Blogger to Expert to Professional Speaker
While I was at SXSW in Austin I met Michael Procopio, a great guy who is leading the Social Media team of one of the top computer and software makers in the country. We both sat in on this panel discussion with about 150 others and decided to co-author a blog on this exciting discussion.
“Blogger to Expert to Professional Speaker” by Michael Procopio and Justin McCullough.
We were at the SXSW Interactive session – From Blogger to Social Media Guru to Professional Speaker given by Nick Morgan (@nfrodom1) and Tim Sanders (@sanderssays). With a packed room, in a panel style layout with Nick and Tim in the center of the room rotating as they talked, we were given a behind-the-scenes look inside the professional speaking industry.
Tim became a speaker while at Yahoo! Nick is a speaker, author and Tim’s coach. Tim said Nick took him from ~$10,000 per talk to the next level. Turns out “the next level” is a bit more than a step away. Throughout the discussion, we learned how to go from a $2,000 speaker to a $10,000 speaker and up to $35,000 and beyond.
Tim lead off the discussion by saying, when it comes to speaking, in his opinion there is only one book to read: “Give your speech and change the world” by Nick Morgan
People want a speaker to move an audience to action, which means an emotional topic or talk.
How do you make the journey from blogger to social media expert to professional speaker? That was the discussion. Professional speaker, in this case, is tear 3 or tier 2. By example tier 1 would be former President Bill Clinton or comedian Jerry Seinfeld.
Tier 3 starts at $3500 and up for a one-hour talk. How do you get there? According to Nick and Tim, first write a book published by a major publisher, self-publishing unfortunately doesn’t count. Tim wrote Love Is the Killer App: How to Win Business and Influence Friends. If you don’t have a book, expect to be limited to ~$2000 per talk.
To get the major publisher, you must follow the rules of publishing and Tim recommends reading and following the advice of Jeff Herman in his book “Write the Perfect Book Proposal”.
There are two types of books that lead to professional speaking opportunities:
- You did something successful and write about how you did it, even if it creates competitors
- Niche – everything you know is wrong, here is what’s right.
Tim urges us to not write another “duh” book that tells us what we already know. Make yourself and your content outstanding – that’s what it takes to go pro.
Tim is all about actionable content. The gem for me was the answer to the question: “How do I go from speaking for free to getting paid”. Tim gave two points:
- When asked will you speak at our event you first statement is, “My standard fee is x thousand dollars”
- If the ‘will you do it for free’ topic comes up say, “I’d be happy to do this pro bono, just put it in writing that no one else is being paid to speak”.
For the second statement, Tim said you’ll probably hear a bit of silence on the phone and then they will give you a number and you can negotiate from there. He enforced the point saying, “don’t let them disrespect you” and gave an example of the huge dollars an event planner has to work with. In many cases, the large events cost and generate millions of dollars, so your speaker’s fee is really just a small portion of the overall expense. Many times, the event coordinators are just trying to leverage the event and get you for free or as cheaply as possible. Tim illustrated the point where a planner told him they wanted three free speakers so they could pay the keynote speaker more.
Are you an opening or closing keynote or a panel speaker? That’s the question you have to answer. Tim and Nick discussed the fact that pro speakers, the ones who make the big dollars, are the openers and the closers of the event. Interestingly, a panel speaker is valued around $5,000 – $8,000 for the hour where as the keynote may be $10,000 or more. As a point of reference, Tim mentioned that his fee is around $25,000 for a 1-hour gig and comparatively, Malcolm Gladwell, bestselling author of “the Tipping Point”, “Blink” and “Outliers” is currently charging $86,000 for a speech.
His next point to becoming a pro speaker is to treat speaking bureaus like gold. When you get the speaking engagement above, look up your nearest speaking bureau and take the deal to their office personally. They will get ~25% commission but they will love you and give you more work. Also NEVER accept a job directly, ALWAYS take it to your bureau. Go around the bureaus and they will stop giving you work.
One note about speaking bureaus, their job is to deliver the best presenter, the safest bet, and the best results to organizations requesting a speaker. If you use profanity or go into inappropriate areas during your presentation, you will most likely be cut from future gigs through the bureau. In this context, you must package yourself as a safe and reliable purchase.
Money is great to get but you must earn it. First practice, practice, practice including the day of the presentation in front of a mirror. If you screw up once you won’t get any more work from the bureaus, he had examples of well-known people who are struggling to get speaking engagements because of off-hand comments and in one case, slipping the “f” word just one time.
You need to create a brand, that is, a promise of what you will deliver. Once you have your niche or unique topic you must package yourself. Ask yourself, “what do I stand for”, “what do I represent” and own it. This means you, personally, may sacrifice how you dress, how you speak, the words you use, and which of your opinions you share. He talked about how the simple fact of long sideburns cost him $10,000 on each speaking gig because he just didn’t realize it was devaluing him in the bureaus mind. Tim, as it turns out, once was in a rock band and had long hair in addition to those long sideburns so he has gone through quite a metamorphosis to become the pro speaker he is today. In addition to his appearance, Tim has also removed religion and politics from his areas of discussion – because it doesn’t fit his personal brand, his promise to deliver and he can’t afford to talk about things outside of his personal brand since he understands why the speakers bureaus are hiring him.
Also, create a professional DVD about 20 minutes of you speaking. The short clips are ok, but anyone who is interested wants to see continuous footage so they know what you are like, not just the best clips you have of yourself. One inexpensive way to do this is ask if the venue has IMAG projection, then give the director a $100 Amazon gift card or similar to give you a DV cam master. [Most large corporate events are recorded.] Hire a photographer [Craigslist.org was suggested to get a bargain price] to shoot the audience to get picture of people reacting to what you are saying.
How do you get the first gig? Use your social media network. Probably no one in your network will have a gig, but his or her network probably will.
The Quick Points:
- Get a publishing deal (based on niche topic or unique experience)
- Create a personal brand and promise to deliver it
- Have a DVD and website that shows your on-stage performance
- Offer high value content, no “duh, we already know that” material
- Ask for a fee that matches your role (Opener, Closer, Keynote or Panel)
- Always work your gigs through the speakers bureau
- Don’t be taken advantage of by “free” gigs
- Practice your speech, take it seriously, always improve your performance
Give your best at every gig; you can’t afford to have an off day.
- Nick’s blog
- Tim’s blog
- Escape from Cubicle Nation: From Corporate Prisoner to Thriving Entrepreneur, Pam Slim