Professional Speaking Tips- Get Started

Chris Brogan

You want to get on stage and speak professionally. You’ve done some time in speaking at free events and you’ve heard really good feedback. But you’re wondering how to get from free to fee, and you’re looking to build awareness and make some money from your efforts. Here’s what I know.

Set Your Stage

I already shared with you ideas on how to build your stage for public speaking. Consider that the pre-work to this. If you haven’t done what I outline in that post, don’t read this one yet. Bookmark it for later, work on the other stuff, and go from there.

Make a Speaking Brief

Open up your writing software of choice and write about your abilities as a speaker. Here’s what this should contain:

  • A good picture of you. A RECENT good picture of you.
  • An opening paragraph that states what your best topics are, and what you represent as a speaker.
  • Talk about your background. People want to identify with your experience.
  • A paragraph outlining your current level of speaking engagements. Don’t exaggerate. If you’re not keynoting yet, then don’t say you are. Show your current best speech first, then work back from that.
  • References or testimonials. These help a lot.
  • Links to videos of your speeches. The best videos you can present will go a long way towards helping them visualize your work.
  • Any restrictions. If you’re not flying to Europe right now, be clear on that.
  • Contact information. People need to know how to engage with you. Give them as many ways possible.

This document should be no more than two pages. Many people say one page is plenty. And you’ll note that we omitted your fees. That’s something best handled in the conversation.

Where to Find Clients

This depends on your industry, on what you’re talking about, on who you know. If you read the “set a stage” article mentioned above, I dip into it a bit. My best clients find me. I am doing some work with a few speaker’s bureaus, with varied results. After a talk with Tim Sanders, I’ll work a bit more with speaker’s bureaus in 2011, but I’ll say that 90% or more of my speeches came from my own efforts to find them. How did I find them? Blog posts, videos, and word of mouth.

I could write a book on just prospecting for speaking gigs, but I won’t do that here. This post is already long.

Money talk. Fees. Where everyone gets antsy.

The difference between most speakers and professional speakers is that professional speakers charge a fee. We don’t always charge a fee. For instance, when I attend a PodCamp or #140Conf or whatnot, I don’t charge, because it’s a different kind of venue. However, I also have to limit the number of those kinds of speeches I can give in a year, as I’ve got three businesses to run, and flying around to speak for free doesn’t fit that model.

When I first spoke for money, I charged $2500. I jumped up and down when they said yes. Within a year, my standard fee raised to $10,000. Until the end of 2010, my fee is $22,000. In 2011, it goes up to $25,000.

What’s changed?

Over the years, I’ve grown in my ability. Over the years, my credentials have improved (New York Times bestselling book, consulting with several Fortune 100 companies, more experience in my field). My demand has changed, as well (at least in the short term). Also, because I give a customized experience each time, I’m not afraid to charge what I do, because I know that I’ll deliver as much value back to my audience as humanly possible.

But none of this helps you. It just gives you a sense of where I’m coming from. How much should you charge?

The going rate for speeches from marketing types is somewhere between $5,000 and $10,000 (US Dollars), with there being some who make over that based on other details in their background. It’s reasonable to accept anywhere around $3,000 and still be in the ballpark. Note that I said “marketing types.”

Your industry also determines what people pay. Your audience determines what people pay. What people will be able to do with your information determines what people pay. For instance, when I spoke to a really big utility company and their audience a few months back, I knew that my job was to make some sense of all this social media stuff to a room full of people who had heard of Facebook, but who were asking me whether this was something their multi-million dollar companies should be doing, and how. That information has value to them, and I could certainly justify my fee for the experience. If you’re telling a bunch of librarians how to empower their communities with social media, they’re not as likely to make as much financial impact with the information, so they’ll be less likely to pay.

Does this pricing information help? Do you get where it all comes from?

To Negotiate or Not to Negotiate

My speaking fee is my fee. I don’t change the number. I do, however, give people multi-day discounts, so that if someone’s buying two consecutive days of my time, that costs them less. And I’ve bartered once with an organization that had something of value to me (so that I took some of my fee in something other than cash). Beyond that, I don’t negotiate. The reason isn’t that I think that I’m amazing and above such things. The reason is that my price is my price. I’ve got lots of friends who can deliver similar data and who charge less. If someone doesn’t want to pay me, that’s perfectly fine. I refer them to my friends.

You can decide to do this differently. It’s perfectly fine. I’m just sharing my ideas with you on how I do it.

Your First Professional Gig

I’ve covered the set-up stuff, but let’s talk about what you do once you land such an event. First, be aware that the person who hires you will want to do something with media (an interview or the like) to get more value out of your participation in their event. Do this. It’s always useful.

There will be a conference call. People want to know what you’re going to talk about. That’s perfect. The best way for you to use this time, however, is to grill them about their audience, about the current industry fears and hopes, about what else will be weighing on their mind while they’re hearing your talk. That way, you’ll be a lot closer to what the people in that audience are thinking about, versus just wandering in to give your talk. The more you can learn on that call, the better. Don’t skimp on the questions.

Before you present, do as much research as you can on the organization and/or the potential attendees for the event. Do some blog searches, and read what people are saying in that space. Find some of the bigger companies who will be in attendance, and see who you can find of them on the social web. See what they talk about day to day. Find them where they are and get to know more about them. Use this in your presentation, as much as you can. The more you can speak from their perspective and in their language, the better you’ll do.

Practice. I know this sounds stupid to mention, but if you’re making the jump to pro, making mistakes is a quick path back down to the freebies. Do what you can to deliver a crisp, flawless presentation, where you seem confident (but not arrogant).

Secret Tips

Be ready to switch from your slides to off-the-cuff. There are 100 reasons why this might be useful. One: the projector dies. Two: the audience is obviously way off base from where you thought they’d be. Three: you’ve been asked a question up front that isn’t covered in the deck. Four: news that morning changes the tenor of what you’re to present. Once you give a presentation from your own head, with a whole lot more relevance to the audience in front of you, you’ll have won major points.

Make sure the presentation is about them. It’s not you. It’s not you bragging. It’s not you selling. There should be a spot where you tell people a bit about you, your bio, where you’re coming from, but that’s just so they can understand what’s in it for them, and why they should work with you.

Mingle as much as possible. Before and after your speech, stick around and get to know people. I’ve found, time after time, that people respect this a great deal. The more you can talk with others, the more they’ll remember you, and ally with you. Note how much better it is to do this before your speech, because then you’ll have allies in the audience. It’s always VERY important to have allies before a speech, so that if you get nervous, you know where to glance for some support.

Humor helps. I’ll save this for a piece I’m writing for Entrepreneur magazine, but note that if you can be a little bit funny, it goes a long way. I’m practicing this more and more.

If You Have Questions

I’m working on a presentation for Human Business Works on how to give professional presentations. If you like this post, and the previous post on setting the stage, I’m going to pull out all the stops on my presentation. To be in the know on when that presentation webinar airs, get my free newsletter. I’ll be sure to announce it so you can participate.

What else can I do to help? What do you need to know? How can I empower your efforts as a professional speaker?

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