Fans of musicals will remember the scene where Oliver walks the street with roses in his hands hoping to make a sale as he tentatively sings, “who will buy…?” Of course, as he tries to implore the various people he passes on the street to purchase the flowers, he competes with all of the other vendors on the street trying to sell their wares or services. The same hopeful optimism and cut-throat competition exists for those of us considering pursuing getting paid to speak at events.
Who is More Expert than me?
Of course, the first challenge is to actually have something to say that people would be interested in hearing. The competition is so fierce currently that most associations will not pay to have someone speak (there are enough members or others willing to conduct concurrent seessions, provide case studies, or present on some issue for the “publicity” that the associations do not need to pay). Of course, there is also an element of “getting what you pay for” when the army of presenters walk to the front of the room with their PowerPoints and flipchart markers and proceed to bore people with data, text in 6 point font, and little relevance to the attendees.
To really crack into getting paid to speak, Vickie Sullivan, renowned consultant and authority on speaking, recently shared ideas in the e-zine, “RainToday.” Sullivan recommends the following:
- Ditch the Data - In what may seem counter-intuitive, the reality is that very few keynote presentations are really judged on the facts, data, or quantifiable evidence being offered. More times than not, the keynoter who is successful will be judged on, relevance of message, delivery style, humor, stories, and moving people emotionally. So, in place of the Excel charts and diagrams, Sullivan suggests that the speaker use stories and anecdotes that resonate with people.
- Go Where the Gigs Are – by that she means to stay away from the non-paying association meetings and explore the corporate speaking opportunities. The competition is potentially less as you likely have some contacts there and may have fewer hurdles or obstacles to overcome to get in front of the buyer. Where the associations are inundated with requests, the corporate buyer is focused on delivering a message of value and will often be willing to use someone they are familiar with. Of course, that also means you have to avoid being pigeon-holed as “just” the trainer or IT guru.
- Precede or Conclude – if one is set on speaking in conjunction with an industry or regional conference or association meeting, the recommendation she makes is to consider creating a pre-conference or post-conference addition. By creating a potential “revenue generating” opportunity for the association or meeting planner, the speaker can often take a percentage of the revenue split and create a revenue stream that way.
The Job is not Done
Having a presentation that creates excitement and is able to move people is a good start, but meeting planners are wary of choosing someone who will not generate enthusiasm for those that are unsure if they want to attend or are considering sneaking out to answer phone messages during that time slot. Reputation is of paramount importance as the “brand” is as often as important as the message. To accomplish this, Vickie Sullivan suggests revamping one’s media campaign. She suggests targeting the widely read publications and not just trade journals to get one’s name “out” there. She is also a strong proponent of having a book that promotes one’s ideas, viewpoints, or insights.
The last point to ensure is covered is the marketing collateral and materials. Marketing oneself as a speaker requires having materials that support that endeavor. Speaker bureaus demand it (though, in truth, they are more impressed with speakers who can sell themselves more than anything else as it makes their jobs that much easier), and clients and prospects will often accept them in place of a response to a proposal. Of course, the materials must represent the speaker as a polished professional. No cheesy clip-art, poorly worded narrative, and certainly no typos or proofing errors! The focus needs to be on message, the “take-away” attendees will get; and not on sample content or specific points to be covered.
Remember, this is about speaking – so providing videos, websites, testimonials will be key. It is the rare person that purchases a car without a test drive, and it is the rare buyer who will consent to a speaker sight unseen. Make it easy for the prospective client to see you in action.
If you are going to try to get someone to buy you as a speaker, you had better offer something of value, or you will be singing for your supper like Oliver Twist!