Jumping Off the Ledge

I’ve been at some great in person events this August, MPI’s #WEC14 in Minneapolis, ASAE’s Annual Meeting in Nashville, and closing it out with Collinson Media’s Connect Marketplace in Orlando. I’ve been a participant at all of them, and a hosted buyer in the ConnectMP expo, which is a nice change from running my own shows. It’s fascinating though what happens with some of the interactions I have on site when they find out who I work with: speakers.

Public speaking is listed continually as one of the global top fears that people have. Which is kind of a funny inside joke to my current community of practice. These are folks who actively pursue a business based on a stage of some kind. It’s a very brave field but can also be a very lonely field. It’s also a very small field, with many people not wanting to quit their steady jobs. Whether they’ve been at it for less than 1 year (see millenials who are frustrated by entry-level and want to explore their own entrepreneurial spirit with their own business) to those who speaking is a second career (former CEOs, COOs, and/or folks of high stature in a particular field like the armed services, etc), this audience is very unique when you try to come up with programming that resonates with them as they’ve jumped off the ledge (left traditional 9-5 working environments so to speak).

Here are 3 tips that I’ve been able to articulate over the last month, which is great because I’m also actively working with our Speakers Academy advisory committee and updating the curriculum and modules to more accurately reflect what the strongest fundamentals a new professional speaker should be looking for before they completely jump off that ledge.

1) Hone your USP
We aren’t kidding when we say that it’s important to hone your 2 minute elevator pitch. Your unique selling proposition has to wrap up the who, what, when, where, and why of YOU, because even though you might eventually have books, white papers, and other products that showcase your content, speaking is focused on YOU and the message your content brings.  The business model that Zig Ziglar used is completely different from David Pogue is completely different from Maya Angelou, yet all have seen success. Be agile enough to consider several options as you figure out what makes you unique for your clients.

There are several business models that will work depending on what kind of speaker you are or aspire to be. Whether it’s humor or motivational or perhaps you’re a subject matter expert in business, medical, technology, etc., know what fits you and your content best and then make sure you know it by whittling that USP down to two or three sentences so that anyone can say, oh yeah, He/She speaks on that, and always knocks it out of the park. I can see value in bringing them to my next event because they’ll [do/teach/show/engage] my participants [your expertise here]

2) Learn to love the letter F
Flexibility, firm, focus, and failure are just a few that come to mind. You might be the expert and/or speaker they’ve brought in just for their event or meeting, but more and more companies are demanding that the content demonstrates extreme value and ROI for everyone who takes part in the meeting. You have to be flexible to bend to the meeting design of the client, yet firm in your own USP that says to the group, maybe I’m not the right fit if you’re wanting xyz, because I speak on abc.

Focus is another whether it’s important not to lose sight of your long-term vision for you as a speaker and for your business. Failure at one aspect of the biz doesn’t mean failure everywhere else. Make sure you’re focusing on the right things and not just the things where you didn’t succeed the way you wanted to.

3) Be a professional business person
Being a professional speaker also means you’re a professional business person. Don’t make tactical mistakes that will distract from your long-term strategy of success. The events and meetings business changes rapidly just like any other industry and there’s a lot of competition from people who want your place on the stage. There’s also a lot of turnover of the players in a world that almost completely runs on relationships. Be agile with your business planning and make sure you know the space you want to own and the ways that your USP will continue to resonate. Don’t make the mistake of not researching your audience (that you’d be speaking or pitching your proposal to), don’t lose sight of your cash flow to take a gig that isn’t really worth it to your business (does the exposure mean enough for the extra change fees), do make sure you’re using your network well so that the ultimate outcomes you’re wanting to achieve are always at the forefront.

Before you ever decide to jump off into the abyss, make sure you know how and why you want to take your place in the spotlight. We’ll be here to applaud for you (even when you aren’t at your most amazing) and support you whenever you do choose to take that plunge.

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