How to Become a Professional Speaker: A Comprehensive Toolbox

In the first instalment, How to Become a Motivational Speaker: The Ultimate Resource Guide we scrutinised a whole stable of fundamentals in segments 1 and 2: Analysing your themes and audiences, ways to generate additional income and publishing your own book. Speaking skills were highlighted including dealing with anxiety and vital presentation skills tips. In this Part 2 “How to Become a Professional Speaker”, the toolbox features speaking fees, marketing and professional speaker associations.

3. How to Become a Professional Speaker: Marketing the “Brand Called You”

Here is a sobering question. How on earth can any prospective speaker expect to be taken seriously without the most rudimentary marketing aids in place? No website, no bio, no proof of previous engagements, no one-pagers to send via e-mail and the list goes on and on. You need to get your name out there so that clients can book you. In comparison with days gone past, “how to become a professional speaker” marketing has become very convenient.

Yesterday’s speakers had to send or drop off bulky “press kits” at enquiring clients. Not too long ago, a huge VHS video cassette contained your promotional video and had to be physically put in someone’s hands. No speakers had the luxury of You Tube links and handy PDF’s that could be downloaded instantaneously.

Create promotional material of which a short motivational speaker video, is the most worthwhile tool and showcase for your services. Promoting your speaking business is not a once-off strategy, but rather a marathon to be run strategically. This marketing marathon is a little different. It doesn’t have a finish line. Take too many rests and very soon, agents and clients will wonder if you are still in the race.

Ongoing promotion is part and parcel of building a speaking business and you will never get to the point where it is not needed any longer. It’s not only about how to become a professional speaker, but also about staying one. Top-of-mind awareness (TOMA) of your keynote speech and brand, will keep you in the competition. Don’t make the miscalculation to spend too much money in your marketing budget in the beginning. Rather be conservative.

3.1 Branding Arrogance is not Sustainable

Only increase your promotional budget as your income increases. So many new speakers make the mistake of spending thousands and thousands of bucks on promotion too early on. Most of the time the return is abysmal.

Tom Peters authored a stratagem “The Brand Called You”. [10] In this trailblazing article, he punts the magnitude of personal branding and how it makes you stand out above the rest. He promotes the observation and valuable branding lessons to be learnt from big companies. At the end of the day, you are the CEO of your own company and that company is you, Peters argues.

Compiling a thorough list of marketing, promotional and advertising strategies will contain enough info to fill the hard drive of a computer. The wide-ranging approaches available are as numerous as can be. An advertising executive once remarked that 50% of all marketing initiatives are successful, one just never knows which 50%.

Remember it’s not called the “speaking circuit” without reason. It rotates and every time a different speaker gets the opportunity. You will get your chance. From a marketing perspective, the idea is to make your circuit rotate on a smaller axis so that the next speaking inquiry comes in sooner. Sell yourself, but don’t become over-confident. One international speaking trip does not make you an internationally acclaimed professional speaker. Be cautious not to overstate your experience or achievements. Clients and agents are not stupid. Arrogance is not sustainable.

Let’s look at four essential tactics that can be implemented in how to become a professional speaker: a website, speaker listings, social media and most vitally a promotional video. At least this short list can feature in your promotional mix on the journey of how to become a professional speaker.

3.2  Website

The absence of a website might make decision-makers frown and even shy away. A website is your home on the internet and its non-existence is a threat to your credibility. In most cases, the “cheap” or “free” websites may get you started, but in the end the route goes via a skilled web designer. It should be built around your particular needs and of utmost priority should be mobile-friendly.

Smartphones have become the device of choice when surfing the internet these days. Great content like blogs and quality articles will attract people to your site and build your image. The fundamentals to feature should be a “headshot, bio, titles and summaries of your keynotes, testimonials, video footage, social links, a contact form and instructions for booking” according to Jess Ekstrom in the article “10 Ways to Become a Paid Speaker”. [11]

3.2.1  SEO is the Unlikely Magic Carpet

When buyers search for speakers online, particular websites will appear in the search results. These rankings are not accidental and a whole science (or rather art) functions in the background. It’s called SEO, short for Search Engine Optimization. Ranking high in search results is a very lucrative method for professional speakers.

It is mostly shunned, because SEO is so time-consuming and technically complex and therefore not really mentioned in “how to become a professional speaker” discussions. Most speakers steer away from SEO as it is widely considered as a fulltime job. The first 3 positions on the first page of Google’s search results are most profitable (on any search engine for that matter). These are the spots where clients will click the most.

Whilst compiling this resource guide, Google’s Keyword planner was consulted. It stated that the key phrase “motivational speakers” is used over a million times annually across the whole world. This is only for Google and the data of other search engines can be added on top of this statistic. So, the number of searches are gigantic and there are straightforward reasons why motivational speakers get booked so often if ever you wondered about it.

3.3 Speaker Listings

There are many opportunities to list your speaking services on a variety of websites. These can range from the Yellow Pages to industry associations and platforms specifically for speakers. Here is a big role-player: E-speakers features free and paid options for speaker profiles. You receive a “profile marketing score” every month to get an idea of how many individuals have interacted with your profile. Event professionals and corporate buyers peruse this database in their searches to match the correct speakers with the correct conferences.

And here is a very little-known insider trade secret for you. This nugget was intentionally hidden away over here, only for those who are unearthing this how to become a professional speaker resource list. It is called Google alerts. You can enter any search string where a speaker is needed and Google will notify you promptly, if something is posted on the worldwide web. This way you can uncover opportunities that the majority of other speakers, bureaus or agents don’t even know about.

Here is the second secret. The most important search alert should be “call for speakers”. Promptly you will be receiving these alerts via email. You will be notified about conferences and events who are on the lookout for keynote speakers.

3.4 Social Media

John Hall in “Want To Become A Conference Speaker? Embrace Content And Invest In Your Brand[12] mentions a groundbreaking point which is that you: “…can grow a following and build trust with an audience before you ever take the stage”. Social media certainly makes this feasible, but don’t depend on it to generate direct income – it’s unlikely.  Rather embrace it as tools to build influence, credibility and your brand in general.

With a whole stable of social media platforms to choose from, you can consider Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn as a minimum. The latter is perfect for cultivating business relationships. A first-class online service worth mentioning is Hootsuite. Here one can line up future posts. The platform then delivers the postings simultaneously to a variety of social media accounts. It provides one central control “room” for all of the content that you want to share.

3.5 Promotional Video

This is the nuclear bomb in your how to become a professional speaker marketing armoury. Its power remains singular whichever term it goes by: promotional video, demo clips, video trailer etc. If professionally done, this is the real deal-clincher. People want to see how you perform on stage, watch audience reactions and of course gain more info about you. Buyers don’t want to spend hours looking at your marketing material.

Make the video short and impactful. A creative, fast-moving two-minute clip can be formidable. Creating a motivational speaker promo video can be challenging and also presents a Catch 22. One must wait for the right chance, a suitable size audience and of course a classy venue. The quality of the footage must be exceptional. A friend recording with a GoPro is not going to work. It is better to postpone the creation of a promo video, rather than putting together an amateurish looking trailer. You cannot describe yourself as the “best motivational speaker” and have a school hall as backdrop and volunteer kids as an audience – at least not for a corporate conference.

Rather wait for an occasion at an impressive presentation venue like an auditorium. A bigger audience grants much more trustworthiness. Look at different speaker videos to get ideas. A shaky video, with bad sound and an audience of 10 people sitting in classroom style, doesn’t inspire any booking certainty.

4. How to Become a Professional Speaker: Determine How Much to Charge Clients

This question always leads to vigorous debate and differing opinions amongst professional speakers. There is at least one thing that everyone agrees on – the age-old supply and demand principal is at play. There is not a shortage of supply when it gets to keynote speakers.

Demand is arguably influenced by the peaks and valleys of the economy. On a more micro level, it is affected by specific event needs, the strength of the speakers’ brand and of course the topic itself. On closer inspection, the “fee factor” quickly turns into a tumble-dryer of dynamics.

But let’s start at a more philosophical level with advice from an industry leader: Discover that thing that you enjoy so much that you would gladly do it for free, explains John Maxwell [13] and then become so good at it that people would want to pay you for doing it. A popular phrase in the speaking industry is “from free to fee”. This refers to a speaker in the beginning of a career where presentations are done at no cost. This is of course, the ideal way to increase capability and to clock hours before live audiences.

Don’t expect to demand a market-related speaking fee right from the start. As you carry on to build experience, provide solutions through your speeches and truly motivate audiences. Your brand will slowly pick up speed. The message refinement process has begun. Your one-liners will get wittier; slides more breath-taking and stories more impactful over time.

4.1 Questions Around Fee Structure

Summon all your stamina, it’s difficult to predict when that first paid talk will appear. And then one day, when you least expect it, someone will enquire about your fee and in due course give the go-ahead. Your first paid gig has arrived. So, what does a fee structure entail? Many considerations will determine the myriad of formulas. It is walking a tightrope – not to charge too much or too little.

