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How to Break into the Speaking Business By Jen DeVore Richter

by | In the Magazine, Jen DeVore Richter

One of the most frequently asked questions I get from coaches is, “How do I break into the speaking business?”

Savvy coaches realize that they can rapidly and dramatically fast track success by becoming a speaker. If you’re looking for instant authority and credibility, there’s nothing better than standing on stage in front of an eager audience who is hanging on your every word.

Motivational speakers

Speaking is not just an industry for motivational speakers, leadership speakers, or people that work with corporations. To me, if you are an entrepreneur and a business owner, being a motivational speaker is one of the most important things that you can do to ensure the success of your company.

The great thing is that speakers come from a wide variety of backgrounds. Some people are in the tech industry. There are, of course, people in the motivational industry. Some people are sales professionals and marketing professionals, people that come from human resources or an organizational development background, people in the beauty industry, people in photography, any association or profession that has a conference needs speakers.

So, think about that. Does your industry or niche have a conference or an association that hires speakers? If they do, then I believe that the best piece of advice I could give you is to work on your speaking skills.

How to Get Your Foot in the Door as a Speaker

When I first started speaking, I was being asked to speak at local women’s groups for free.

If you want to break into the speaking industry, log onto Eventbrite or Meetup or even on Facebook and look at the sheer number of association groups or meet up groups that exist today that all need speakers every month.

To get booked, pick up the phone, do some research. Go on Google to find out what organizations and associations in your area are holding regular meetings and look to see what types of speakers they have come in. Then you find out who the executive director is or who the person is that’s in charge of programming. The person that’s in charge of programming each month is going to be the person that hires or retain speakers.

Then you send them a concise email that mentions that you have new content, new ideas, new stories that you’re sharing with the local community. And that you would love to be able to share it with their group if they think it would be a value. Then leave a short description, like a bullet point description of what your topic is and how it relates to their group.

The key is to make this email about them. To make your talk and to make your presentation be positioned and deliver in such a way that it is only about providing content to them and not about you talking about yourself or your business.

What they’re looking for

The truth is people don’t want to come to an organization, an association, or a networking meeting and hear a speaker stand up on stage for 30 minutes or 45 minutes and talk about themselves or their business. They don’t want that. What they’re looking for is information and education and entertainment that can help them develop, and can help them grow either personally or professionally.

Take a hard look at your content and your positioning and ask yourself, how does this help the individuals that are in my local community?

Now, what will happen is that sometimes they’ll come back, and they’ll say, “Yes, we would love to have you.” And that’s amazing. Then you just put it on your calendar. And then other times what will happen is that they’ll come on, and they’ll say, “We’d love to have you, but our calendar is completely booked for the next six months or the next year.

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Because sometimes organizations that have their act together will do their programming a year in advance. But that’s okay because a lot of times speakers that speak at these associations and organizations are not professionals, which means that they don’t look at the speaking Gig as their livelihood that their reputation is counting on it. So, the groups will get a lot of cancellations. They’ll get a lot of people that won’t show up as the speaker, or will cancel a couple of weeks in advance. So this is your opportunity as a brand new speaker to say, “well, if you have a cancellation, I’m available. Please keep me top of mind.” Then stay connected.

This is a powerful strategy, believe it or not, because it works. I’ve booked a lot of speaking gigs, and a lot of local speaking opportunities just because the people that say that they’re professional speakers, are not professional and cancel. A professional never cancels. I have been a professional speaker for a couple of years now. I have never canceled a speaking engagement. I would never do it. But, they will have cancellations. That’s an opportunity for you to get your foot in the door.

Surround Yourself with Peers

The other thing that I highly recommend that you do that my mentor told me when I was first starting was to join the National Speakers Association or another association or organization that can help you understand the business of speaking if this is something that you aspire to do.

When I first started as a professional speaker, I was doing a lot of local women’s groups, and there was this one time, in particular, I had been asked to sit on a panel for a Women’s Leadership Forum.

I was blown away when I saw the keynote speaker take the stage. That day something changed for me, and I said, “That is what I want to do with my life. I want to be the keynote speaker!” She was commanding the room. She was up on stage. All eyes were on her, and she was impacting the lives of these women in such a dramatic way.

I think being on panels is also a great place to start, but as soon as I saw her, I said, “Wow, that is really what I want to do.” So after I watched the speaker do her presentation, I went up to her at the end of her presentation, and I said, “Teach me everything that you know.” And she said, “Well, it’s impossible for me to do that in a very short period of time. But the one thing that I can recommend to you right now is that you join the National Speakers Association.”

National Speakers Association

So I did. I joined the National Speakers Association. That year they had a national conference that was going to be in Phoenix. So I jumped on a plane and flew to Phoenix to go to the national conference, which is called Influence. It’s important that if you decide that you’re going to become a professional speaker, that you surround yourself with other professional speakers. It’s impossible to get the training, the support, the mentorship that you need just hiding out in your house. You’ve got to put yourself in the same room with people that are doing what you want to do. So, that’s what I did. I flew to Phoenix, and I got in the room with professional speakers.

I’ve since moved to Denver, CO, which has one of the largest and most active association chapters in the entire country. So that’s going to be a great benefit to my career, and I can’t wait to see how my speaking career blossoms from here. But if you’re in an area that has a local chapter of the National Speakers Association, I highly recommend that you check it out and go to a meeting and see if this is for you. They have two different memberships. They have the academy membership, and they have the professional membership. As an aspiring speaker, you can stay in Academy for a short time. Then you’re going to have to eventually apply for the Professional Membership status, which has financial requirements and/or requirements on the number of speaking engagements that you’ve done.

If you don’t have a National Speakers Association in your area, there are other associations and other conferences like the SmartFem Summit that is held in Scottsdale every year. I’m a board member for the SmartFem Summit. And if you’re interested in learning about SmartFem and more about that summit, please reach out to me. The SmartFem Summit is for speakers, authors, and entrepreneurs who have a message in their heart and are trying to make a significant impact in the world. It’s essential that you get in the room, that you elevate your circle of influence, that you show up, that you surround yourself with other people that are doing what you want to do.

From there, there are other associations like Toastmasters, that are good for just boots on the ground basic speaker training.

Hire a Speaker Coach

Another option would be to hire a speaker coach like me and work with them one on one. I worked with two high-end speaker coaches to help me launch my speaking career at the very beginning. There’s something about mentorship and coaching that can help you get the results that you’re looking for a whole lot faster.

There’s no sense in spinning wheels and taking five times as long to figure something out when there are people that are willing and able to share with you what you need to know and to help you craft and hone your particular message and your particular brand.

The Speaking Business is Changing

I recently spoke with one of the past presidents of the Colorado Chapter of the National Speakers Association, and she agreed with me that speakers need to be able to productize the back end of their businesses. It’s not that you’re just going to pick one way of making a living as a speaker. You could be a keynote speaker and have companies pay you to come in and do your presentation for their group. Yes, that’s one way…

But also, professional speakers have their own events. They have their own workshops and seminars that they sell tickets to. Then when they are holding their seminar, they sell their own products and programs and services. That’s another way. But also, another way that’s growing by popularity is to do webinars. Some speakers make a full time living doing webinars and training as well.

It just depends on what kind of model you’re looking for. But know that the speaking industry has changed and that it’s important that you look at your speaking empire as an industry and as a real business that has lots of different revenue streams, including your paid keynotes, your seminars, products, programs and services, and maybe even webinars.

Have Something Unique to Say

Another point to make about breaking into the speaking industry is that it’s really about having something to say. So what is it that you have to say? To understand what it is that you have to say, you have to start with the who. So who is it that you want to serve?

The people that I serve with my message are women in business, women entrepreneurs, women in leadership. That is my who.

Next, what is it that you’re for? I’m for women and women in business having the inspiration and the empowerment that they need for them to do all things so that they can live up to their full potential. That’s what I’m for.

Now what I’m against is the corporate suits in the Ivory Towers telling us that it can’t be done. That there are only people that make money and there are only people that do good. I don’t believe that’s true. I believe that you can make money and do good both at the same time. So I don’t stand for their preconceived false ideas about what being a business owner is about.

