The business of speaking – four smart steps to getting paid to speak more often

Updated to Business, Speaking on January 23, 2023.

Every week I get asked the same question – how can I get more bookings as a speaker?

There is no simple answer, but, Olympic medalists and astronauts aside, there are predictable stages to growing a profitable speaking business. It’s also possible to speed up the process.

Penguins and Podiums

When I sold my equity in Adventure Network – the world’s only airline in Antarctica – it was relatively easy to get on stage. That worked for a while.

I soon learned to be successful long-term in the speaking business you had to work for your larder. So I got coaches, joined master mind groups, experimented, and learned how to fill my calendar. And eventually I built products so I could earn income when I wasn’t on stage (the holy grail of our profession).

It worked.

Fast forward 1,000 presentations and I still maintain my goal of 45 speeches a year, while building our BOSS and SOS businesses.

In this post I’m covering four steps all speakers can take to get more bookings. If you have no interest in gracing a stage anytime soon, see you next week. If you are an emerging speaker, or even a veteran, read on…

First let’s look at a trap that I see many speakers fall into.

The speaker’s dilemma

The math is simple: speaker’s want more bookings, more bookings keep you busy, staying busy means no time to grow new lines of revenue, so all you have time for is to chase more bookings.

I call that the speaker’s dilemma: it’s great to chase more gigs, but only doing that means you’ll always be doing that.

It’s great to chase more gigs, but only doing that means you’ll always be doing that.

I used to present 80 times a year, plus I oversaw another 40 presentations my team made to our clients. It was all I could do to stay on top of delivery of original content and follow up with clients (we also had three coaches and two staff in the office). There was zero time to think strategically, create products, work on a book, or develop alliances.

The secret is to think like a CEO.

1. Think like the CEO of You Inc.

Michael Gerber’s famous warning “You have to work on the business, not in the business” should still burn a hole in your ego. Sure, it’s great to be busy – ants are busy (Thoreau). The secret is to think like the CEO of You Inc.

You have to work on the business, not in the business – Michael Gerber

Start by asking yourself these questions: Where do I want to be in three years:Type of work? How many days work/year? Net wealth? Living where? etc.

Next, break your three-year goals down to one year, then to one month, and finally down to your Flight Plan (one week). From there it’s about scheduling creation of products, building your team (see my recent post about three types of outsourcing) and stop doing what isn’t getting you closer to your goal.

Easier said than done, which, of course, is why it happens so rarely. At least start with your speech.

2. Craft a speech that sells you

At the end of the day, a speaker is only as good as their speech. Fancy web sites and snazzy videos only get you so far – referrals come from remarkable speeches.

A couple of quick tips on turning your speech into a sales tool and I’ll also refer you to my posts: Five mistakes you never want to make on stage and three sneaky ways to get your audience loving you.

  • Make it about them (not you). Don’t let your ego become your amigo (Brad Montague). Stories about your incredible life don’t teach audiences anything. Ask yourself: What will this teach? How will it help? Can they use it?
  • Deliver three completely relevant, dumbed-down lessons anyone can use. Unless you juggle, meeting planners want ROI (Return On Investing a small fortune to get you on stage) – my litmus test is to ask everyone I meet “What’s one thing you are going to use from my speech?” No good answer, time to work on the speech.

My litmus test is to ask everyone I meet “What is one thing you are going to use from my speech?

  • Make them move. Nobody learns by sitting for an hour. Sorry. Every 10-12 minutes you MUST make your audience move: dyad with partner, journalling, standing peer-to-peer coaching, whatever.

Download a free copy of my quick and dirty speech writing template (you’ll save hours of work).

Now onto getting more sales.

3. Move followers to buyers

Hard work warning label! The new world of content marketing is all about creating valuable, free content that helps potential buyers get to know you (TALK: Trust, Authority, Like, Know) – and that’s hard work. Like this blog, you can’t post something only when you have a night off – it’s every week. Same for my ebooks, podcast, interviews, slideshare posts…you get the picture.

Followers enjoy your content, some become fans, some fans start buying, and eventually a small percentage need you on stage. It’s a funnel and any salesperson worth their salt has it burned into their psyche.

Want to win big time over the next three years? Build your funnel and nurture your list. That includes getting booked more often.

4. Stay top-of-mind

Alrighty! On to what everyone wants to know: how to get booked more often. There’s no silver bullet (like cold calling meeting planners), but some strategies are evergreen, like:

    • be awesome at the event on stage and off stage. Your speech is your calling card (see #2, above) – make it amazing every time. Know your role and help your meeting planner be successful (prima donna’s don’t get rehired)
    • give delegates a reason to stay in touch. We invite delegates to my free webinars by signing up just before the close of my speech. Get creative.
    • stay top of mind. Create valuable, sharable content (see #3, above) that solves problems and meeting planners will want you on stage.
    • stay in touch with event planners. At least once a year find a reason to talk with your direct speaking clients (meeting planners). Become a stranger and they’ll treat you that way.
    • run an annual two-question survey. A bit more complicated, but you need to know what your audience needs, (I explain my techniques in this post).

Exhausted yet? There’s good news…

Making it all happen

The good news is you don’t have to do this all today. With some exceptions, the same reasons speakers are so good on stage is why they flounder in business. You can’t avoid basic business disciplines for long before it costs you. Here are three ways I stay on track and make it all happen:

  1. Work backwards from a plan (with goals). Can you tell me how close you are to your annual goals? It’s simple: no goals, no direction – start there.
  2. Build a team now by outsourcing duties (don’t hire a virtual assistant until you’re ready). Read my recent post about three ways to outsource and get something off your plate – like this week.
  3. Put yourself first. You’re no good to anyone (family included) if all you do is work. Plan vacations, adventures, writing retreats, and weekends off. You’ll be better for it.

There you have it – 15 years of taxis, hotels, and main stage business in 1,400 words. Now let me know below what you think!