You wanna do what I do?

at moodleOf late I’ve been receiving lots of enquiries from people asking whether or not I could help them develop their speaking 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 (in no particular order).

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.

So there it is. I hope it helps in some way. As I get more ideas, I’ll add them… but I think this covers it for now.

Good luck!