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Before You Take the Stage Make Sure You Look the Part Speakers who invest and hire pros to make them look like superstars are the ones who's fees double, triple, in sometimes quadruple.

By Wendy Keller

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Have you ever heard the phrase "Penny wise and pound foolish"? It's attributed to an Oxford University vicar in the 1600s. But in my world as a speaker trainer, I think it should be most often applied to new and emerging speakers because, sadly, many of them are.

Here's why: Speaking is an image business. A lot of people don't know that, so they try to ram their way into the industry by doing it like everything else they've done in business. The usual model? You want more customers? Make more calls! Pitch more prospects! Place more ads! Scrimp and save until you can afford a better website, business cards, a decent office. Then move up one step, repeat.

In the speaking world, the gatekeepers (who are also part of the decision making team) are called meeting planners. Their job is to make the people who pay for the event happy. That means screening, sorting, and eventually presenting for consideration an array of the best speakers possible. "Best" means those whose messages align with the company's agenda for the event.

For example, if the company says, "Our sales are slumping. We need to do something!" The meeting planner would be fired quickly if he presented a speaker on, say, teamwork or "Coping with Change."

Likewise, if the meeting planner brings in a speaker who is bad, boring, unprofessional or in some other way makes the meeting attendees uncomfortable, he may well find his job is on the line.

Remember, you're a stranger to these meeting planners. So how do you prove you'll be great, make them look good, and meet the company's goals before you even get on their stage? How do you make them hire you and not someone else?

Since so much depends on the speakers being excellent and on point, with a valuable message that closely aligns with the company's goals, the meeting planners rely on the trinity: Speaker Demo Reel + Speaker Website (including testimonials) + Speaker Social Media Presence.

  • A "demo reel" is a montage of some of your best moments on stage, woven together in a way that proves you're a star.
  • Your website needs to look splendid and prove you're easily worth more money than the mere fee you're asking.
  • Your social media presence needs to look professional, relevant, and organized

Most speakers fail to pass the trinity. They come and pitch me helping them market their spectacular message, maybe a speech I already know will sell well - but then they "cheap out". They refuse to invest in their dream, so instead of the kind of website that makes them look like the star they hope to become, they buy a hackneyed WordPress template and try to make a speaker website themselves; or they get some fuzzy clips from 10 years and 25 pounds ago and try to crib something together. Or they skip doing social media entirely. They get all excited about their dreams, but are looking at it from a myopic perspective.

Why would anyone do this? I'm confused. If you were invited to your boss' wedding, would you show up in shorts and flip flops? Would you drop by the PTA meeting in a tuxedo? How is improperly packaging yourself as a speaker any different?

If you were looking for a restaurant in an unfamiliar town, would you go to the one that has a bunch of dead flies on the window sill, is missing a few letters in its name, and where the floor is filthy? Of course not. You wouldn't trust that place.

But this is exactly what some new speakers do! They forget that the meeting planner is looking (quickly) at dozens of speakers' websites, trying to narrow down the list of pros. From there, she's going to go review your (excellent) your demo reel. And if you make it to the final round, your social media platform will get examined, too.

This is a "Fake It Til You Make It Business"! Speakers who finally invested in their speaking business by hiring pros to make them look like superstars are the ones who's fees double, triple, in one case quintuple.

No, it's not OK to wait until the money starts coming in. The money won't start coming in in this industry until you are prepared to do all you can to look like a star! A speaker friend of mine said, "Tell them to pawn their flat screen, take a second mortgage, sell the car and take the bus - it's that important!"

You've spent time developing a great speech. The next step is to focus on your promotion. When you put these three elements together, you'll be unstoppable. Step up, look your best, and you'll find the success you're seeking.

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Wendy Keller

CEO and Founder of Keller Media, Inc.

Wendy Keller is an award-winning former journalist, a respected literary agent, an author, speaker, acclaimed book marketing consultant, and branding expert. She is the author of Ultimate Guide to Platform Building (Entrepreneur Press®, 2016) and got her first job as a newspaper reporter as a 16-year-old college freshman. Since then, Wendy worked for PR Newswire; the Knight-Ridder newspaper chain; as managing editor of Dateline magazine; and as associate publisher of Los Angeles’ then-second-largest Spanish language weekly, La Gaceta. She works with authors, speakers and business experts to help them build and promote their brands. She founded Keller Media, Inc. in 1989.

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