PUBLISHED MAY/JUNE 2019
by Jodee Blanco, Founder & CEO, Jodee Blanco Group —
Speaking is something anyone can do, costs little to nothing to initiate, and has substantial rewards.
And I’m not just talking about the income from speaker’s fees, which can be significant, but also what those engagements can mean for your presence, brand, credibility, and sales.
I’ve been writing books and speaking professionally for over 20 years, and before that I owned a PR firm that specialized in publishing and entertainment. I’ve helped publishers set up in-house speaker’s bureaus. I’ve also guided authors on how to use speaking to turn one book into a cottage industry that led to sequels, consulting contracts, and ancillary products and services. I also applied the same insights and strategies I gave them to do it myself.
The Bottom Line on Getting Started
You don’t need a speaker’s bureau to start booking engagements. You can reach out to potential buyers yourself. Start out small with your local chamber of commerce, PTA, place of worship, and other neighborhood organizations. Offer to speak on the subject of your book at their next event, and then build from there. You can even do the first few talks for free until you’ve refined your presentation. All you need to begin is to figure out your platform and put together some basic pitch materials.
Figuring Out Your Platform
Ask yourself these questions: How am I an expert on the topic of my book? What is my credibility in this subject area in general? What is my connection to the material? The answers usually fall into one of three categories or a combination:
- Professional: You’ve worked in the particular field that you’ve written and/or are speaking about.
- Personal: It’s something you’ve gone through yourself, a personal experience, or you’re motivated by an issue or cause and want your voice to be heard.
- Academic: You have an advanced degree in the subject (masters, doctorate, or other postgraduate degree).
The key to determining your platform is the narrative behind your relationship to the subject matter. It’s your backstory. Why this topic? “A tip: It’s best to go with your first instinct and not overthink. The most powerful answers aren’t created; they’re revealed.”
Pitch Materials: Putting Together a Basic Speaker’s Package
All you’ll need to start is a one-sheet describing your talk and a narrative bio that details your connection to your subject matter, the backstory of your relationship to the topic based on the three areas of expertise.
How Professional Speaking Can Increase Your Income
Jodee Blanco speaking to grade school children about the perils and consequences of bullying
The first and most obvious way to make money by speaking is through speaking fees. Depending upon your subject matter and audience (corporate, motivational, instructional, etc.), speakers’ fees can range anywhere from $1,500 to $10,000 per talk plus expenses or much more. Speaking also helps sell books through on-site signings after a talk, increased retail sales prompted by audience members who order your book, as well as word-of-mouth sales. Momentum begets momentum. The more engagements you do, the more you get.
There are two types of speaking engagements: catalytic and noncatalytic. The first is an engagement in which most of the audience is comprised of potential buyers. For example, I speak on school bullying, so any large educational conferences in which I’m a featured speaker are catalytic for me because there are hundreds of administrators in the audience, each of whom could potentially book me to speak at their schools. Noncatalytic would be an engagement at one school.
Both are important. One has the potential to generate multiple future engagements; the other is priceless for grassroots support and exposure. Speaking can also lead to consulting work and allows you to grow your social media presence, which can boost Amazon pre-orders of your next book.
If you’re a publisher with house authors, you may want to consider starting an in-house speaker’s bureau. Not only will you see additional income in book sales because authors that speak sell more books, but you can take a percentage of each engagement that you secure. The percentages can range anywhere from 15 to 30 percent.
Professional Speaking as a Brand Builder
Getting out there and speaking is a public relations super-charger. It lets you connect with your target audience live and in-person, cultivate an ongoing mutually rewarding relationship with them through other forms of outreach such as newsletters, email blasts, webinars, podcasts, etc., and can also generate publicity, as local television shows and newspapers often cover events with speakers. All of this activity over time generates more speaker’s fees, more book sales, and builds readership for a book series if you have more to say on your topic.
If you’re a publisher, having authors on the speaking circuit nourishes your brand and catapults your presence to book store buyers, online retailers, and potential new authors. There are some publishers who have based their business model on this construct and reaped enormous benefits.
Keynotes, Breakout Sessions, and Workshops: the Trifecta of Additional Revenue Streams Through Speaking
There are three fundamental types of speaking engagements, or “gigs” as some of us like to call them. A keynote is considered “general assembly,” meaning if you’re speaking at a convention or conference that features multiple competing breakout sessions, the keynote doesn’t compete with any other talks. It’s designed to motivate, inspire, and get everyone at the conference pumped and excited.
Though every event is structured differently, most adhere to the standard formula of a morning keynote and evening keynote each day of the conference, with breakout sessions and workshops filling the day. The most lucrative types of engagements are those in which you’re booked for the morning keynote and a breakout session and/or workshop later that day. By having the morning keynote, everyone sees you at the start of the day, and you have an opportunity to get them excited about coming to your breakout session. If you put your whole heart into the keynote, it can often mean standing room only later.
