New Speaker Advice
New Speaker Advice
I've been very fortunate to have some terrific mentors who helped me find my way in the motivational speaking business. As a consequence, I'm a big believer in paying it forward. I'm always happy to speak with new speakers, and I typically get a couple of inquiries a week from people interested in becoming professional speakers. The advice below is much of what I normally tell aspiring speakers. While I'm happy to communicate with you as you build your speaking business - or even try to decide if the speaking business is right for you - I'd appreciate it if you would do me the courtesy of reading the information on this page before you email or call.
Q: I have a life-changing experience/important knowledge/mind blowing insights to share with the world, but I have no experience speaking to groups. (Or: I’m funny/talented on stage/an actor/a musician/a painter and I’d love to turn that into a speaking career) Where do I go to develop public speaking skills?
A: For most people I'd suggest Toastmasters. There is a Toastmasters group in most towns, and even within many companies. Toastmasters gives you the opportunity to hone your craft in a low cost, non-threatening environment. But you can’t stop there. Toastmasters is very technique focused. Learn the rules, and then go break them. You don’t want to look scripted. You don’t want to look like you just graduated a Toastmasters class. You want to find your own style, flair, and personality. Speaking skills are just the beginning.
There are other ways to develop platform skills. My personal journey to becoming a professional motivational speaker started with storytelling. Jump at any chance to develop your speaking skills. Does your company/organization need someone to speak to groups? How many of your co-workers are fighting over that one?
Check out local groups who hold monthly meetings that require a speaker (Rotary, Junior League, Chambers, Newcomers Groups, Ladies Clubs, etc.). This is a low pressure way for you to get used to speaking in public.
Take some standup comedy and improv classes – they get you used to being on stage.
Join NSA (The National Speakers Association) – or get involved as much as you can before you qualify for membership. Find the local chapter. You will learn a lot about the art and business of speaking. That’s where I got ALL my training.
One word of warning - wherever you go to get your training and speaking experience be careful not to get indoctrinated to give your speeches using any particular formula. Audiences crave authenticity. Audiences these days are savvy enough to spot a by-the-numbers speaker a mile away. Avoid a me too presentation style at all costs.
I worked for several years at very low fees to gain the polish and stage experience. I’m not saying that you have to start where I did, but I am saying that much of what you learn as a professional speaker can only come from hours and hours and hours of standing on platforms – dealing with every kind of scenario that is thrown at you. Don’t come into this business expecting to start big if you haven’t paid your dues.
Q: How much do I charge for a speech? I heard that speaker motivational keynote speaker Joe Blow charges $X thousands a speech, and I want to get on that gravy train.
A: You should charge what the market will bear. However, as a new speaker, you probably aren't worth (and won't command) a very high speaking fee. I normally recommend that a totally new speaker give 100 free, or low cost, speeches before they even consider speaking for a living. Starting out, I spoke at COUNTLESS storytelling festivals, nursing homes/assisted living centers, small town Rotary clubs, malls... And I was worth about what I was getting paid. But I was building my skills. I was getting experience. I was learning how to be comfortable on stage. I was starting to see that the performance was more than just getting through the seven minute story that I struggled to remember. Some of these performances were awful, nightmare experiences. Some of the settings were terrible. Some of the audiences were senile (literally), and they heckled me relentlessly. Sometimes in foreign tongues. This is simply called paying your dues. There is no shortcut or way around it. If you sincerely want to be in this business, bow up and get started.
If you are a celebrity or have some credibility to your name/reputation then you can probably start higher. If you are a best-selling author, you can charge more. If you were CEO of your company, then you can skip some steps. Where’s the line? I don’t know. You’ll have to decide that for yourself.
As for the gravy train...
- No speaker works everyday
- For every hour you speak, you'll put in 50 hours on:
- Promoting yourself
- Marketing and cold calls
- Networking - in person and on social media
- Writing books, articles, and blog posts
- Traveling to and from speaking engagements
- Writing contracts and doing paperwork
- Slicing, dicing, and promoting videos
- Doing interviews (TV, radio, newspaper, blog radio...)
- Researching and speaking with potential clients
- As a professional speaker, you run your own business
- You are responsible for your own:
- health insurance
- payroll taxes
- office expenses
- computer equipment
- accounting costs, etc...
- You can sleep to noon, but you'll probably work 14 hours a day
Q: What about video? I’ve heard that I need it, but don’t know how to get it.
A: Video is vital. You will always be looking for more and newer video that shows you in action. Don’t settle on one demo video – have hundreds of video clips on your own YouTube channel.
Getting Video is hard. Be careful not to spend thousands of dollars hiring someone to videotape you when you don’t know how the setting will actually turn out. We’ve wasted lots of dollars and time on that kind of stuff. Don’t set up your own event just for video. That never works out like you think it will.
Just go into every event knowing that getting video would be great. If a client asks you to lower your fee, ask them to tape your speech and give you a copy. In fact, I ask every client if they have the means or ability to tape it. I tell them they can keep a copy if they give me one.
When you get that gig that you KNOW is going to be sweet – big audience, awesome venue, great stage, big screens, etc. – then you’ll probably want to invest in hiring two video people to tape you and the audience. If it comes out perfect, great, you can sell it as a DVD. If not, just use pieces.
Remember that you aren’t going for one long perfect video – just tiny clips you split and put on YouTube. Especially clips that show you PERSONALITY as opposed to your information.
Create your own videos. Computers and phones are now wonderfully equipped to let you shoot your own video for free. No, you don’t want to use your phone to tape an entire speech. But you can use your phone to tape someone talking about how much they loved your speech. Or to get a client testimonial. Or to tape a new funny joke you wrote and want to share you on your blog.
Be aware that the video you post will help create an impression of you to the client. If they see you performing in a big venue, they will assume you are a big-venue expensive speaker. If they see you speaking at a kids’ birthday party – well, you do the math.
I get a lot of business because of my videos. It’s a way that people who don’t know me can get to know me. It’s a way I can connect. I become real. And they see me in action.
Don’t stress, and think you can’t start working until you have video. Just always be aware that getting video is one of your biggest goals. It will happen. There will be opportunities. Then you can take all those DVD’s of your speeches and give them to someone else to splice and dice if you wish. But it’s also easy to do it on your own!
Speaker Workbook Download
If you've made it this far down the page, you deserve a bonus. I've written a workbook with advice for people who want to become professional speakers: