GETTING ON STAGE & GETTING PUBLISHED
WANNA DO WHAT I DO?
Of late I’ve been receiving lots of enquiries from people asking whether or not I could help them develop their speaking and/or writing career. Whilst I’d love to help everyone who asks, I simply do not have the time.
So in an effort to help out… here are my top tips.
And obviously, these as for general advice only, and do not constitute professional guidance.
SPEAKING ON STAGE
1. Work out if you have anything to say. And by that I mean, anything to say that people either need to or want to hear. To be honest you might not actually find this out until you start speaking. Also consider why are you going to be a speaker? Do you feel you can have a bigger influence in your field be stepping out of your current role?
2. Be tough. Be aware that because you’re willing to stick your head up, there will likely be someone equally willing to take a shot at you. I found this out the very first time I had a piece published in the national press. One of the most prominent commentators in this field dismissed it as a “hysterical thought bubble.” A bit harsh I thought… you can make up your own mind. And this leads me onto my third tip.
3. Write. A lot. Whether it’s a blog, opinion pieces, a book, or just for your own viewing, writing helps you to clarify your thinking. Really important if you’re thinking about putting your thoughts out there for public scrutiny. A blog or website is particularly useful as it gives you somewhere to send prospective clients to look at your work/thinking/offerings.
4. Watch lots of other speakers. Not just for what they’re saying, but – more importantly – how they’re saying it. How do they use a stage, how do they use humour, how do they use stories, research, stats etc to illustrate their points? How do they structure a talk? The best resource for this is the TED site. But bear in mind the majority of TED talks are less that 20 minutes in duration, so this has implications if you’re planning to speak for 60mins.
5. Record your talks. Watch them back critically. If they’re good stick some of them up on YouTube or at least part of them. You can tell people how good a speaker you are, or you can show them. Interestingly I’ve heard some of my peers suggest that YouTube is a career killer. I don’t agree. If anything it’s helped me reach a wider audience.
6. Kill the slides. I don’t mean don’t use slides, because I find that many people still like visual cues, and it can also help you to keep on track particularly if it’s a long talk. What I mean is use the least amount of slides that you can, with the least amount of text that you can. You might consider using a different slide platform to PowerPoint. This can be quite powerful if you’re speaking on a large program where everyone else is using PPT. But still like anything, a bad slide deck is a bad slide deck regardless of what you platform you present it on.
7. Share your resources. Ok, this is your call. Many of my contemporaries think I’m a lunatic for doing so (as they do for sharing my talks on YouTube). I disagree. Most of the people I work with really appreciate it and more importantly it increases the chance of my talk/presentation/workshop having a lasting impact.
8. Charge what you think is fair. You might start speaking for free to build your skills and your tribe. (NOTE: ensure that you can stay connected with people after you’ve presented to them – a mailing list, Twitter, Facebook etc.. )But be mindful that when you do start charging, you are not only charging for the duration of the talk. You are charging for your years of experience in the field, the time spent crafting your presentations, time away from your family, and – particularly for interstate gigs – the fact that a 60min talk might account for your whole day (or even two) when you factor in travel. You can get an idea of what some speakers charge by looking at this speaker agency.
9. Which brings me onto speaker agencies. To be honest, when you need them they aren’t necessarily interested in you. By the time they are interested in representing you, you most likely don’t need them. Be aware that speaker agencies will take anywhere between 20-40% of your speaking fee for representing you (that’s why they aren’t interested in you when you’re starting out – you don’t make enough!). Having said that, a good speaker agency will work with you to develop your presentations, enhance your reach and help you diversify into other fields.
10. Go knocking on doors. Most conferences have a point of contact on their website. Drop them a line, introducing yourself, what you speak on, and if possible link to an article, video or podcast showcasing what value you would add to their event.
11. Develop your business model. In short my business model is one where I present at events, and bank on my talk resonating with enough people for them to seek to engage me to work with their organisations. So far it’s working. What’s your model? Are you just going to speak at events? Or will you offer consultancy too? Will you write policy, help coach employees or work with various community organisations? Be clear when you’re presenting what it is you actually do.
12. Keep doing what you do. It’s important to be authentic. All my talks are based on what I actually do and my business model enables me to do this. I work with schools and other youth oriented organisations on a daily basis. Sometimes with staff, sometimes with kids, sometimes both at the same time. I also work with businesses as well as coach individual clients. It’s these experiences that help inform my ideas and talks. This helps me to continually evolve my thinking and my presentations. Some people will always criticise you. It’s when you realise they have a genuine reason to – ie. you’re no longer authentic – that you should reassess what you’re doing.