Keynotes are anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour, and breakout sessions-though this can vary-are usually 75 minutes. Breakouts are more instructional and specific. For example, when I do a keynote, I focus on the general aspects of bullying, and I walk the audience through my personal story. It’s emotional and dramatic and meant to move people emotionally, to touch them inside.
My breakout session is all about strategy: how to help, what to do, what you should say to someone who’s being bullied, what you shouldn’t say and why, intervention techniques, etc. A workshop is similar to a breakout session, and some organizations use one term or the other. It’s always best to ask; sometimes, when someone asks for a “workshop,” they’re seeking an interactive element.
Some of my favorite speaking engagements were the ones in which I did the morning keynote and a couple breakout sessions during the day, with autographing after each one. Not only was I able to charge more because I was there all day providing a steady stream of content, these types of multifaceted gigs almost always led to other opportunities.
Generating Income as a Speaker Even if You’re Shy or Have No Previous Speaking Experience
When many people think professional speaking, they envision an expert standing at a podium giving a lecture. There’s a difference between that and someone with passion and conviction, commanding a stage and turning their audience into a word-of-mouth machine.
Even if you see yourself as shy or quiet, there’s a dynamic speaker inside all of us. You connect with audiences every day in hundreds of small yet meaningful ways without even realizing it. Maybe you define an audience as a group of people sitting in a theater, but an audience can be one person or many, and the venue is often real life. Whether you’re chatting with the barista at Starbucks while she’s taking your order, presenting an idea at work, talking to a stranger about your book, or telling a story at a family party, you are engaging an audience each and every time you make a point, join a conversation, persuade someone to do something, or share a thought with others. We all possess the skills and techniques that professional speakers use. They simply learn how to identify, hone, and funnel those abilities on a grander scale.
You’d be surprised how many speakers started out stiff, uncomfortable, and terrified, and now when they present to a room full of people, you can hear a pin drop.
What Do I Want to Achieve Long-Term?
I always like to think of every book I write as a means to something else, and I look at speaking the same way. Each book, and the speaking platform that supports it, are part of a larger strategy.
I’m always building on the previous success. Back when I was a publicist many years ago, I wrote a book on the nuts and bolts of how to implement a campaign, because I wanted to start presenting at conferences and conventions, and generate clients. When I shifted gears and started writing about school bullying and my own experiences as a survivor, I was already envisioning speaking at schools and educational symposiums. I never imagined that would take me as far as it did, and I’m still going strong.
I put myself out there, and you can, too. Whatever your topic and motivation for putting pen to paper, you can transform it into a compelling speaking platform that will supplement your income-often even surpass it.
Above and beyond book sales or speaker’s fees, where do you want writing and speaking to take you? Don’t govern yourself. Let your mind be open to all the possibilities. Would you want it to generate customers for your business, launch a career as a novelist, or perhaps a writer of genre fiction? Maybe you’ve got a cookbook and dream of eventually opening your own restaurant. Or perhaps your goal is to have a career as a motivational speaker.
If I were a genie and offered to grant you three wishes of what you want speaking to help you achieve, what would those three wishes be? My dad always told me to do what you love and money comes. I have never found that to be truer than when I get up on stage and speak. You may be wondering, “How do I know if I’m ready?” You won’t know until you try. I worked with an author who had written a memoir chronicling his years as a victim of severe child abuse. This was his first book. He had no experience speaking and wasn’t sure he could handle it, but his desire to help families made him push past his fears.
Every speaker has something that’s uniquely their own. For some, it’s a particular style or way of connecting to their audience. For others, it’s a vulnerability they’re not afraid to show that makes people relate to them more deeply. For this author, it was his ability to make people laugh and feel joy again, the way in which he encouraged them to find humor where no one else would think to look. He’s given hope to millions, is still saving lives every day, and now makes a living speaking full-time.
Whether you’re a business owner who has a book and you’d like to try speaking to increase your client base, a consultant or specialist, or just someone who has something meaningful to say and is hoping to make a little extra money sharing that wisdom, professional speaking may be calling you. All you have to do is listen to that voice inside and then go for it!
Jodee Blanco is the founder and CEO of The Jodee Blanco Group, a consulting and curriculum development company. Blanco is an expert on how to successfully leverage the matrix of public speaking, publishing, and public relations to take one’s life or career to a whole new level. Often referred to as a “force of nature” by those who’ve worked with her, Blanco never looks at why something can’t be done; instead, she culls her considerable resources, honed over 30-plus years of accomplishment in all three fields, to figure out how it can be done. She is the award-winning author of two New York Times bestsellers, including the seminal memoir, Please Stop Laughing at Me, among multiple other titles. For more information, visit thejodeeblancogroup.com.