How to Become a Killer Speaker and Get Paid!

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Become a Killer Speaker and Get Paid!

Breaking into the speaking industry is hard; getting paid is even harder, especially for women

By Snowden McFall

You’re a successful woman in the business world. Every so often you’re asked to speak, and you enjoy it. Perhaps you’d like to speak more often — and get paid to do it.

As a professional speaker with 25 years of experience, I can tell you that it’s not easy to break into the industry and grow your business. But it can be done. Here are my best tips and tricks for scaling the walls.

Nail The Basics

Learn the business of speaking at Toastmasters, which has chapters all over the world. After you’ve been speaking for over a year (with at least 25 speeches under your belt), attend National Speakers Association (NSA) conferences and workshops to improve your craft, discover ways to leverage your speaking into multiple streams of income, and network with other professionals who can refer business to you.

Hire professional presentation-skills coaches and voice experts. I coach a television news anchor who had confidence and charisma but lacked structure, stories, and a sense of timing. We worked on these issues, honed her delivery, and now she’s a dynamic, sought-after keynoter.

Pick a Hot Topic

Clients will hire you because only you can offer an unusual angle on a topic or industry. They want your unique knowledge, your personal stories, your inside scoop. Be sure the topic of your speech is a subject you are passionate about, because you will be spending years digging deep into it.

Prepare an Unforgettable Speech

Do your homework. Dig up and pull in the latest research. What changes are taking place in your field? Be the experts’ expert.

Learn everything you can about your audience. What’s important to them; what causes them pain? Ask questions of attendees ahead of time (through polls and social media) to use in your presentation. It always gets people’s attention when you can say in the middle of your speech “Several of you shared that you’re concerned about…”

Make sure your speech has a strong beginning, middle, and end. The best speeches have a strong opening, two or three key points with stories to illustrate them in the center, and a powerful close.

Don’t lean on audiovisual devices. So much can go wrong so fast with technology: computers that don’t sync, PowerPoints that suddenly scramble, audio that goes silent. Excellent speakers don’t need technology; they mesmerize the audience with their wisdom, stories, and audience interaction. If you must use it, meet with the AV person in advance, test all mics, and get a number to call for help.

Stories are what make a speech memorable. Tell stories about others; you should not be the hero in every story. End your stories on a high note.

Use humor. But be careful not to alienate anyone. Making fun of yourself is smart; ridiculing others is not.

Be authentic. Don’t try to be a brash powerhouse speaker if that’s not who you are. Be yourself.

Remember your “why.” Why are you speaking here? Who do you want to educate and empower? Use that as a guide while crafting your speech.

Get Yourself Booked

People often think the easiest way to get booked for paid speaking engagements is through speaking bureaus. If you are a Hollywood celebrity (or just a well-established celebrity in your field), that may be true. But the truth is that speakers bureaus will rarely take on clients who earn less than $20,000 a speech, and they almost never represent new speakers.

Instead, start by speaking anytime you’re asked — at association meetings, industry events, company conferences, etc. Speak at women’s groups, community groups, and service clubs. Most of those speeches will be unpaid, but you will improve your skills. Get known as a speaker who delivers great content.

At every speech, collect business cards from attendees by giving away something valuable, like a tip sheet or half hour consultation. Later use these for your email newsletter. If your speech is videotaped, get a copy of the master footage for your video reel. And always ask for a testimonial letter from the event organizer.

Develop Your Speaking Brand

To look professional in the speaking business, you need a company name, logo, one sheet, website, video, social media presence, and speaker’s kit. A speaker’s kit includes testimonial letters, a bio, articles about you, articles you have written, a list of clients, and a list of speaking topics. Most of these will be electronic, but there is still a market that prefers paper versions.

I’ve worked with over thirty professional speakers on their marketing. There is a specific formula for creating your brand, and it should reflect your uniqueness and your message. Speaker Cheryl Leonhardt wrote a book called Breaking the Grass Ceiling that taught women how to do business on the golf course. We branded her company as Power Golf, with the theme line, “Driving Women to the Green.” Her corporate colors were green and gold and her logo featured a golf course motif. Bullets on her one sheet were golf balls. That’s how to carry your theme through all your materials.

For my company, Fired Up!, the logo is a flame, and the fire theme shows up in all marketing, on the website, on my one sheet, and in everything from candles used in my presentations to fireballs, which I sometimes give out to reward audience participation. My first book was Fired Up! and all my keynotes and training topics are fire-related, such as Reignite Your Fire and Prevent Burnout.™ My email newsletter is called “Kindlings.” Check out my website to see how the fire theme plays out.

Get Paid!

National and local associations rarely pay speakers, but state associations often do. In corporate settings, pricing depends on budget. Sadly, women do not get paid as much as men, and frequently ask for too little.

Your pricing depends on the popularity of your topic, your expertise, your standing in your industry, and your geographic location. If you have a new book, product innovation, or major award, that will garner higher fees. Fees range from $500 to $5,000 for new speakers and expand with experience, title, and prominence in your field. Don’t expect to make five figures per speech until you have a successful track record of speaking for several years. Every book you write and get published should earn you higher fees. If you do something extraordinary that garners national media attention, that will up your fees.

The first questions to ask when someone wants to hire you are: “What are your goals for this event? What’s your budget?” And then be quiet and listen. They will give you clues about what they can afford.

If their budget is low but you still want to work with them, consider a sponsor. Sometimes you can get an outside industry-related sponsor to underwrite your fee. For example, I was speaking at a women’s conference for an organization that had very little money. I approached a medical clinic that specialized in women’s natural hormone replacement treatments and asked if they would sponsor me. They did, and in exchange I distributed their brochures at every seat at the event, referenced the clinic in my speech, and made sure their logo and contact information were in all event marketing and in the program. It was a win-win-win, as women attending the event looking for this service found a new resource.

Always get a signed letter of agreement that specifies your payment terms. Accept credit cards by establishing a Square Up account. Ask for half of the money at the time of booking and the other half on the day of the speech. Make it clear, and put it in writing, that the organization will pay for your travel and hotel fees, and provide microphones and AV. Everything is negotiable, but those requests are standard.

Maximize Your Networks

To get more paid engagements, share your marketing materials with everyone you know. Kelly Tyler Byrnes of Voyage Consulting Group made a transition out of corporate life by providing specialized training to the marketing industry. She started speaking at local networking organizations like the American Business Women’s Association, as well as sales, philanthropic, and church groups. She then joined the local chapter of the National Speakers Association where she found several mentors who helped her clarify her brand, referred business to her, and made suggestions for leaving the corporate world.

With an MBA, Kelly had worked at Sprint, the American Marketing Association, and an advertising agency. She understood the corporate world. After reading The E-Myth on entrepreneurship, she branded herself as a leadership development speaker and consultant and spread the word to all her previous connections at her former jobs.

Ironically, her first client was the ad agency where she had worked! From there, she grew her speaking business. She created a Corporate Culture Assessment tool to increase her value with prospective clients and wrote two books to help her clients and give herself additional credibility.

Rita Craig, now a full-time speaker on organizational effectiveness, spent 23 years working in human resources for a Fortune 500 company, where she became the first woman to serve as a division manager. Rita found that her years serving on community boards provided a wealth of contacts for people who would hire her to speak.

Tap into your various networks and share your expertise with everyone you know. Ask current clients for referrals and continually add value through social media videos, blog posts, and electronic newsletters. Get coaching and hone your skills.

Be highly visible on social media and share your knowledge there. I write daily posts on stress, motivation, and women feeling overwhelmed, and I now have over 30,000 posts on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook. Post about what you know best. Link to articles in your field, to your own blog posts, and to your website.

Speak Full Time

If you want to be a full-time professional speaker, learn as much as you can and speak as often as possible while working for an enterprise that offers a steady paycheck. Set aside enough money for those first few lean years and transition only once you have experience, contacts, and knowledge. The sky’s the limit.

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