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How to Become A Successful Professional Speaker

  • By Adela Belin
  • November 25, 2020

One of the things I enjoy most about being a freelancer and solopreneur is the opportunity to share information in various mediums. I can write, I can film and edit videos, I can tell a story on a podcast, or I can present it through a speech or workshop. I’ve taken this last avenue the most, and after four years of doing so part-time, I’ve been able to move into speaking and consulting full-time.
The leap was not an easy one, but it’s a space that a lot of people are curious about breaking into. So, to save you some time and heartache, I want to share some of my top tips for adding speaking into your freelancer repertoire.

Do an audit on your niche

As a freelancer, it quickly becomes essential to work within a niche. This helps streamline your process of scouting and bidding for gigs, developing expertise, and delivering high-quality work. Do some research within your chosen niche for possible topics to speak on. Don’t just think about what you’re good at and what you have experience in; find where there might be gaps in knowledge or areas that aren’t being talked about.
If you can fill one of those gaps, or provide additional support to a target audience in need of information, then you’ve found where you should start!

Start small, with remixes of existing content

Once you’ve narrowed down your niche and what you want your talks to cover, you have to figure out what you want to say. I find that the easiest way to do this, is to go through your content and see what has engaged the most users.
Look for likes or comments on blogs, emails with questions, or poll your current clients or target audience using your Facebook page, email newsletter, or even tools like Wedgies to conduct polls across platforms. Sharing your most popular content in a new venue, supplemented with new details and more opportunities for participants to engage with you, can be a great way to get a speaking career moving.

Practice, practice, practice

Before I entered the speaker circuit, I had the opportunity to book speakers on college campuses several times a year. In doing this, I learned there’s a difference between those with a good story, and those who can tell a good story. Individuals in the second group, as you might imagine, are far more compelling and memorable to watch than those with good experiences but no idea how to make them interesting for the audience.

The only way to move from the first group, to the second, is practice. Practice on tape or in front of friends, invite feedback (good and bad!), and then adapt your performance based on the feedback you receive. This process is humbling at first, but you’ll get more comfortable the more you do it.

Cull and contact your network

Armed with a topic, a method of delivery, and an idea of how to tell your story, you can now start reaching out to people who might be interested in your services as a speaker.
A word of warning: there is a difference between people you know, and people who can benefit from your services. It is easy to conflate the two, but I find it’s much more effective to contact folks who you know are challenged in the area you cover, and speak specifically to a demonstrated need.

The specificity does narrow your outreach opportunities, but it also shows you’ve done your research and have an understanding of the organization. As with any client you’re hoping to land, this differentiating factor matters. And once you land these initial clients, be sure to keep in touch with them to find out how they use the information you present and how it changes the way they work or exist. Those testimonials will be invaluable as you start looking to speak to clients who aren’t familiar with you or your work. If they hear from someone else that you’re good, that word-of-mouth could help them choose you!

Be open to working in kind

To be clear: I am a strong advocate in being paid what you’re worth for the work you do. However, I also recognize that early on in a new niche or area, some flexibility does exist in this arena. Starting with conferences, panels, or local events gives you the opportunity to build your skills as a speaker, and offers the exposure (I know, I cringed at the word, too) that can lead to paying gigs. But early on, if prospective clients are reluctant to pay you, consider discounting your price but also asking for in kind items that can benefit you early in a speaking career. Examples include:

  • Professional-quality photos or videos of your talk (if this is offered, don’t accept cell phone versions, have them spring to do it with a real camera)
  • Multi-paragraph testimonial about their booking and day-of experience
  • A concrete number of referrals to future clients
  • Access to facilities that can provide marketing materials

With that said, after a certain point these sorts of in kind exchanges will be harder to justify.  When you do reach that point, commit to having clients pay you what you’re worth—as with so many other things, it’s not just about the final product but the labor and preparation it takes to get to it.

Cement your offerings

You have a topic. You’re practiced. You’re road-tested. Time to make it official. On your website, in your portfolio, and on your LinkedIn, Behance or other online profiles, declare yourself open for business. Create a form where people can reach you to inquire about availability and pricing. Include the testimonials you’ve collected so people know how you’ve been received in the past. If possible, include photos and a video of you speaking. And promote, promote, promote!
With these tips, you’ll soon be able to add “experienced speaker” to your growing list of competencies, breaking you into a new stage of your career.
Got more questions? Tweet me at @ammamarfo!

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