How to Get Paid to Give Speeches
A Note From The Editor
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The glamour of being paid to share what you know from the stage cannot be overstated. Imagine an audience jumping to their feet and bursting into applause as you say your last few words!
You walk off the stage and a queue of people is already forming. They want to tell you how wonderful you were and how much you changed their lives. The meeting planner -- the person who arranged for you to be hired for this event -- is beaming at you from the bottom of the steps. She slips you an envelope, gushing over your incredible performance. Inside, there’s a check for thousands of dollars. It’s all yours, in appreciation for the knowledge you just shared in such a compelling, engaging and clear manner.
When you get back to your hotel room, you check your calendar to see where you’ll be speaking next week. Los Angeles! Perfect! You’ve got friends to hang out with there. You flop backwards onto the comfy mattress. Life is good.
If that’s not your reality yet, read on to learn the first three steps:
Step One: Pick the right topic.
Often, people want to get paid to speak on their favorite subject, not their smartest topic. Many people pitch me on how they overcame their abusive childhood, what they learned from their divorce or how they almost took their company public -- in the 1980s. Without a lot of work, topics like those are unlikely to generate success.
To enter the speaking industry, or if you’re getting off to a wobbly start, here are three tips to help you redirect some of that money into your pocket. To choose the right topic, bravely put your speech idea through this series of questions:
1. Will a company make more money (have a happier staff, less turnover, sell more widgets, etc.) if they apply what I teach? Can I prove it empirically?
2. Am I really qualified to teach this? There’s more competition for that stage time than ever before. A person who tells me, “I was the salesman of the month three times at the Lexus dealership in my town” has a longer road to success than someone who says, “I am/was the highest-grossing salesperson in the history of Lexus.”
3. Am I passionate enough about this topic to succeed? I recommend to my clients and students that they plan to stay focused on the topic of their book and/or speech for two to five years. That means not just giving speeches, but continuously studying all the new, fresh content related to your topic. If you’re already bored, it’s the wrong topic. Your audience members should never know more than you do. You cannot rest on your laurels.
Step Two: Look before you leap.
Most people get starry-eyed when they talk to me about their future as speakers. They picture themselves becoming like Tony Robbins, with thousands of cheering fans and limos whisking them to events.
The reality even for the highest paid speakers is that you’ll spend way more time alone in hotel rooms, in long security lines at the airport and in the back of cars than you will on the platform. Speeches are usually between 45 and 90 minutes long. Most speakers invest two days of travel for that much time on stage.
Most mid-level speakers do about 20 engagements per year at an average fee of $5,000. That comes out to $100,000 per year. I train people who are still below that mid-level, and many of them haven’t thought through what it actually means to do 20 engagements a year.
Step Three: Do you have “platform skills”?
Platform skills are industry jargon for how good you are on the platform. Are you authentic, likable and interesting? Can you think on your feet? Are you resourceful? With good platform skills, your name will start to spread and speaking engagements will begin coming toward you. If you could use some help, take an improve class, sign up for community theatre, take voice or singing lessons. Train yourself for success.
When you do a great job, word gets around. People talk about you behind your back -- and say good things! The best speakers are always learning how to deliver their content better and how to market themselves better because they know continual improvement is the straight path to success. Boldly explore these three tips. They will determine your success velocity as a speaker.
The Step-by-Step Speaker Self-Promotion Plan
1. Choose no more than three topics, all of which are of direct benefit to businesses, all loosely related. Businesses are where the money is in the speaking industry. If your topics are wildly divergent, e.g., “Customer Service, Positive Thinking, and Coping with Change,” you sound like a Jack of all Trades, master of none.
2. Research the top 10 to 15 speakers who are already covering your topic. How are you different, deeper, more interesting and more valuable to an audience?
3. Test and retest your proposed content via social media. If that proves that the general public likes what you say and how you say it, it will succeed as a speech topic. If they don’t, you won’t. Procter & Gamble doesn’t release a new product without research and development and market testing -- neither should you!
4. Build a compelling, high-end website (check out www.PrimeConcepts.com for excellent speaker web design services). You need to invest in looking like a superstar if you want to get booked for money. The competition is fierce! People who have their wife’s brother build their website after work are going to find they wasted time. This is an appearance-based business.
5. Leap onto the scene. Don’t crawl! Write lots of blogs and articles; build a YouTube channel with branded, rich content; relentlessly introduce innovative, fresh solutions; comment publicly on new developments in your topic/industry. Be everywhere, all at once.
6. Identify and promote your availability directly to meeting planners.
7. Be professional, courteous and diligent. When you get a meeting planner on the phone, have a clean, tight, benefits-laden pitch prepared.
Commit to pitching yourself to between 5 and 20 meeting planners every weekday for a few months until you get your first bite. In the beginning, it’s like “dialing for dollars.” Of course, how you target meeting planners, get their contact information and prepare to reach out to them in the most successful way possible is crucial.
Collect video of yourself speaking every time you get the chance, even if it’s someone with a smartphone. Use it to improve. When you have at least five good clips, hire a professional to edit it into a dynamic speaker demo reel. (It’s hard to get booked before you have one!)
Do a great job at every gig. Be brilliant on the platform and professional, courteous and charming off of it. Turn every meeting planner into a business friend so they’ll recommend you to peers. Marketing gets easier for speakers dedicated to self-improvement, who grow their content knowledge, improve their delivery style and enhance their marketing strategies.
Marketing is the single most important task any speaker performs. Seeing as you’re the person most passionate about selling your speeches, and you have the most to gain, that’s not all bad, even if you hate selling! The professional speakers I see making the most money are those who look on their speaking as a major career path and who invest in learning, growing and improving themselves and their marketing materials all the time.