3 Simple Steps to Become A Paid Speaker
In 2009 I made a huge leap and decided to get back up on stage and become a professional speaker. (I say back, because I'd been a full time stand up comic in the UK for 8 years, but had left the stage to become an author.)
For the first four years I did between two and five paid speaking events per year. Pathetic for the ego, and horrendous for the bank balance.
At the time this was incredibly scary – because I was churning through my life savings supporting my family – and also incredibly frustrating because my first ever keynote, done in front of a room full of other speakers, received a standing ovation. So I knew the “product” I had to sell was actually very good.
Fast forward six years where I average between 90 and 100 events a year, and a very good friend who is just starting out in the speaking world asked me to give them some advice about how to get paid gigs, so I thought it worthwhile putting my answer down here.
These are the top three things I would do if I was just starting out again now.
1. More time selling, less time “creating and crafting"
There are many many studies out there that show the most successful businesses in the world spend about 80% of their time, money, and effort on sales and marketing, and not on continually creating new products and services.
The temptation is incredibly strong if you’re programs or "signature keynote" isn’t selling like hot cakes, is to think it isn’t good enough (often just a mask for “I’m not good enough”). And I remember for those first three or four years when my finances were gurgling down the drain, the one thing I really knew how to do was to make incremental improvements on my speech, my slides or my stories. At least I felt I was achieving something. I even created a second follow-up Keynote somehow thinking that would help.
I did this because it was what I was comfortable doing, and after being on stage for 10 years it was something I knew how to do, and at least I felt was making progress. Don't get me wrong, constantly getting better on stage is incredibly important, but if you're dying from a lack of sales, then that’s where you should invest time, money and effort.
There is an old adage in business that McDonald’s do not have the best hamburgers, they have the best marketing. (And I would add the best customer experience.)
So don’t continuously tinker away, endlessly refining the product you have to sell – or keep making new products that won’t sell either. Keep searching, watching, reading and learning how to sell speaking work.
There are many fantastic experts on this, I’m a fan of Jane Atkinson, Lois Creamer, Michael Port, and others, and I’ve written a blog here
on how the media strategy that has worked for me over the years.
But the point is you have two swallow down that big lump of unfamiliarity, step right out of your comfort zone, and commit to selling.
2. Put Relentless Effort Into Working With Speaker Bureaus
THE ABSOLUTE worst advice anyone ever gave me when I was just starting out was from a really great speaker who thought that because my onstage skills were pretty high from my comedy days, he assumed that my ability to sell my speaking was similarly high. And I had no idea. I had an agent who handled all that.
He said to me “Don’t bother with speaker bureaus, you don’t need them.” While I’m sure that advice was valid for him at his level, for me it was disastrous and it send me broke. I ended up 100k in the red.
It was only after four years later that a great speaker and friend, Kirsty Spraggon, laughed at me when I mentioned this other person's advice.
“That's just plain wrong." she said "It takes about as much effort to convince one bureau representative that you're great as it does to convince one client. But one client gets you one gig, if you convince one Speaker Bureau Representative you're awesome they’ll get you 10-20 gigs a year. Let alone if they convince other people that work at the same bureau…”
This was the absolute turning point for me, and within six months I’ve done 36 paid speeches. The next year I did 71. And I now average between 90 and 100 - raising my prices every year.
3. Your Brilliant Theories/Ideas/Facts Are Not Enough
If there’s one thing I could impart to up-and-coming speakers, is that great ideas are everywhere. Everyonehas great content, everyone has a bestselling book, and "life changing tips and strategies" are just a google search away.
If you want to be flown around the world to speak at massive conferences – and if you're this far into this article you do – you have to remember that you have to entertain the crowd as well as educate them. You have to give delegates at conferences an unforgettable experience as well as some takeaway tips and strategies they can use the next day. Maybe I’m a bit biased, but I believe the best way to do this is summed up by this old quote attributed to Robert Henry, and many others.
“The fledgling speaker asks, do I have to be funny? Only if you want to be paid.”
I believe the best way to instantly create rapport with an audience, leave them with memories that last a lifetime, and put yourself head and shoulders above other speakers in your niche – and therefore get the top dollar – is to use humour in your speaking.
Unashamedly, I'm happy to mention that if you’d like some tips on where to start using humour – particularly if you think you’re not funny – come and check out all my free resources here. morefunnymoremoney.com
The one thought I’d like to finish up on is, if that little voice inside your head at 2 AM in the morning says “You have something to offer. You have experience that people would find useful.” then I strongly encourage you to have a crack, and join us on the international speaking circuit.
Sure, it’s an exciting life being flown all round the world meeting amazing inspirational people. But more importantly, it’s a deeply fulfilling life. When I was a stand-up comic once or twice a year I would have someone come up to me, shake my hand, or even give me a big hug, and say “Thanks very much, my life has been pretty awful lately and that’s just what I needed.”
Now I’m a speaker, I get that same thing once or twice a week. And I get paid for it.
So come join us if you’re thinking of it, the good news is it’s really, really hard and takes a lot of effort. That’s why most people don’t make it. But if you’re totally committed, and are open to receiving coaching from those ahead of you I promise you can do it.
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