How to crack the speaker circuit

 In Professional development

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I am asked how to crack the speaker circuit by aspiring professional speakers at least twice a week, so to save you buying me a coffee, here’s my top ten tips for how to get your story on the stage, paid.

  1. We all have a story to TELL but are you sure you have a story to SELL? Take a long hard look at what you would like to speak on and do a feasibility study on whether your story and your area of expertise has a market with a budget and how many others are speaking on this.
  2. Don’t be a one trick pony. Develop three or four really fantastic, UNIQUE topics that you can adapt and deliver to just about any audience. Be the only speaker who does what you do.
  3. Practice like there is no tomorrow. The easiest way to do this is to contact all the clubs nearby and offer to speak at their next meeting. There’s Rotary, Soroptimists, Probus and others. Tee up a speech every week for a whole year to perfect your delivery. Do not offer to speak for free at major conferences and cannibalise your future income.
  4. Be funny. The funnier you are in this business the more you will be paid. Professional speakers are entertainers first and educators second. Practice your humour in conversation before you try it on an audience and pepper your speeches with humour so that you don’t have any long, hard-going stretches in your content. Remember that every single person in your audience has a high-powered entertainment device in their hand, competing with your speech for attention.

  1. Speak without slides and only very brief notes. Without these to lean on, you will know your content so well that your voice will glide like a conversation. It also means you can’t have technical problems.
  2. Get solid, regular feedback. Your mum doesn’t count. I have a professional voice coach and I send her a voice recording of every single speech I give and she gives me her feedback so that I can keep perfecting my delivery. Don’t believe the lady who tells you after your speech that you are the best speaker she has ever heard. Get professional, critical advice and keep improving.
  3. Do the work. As Will Smith says, he meets people every day who say they wish they could be an actor but those people have never DONE THE HARD YARDS. Do the work if you want to be a professional speaker: practice, get some coaching, go to toastmasters, read every book and blog on speaking style and presentation techniques, watch the best of the best on YouTube but avoid TEDx for style guidance. TED speeches are recited word for word, for a camera crew. A live audience wants engagement rather than a recital.
  4. Go it alone until you are already killing it. Hold off from contacting a speaker’s bureau until you have all your ducks in a row. You need good video footage, a slick website and a long list of killer testimonials before you go looking for representation.
  5. Don’t be a dick. Events are quite high pressure so no matter what happens backstage or in the four minutes before you speak, be the most charming version of yourself. Roll with the hiccups, be a delight to work with and your reputation will follow you. Say thank you to the people you work with.
  6. Have fun. This is always my tenth tip in listicals. Don’t do it if it isn’t fun. The 30 minutes right before you go on stage don’t count. That is always nerve-racking and I hate it. The rest is a lot of fun. The speaker circuit has taken me to some fantastic destinations and I have met wonderful people all over the world. Good luck!
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