By Wendy Keller, Literary Agent and Professional Speaker
It’s easy to find places that will let you come in and speak for free.
But how do you turn public speaking into a career move – one that makes you money?
There’s an unending need for knowledge in the world. If you’ve got something to say that is valuable to other people, and you’re not currently getting paid to share it, something is awry. This short article will give you 3 ways to move from “free” to “fee” speaking.
Point One: The reason you’re speaking for free is because you are packaged wrong.
Sure, some individuals speak for free because that gets them in front of prospects, or they’ve got something to sell in the back of the room. But many more people end up speaking for free because they just don’t know how to ask for – and get – more than a few bucks for their time and for sharing their subject matter expertise. It doesn’t have to be that way for you!
Paid public speaking (called “professional speaking” whether you do it full or part time) is a highly image-based business. If you look like the kind of person who commands higher fees for your speaking, you’re 50% of the way to getting them. This doesn’t just mean your clothes and haircut. It means your website, your business cards, the demo video on your website, sometimes your social media presence, etc.
I’ve been training speakers since the late 90s and I assure you that this is a “fake it ’til you make it” industry. Look the part, deliver on the platform and you will command the fees.
Point Two: Deliver on the Platform
If you are an average speaker, people will line up after you talk to tell you how great you were and sometimes, how you changed their lives. Every time a new speaker tells me they “always” hear this, my eyes want to roll. Only very bad speakers DON’T get told that.
Unfortunately, unless the people telling you how wonderful you are happen to be meeting planners (the people who hire speakers), the opinions of the attendees can make you feel good but have no economic value.
To get paid, you need to be more than average. You need to be fabulous. You need to be entertaining, informative and inspirational. When you are fabulous, it shows up on your demo reel. (The short montage video of you being terrific in front of live audiences that you use to promote yourself. The audience needs to believe 100% that they can create the results you just inspired them to strive to attain.
I’ve worked with some of the greatest speakers of our age. I can tell you that every one of them is committed to self-improvement. They take voice lessons, acting lessons, improv classes. They hire image consultants and top level website designers. They practice their content in front of a mirror. They use the best marketing strategies. They know that they are the product and they are committed to improving the product constantly.
If you are willing to admit that even talent such as yours could be improved upon, you have a high probability of becoming a very successful paid professional speaker.
Point Three: Prepare to Market Yourself
Unless you are a celebrity, sports star or have some incredibly unique act, until you are consistently earning $5000 or more per engagement and booking about 20 times a year, you are not going to be all that interesting to speakers bureaus. They’re the people who book successful speakers into venues.
That means that you have to commit to marketing yourself. It’s not something you can pawn off on your assistant! You’ll need to create, prepare and implement a marketing strategy, execute it, modify it, and keep moving. It is a lot of work, but the payoff is astounding. (This is my specialty!)
Most speakers who come to me talking about representation hate marketing. They want to be recognized for their amazing talent on the platform, or they think the hokey package they slapped together will carry them to success. I hate bursting their bubbles, but this is a competitive industry like every other. There are steps to take to move away from the $250 honorarium level of speaking to even the $5,000 entry level.
There’s a tried-and-true way to start getting paid (or paid more) as a speaker. People insistent on reinventing the wheel either get there late or give up along the way because it is “just too hard”. Like everything, a coach or consultant can be enormously valuable.
For those with a passion for speaking and some natural talent, this can become an incredibly lucrative business. It can give you the ability to share your messages with thousands of people every year, and truly and sincerely change lives for the better. There are many people who call themselves “professional speakers” right now, but in my long experience of this industry, I can assure you of this: cream always rises to the top. If you want this dream, it is simply a matter of committing to the steps to attain it.