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25 Things Every Speaker MUST Have First, Before Having Anything Else

Link to: MasterMind Groups

The National Speakers Association is not only the voice of organized professional speaking, it is also the educational force that drives forward the careers of new professional speakers. But how do you get "there?" How do you get a speaking career started or or even re-started? However, this same list applies to other career efforts in sales and marketing, so please don't just think of this in terms of public speaking only.

Also, you will find this a longer read. Sorry, but this is 4,000 words on a list of just 25 essential things. When you need a book on a subject, a simple pamphlet won't do. How do I know? Because when you read this, you are asking someone who has done this professionally, with 3,000+ paid speeches to his credit.

My speaker friends and I are asked from time to time how to get a professional speaking career going. The question usually comes from an audience member who has dreamed of doing what we do, instead of doing what they do currently. I take it as a complement, although it isn't necessarily so. Maybe they think that "if Steve is doing it, probably ANY bonehead can make it." You can see why I prefer to take the question as a compliment, instead.

As you can see from the list below, discussing what is ahead of future speakers can take a lot of time and people can't write that fast, anyway. So on such occasions, it is simpler and better to give them a link to this page.

I apologize in advance for the Wall of Text below. But if you got this far, you asked for it. The list below is discouraging by its requirements, but not intentionally so. Let me break it down into the gotta-do's-first list, followed by a then-get-this-going list, followed by a don't-even-think-about-putting-these-off-before-you-start list. Every successful speaker you have ever seen or heard DOES all 25 of these steps. Without them, candidly, you have little chance of success.

Don't even think about launching a speaking career without having at a minimum…

Preview list:
1. A well-defined topic.
2. A target population.
3. A twenty-minute Rotary talk.
4. A 25 word "elevator speech."
5. A speaker's one-sheet.
6. A list of five to twenty people who can vouch for you.
7. A contact list with at least 200 decision makers.
8. A telephone booking script.
9. A determined speaking fee.
10. Get on your feet!
11. You need a real e-mail address.
12. You need a professional web site on a registered domain.
13. You need a contact management software program.
14. You need more than a twenty-minute Rotary talk.
15. You need at least two dedicated phone lines for your business.
16. Have a current picture of yourself.
17. You need an interesting, professional quality tri-fold brochure.
18. Money in the bank and a clean credit card.
19. You should become a membership in the National Speakers Association.
20. A Marketing Plan.
21. A written budget keeps you from planning out of your checkbook.
22. A professionally designed brochure.
23. A 4-8 minute demonstration video.
24. You need a coach.
25. To generate at least $100,000 a year ...

Category 1: Gotta do these first.
1. A well-defined topic.
It means nothing to want to talk to people "and really motivate 'em." You genuinely have to have something to say--a clear message of value to others which they will pay you to talk about. And more than a message, it must be obvious that you solve a problem the client admits to having. Compare: "I talk about sales" vs. "I help tap into new markets for companies stuck on old plateaus." Optimally, you could use 2-3 well-defined topics on one subject (three facets of one stone) because it demonstrates your depth.

One further note. Successful professional speakers have finger prints all over this question - It is easier to sell a topic the customer already wants to buy than to find an audience for a topic you simply want to talk about. It does not matter in the least that you have a clever, dynamic presentation on the color blue if your customers want to buy red; they are simply not in the market for red and sellers of blue will find themselves standing in the wrong place.

2. A target population. If you plan to get out there and Speak to People, you probably won't get any audience anywhere.

"All the world is my audience. Anyone can benefit from what I have to say!" is arrogant, ignorant nonsense.

What does your targeted group have in common? An industry? A skill? A life condition? A particular challenge? What makes them unique as a group that puts them in common with you? You can't just go somewhere; you have to go somewhere! Your answer to this question cannot be generalized. As they say, you have to drill down.

Then, how will you find and contact this target population? What access to them do you have? How do they self-identify, and do they even identify with each other?

3. A twenty-minute Rotary talk. At the drop of a hat, you need to be able to stand up and deliver a dynamic 20 minute talk on your topic, stay focused, with a meaningful and interesting message. If you can't make a point in 20 minutes, then you don't have a point. To develop your speaking skills, you need a live audience. The country is full of civic organizations like Rotary, Kiwanis, Chambers of Commerce that meet one to four times a month and will give a speaker-with-a-message 20 minutes in front of their members. For this you get something more valuable than a small honorarium or a Rotary-logo letter opener; you get experience on your topic with a live audience. Be real with these audiences, and be on top of your game. Address them as if they are all old friends. And be passionate about your topic.

4. A 25 word "elevator speech." That's a brief and interesting way to tell people what you do and why it is valuable. For example, "have you ever been treated rudely by a sales clerk who made you feel like a huge inconvenience to the store? I teach them how not to do that." Ok, that's 29 words, but you get the point.

You might be surprised at how many people want to become professional speakers but stumble indefinitely over the first two requirements, having a well defined topic to an identifiable target audience. But without something specific to say to a specific audience who will pay to hear you, what chance do you have?

With Category #1 under your belt, you aren't quite ready to leave the house - yet. Before that happens, you will need to accomplish all of Category #2.

Category 2: Then get going with #5 through #16.
5. A speaker's one-sheet.
In the space of one sheet of paper (front only, or front and back), you introduce yourself, your topic area, what you can do, who has hired you before, give evidence that you are good, and how to contact you. It should include a professional headshot photo of you. Think of this as a big business card with a mission since the purpose is to get a preliminary decision from people to CONSIDER whether you fit into their plans.

To get your reader to the bottom of the first page, the top half of your one-sheet has to sizzle and sell. To get them to bother turning the paper over, your whole first side has to be s-s-s-smokin'! This is not a lot of space and time. Give this one sheet a LOT of thought and experimentation.

6. A list of five to twenty people from different companies who can vouch for you. "Yes," they say, "I know [this speaker] and have seen him/her speak. And I'd do it again in a heartbeat." In addition to giving these names out with their permission, you should also call them periodically to ask for referrals. But if you have twenty of these names, don't give the same names out to everyone. Rotate them so your cheerleaders don't get fatigued by calls.

7. A contact list with at least 200 decision makers. Each of the 200 people should be in a position to hire you, or recommend you directly to someone they know who can hire you.

It is best if the 200 already believe in you and love you even when you are wrong. Start by calling these 200 yourself. But inevitably, you will have to call someone who doesn't know you yet. When you call to ask them for referrals, be ready to describe exactly what you want or you will spend all your time chasing leads for meetings that don't use a speaker like you anyway.

This reality check can save you an afternoon of standing on the window ledge of a tall building six months after you start:

If you are a trainer for a company or franchise now, you most likely can count on them NEVER hiring you to speak after you go out on your own. This is true even if they love you.

That's just the way it is. Once you leave, they cannot imagine paying you $3,500 for a morning's talk when they used to get you for $200 for the whole day. Furthermore, they can't imagine you having that much more to say since they have already heard everything you have to say.

Nor can they imagine stopping the entire company's paid staff and parking them in chairs for three hours of paid time, to listen to the words of wisdom coming from their former trainer. Not even if you were an executive VP. (100 employees earning $25/hour, out for 4 hours centered on your presentation [it takes 4 hours to include your 3 hours, and for sure they're not paying you $3,500 for a 20 minute talk], will cost the company $10,000 plus your fee. Add to that the cost of renting the facility and putting coffee in the back of the room. Yikes!)

8. A telephone booking script. Can you give someone five reasons to have you speak to their people and organization? Five sample benefits from hiring you? Do you have five different ways to ask for a decision? You shouldn't run out of reasons and benefits and closes before they run out of indecision! Write out these scripts and keep them handy by your phone where you can see them.

9. A determined speaking fee. There is nothing wrong with going with the flow, negotiating a deal, working within their budget, etc. But if you don't have a specific fee in mind--your estimated value for what you do and not a figure you pulled out of the clouds--you will always be at the whim of "gee, we don't have much of a budget for speakers" (although they have $30,000 to spend on convention luncheons, hors d'oeuvres, coffee breaks and the open bar on the first night of the convention.) Your determined fee (your sense of the value you can demonstrate) is the starting point from which you are free to subtract if you need to, or add to if they want more services from you. But you have to start on solid ground.

10. Get on your feet! Being inspired by watching Tiger Woods play golf would not make me a good golfer--inspired or not. You have to practice. Professional athletes--all of them gifted to begin with--have spent their lives practicing 6-8-10 hours a day. Those who want to compete professionally have to walk in ready to perform at the same level of other gifted athletes who already have those years of practice and experience.

