My professional speaking story might sound simple, but it’s not without its challenges. In 2013, I was working on my second startup, BTSocial, which was solving a problem in the business travel space using social media. During that time, I was getting very active in the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA), attending conferences and participating in my local chapter in Chicago. My eager networking lead to a feature in Hotel Business magazine profiling me and the BTSocial product.
That article was seen by the education chair of the Mid South Area Business Travel Association (a chapter of GBTA), and she took an interest in my take on how social media was impacting the travel industry. Long story short, she reached out and asked If I would come and speak to the MSABTA about social media. At that point, I had for a long time dreamt of being a professional speaker, traveling the world educating and motivating people, so I thought, ‘Why the heck not?’ They flew me down to Memphis one June and the rest is history.
While my professional speaking endeavors came out of earnest networking to support my startup, you might find that you’ll have to work at it a little more to get yours off the ground. I do have some easy steps you can take to get started, now.
1. Pick a subject your good at
I’m sure that you have a lot of tools in your professional toolbox. However, you’ll want to find a few around which you can really build quality speech subject matter. Only you know where your skills lie, but you’d be surprised how simple of a skill you may have that is in high-demand. For me, social media was my starting point as I was working on a startup solution focused on just that. My knowledge on the subject and deep work in it gave me plenty to fall back on when getting started.
2. Find out what your industry needs to learn
Each industry has key gaps in knowledge that can be exploited. The easiest way to determine what people your industry are hungry for is to scope out the industry’s premier conference website. Take a look at the upcoming event’s agenda (last year’s if the next is not available) and see what topics the sessions focused on. There may be a few that you can piggyback on or you be able to create your own spin. You can also see if there are glaring gaps where your angle might fill in.
Another way to do this is to attend industry events to hear other speakers’ topics and network with professionals. You can straight-up ask what attendees would like to hear covered at these events and apply their answers to your plan accordingly.
3. Write your topic
Once you have your subject matter based on your expertise set and know what the industry wants to learn, get to penning your presentation. The first thing you will need is a general outline, then a summary that you can use to share with potential clients. Second, you will create the presentation itself, but that is a big step and will have to be covered in another article. Your summary should also include some key takeaways, or learning points that are actionable for the attendees. Once you have all that set, you can start reaching out to prospective events to get hired.
4. Local outreach and ask to speak (for free)
The ultimate goal is to get paid for your speeches, but to get started, you’ll want to offer your services for free. You do this for a four key reasons: to practice and get feedback, to get testimonials, to gain exposure and to build your speaking resume. You may only need to do a few free gigs before you start to charge. I got lucky and was able to start charging at my second event. If you submit to speak at a conference however, expect to not get paid, but nevertheless conferences offer are great exposure!
5. Build a list and a following
Once you have presented at your first few events for free, you’ll want to build a list of prospects to reach out to and start expanding your schedule. Some industry organizations have speaker databases where you should submit your topics. You can also join speaker bureaus and create profiles on sites like executivespeakers.com and speakerhub.com. At this point, it would be important to create a simple website for your speaking profile where you can host your topics, experience and bio.
6. Start charging
When should you start to charge and how much? That’s the million, well, thousand-dollar question. I would recommend starting to charge once you and your content are deemed valuable, but you want to make sure that you have presented at few successful events before you draft an invoice. Once you have reached this milestone, you can start asking for compensation for your talents.
Trying to figure out how much to charge in another challenge. A good way is to see what organizations are willing to pay by simply asking the question, “what’s your speaker budget for this event.” Another way is to ask what other speakers, whom you feel are at a similar level to you, have charged when they spoke. Only you can decide what your fee should be, but I would recommend to always be willing to flexible. I have spoken for as little as $500 (for non-profits), but when starting out my typical nominal fee was $1000. Depending on the event I have charged nearly 5x that. Obviously, your goal is to make it more than worth your time, but you have to keep in mind that there are hundreds of speakers out there whom you’re competing with. Don’t get greedy!
7. Write a book
Since being on the speaking circuit for nearly five years, I have been looking for ways to level up my career. After much searching, everything pointed towards writing a book. Being a published author immediately gives you the clout to amp up your speaking career. I’m in the early stages of writing my book now, and while completing the book itself is a huge milestone, I see it as a step to lead me to the next level of my speaking career. Writing a book is tough and it can take over a year so before you do this, so make sure that you have the expertise, time and drive to push it across the finish line. Once the book is published, it will be easy to land speaking gigs where you can focus on the books’ subject matter. At this point, you’ll be a published author presenting on a topic where your an expert, engaging thousands of event-goers, then fielding their requests for signatures as you hock your book in the foyer. That’s the dream!
This list may seem long, but it’s actually very easy to get your speaking career off the ground. The key is to start small while you’re building your resume then scale with supportive content and testimonials. Persistence and refinement will always pay off and before you know it, speaking can become a very fun and lucrative part of your life.
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