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How do I get started?

So you want to join the glamorous world of public speaking? It takes effort and intentionality to build a career in this space. Determine your message, hone your craft, and market yourself. But be practical and be prepared to fail.

If you are looking to make money in this space, consider what value you can really bring to an audience. According to a recent report, of the 2.35 billion Instagram profiles, almost 200 million accounts have over 10,000 followers. Suffice to say, competition is stiff, so be self aware of your standing in the world. While there have never been more events happening on a daily basis, there have never been more speakers out there competing for the same event dollars. 

The first thing you must do is determine what authentic message you can provide an audience that only you can deliver. Then, get started. Call a friend who runs a company. Apply to a local TEDx. Offer to speak for free at a nursing home, high school, college, or non-profit. And most importantly film it all. Collect as much video as you can, so that you can watch yourself, improve your craft, and create marketing materials to showcase your message and your style.

Make yourself available to be found as early as possible. Build a website, even if it’s a simple landing page with contact information, but market yourself broadly. If you are selling your house, but don’t tell anyone, you won’t get any offers, but if you hire a broker, post your house on your social media, and get it listed on real estate sites, then people will become aware. Same goes for your speaking career.

A speaking career is a snowball, you have to get started, and build momentum overtime. Each event is another opportunity to showcase your skills on stage for future audiences. During a Q&A, listen intently. If you hear the same question over and over again, work it into your speech. You just got a free focus group and live feedback. Don’t sleep on that added value. As you improve, hopefully you can grow your fees too!

How much should I charge?

This question tends to come from executives who have spoken for business purposes on behalf of their companies, and are starting to look at paid opportunities for the first time. However, it’s not uncommon for seasoned speakers to question their rate as well. Ultimately, your fee should be based on the value of your time, but it’s important to keep in mind simple supply/demand economics, and the true reason you want to speak. 

I often pose a series of questions to help a speaker determine their fee. After all, it’s your time and energy. 

“What would it take for you to miss a dinner party, your child’s dance recital, or a business meeting, and fly somewhere, with a connection, to an unappealing destination?” 

Not every event is a huge opportunity or easy to get to. However, asking yourself this question will give you a sense of how you value your own time.

“How often are you looking to be on the road speaking?” 

Maybe your aim is to make speaking your primary income source. Or perhaps, you are running a successful company, have four kids, and cannot envision being away from home/work for even a single day without significant compensation. There is no wrong answer, but the more you want to be out there, the more competitive you should price yourself. Charge more if you can get it, but the pool of potential events diminishes the more you charge.

“Why are you interested in speaking in the first place?”

Your motivation should help dictate your pricing and determine what is most valuable for you as you consider events. If you want to speak as a business development tool, keep your fee competitive to generate more opportunities knowing you can make up money down the road through your business. If you just had a huge exit and are looking to hit the road to inspire the next generation or individuals without the same means, you can’t charge a huge fee and expect to see a myriad of opportunities. Or if you have been out there doing 50+ talks a year and just had your first child, maybe you want to be out there less and can afford to charge more and not have a big year. 

Keep your goals in mind, and recognize how your fee will be received in the marketplace. Self awareness is key. The value of your time to you, may not be the same as the value of your time to others. If you have never been paid to speak and do not have a public persona, you cannot expect to command a significant fee. As you get busier and your fees rise, it might be time to consider bringing in a third party to help you scale your speaking business.

Do I need an agent?

Nope. OK, I’ll elaborate, especially since I am an agent after all!

An agent, like in real estate, can help you broaden and understand your marketplace. However, you cannot expect an agent to sign you if you have never been paid to speak or have no video evidence that you have potential. 

Quick reminder: some of the biggest speakers in the world do NOT have agents in the speaking space. Magic Johnson and Seth Godin seem to have done alright for themselves, right?

It’s also helpful to understand what the role of agent will be for you since everyone is at a different stage in their career. It’s our job to educate and advocate. Agents are in sales, yes, but to do that, we talk to events and agencies and have to explain why you make sense for a specific event. Agents should then advocate for you. We make sure you are taken care of financially, protected legally, and put in a position to succeed, so you can grow your speaking business. Some clients require more of one or the other, and not all agents are the same.

No one needs an agent, but when you are too busy to handle things yourself or are on the precipice of significant growth, an agent can become an invaluable tool and advisor along the way. 

Do I need to write a book?

Many speakers early in their careers believe that you need to write a book to be taken seriously, but that is far from the truth. A book, like a TV show, podcast, or other medium, is simply a platform for which people can learn about you and your point of view, and help market you as a speaker, but it is far from essential in this space. Not everyone is meant to be an Author, so forcing the subject can be detrimental to your success. However, if you have a solid book idea tied to your speech topics, events can be a great place to market and sell your book, and even get ideas for your next book.

How important is my social media?

As important as everything else you do. Having a big social media presence can benefit you because it creates more awareness for you and your brand, but is not a determining factor for your success. Many events ask speakers to post about their event on their social media. However, many speakers refuse to promote events on their social media given the volume of events they speak at and how that can alienate their audience. Everyone is different, but you should focus on social media as one of the many tools in your tool box to help grow your business, not as the sole determinant of your value and opportunity.