Certainly the same is true for professional speaking ... as well as musicians, comedians and writers. This isn't like having a child makes a man a father. Being a DAD takes time, attention, more time, more attention, still more time, practice and experience. Professional experience on your feet in speaking front of an audience makes total difference in your platform skills. Working with an effective coach accelerates your experience. (More on coaching in a moment.)

11. You need a real e-mail address. You have to be able to get information quickly to and from others. Not having an e-mail address identifies you as old school with old technology. The computer revolution isn't going to go away even if you choose not to participate. (More on that when we discuss web sites, next.)

12. You need a professional web site on a registered domain. If your web site address is it looks like you aren't really in business. And with that many keystrokes, even some of the most determined visitors will mistype and lose you. Frankly, if your e-mail address is, you don't have an edge over a high school freshman known as Even if you can't afford to flesh it out yet, spend the $35 (for two years) to register which will come with your own e-mail address, (which is set up through your hosting company). Register your domain before someone else named Terry gets theirs first - if he/she has not already beat you to it. (Another Steve Stewart beat me by two weeks to register the name he and I share. Now until I'm very old and retired, I will have to explain the hyphen in my domain name whenever I give out my address.)

13. You need a contact management software program. Contact managers literally manage your contact with people. Many of our losses come not from poor speaking but from poor marketing; good contacts slip through the cracks so that we fail to follow up, or follow up too late or too ineffectively. With contact management software (ACT!, Goldmine, etc.), if you are supposed to call, write, e-mail or see your prospects, it will happen or your computer will keep prompting you until you do your job--or tell the computer to stop telling you to do your job.

14. You need more than a twenty-minute Rotary talk. All on one central topic area, now you need a quality 45-60 minute centerpiece keynote, plus several 3 hour seminars. It would be great for you to be able to lead a 2-3 day retreat. Maybe a 1-4 hour workshop you can offer to follow up on your keynote (in the keynote, you show them why; in the workshop you show them how). If you are an expert, have your expertise ready to deliver in multiple ways.

15. You need at least two dedicated phone lines for your business. One is for your incoming and outgoing business calls so you don't have the kids answering your phone, or your teenager tying up the line, or sounds of dinner preparation in the background. The second dedicated to your fax machine. Yes, you do need a dedicated fax line so that just like General Motors and Johnson & Johnson, faxes get straight in without having to call you back in 30 seconds, deal with phone trees or wait for you to get off the call you are talking to right now. This is a business; do your best to look like one.

If your Internet service provider offers fast DSL connection accounts (some do not/cannot), you can run the computer connection over one of your existing phone lines without ever tying up the line; you use it while you talk or fax without any conflict.

Also, you can get a free fax line from eFax to receive incoming faxes that come in exactly as sent, but which them arrive as PDF files on your computer. Then you can get faxes anywhere you can receive email, and it is free. Two catches: 1) to send faxes this way, you have to pay an annual fee. 2) The phone number assigned to you will probably not be in YOUR area code. But people who send faxes to you are on the line such a short time, it's likely to only cost them a few pennies.

16. Have a current picture of yourself. Heck, have a half dozen or more, but they have to look like you do today rather than when your hair was darker, lighter, longer or when you just had more of it. Some women change their hair color and style often. Think of that as a business strategy.

The goal of a hair color and style is to look like someone else. Then if successful and you look like someone else, clients and customers won't recognize you?

Everyone has to stay current or your photo on the event flyer won't look like the speaker on the platform. "Who's that guy? Did he send his father to take his place?"


Are you still here? Don't get discouraged. After the first 16 Things To Do First, you still have a way go. But you are almost ready to put the rubber on the road.


Category 3: Don't even think about starting without #17 through #25 in the "completed" column.
17. If you don't have a full color speaker's brochure, at least you need an interesting, professional quality tri-fold brochure on good paper.
Don't fill it with 600 words in small type. It should briefly explain who you are, what you do, how to get in contact with you and make it interesting enough to get them from the front cover to the contact information.

18. Money in the bank and a clean credit card. Like other fields (music and acting comes to mind), professional speaking has no true overnight successes. But there are many overnight successes who took five to seven years to be discovered. You are going to have some negative cash flow--sooner rather than later--so don't hobble yourself by starting out in debt and quickly making it worse. Credit card interest will kill you. Pay them all off first before starting your speaking career! And put 6-12 months income in the bank where you cannot get to it with an ATM machine.