Have a Unique Process You Can Turn into a System and Products

Another key that you’ll want to have worked out is your proven process for achieving a specific outcome. I’ve taken what I know, what my message is, the outcome, and the transformation that I provide to my clients and my participants and I’ve turned it into a system. That’s what’s different about me. I’ve got this unique story, and I’ve got these unique systems which gives me a platform to share my message and for me to be able to communicate what it is that I want to say.

I’ve turned that unique system into books, products, and programs I can sell from the stage for additional revenue streams.

Have a Hook and a Brand Story

The other thing that you need if you’re going to break into the speaking business is that you need a hook. You need something interesting and different about you that you can use as the thing that pulls people in. I have met so many interesting people through being a professional speaker. Some people have gone to the Olympics; there are people that have climbed Mount Everest. Some people have built multimillion dollar companies. Some people have written bestselling books; there are people that have TV shows, there are all these amazing, interesting people.

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But what if you don’t have that? What have you are just a regular person like me, and you’ve never climbed Mount Everest, or you’ve never gone to the Olympics or written a huge Amazon bestselling book, what do you do? You have to find the thing that’s interesting about you.

One of the things that I use as a hook is the fact that I used to work at Kennedy Space Center because it’s probably the thing about me that’s different than anyone else. I don’t know many other people that can say that they’ve done that. So you have to look for your hook. You’ll have to look for the thing about you that’s interesting and different that will pique interest in people. And it doesn’t have to be the thing that you talk about all the time, but you have to have something about you that’s different and interesting that people will be intrigued by.

You also need a story. I call it a brand story, which is the story of how you are the guide that’s helping your audience and your participants on this amazing journey of transformation. The story isn’t so much about you. While you’re a character in the story, you need to have a story that helps people understand that they’re the hero in the story with you and you’re just the guide to help them get what they want. You need a brand story, and you need to start sharing it.

Start Sharing Your Message

Finally, you have to speak. You have to open up your iPhone, you have to turn on your laptop, you have to get your iPad plugged in, and you have to start sharing your message.

I have booked keynote presentations off of Facebook live presentations just by sharing my story and sharing my message. Just start talking; start sharing. Don’t wait for the big stages to come. Don’t wait for the big invitations. Don’t wait until you’re rich and famous. It doesn’t start there. It doesn’t happen that way. You have to start by speaking even if you’re speaking to one or two people in your Facebook group. You have to start.

Be Marketable

The next thing that you need to know is that you need to be marketable, which means that people will want to book or hire you. Some of the best topics that people book speakers for include leadership, sales, and marketing, anything related to making money, information technology, teamwork, productivity, organizational development, anything that will help a company improve the outcome of companies.

Have a Success Benchmark

I also recommend that you look for a success benchmark. Look for someone who is similar to you and has a similar topic to you, serves a similar group of people, serves a similar niche, and is ahead of the game in terms of where you’re at and start to follow them. Look at what they’re doing, how they’re building their business, and what conferences they’re speaking at. Build a relationship with that person as a mentor, referral partner, and associate.

Create!

My final recommendation on breaking into the speaking industry is to create. As a speaker, the best content to create are those pieces of content where people can hear you and see you like videos and podcasts. This is the best way to break into the speaking industry. It is powerful because, on video, people can see your face, they can see your body language, they can hear your voice, they can see your energy. I get so many people telling me that the reason why they book me, or the reason they hire me, it’s just because of my energy. So, do video. Share your ideas, share your content.

Podcasting is great because they can hear your voice. I’ve booked keynote presentations because someone listened to my podcast and then recommended me to the person that was hiring speakers for the conference. Share your voice, share your story, get your message out, and don’t be afraid. Don’t sit behind your computer. Don’t sit behind your iPad or your iPhone, and look at everyone else’s content. Stop consuming, start producing. This is what it takes to break into the speaking industry.

Jen DeVore Richter

 About Jen DeVore Richter

Jen currently is a highly sought after media personality. Her creative approach to business has been published in two co-authored books: Amplify Your Business: The Rockstar Professional’s Guide to Marketing Success and The Rockstar Professional’s 90 Day Action Planner. Her ideas were also featured in the internationally published Top 50 Marketing Secrets of Successful Women. To access Jen’s $108K Perfect PR Pitch Template at NO COST, please visit: https://jendevore.com/jen-perfect-pitch

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