Getting Started As A Professional Speaker
Most speakers bureaus, and certainly National Speakers Bureau, are not in the business of launching people on the path to becoming professional speakers. Yet, we are often asked for advice about developing a speaking career from people in a variety of stages in their careers. No advice is one size fits all. Here are some things we routinely share when asked for advice.
Practice builds skill in any field—think Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hour rule. At work, offer to be the one who gives the presentation—whether you become a speaker or not, great presentation skills are an asset.
Libraries, schools, adult ed classes are all great places to practice your craft. Some of the best speakers we work with honed their craft by speaking at grade schools, thousands of times. If you can keep an audience of grade schoolers engaged, likely you’ll be able to keep adults engaged.
- Toastmasters is a great organization and it has helped a number of speakers we work with develop their craft.
- National Speakers Association helps to join and connect with people who are professional speakers. Some of the local chapters of NSA are especially worthwhile.
Once you have a steady speaking business, and good video, then you are ready to work with speakers bureaus. The late great speaker Bryan Townsend wrote a bookWorking With Speaker Bureaus, that is full of great tips. It appears to be out of print, but you may be able to find a copy of it.
Develop Expertise In Your Field
Companies love to hire as speakers people of accomplishment and/or people who have expertise. Solid experience in a given area will serve you well as a speaker.
- Read books, articles and blogs in your field. Once you’ve done your homework and gained some expertise, consider asking to contribute a post to a blog you admire.
- Join LinkedIn groups oriented to your field of expertise. Read the answers people post to questions. Start sharing your expertise by doing a good job answering questions people ask. One speaker we work with gets a substantial portion of his business from providing great answers on LinkedIn.
- Consider writing articles for a publication in your industry. Another speaker we work with studied an industry he wanted to work in, wrote an article about his research, posted it on their online forum, and got a huge number of bookings as a result.
Get A Coach
The best pro athletes get coaching every day. Seek feedback from every speech—what specific things you should continue doing and what things you should change. If your ego is too delicate to handle feedback for improvement, this might not be the career for you.
Also seek a professional speaker coach—or several. Just like pro athletes—different coaches help you with different things. They can help you develop your topics, mix-and-match 20 minute “chunks,” work with you on specific speaking skills, and much more.
Coaching costs money. You and your career are worth the investment.
Video is your friend. If someone asks to tape you, say “yes”—as long as you get a copy of the tape within a month. Watching video of yourself is a great feedback tool!
And—while your business may grow organically from word of mouth at the beginning, at some point you will need video to help you sell yourself.
Speaker bureaus like ours must have video in order to sell you. We must prove that a speaker is worth the fee, and video is THE standard of proof in our industry. Testimonials are nice. Video gets you booked.
We don’t need fancy video with lots of cuts from different speeches. We need good video of a great speech, in front of a business audience. An entire keynote is helpful! Anyone can be good for a few minutes at a time. We need to do due diligence in recommending speakers to our clients. If we can’t get to see you give a full speech, watching a full length one on video is very helpful—to us, and to our clients.
Read a variety of articles on speaking, like this one from Forbes: Want To Speak Professionally? Here Are Five Quick Tips To Get You Started
Perhaps you have a book (or several) in you. Once you write it, your publisher will ask you to promote it, and speaking is one of the preferred methods. Some speakers think they have to start their career with a book. It actually will be easier to get speaking engagements to promote your book if you already have a track record of speaking—and your audiences will be better served.
Being a professional speaker requires a lot of travel. If you’re not willing to be on the road about 30% of the time, then speaking may not be for you. As Larry Winget points out, he hates to travel—but he loves to speak. Every job has parts of it you don’t like.