You’re a coach, a writer, a doer or a maker. Your business is largely digital and “remote” - you Skype with clients, sell your digital products and eBooks, and have a host of programs you offer throughout the year.
You love hanging out at home, keeping your blog updated and reaching a global audience from your couch (um, I mean home office).
As much I I’m right there with you, loving the convenience of working from home (or the road, in my case) and all the benefits technology has given us creative solopreneurs, you’re missing out on a big opportunity for you, your brand, and your business.
I’m talking about public speaking.
When I was in 10th grade, my English teacher introduced me to my class by saying “Mariah is a better public speaker at age 15 than I will ever be”. So, maybe I’m a little bit more into public speaking than most people. I’ve been the lead singer/guitarist in a punk band since I was 13, so I was never nervous performing in front of big audiences. I think that me screaming into a microphone in my underpants as a teenager translated into me becoming a comfortable public speaker in my later teens and 20’s. We can call that "professional development”.
I know that some people are downright terrified of talking in front of groups. But incorporating speaking into your business model and income streams can be really fun and challenging, and I think we should all give it a shot. I promise, it gets way easier with practice.
My number one piece of advice: do not, for everyone’s sake, DO NOT take yourself so seriously. Whenever I feel nervous I make an inappropriate joke - usually about bodily functions (because I’m really a 5 year old boy) - and suddenly I’m feeling much more at ease.
My second business started really organically - not really as a business at all. Before I had products, one-on-one packages, classes and group programs, I had speaking gigs.
A few years ago, I was just a girl with a weird obsession, a firm (opinionated) perspective on things, and a blog.
I wasn’t trying to start a business, I already had my online vintage shop to support me, I was just writing about what I was researching and experimenting with at the time.
But as more and more people found my blog, I started getting requests to speak at all sorts of events. Workshops, conferences, high schools, colleges, and small events like church gatherings (which is weird because I’m pretty obviously un-churchly).
I didn’t have a “hire me” page or a word on my blog about me being available, but here they were, knocking at my (digital) door, asking for me to give a talk about my “expertise”.
So my first income stream became public speaking gigs. Word spread within my industry that Mariah was a fucking hilarious and ridiculous person to give talks (and, secondarily, that she could teach a thing or two). I was known to answer ANY question with complete, brutal honesty. A lot of times that meant talking about my menstrual habits and how often I shower (yep).
In a few months I was a regular speaker at a few schools and universities, and more and more workshop hosts asked me to make an appearance. I wasn’t charging much at first - I didn’t really understand how much I should charge for that kind of thing and I didn’t take it very seriously. But I got the hang of negotiating my rates as I had more experience, and it became more than a side-gig.
If you want to make more real connections IRL, create a new income stream, and get paid to travel all over (so fun!), here’s how to do it.
The best way to get speaking gigs is to have a tiny army of fans tell other people about your skills and expertise (and inappropriate jokes).
When you form relationships with the people that teach at the university, that hold the workshops, and that organize the conferences, you get invited back again and again. Plus, making friends is really fun and rewarding, even without the perks of becoming a preferred speaker.
So the university professor that invites you to speak in front of her department in Boston knows a professor in San Diego, and she tells her friend in San Diego that you’re a top notch person to talk to her class. This word of mouth spreads out like a web, and is the most powerful form of “advertising”.
You also want to get to know the people that run the events you want to speak at. If it’s a yearly conference or bi-annual workshop, you want to be invited back year after year. I have about 5-6 recurring gigs that I do every year because they are awesome, and I’ve built a relationship with the person (or people) organizing the event.
PRICE FOR THEIR BUDGET
Depending on what you do/write about/know about, your ideal speaking gig might be different from mine. Where as I like to talk to high school students and people at beginner workshops, you might be more excited about talking at a high-level industry expo. Your pricing should reflect the event and the budget available.
You’ve got to value yourself, your expertise and your time, but you also need to be a little bit flexible (or not, but don’t expect to get hired much if you aren’t). Depending on the event, I will charge a fee based on the nature of the engagement.
For example, if I’m approached about speaking at a conference in front of 300 people who are each paying about $500/day a to be there, I am going to charge top dollar. I know the person putting on the event is making bank (very professional, I know) and I ask to be compensated accordingly. If I’m a draw and people are signing up for the event to come see me talk, I will be paid accordingly.
On the other end of the spectrum, I will charge less to speak at a public high school with less funding. One because it’s a good cause and I would do it for free if I could, and two because I don’t want to have to say no for lack of funding.
I don’t publish my rates on my website, and each contract is created on a case by case basis. Use your common sense and create a price that makes it worth your time and fair for the person hiring you. I like to use my gut.
Also consider the non-monetary benefits of speaking: engagement with a new audience, the chance to make new connections in your industry, free admission to a conference or workshop you’d enjoy, and some other things you can’t anticipate. Business is about relationships, it really is. So if you have the chance to speak alongside someone you have always admired or wanted to meet, make it a point to consider that when saying “yes”.
And as a note, my rate is usually completely separate from my travel expenses, which they also pay for. So it’s usually TRAVEL + EXPENSES + FEE. If someone values you and your expertise, they will compensate you for your travel, and not expect you to pay for it out of your fee.
MAKE IT KNOWN
If the hoards aren’t knocking at your door just yet, you’ve got to let them know you’re available.
+ Write a blog post about your new speaking gig offering, and make sure to tell us lots of embarrassing stories about your public speaking disasters from early life. When did you first “perform”? Let’s hear all the gory details.
+ Shout it out on social media, of course in a really nice and non-offensive shout. Tell your peeps.
+ Create a page on your website or blog about speaking engagements. Give interested parties a clear way to contact you.
This page should include:
+ how to contact you
+ your relevant experience
+ a sampling of various workshop titles (even if they’re made up or just wishful thinking at this point) and topics you are excited to talk about.
+ testimonials from people you’ve worked with, helped, or influenced. One of my favorite testimonials: “I could just listen to Mariah talk all day. Is that weird?”. No, it’s not weird. It’s wonderful and I’m happy to oblige.
+ examples of places and events you are qualified and willing to speak at: industry workshops, universities, high schools, conferences?
+ Whether or not you travel
+ anything special your talks include
+ Contact 5-10 people that either organize or host the types of events you’d like to speak at, and pitch them your idea. Each pitch should be unique to the person you’re sending it to (please don’t CC your contacts - that is so not cool).
HUMOR THEM (UNLESS THAT’S TOTALLY NOT YOUR THING)
People love learning new things and broadening their horizons. If you come and give a talk that shows you know your stuff and addresses an issue or topic that they need help with, everyone will appreciate your talk.
But if you want referrals and standing ovations, don’t be afraid to be funny. Be yourself. Be bold.
Say something totally gasp-worthy that no one else is really willing to say. