You’ve created both push and pull demand – you’ve wooed the bureaus and meeting planners and you’ve created a strong platform – and you’re getting inquiries. What do you need to do to create a thriving, sustainable business? Following are the three essentials for long-term success in the very tough business of (paid) public speaking.
First, understand that from your customers’ perspective, it’s all about risk reduction. So reduce their risk.
The greatest fear of a meeting planner or a speaker bureau rep is that a speaker will do something stupid, disastrous, or unforgettable. Sure, they want speakers to be good. But even more than that, they want them not to offend anyone. Think about it from their perspective. You put on a few conferences a year. The brand and reputation of the company, or the association, or the group are on trial for those several days. And you’re responsible. You’re not very high up in the organization, so everyone can abuse you if you screw up. “How could you have hired (Speaker X) when he insulted every single one of our customers by saying they weren’t green enough?” That indignant, perhaps career-ending question can come from anyone in your organization from the CEO on down.
So your job is to ensure that you are a safe commodity for them. You must consistently deliver exactly what you say you will. You must do so without histrionics, complaints, or unreasonable demands – in fact, with a smile on your face. You must show up a day early, introduce yourself to the meeting people and the A/V people and anyone else that is involved, and then stay out of the way while they do their jobs. You must have arranged any needs you have for A/V or transportation or bottled water from Fiji well in advance, and you must not complain about minor shortcomings in the on-the-ground actual arrangements. (Major shortcomings are another story. You will deal with those respectfully but firmly.) Most importantly, you must begin your speech on time, deliver a good performance, and then get off the stage on time. You will thank the A/V people for their professional help. You will cheerfully meet, shake hands with, autograph books for, and otherwise perform reasonable social duties for the organizers, the top brass, company employees, and their heirs and assigns.
In short, you must be professional – always.
Second, deliver consistently on your brand.
People hire you to speak to give them an experience – the experience of you, your brand, your passion. The better known you become, the more this is true. Many speakers new to the paid speaking world write fresh speeches for every single occasion. That is actually a very bad idea, for three reasons. First of all, it’s not what the customers want. They want the idea, the brand, the platform for which they hired you. So tailor your basic speech, absolutely, but don’t make up something entirely new. Second, it means that you won’t be as effective as a speaker, since you won’t know the speech thoroughly and in your gut. Real knowledge of a speech, like any kind of performance, only comes through delivering it in front of a live audience many times. If you’re always making up new speeches, you’ll never achieve that elegance, assuredness, and style that comes from complete comfort with a message. And third, you won’t get the word-of-mouth you need to sustain your business, because audiences will (rightly) see your speech as completely particular to them.
And there’s another way you need to deliver consistently on your brand: your marketing materials. Your website, your blog, your one-sheet, your DVD, your book – all your marketing – needs to look highly professional and consistent. It’s astonishing how many speakers have an inconsistent, or non-existent, brand presence. The first thing someone who is thinking of hiring you looks at is your DVD. Then, he or she looks at your website and blog. Then, the one-sheet and the book. Are they all consistent, and do they all clearly present a brand that shows you in a very good light? If not, get to work and fix them. More about marketing materials in a later blog.
Third, generate good word of mouth.
Most of your long-term business will come from repeat engagements and word of mouth. Every single audience member is a potential marketer for you – so embrace your audience, make your speech audience-focused, and enlist their help in spreading the word. You can’t build a speaking business on a series of one-off speeches. Find ways to connect with your audience before and after the event. Find out what makes them tick, help them, and establish real relationships with them, and your career will thrive.