This is easier said than done. By now you are probably in touch with other speakers. Ask advice. Tap their brains. Eventually you will have to make an informed decision. What is your level of experience in relation to your topic and audience? If scarcity of subject matter is combined with jaw-dropping speeches and the right audiences over a period of time, a higher fee will follow naturally. Don’t overlook uniqueness of content, it can open huge doors. The rate of diagnostic questions now intensifies.

Here are a couple:

  • What are the fees of other speakers?
  • Do your credentials demand a higher fee?
  • Would you be open to do more talks at a lower fee or less talks at a higher fee?
  • Should you stick to one fee irrespective of the client and type of audience?
  • What are the pros and cons of having a fluctuating fee?
  • Would you charge extra if there’s a stack of customisation required e.g. changing the structure of your talk?
  • Should you charge a university the same as a corporate company?
  • What if non-profit organisations or schools ask for discounts?
  • Is it best to ask one all-inclusive fee which incorporates flights, rental car and accommodation or should one separate fee from expenses?
  • Does an agent put their commission on top of your fee or is it included in your fee?

4.2 Keep the Fee Conversation Open

Things get uncomfortable if a client obtains different fees for you from different “middle men”. Some feel that varying fees are unethical. Others say it’s market forces at play and one is simply accommodating differing budgets of an assortment of clients in diverse industries. Many clients do “shopping”. They would gain quotes for your value offering from speaker bureaus or event professionals and then contact you directly with the hope of gaining a cheaper fee. How do you then explain fluctuating fees to different role-players for exactly the same gig?

Presentation fees are the subject of countless “how to become a professional speaker” discussions, but your best bet is to keep the conversation open and tap the brains of seasoned industry players. Make it easy for clients to establish a contract with you. In challenging economic times, it creates a good impression if you for example, stipulate that you fly economy class. Depending on their budget and point of view, it might clinch the deal and communicate that you don’t consider yourself as the big cheese.

There are no clear-cut answers when determining a speaking fee. A couple of schools of thought exist and sometimes cause more questions than answers, on the trek of how to become a motivational speaker. Learn about the different models and formulas. In the “The Ultimate Consultant” [14], the concept of value-based fees is put forward: “Everything is about value, not about fees” Alan Weis argues.  He continues: “If the discussion is about fees, then you’ve lost control of the discussion.”

Which is the ideal structure for establishing a fee? Well, the jury is still out.

5. Joining the Professional Speakers Association

The National Speakers Association (NSA) has more than 50 000 speakers in their international network and its website features a dizzy array of impressive resources. For those who qualify, there are positively a wealth of networks waiting in the wings. It’s difficult to imagine a more useful learning platform than your local speaker association. In many ways, it’s a one-stop-shop for all.

Even if upcoming speakers do not meet the criteria for joining, the association would still point you into a helpful direction on how to become a professional speaker e.g. the possibility to sit down with an experienced speaker.

Many countries across the world have their own local speaking communities for example the Professional Speakers Association of Southern Africa (PSASA). These fee-based bodies exist to help speakers to grow their businesses through a variety of means. One needs to apply for membership and also meet their requirements. Workshops and annual conferences can then be attended which provide premium networking connections.

The option and one’s route to becoming a CSP™ (Certified Speaking Professional) is mapped out clearly and this prestigious designation enjoys the highest level of recognition within the association. One of their admirable cornerstones is the Code of Professional Ethics that holds members to high standards of integrity and professional practises. They act purposefully against any member who brings the speaking profession and association into disrepute.

In the final instalment (Part 3), Becoming a Motivational Speaker: Well-founded Tips we unpack: Working with Speaker Bureaus and other agents, establishing your home office, travel tips and ongoing learning. The big question is also asked whether a career from the spoken word is the correct one for you.

References:

  1. The Brand Called You / auth. Peters Tom. – [s.l.] : Fastcompany.com, 1997.
  2. 10 Ways to Become a Paid Speaker / auth. Ekstrom Jess. – [s.l.] : Entrepreneur.com, Accessed 15 January 2018.
  3. Want To Become A Conference Speaker? Embrace Content And Invest In Your Brand / auth. Hall John. – [s.l.] : Forbes.com, Accessed 23 January 2018.
  4. The Success Journey: The Process of Living Your Dreams [Book] / auth. Maxwell John C. – Nashville : Thomas Nelson, Inc., 1997. – p. 44.

14. The Ultimate Consultant – Powerful Techniques for the Successful Practitioner [Book] / auth. Weiss Alan. – San Francisco : Jossey-Bass / Pfeiffer, 2001. – p. 27.