13. Don’t quit your day job. At least not until you have at least 6-12 months of bookings. By that I mean you can live off your earnings from your bookings. Remember that you have to pay GST (in Australia), and tax. Remember you have to take into account no-one else is looking after your superannuation (pension), or your holiday/sick pay. If you’re already self-employed this won’t come as news to you, but if like me you’ve only ever worked in full-time employment like education or the like, this presents a MASSIVE shift in your lifestyle. Get good advice about how to structure your finances/household budget. (As a general rule assume that half of what you earn will not end up in your pocket).
14. Connect with other speakers. Most – not all, granted – but most speakers are a nice bunch who want to work collaboratively with others. If I’m approached by an organisation to present on something that is slightly outside my lane (behaviour management or second language strategies for example) I have a network of peers to whom I can refer them to. And they do the same. Yes there are some speakers who are incredibly competitive and feel threatened by other people (see Point 2), and you’ll work out who they are pretty quickly. Be nice to them when you meet them but recognise they’re determined to protect ‘their patch’ at all costs. As a general rule most of the speakers I have worked with – and I’m referring to speakers across the spectrum, from the most watched TED talk speaker through to a teacher who I helped get their first speaking gig – are really cool people who – if they can – will always offer a helping hand or words of advice to others.
WRITING & GETTING PUBLISHED
The first decision to make is whether or not you can self publish. Doing so gives you more autonomy in what and how you write. It also allows you to recoup more $$ from sales. I self-published my first book #SchoolOfThought and doing so allowed me to raise over $50,000 for the Indigenous Literacy Foundation. If you’re interested in self-publishing, this is an excellent resource: https://www.ingramspark.com/
However, if you’re set on getting published by a publishing house, then this link has some advice: https://www.allenandunwin.com/being-a-writer/getting-published/advice-from-a-publisher
That said, some publishers are more focused on specific domains, so it pays to do your research. For example if you’re writing about education, check out publishers such as Corwin, Pearson and Wiley’s Jacaranda brand.
What follows is based on various proposal templates I’ve seen from different publishers and allowed me to refine my proposal for my second book, The Act of Leadership which was published in 2021 through Wiley.
Many publishers will want to see some form of a proposal from a prospective author. The less public your profile, the more robust this plan would need to be, eg. If you’re an athlete competing on the world stage, a proposal would be of lesser importance – as your ‘story’ would already be compelling to enough people for a publisher to take a bet on you.
You may want to consider any some, or all these points when putting together a proposal.
1. Book summary
Prepare a brief summary of the book, including an elevator pitch (100 words), key ideas/themes, potential titles/subtitles. Who is the target audiences, their challenges/dramas, and what benefits/remedies your book will offer.
2. Sample material
Include a detailed outline of content – summaries of chapters & key themes. Include an estimated word count, when you expect to be able to deliver a manuscript and include a draft introduction/chapter/writing sample.
3. Competitive landscape
Be sure you understand the competitive landscape starting with books but also considering influencers, media commentators, thought leaders, speakers etc. (Social Media, Podcasters, TED talks etc.) Explain how your book is different and will challenge the status quo or address an unmet need.
4. About You
Include a short bio that explains why you are the person to write this book. What makes you an expert/leader in this field? What is it about your expertise and/or experiences that make you a credible voice in this space? What are your personal and professional objectives for writing a book and why are you approaching a particular publisher? (THIS SHOULD REFLECT THE RESEARCH YOU’VE DONE INTO WHAT TYPE OF TITLES THE COMPANY PUBLISHES)
5. Author platform
Do you have a platform? Most publishers do not want to spend resources generating an audience for you so, how many people are you in front of yearly? Describe the various facets of your platform, including social media, speaking, consulting, workshops, training, mentoring etc. What have you done in the last 6 months, and what will you do in the next 6 months?
6. Marketing/Promotion/Timing of release
Again, the less money publishers need to spend on marketing (particularly an unknown author) the better. Do you have a marketing & PR strategy including social media. How would you leverage this to promote the book? Are there any marketing opportunities for the book i.e. how would the book be positioned at the core of your business (marketing/prospecting/sales cycle)? Is there an optimal schedule for release?
Getting large numbers of copies of your book into the hands of your clients, prospects and audiences is proven to be the biggest driver of sales in the Australian (Non-Fiction) book market. Do not underestimate word-of-mouth recommendations because combined with publishers’ distribution you’re able to reach a larger mass audience. If feasible to consider, how many books do you think your business would use in the first 12 months? Provide an outline for how you will activate these books with your audience/clients.
8. Additional opportunities: Global, Custom, Partners and Corporate sales
Publishers are often ideally positioned to partner on customised content and specialised sales opportunities both in Australia and globally. Can you think of any opportunities that either currently – or could – exist to create custom content/digital products or services based on the book? If applicable, briefly describe the book marketing/client sales opportunities in the major countries where you work.
Good luck – because you’ll need it. Although the maxim holds, the harder you work, the luckier you’ll get.
All the best, I’ll be cheering you on!
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