19. You should become a membership in the National Speakers Association. If you are going to do something for a living, why not belong to the association of people who do that for a living? NSA's heavy focus on professional education shaves years off your learning curve regardless of your level of experience and gives you access to important discussion of issues you won't see addressed anywhere else. Then, go to every annual convention (guess which association has the best speakers?), plus every winter workshop. Also join whatever local association and go to every meeting. The cost of all that is $3,000 to $5,000 per year. The value is ten times that.

20. A Marketing Plan. How are you going to go about this? What are you best at? If you could pick your topic, audience, location, event and fee/value, what would it be? What is the venue and circumstance under which you shine best? Then, do what you can to make that happen. Who will you call? How can you generate the most referrals? Are there other income streams open to you (consulting, product sales)? What is your realistic time table?

21. A written budget keeps you from planning out of your checkbook. Are you making a profit? "I dunno; let me see if there is money in the account." How much cash do you have now? Where will the new money come from and when will you have it in-hand to re-invest into your business? If you took your marketing plan and your budget to your banker, is it solid enough that your bank would make you a business loan based on it? If not why should you even invest your own money in your business? Your market plan and your budget are not set in concrete; you have to adjust them frequently. But to be a professional, you've GOT to have a baseline to follow.

22. A professionally designed brochure. This is not a good place to skimp. You need color, layout, graphic design, tight copy writing and balance. You need it to look better than you could ever do yourself. You can accept speaking fees that are less than the quality portrayed by brochure, but you will never get offered any fees higher than the quality demonstrated by your brochure.

23. A 4-8 minute demonstration video. You don't have to spend $8,000 to $10,000 on it, although you could, and a great demo video is a great investment. But don't spend less than $500, and don't even flinch until you cross the $2,000 mark on production costs. Your demo video has to have television network broadcast quality, and you have to look worth it. If your great video is of you on an off day, it will clearly show people why they should not hire you. Ask to see other speaker's videos, and ask your video producer to show you other examples of what they have done. To get more variety, go to your video producer and sit there with a stack of samples and their equipment.

24. You need a coach. Michael Jordan - probably the best to ever play the game of basketball, had a coach. Kobe Bryant has the winningest coach in NBA history. Venus Williams--no slouch on the tennis court--has a coach. Actors making $20 million per movie make those movies under a director. Bill Clinton's biggest critics acknowledge that he has extraordinary political skills; but even he had a coach (Vernon Jordan). John McCain has a kitchen cabinet full of coaches.

So what makes you think having a speaking coach is unnecessary? There are several ways to get one. Hire one listed in the NSA directory. Ask the best speakers in the business who coached them (they will tell you). Or get a "collective coach"--a group of accomplished speakers who give each other genuine, candid critiques of their performance and guidance on how to improve. Invite seasoned pros to watch you speak. Join or form a mastermind group of experienced speakers you can meet with frequently. But do not count on success without receiving seasoned input.

25. Finally, you need the ability to generate at least $100,000 a year in speaking fees, consulting fees, training fees and net product sales. Keep this figure in mind when people ask you to speak for free.

That is because from the $100,000 you will spend $35,000 on marketing, promotion and bureau fees; $10,000 on office support (even with a home office); $8,000 - $10,000 in staff support (in-house or out-sourced, you need administration, accounting, marketing, etc.). These figures presume that your clients cover any travel expenses you need. Clearly, you aren't going to generate $100,000 a year while doing work valued at $10 to $20 per hour, so delegate the small stuff to someone else and focus yourself on the big issues. Don't forget to figure in $5,000 on miscellaneous expenses or you won't have it when those creep up … and they will.

This will leave you with $40,000 from which you pay your own health insurance, car payments, house payments, groceries, living expenses and the $12,000+/- absorbed by federal, state and self-employment taxes on your net income. From $100,000, you are left with maybe $450/month; go paint the town red and send everyone vacation postcards from Paris (or is that Perris, TX?). But don't forgot about making a profit with your business and planning for your retirement. If you don't plan for retirement income, you can never retire.

How do we know this is how it works? Experience, experience, experience.

Great investmennt in a new speaking career: Purchase a downloadable copy of "Professional Speaking for the Clueless" (Clueless" is part of a series like the "for Dummies" books). This was recorded by a speaker I have known almost 20 years who does make a six-figures speaking income - and the part I love - who also has the time to celebrate and enjoy it with his wife.

© Steve Stewart, 2008


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