I’ve talked a lot on this blog and the podcast about crafting and delivering speeches, and thinking about the strategy behind it.
But there can come a point where you’d actually like to make a living from speaking. And if you’ve wondered how to become a professional speaker, here’s an answer.
The Successful Speaker by Grant Baldwin, co-written with Jeff Goins, dropped just yesterday. (Grant’s podcast The Speaker Lab has plenty of great advice on all aspects of speaking, the craft as well as the business.) And it does something I haven’t seen done anywhere else this well and this concisely. It’s a step-by-step career guide that takes you on a very clear, well-laid-out path to becoming a professional speaker.
Grant sets out a menu of choices you have, like the kind of speaker you might like to be, some of the ways you can diversify your income, and the niches you might like to explore. He walks you through five steps: choosing a problem to solve, preparing and delivering your talk, establishing your expertise, actually hunting down and landing those gigs, and scaling and diversifying from there.
He starts with that question — what problem do you want to solve for people? — because the answer affects everything else you do as a speaker: the events you approach, the audiences you speak to, the content you deliver. And he has some solid advice around it.
Case in point: One of the first things Grant recommends doing is choosing an industry to focus on. That’s “industry” in the sense of seven broad categories of potential audiences and clients: corporations, associations, faith-based organizations, nonprofits, government and military, colleges and universities, and K-12 education. Choosing an industry to specialize in lets you focus your professional efforts, so you’re not trying to boil the ocean.
In step three, he has some good advice on speechwriting and delivery. This isn’t the be-all-and-end-all on speaking technique and content, and it isn’t meant to be. But as an overview of the field, it’s solid.
The book kicks into high gear with step three, when Grant starts talking about establishing your expertise and marketing yourself. (If you’re the kind of person who throws up a little when you hear the term “personal branding,” you’ll need to make your peace with it. Because what you’re selling when you have a speaking business is yourself: your voice, your expertise, your skill at communicating.)
There’s a lot of nuts-and-bolts advice here, including some very helpful pointers on setting up a speaker website and pulling together a demo video. And I like that when it comes to a website, for instance, he basically says “WordPress if you’re tech savvy, Squarespace if you aren’t.” Are there other choices? Yes, of course. And if you want to dive into those choices, you can. But if you don’t, or if you’d rather direct your energy elsewhere, they’ll do you admirably.
That’s true for step four, too, where Grant lays out a process for getting speaking engagements and negotiating terms. His technique certainly isn’t the only way to get them. But if you don’t want to do a whole deep exploration of sales processes, and the market, and… — well, here’s a workflow that works well for him and for his students.
(And by the way, there’s a single page in there that I’m guessing will save a lot of people a lot of grief — and potentially a lot of money! — on how to price yourself.)
And then step five offers a range of ways you can diversify your income and extend your speaking into other fields. Consider this your entrepreneurial buffet of intriguing menu options.
The Successful Speaker doesn’t try to be the comprehensive guide for a professional speaking career. You won’t find any discussion of speaker’s bureaus or managers, for instance. It doesn’t claim to be your lifelong roadmap through to retirement.
What it does, and does well, is chart a path for you to launch a speaking career. And if that’s a path you’d like to explore, I’d encourage you to do it with Grant’s book at your side.