The Future of Professional Speaking

11077426116_7fe8e5b65fOver the last ten years, the professional speaking industry has evolved into a forward thinking technological evolution of information and confusion. During this time, most professional speakers have seen a decrease in bookings and fees. Competition has been the main contributor to this perplexity and a lot of poor decisions are being made. In the following post, I will provide my perspective and experience earned while working with dozens of professional speakers in various markets and fee ranges around the world.

Historical perspective

To put this post into perspective, I have to share a story. Back in 1978, I met Floyd Wickman. He was the first professional speaker I worked with while I was employed as an audio engineer. I was the low man at the studio and nobody else wanted to work with him. He wanted to record a 2 pack cassette product. It was hard for him to be energetic and motivational in the studio while talking to a microphone. He said he was at his best in front of a live audience. I remembered the Dezi Arnez story about how ‘I Love Lucy’ was the first television show to be recorded in front of a live audience. This gave me an idea. Why not audio record his presentations where he could feed off the audience energy, at a live seminar? He gladly accepted my offer and my boss had no problem since this was not a conflict of interest. I rented two 80 pound reel-to-reel recorders and one of the first wireless microphones and headed to the Hyatt Regency in Dearborn, Michigan. The difference in the outcome of the product was amazing! Thus, Primeau Productions was born.

A lot has happened since then. Cassettes have turned into CD’s and downloadable Internet audio files. Speaker demo videos became affordable and a necessary tool to get more bookings; first on VHS tape and then DVD, and now the Internet on over 30 International websites. These days, a meeting planner can find almost everything they need in regards to booking a professional speaker on the Internet; including credentials, a speaker’s demo video and video clips.

Today

The speaking industry took a hit after 9-11, and many professional speakers had speaking engagements cancelled. Attendance of meetings also dropped and as a result, the number of meetings decreased. Professional speakers at the top of their game reinvented their marketing and did the best they could. Those who have not reinvented themselves still blame 9-11 for their decrease in bookings.

Here is what you need to do to play in today’s competitive professional speaking Industry:

1. Have an easy to use world class website. A lot of speakers spent a lot of money on Flash based websites and planned on using them for a long time. The problem with Flash is that Apple products do not support it. The cool effects on websites, like walking on the computer screen and moving headers are also not viewable on Apple products. We cannot ignore this rapidly growing market sector, so the solution is to stick with HTML 5. Use Youtube and Vimeo to embed your video content into your WordPress website and keep the website simple and clean. Most of all, make your products and expertise easy to find.

2. Have a professionally produced speaker demo video. When you consider that one or two paid speaking engagements will return your production investment back to you, why would you consider producing your demo with a non experienced production company, or yourself? Not to mention, your competition is more than likely using professionally produced video. There are plenty of professional video production companies, including Primeau Productions, who know the speaking and meetings industry, and will get your demo produced professionally so you get more prospects and bookings. A pro that has experience with speaker demo videos will help make your demo better than if you go it alone. Look at samples and choose wisely.

3. Add value and make it obvious. Many professional speakers say they customize, and many others value added propositions, but keep them a secret. Get creative and make this added value obvious in your demo and on your website. Post blog articles that address the needs of the speaking industry and meeting planner.

The Future

I believe the future of professional speaking depends on the willingness of professional speakers to reinvent their business model, speaking messages, Internet presence and brand positioning for their expertise. You have to be a thought leader in your area of expertise and prove it. Use video to show the depth and extent of your subject matter expertise. Interview past clients and kick your social media for business into overdrive.

Don’t brag about your experience, rather display experience in everything you do. I find many professional speakers are full of themselves because their last presentation earned them a standing ovation. It’s time to learn humility and be humble in everything you do.

Follow your heart, not your wallet. Instead of focusing on the money, focus on your passion. You may have earned a great income from last year’s speech, but what does the world need today and in the future? Concentrate and meditate on your passion and promote those keynote topics instead of the ones that use to sell. There is nothing wrong with reinvention, except it takes valor.

