There are a myriad of public speaking tips out there to help you build and maintain your speaking business, but after a decade of working with professional speakers, in a variety of markets, there are a few things that I recommend more regularly than others. These five strategies have been instrumental to the success of my speaker colleagues and they can help you too!
1. Look bigger than you are
I’ve been blessed to work with a number of speakers as my company and I have evolved and grown. One common issue they all face, as sole proprietors, is how to get everything done that needs to be done, including producing quality content, all by themselves. If this sounds like you, chances are that your callbacks to prospects happen in between everything else you have to do, with very little prep time, and while your mind is considering other business issues.
Even if you can’t bear the thought of letting go of anything else, have someone contact new prospects, on your behalf, to set up that first appointment or phone consultation. You’ll have an appointment on your calendar that you know you have to prepare for. Then, you can spend the time you would have spent playing phone tag, researching and preparing for that first meeting. Also, you’ll find that the prospect will appreciate having the same advantages. It’s basic communication and you have more important ways to spend your time.
Little touches like having someone set up the initial consult for you and helping with logistic confirmations before your programs can take some real pressure off of you. You can then spend more time producing great content while, at the same time, making yourself and your company look “bigger” and more credible. In this business, with all its egos and honorifics, looking bigger than you are is important, and expected.
2. Don’t give quotes before interviewing the prospect
Every prospect-contract-client cycle starts (or should start) with a conversation between you and the prospect. During that conversation, you establish rapport and help the prospect understand why you are the fit for them (or not!). Without this conversation, the cycle breaks, no contract will happen, and the prospect will not become a client.
We all know this, but sometimes we just blurt out our fee range to whoever calls without insisting on this critical step in the process. Just as many job openings are filled by predetermined candidates, the prospect calling you for a quote may simply be gathering prices to justify a pre-determined course of action with another speaker or consultant. When you give a quote to an in-coming cold call, you may just be helping the caller justify hiring someone else.
Ask yourself how many prospects cold-calling you for quotes you can confirm as having converted. Make it your policy to have a conversation with the prospect to discuss their needs before you give them a quote. Then, you’ll have their information in your database and the quote you give will be accurate and based on fact. If they won’t take the time to speak with you, they aren’t really a prospect.
3. Negotiate smartly and charge what you’re worth
The single most universally painful issue that speakers deal with is fees. If you’ve worked in this business more than a week, you’ve dealt with this. You know what your fee ceiling can be, and you know how close to it you should be based on your expertise, experience, and topic. You also know, if you think about it objectively, that the clients who really want you always seem to find the money somewhere.
Know what you’re worth, don’t be afraid to ask for it, and negotiate from a position of informed strength. The strategies for how to do that effectively are widely discussed in every NSA (National Speakers Association) chapter. The point is that, no matter what your market, you deserve to get what you are worth for the services you offer. The money is there if the prospect is serious about the initiatives they are considering you to support.
Think about what happens when you discount, cut corners, and disregard what you know you need in order to accommodate a client. Why do those contracts always seem to be the ones that take the most effort with the worst ROI?
4. Grow your list and stay in front of your subscribers
I can’t even count the number of times I’ve consulted with a speaker who has no real plan in place to build a list, get subscribers, or to stay in front of them. Some say, “Well, they aren’t decision makers. They can’t hire me.” Who do you think the decision makers talk to before they hire you? The number of contracts that close as a result of prior attendee recommendations is huge, in my experience.
There is always a way to collect email addresses. Use your imagination and be creative, but never do a program without planning at least one way for attendees to subscribe to all the great material you have to offer outside of the program. Of course, that means you must have great content (free or paid) to offer outside the program, but that’s a different article.
It’s a numbers game. For example, according to a 2013 Constant Contact report, the average open rate for the Education industry was 17-20% with a click-through rate of 10-13%. My experience is that these numbers are a bit… exaggerated, regardless of your market. Looking at it another way, on a good day, 15 people out of every 100 will open your email and 1-4 of that 15 will actually click through to your website or intended content.
Clicks to your website boost your visibility on keyword searches… and the cycle begins. The more people on your list, and in your field of influence, the more people you get helping that cycle work for you.
Email, social networking, your website… think about what your audience needs and give them the incentives to subscribe, to stay on your list, and keep their eyes on you. The effort is, ultimately, well worth it.
5. Use a program manager
I attended an NSA chapter meeting where the main speaker was the current national president and was amazed by what I saw. Before the event, when people were arriving, getting coffee, and socializing – the time during which every speaker should be establishing a rapport and getting to know their audience – this speaker was busy hunting down the right tool to remove the light bulbs over the projection screen. Why? Because there was no one else there to make sure that everything was the way he needed it to be.
Except for setting up their laptop and doing a sound check, no speaker should have to spend their pre-program time dealing with logistics.
Whether your program requires nothing more than a microphone and an audience or space for small groups doing hands-on activities, the logistics involved in producing a quality program can sometimes take as much effort to sort out as the content you will present.
There should always be someone, who isn’t you, responsible for making sure the venue is set up correctly and that the audiovisual needs are met, so that you can spend your time focused on the content rather than the environment.
In some cases, this could be as simple as requiring the client to assign someone to this role. You should have their name and contact information and provide them with detailed instructions and expectations. They should meet you when you arrive to set up and stay with you until you are packed up to leave.
If your program is more involved and requires extensive or specific set up, tear down, or preparation, consider bringing in someone that you trust to help with these things. When I talk to clients about this, the first objection is always cost. There are ways to deal with that issue, but I can say, from experience, that having a program manager pays for itself in peace of mind and lost hours working the details.
The other objection that I hear about this idea is a fear that it will hinder client rapport. You and the client both want the same thing: a well planned, well presented, inspiring and informative event. Let them help share the responsibility for making sure that happens.
If an on-site program manager will serve your needs, put that stipulation in the contract. If you’d rather have a staff member perform these duties, work those costs into the fee you negotiate.
These ideas apply to every speaker, and every market, that I have ever had the opportunity to work with. Apply them to your business and experience the benefits for yourself.
Photo by D.Begley