Q&A about the Speaking Business
The answers below are my opinion. I’ve answered as honest as possible. There is no one way to succeed in the professional speaking business. That’s one of the attractions of it. You can write your own rule book. The answers below are from my experience and perspective.
How did you get started in the speaking business?
I hear this question often.
Once upon a time I was a senior manager in a large corporation. One of my roles was speaking to both public and internal groups. I attended a two-day seminar on presentation skills and discovered two things: I wasn’t as good a presenter as I thought I was, and there was a system of techniques that you could learn and practice. This opened up a whole new universe to me. I volunteered to do even more presentations with my newly discovered skills and volunteered to chair my association conference. That experience excited me to declare that I wanted to do this for a living. That led to a series of choices and events that saw me start my speaking business and quit my job. I’ve never looked back.
What are speakers bureaus?
Speakers bureaus act as agents that hire speaker for their clients. Most bureaus work for the interests of their client – not the speaker. The bureau catalogues information about speakers and presents a selection of speakers to their client. Then the bureau hires the speaker. The bureau gets paid by taking a percentage of the speaker’s fee instead of an upcharge like actors agents. Bureaus tend to take 20 to 30% of a speakers fee.
It’s not necessary to work with one bureau – unless you have an exclusive agreement. Most speakers will work with several bureaus. Some speakers get most of their business from bureaus while others are at the other end of the scale with no or very little bureau business.
Speakers bureaus are like banks – they only call you when you don’t need them. Most bureaus are members of IASB – the International Association of Speakers Bureaus.
Who hires professional speakers?
Really the question is “Where can you sell your speaking services?” There are many markets for professional speakers. One market is corporations that hire speakers for their annual management or sales meetings.
The other prominent market is associations that hire speakers for their annual conferences, conventions and seminars. Don’t be fooled by the “non-profit” label of associations. Many of them have lots of money and spend it on high priced speakers.
Some of the other speaking markets include: public seminar companies, chambers of commerce, association meetings, staff training, colleges and universities and cruise ships.
How does one get on the speaking circuit?
Ha, ha. There is no such thing. In the speaking business you eat what you kill.
Why do professional speakers fail?
I’ve seen many good speakers fail and many mediocre speakers thrive. The difference is the willingness and ability to kill for new business. Success comes from bringing in lucrative new business and managing the business effectively.
Just because you love to speak or want to change the world doesn’t guarantee success as a professional speaker.
What makes a good speaker?
The best speakers are the ones who understand and connect with their audience. The audience doesn’t feel lectured to – instead they experience a conversation with a friend.
The best speakers are those who invested time, money and effort in the development of their presentation skills. Speaking is not a talent. It is a skill set that can be learned and honed. It’s similar to the best in sports and entertainment.
How do you set your speaking fee?
This is a tough question. How long is a piece of string?
One answer is to charge what you are worth. Another approach is to charge what the market will bear.
Like many things in the speaking business there is not one way to set and manage fees.
Most speakers have a set fee for a speech, training day or half day. Some have different rates for different locations – depending on how far from home or favorite locations. Travel costs could be extra or included in the speaking fee. Some speakers allow discounts for non-profit groups. Some charge by the number of people in the audience.
Some speakers even speak for free in order to promote and sell their products from the stage.
The numbers range from speaking for free to a few hundred dollars or many thousands of dollars for a 60-minute speech or a day of training.
Learn what the competition charges by visiting the websites of speakers bureaus.
Like anything else the highest number of competitors are at the low end. I believe that the majority of speaking fees are in the $2,000 to $10,000 range. The next populous range might be $10,000 to $30,000. Above that the competition narrows down. Celebrities like Stephen Convey and Tom Peters might be getting $60,000 to $100,000 for a speech. By the way, I have seen both of them speak and (in my opinion) they are lousy speakers but they are very successful business owners.
When a prospect reacts with, “You charge that much for an hour?” – respond with, “You are not paying me for the hour of presentation; you are paying me for the lifetime of preparation for speaking to your group.”
Professional speaking is a tough business. It can be very lucrative and satisfying.