Be courageous and project that courage in your messages. When you do your homework and discover the clients’ pain, address that pain on the platform and provide solutions. You can no longer be a bubble gum speaker, you have to provide value as well as solutions.

Marketing

Use the marketing tools available to you today to get the word out. More and more speaking leads come from people you don’t know, instead of those you do know that are part of your database. Inbound marketing has become at least 20 % of all professional speakers’ business. Get with the program and leverage your social media networks. As the second largest search engine and third most visited website (after Facebook and Google), YouTube has taken over as a promotion tool for professional speakers.

It’s not enough to post video clips and speaker demos on YouTube, you have to be active and engaged frequently to get the biggest bang out of YouTube for marketing. Friend, subscribe, like, share and post comments often for the videos you watch on YouTube, and use this strategy if you are involved with a mastermind group or NSA chapter to help each other out. YouTube videos also end up in search results and include thumbnail images, so make sure to optimize your videos with great titles, descriptions and tags that include your predetermined key words and phrasing as search criteria.

Talent and Growth 

To compete in today’s meetings industry, you have to be r-e-a-l-l-y g-o-o-d; if you are just ok, then it’s time to learn how to get better. Get a coach, or hire a speech writer to help you boost your content, delivery and entertainment quotient. If you attend educational events like The National Speakers Association then write down action steps after you leave. Hold yourself accountable or ask someone else to be your CAO (chief accountability officer).

If you use stories in your presentation, what other stories do you have that can be told on stage that you are not using? Many years ago I had the pleasure of working with Og Mandino in Las Vegas.

During our back stage conversation, he explained to me that he kept a story log. Before each speaking engagement he would look through his story log and pick the stories that suited each audience. Nothing about Og was off the shelf. Today we have the opportunity to log dozens of stories every week if we just pay attention to the lessons we learn.

This is part of the customization process. If you don’t customize, it’s time to start, and stories are where it’s at. Show customization in your demo video when possible and definitely in standalone video clips. Embed those clips into blogs written about that customized subject material.

Don’t let others influence your creativity. Stop asking for feedback from friends, family and other speakers. One of the worse activities you can become involved with is to ask others for their opinion when you are creating. Remember, opinions are like noses, everyone has one. The Beatles worked behind closed doors when they created their music. Opinions can cause your true creativity to become scarred. Work and create from your heart and instincts and leave the feedback for after you’re done creating.

Increase your Opportunities and Negotiate

As much as we hate to admit it, we all negotiate our fees. One thing that is a big time benefit for the future of professional speaking is to offer value to your prospects to close more bookings. Speakers who do not add value and negotiate speaking engagements will have fewer speaking engagements.

 

Speakers who offer to include breakouts, master of ceremonies and other multiple presentations to close their offerings during the negotiation process close more deals.

We know this to be true because many of our speaker clients have success stories of negotiations resulting in multiple bookings from their client.

The future of speaking successfully and being booked as much as you like depends on your willingness to be the best bargain in your fee range.

If the prospect is willing to pay you $5,000, and your fee is $7500, you have to do some searching and negotiating if you want the gig on the flip side, once you lower your fee, word travels fast.

To Sum it up:

• Add value, because the rules have changed

• Be visible everywhere you can on the Internet and position yourself as a thought leader

• Update your professional speaker demo video at least every other year

• Continuously learn and grow to perfect your mes- sage; get a coach or speech writer to help

• Be ready to negotiate your fee

I would love to hear from you after these thoughts and ideas have settled in. This is my promise to you; if you take my advice and break away from the same old- same old, your business as a professional speaker will flourish. It takes courage to be different and break free from the herd. It also takes creativity to compete in today’s professional speaking and meetings industry.

photo credit: Chrystia Freeland and Linda McQuaig Toronto Centre Byelection Debates via photopin (license)

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