have fruit on the trees. Make sure they have built successful speaking businesses.
Note: One of the groups I would stay away from is called International Speakers Network – www.isnworks.com . Don’t give them your hard earned money.
They called me and wanted me to pay them $500 for them to represent me like a bureau. NEVER pay a bureau to represent you. ISN explained the $500 was to pay the cost of putting your information up on their website.
I asked to speak with the owner. I told her I do not pay for representation BUT I’d pay her $500 plus her commission AFTER she booked me. She didn’t go for it.
That told me she didn’t intend to promote me in the first place. After all, with my Olympic hook, and my testimonials I’m an easy sell.
But she would not go for it. Why? Because obviously, ISN makes their money by signing up hundreds of speakers at $500 each.
Another thing to know about bureaus… when a bureau books you, they keep 25%. Don’t pay them more than that. 30% is highway robbery.
Beware: Don’t ever do business with the Anne Land Agency. Anne Land pretends to be a bureau. She’s not, she’s a crook. She’ll collect your fee from the client but won’t pay you. Stay away from Anne Land.
Beware: Don’t do business with Viztar International, a conference and book publishing company in Mumbai. They translated several of my books and as of the time of this writing, three months after sending me a royalties report, they have still not paid me the $7700 they owe me.
Invest in Yourself
But you will have to invest money. You need to learn how to market yourself. There are many techniques. You need to try them to find out what works for you.
Here are some of the best…
Speaker Marketing and Building a Speaker Business
www.SpeakerLauncher.com Jane Atkinson helps speakers build their businesses. She has helped some pretty impressive people.
“The Wealthy Speaker” by Jane Atkinson is a must read.
www.NSASpeaker.org You can buy audios on just about anything having to do with building a speaker business right out of the website.
Chris Widener’s Speaking Academy is a series of short videos about building a speaking business. (YouTube Channel) https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC7nu5Q0DuULof4TZRBaEh1g
Becoming a Better Speaker
www.Storytelling-In-Business.com – Doug Stevenson will take your speaking to the next level. I attended his camp and it made a huge difference in my presentation skills.
Get his book, “Never be Boring Again” and sign up for his newsletter.
Watch Doug’s “Storytelling that Sticks,” podcast in order. He teaches you the basics and builds on his previous podcasts.
Final Tip – The Real “Secret” to Success…
Don’t just read all this stuff. Take massive action. Your attitude needs to be that done is better than perfect. Work your rear end off and clean up the mess later. If you’re not willing to do that, don’t waste your time trying to become a professional speaker.
Like I said before, this is a tough business.
But, I believe anybody can do it. The question is… are You willing to do it?
Software and Services Ruben Uses
WordPress is a great way to build a website. I use the Divi Theme by Elegant Themes. By the way, I’m getting about 50% of my gigs from people who find me on the Internet.
Peter Hoppe builds great WordPress websites and more importantly, after he’s finished building your site, he’ll teach you how to make changes, updates, etc. so you are 100% in control.
Important note: I’ve worked very hard to get great testimonials and develop great videos for my website so that once a meeting planner stumbles across it, they will be impressed. I was not getting 50% of my gigs from the Internet at first.
I’m constantly doing things to improve my website. This business is a work in progress.
Learn to Write Good Copy
Read some good books on writing good copy.
“Perfect Phrases for Sales and Marketing Copy”
“The Copywriter’s Handbook”
“The Irresistible Offer”
“Words that Sell”
“Phrases that Sell”
Copywriting Websites with Good Information
Videos for Your Website
People will judge you by your videos so make sure they a professionally done. Get a pro to do a two camera shoot of you (and mike the audience) the next few time you speak for a good sized group. The video guys at medium and large churches know what they are doing and don’t charge as much.
Whenever you are speaking, if your client is taping your presentation, ask them for a copy. You never know when there will be great footage you can use in future videos.
Doing this stuff yourself is tough. I suggest going to Fiverr.com and finding experts to help you out.
I used to use Microsoft Publisher because of its simplicity, but not too many printers use it. I’ve had to learn Adobe Photoshop. Photoshop is a tough software to learn, but it’s the industry standard. You might want to take a beginners Photoshop class at your local community college. If you have a Mac, you can get a lot done with the Pages program.
Record all your presentations. Then review them to improve.
Use a lapel mike with it to get a higher quality recording ($25).
You can use an iPhone with a lapel microphone.
Voice Recognition Software
Dragon Software is the state of the art voice recognition software that will allow you to dictate a book instead of write a book. This will save you a ton of time.
Shopping Cart, Website Back End Software
Monthly newsletters are a must because that’s how you create a following of people that purchase your products and refer you as a speaker.
You’re not in the speaking business, you’re in the marketing your speaking services business.
I use MailChimp for my newsletters, autoresponders, and much more.
It automates my internet business. Note, your newsletters need to have a ratio of 20:1 (Giving Value 20X more than Selling).
Other Speaker Resources Ruben Heartily Recommends
Freelance Help of all Kinds
www.elance.com is a place where you can get people bidding to do all kinds of things for you. Writing a book, editing, virtual helpers, duplication, etc. I know top speakers who have sent a bunch of notes to eLance people and $1500 later gotten great books written for them. You’re going to have to write a book in order to increase your credibility. Mainly your credibility to yourself that you’ve actually got something worth people paying you top dollar to speak about. If you don’t believe you have value, it’s going to be pretty hard to convince a meeting planner that you do! www.oDesk.com is great too – now called www.UpWork.com
www.Fiver.com – great for small projects.
Video Taping & Editing
The videographer at a medium or large church is usually a great value.
Voice Overs and Audio Production
Michael Stevens Productions – 281-320-9503 www.michaelstevensproductions.com
The Music Bakery – 800-229-0313
Sound Rangers – www.SoundRangers.com
Travel Agents Top Speakers Use
Joan Rakosky – 800-435-1077 – firstname.lastname@example.org
Shelley Rempe – 402-981-7750 – email@example.com
Printing (from business cards to books)
Data Reproductions – 248-371-3700
Vaughan Printing – 615-256-2244
Star Printing – John Stephens – 281-951-5808
Cindi McLane – 904-476-8462 – www.transcribeyourbook.com
Book Editing and Ghostwriting
Sara Diehl – 614-323-0534 firstname.lastname@example.org
Patti McKenna – 815-263-5017 email@example.com
Graphic Design for Book Covers
www.BoxShot3D.com makes images for your website that look like 3-D pictures of your books and products.
Bar Codes and ISBN Numbers for Books
Print on Demand and Distribution for Books
Cartoons for Books
Printing (promotional and bonus items)
Twig One Stop – www.twigonestop.com
Printing For Less – www.printingforless.com
2DayPostcards – www.2DayPostcards.com
Kerry Beyer – 888-330-0077 – www.kerrybeyer.com
Professional Organizations for Speakers
Toastmasters International: www.toastmasters.org
National Speakers Association: www.nsaspeaker.org
I use HootSuite to help me set up my Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook messages.
I use HubSpot.com to track leads, prospects, sales funnel, etc. The free version is probably all you need at first.
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