by Suzanne Falter-Barns
Typically, you don’t start out by hiring a speaker bureau or manager to book your gigs. In fact, a speaker bureau is not going to be interested in representing you until you’ve done somewhere in the range of 50 paid speeches, or worked your fee up to the $5,000 per speech range. You can’t even join the National Speaker’s Association (nsaspeaker.org) – an industry organization that serves as an unofficial meeting place for many speakers – until you’ve given 20 paid presentations as a freelancer, or done so in the last year in your work, or earned $25,000 as a speaker within the last 12 months.
Instead, you start out as a speaker by simply deciding that you are one. And then, typically, you descend into a muddle of panic and despair as you realize you have no idea where to turn first.
Hey, we all start out like this: utterly alone, hunting around for their first speaking job, wondering what in God’s name we’re doing. So I advise you to start small and learn the craft first. Your very first gig may well be in a friend’s living room, or the coffee hour at your church. And this is exactly where you should be, as you learn how to become a speaker.
For many of us, overcoming our nerves and actually getting up and delivering a cogent talk takes time. We have to learn to get comfortable and connect with an audience. We need to learn how to pace ourselves, speak slowly and clearly, and think on our feet as we progress along. We need to learn what works and what doesn’t as we plan out our talks and workshops ahead of time. Yes, some of us are born performers who don’t need any special training. But others among us are begging for it – and will thrive, once we get on the right track.
That’s why I recommend putting in at least a few visits to your local Toastmasters Group. At the time of this writing, there were 195,000 Toastmaster members attending more than 9,300 clubs meeting in approximately 80 countries. And all of them get together for free to practice speaking in public. This is a great way to get used to standing up in front of a group, and to get the critical feedback that will make your weaknesses disappear and your strengths develop. You can find a complete database of local Toastmasters chapters at their website, www.toastmasters.org.
If you can’t access a Toastmaster’s chapter – or even if you can – do make the effort to have your early efforts videotaped. (All of your speaking appearances should be videotaped, actually.) And then do the painful thing, and actually watch those tapes. You’ll learn more doing that than just about anything else you can think of. I like the FLIP Video camera for this at http://www.TheFlip.com – and I feel that a perfectly reasonable digital video can be made by a friend in the audience. (Flips are super simple video cameras with a USB arm that hooks right into your Mac or PC.)
But before you head off into creative oblivion, it’s best to begin with this basic question: what do you want to get out of this appearance? Try to pick one primary goal, which will help you determine which form of speaking gig to set up, and how to approach your audience.
If you want to fill your practice, shorter is probably better, at least to start. Few folks will go on, say, a weekend retreat with an unknown quantity (at the very least, they’ll need to read your ezine for a while.) But they probably would be willing to do a mini workshop or an evening seminar on a topic that gets them going. Think of it as a free sample of your work, and choose a subject that is a mini-chunk of what you do. Make sure it’s attractive to your target audience. For instance, if you coach women with eating issues, how about a two hour talk on “20 Everyday Things You Can Do to Lose Weight.”
If you want to test concepts in the field, or gather stories, think workshop. You’ll want to have some willing subjects to coach here. And people who come to workshops tend to be very eager to escape their usual world and try new things. If you warm them up appropriately, they’ll be eager to talk, too. You can lead this in a 2-3, or full day format. (Longer is obviously better.)
If you want to garner publicity and establish platform, go for talks and workshops that are newsworthy and possibly visual. Perhaps give a talk that’s controversial, or hold one in a controversial place. Example: if you’re working with at-risk teens, take them into a local prison and see if they can speak to a couple of inmates. Or if you’re working with women who are going through major life changes, how about taking them all out for tango lessons? Think about what would make good film for a TV crew, or what might have a press-friendly title (and, of course, make for a great workshop J.) And then be sure to hustle up some publicity.
Final word: At last report the first thing NYC literary agents and editors do when assessing a potential author’s viability is to look on the Web to see if they are speaking. Enough said on the value of speaking for your platform!
Learn how to get known so you can not only find your biggest audience … but you can attract calls from major media and publishers. Check out Suzanne’s freebie, The Platform Jump Starter, at www.getknownnowblog.com