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This chapter is from the book

How to Start Your Speaking Career

Do this: Go to your bathroom mirror, look confidently at yourself, raise your arms over your head and shout, "I am a public speaker!"

And now you are one.


Is that seriously how you got started?


Well, I didn't have a big mirror, but I... no, not really.


We need to write more than that. We have a page count we have to meet.

If you want to get started as a speaker, first identify your goal as a speaker. Is it to make $5,000 in your first year as a speaker? To be a keynote speaker at your industry association's national conference? To speak to more than 500 people at once? Some goals can be met right away; others may take a few years, with these goals serving as milestones along the way.

For the purposes of this chapter, we are assuming you want to get paid as a speaker, whether you're giving talks as part of your regular job and you receive an honorarium, or you want to become a professional speaker whose full-time job is to travel around and give talks. These other steps we just mentioned will be milestones along the way.

Here's the problem: Most of your speaking gigs are going to be for free, especially in the first year. That's because you don't have credibility as a speaker, even if you just finished your third year in Toastmasters. You're still an untried, unknown quantity, and you're not going to get the same respect as the industry experts who have been doing it for several years. (And if you've spent three years in Toastmasters without speaking outside, you need to move off center just a little bit.)

Don't get hung up on the fact that you're speaking for free; in fact, learn to appreciate the opportunities. Think about all the stage time you're getting. You're honing your skills, developing your stage presence, and learning what works for you and what doesn't. This will help you achieve the speaking goals you have set for yourself.

Plus, speaking for free can sometimes produce the same results as speaking for money—getting more business, getting other speaking gigs, generating traffic for your blog, finding a new job.

Stand-up comics work like this when they start out, building stage time, trying to get as much as they can, as often as they can. They work up 5 minutes of material and perform it over and over—for free—at open mic nights. Then they move up to showcases, expanding their set into 7 minutes, and then 10 minutes. They hone that 10 minutes until it's perfect, and they keep performing it as many times as they can, usually for free.

A lot of these new comics drive for 2 hours just for the chance to do 7 minutes onstage. In fact, any successful comic you talk to or hear in an interview will talk about how they just did the same short set over and over, for free or little pay, until they started making it to bigger and bigger venues.

That's because one club owner will see that perfect 7 minutes and offer the comic a chance to do an industry showcase for $50. Then all the other club owners will assume that if the comic did an industry showcase, he's good enough to do their industry showcase for $50. Then the comic is good enough to do another showcase, after which another owner will ask the comic to open for a headliner in her club, and bada-bing, bada-boom!, one day, the comic is a headliner. And it's all because he was willing to drive 2 hours to do a free 7-minute set a few years earlier.

But the comics who do only two sets and then give up because they don't get a paying gig will be unknown, out-of-work comics who slowly grind their way to anonymous retirement at their data analyst's job in their tiny cubicle that's slowly killing them. (Oh, but we're sure it's different for you. Seriously, that won't happen to you.)

The lesson is the same for speaking. You need to speak for free for a while. That's the way these things work. But you won't always do that.

Because in the meantime, you're still blogging about your industry, you're still growing your network, and you're blogging to your network about all the talks you're giving, which is helping grow your personal brand.

As you give more talks, more people will see you. Specifically, more people who make decisions about getting speakers will see you. There are almost always decision makers or influencers at conferences. And they'll assume that if you are good enough to speak at this conference, you're good enough to speak at their conference. (Remember how club owners hire comics for their showcases?)

We can't count the number of speaking opportunities we've had because someone saw one or both of us speak at an event, only to be invited to their event a few months later. So while we're both out of the "speaking for free" part of our careers, we recognize that it was an important part of how we got this far.

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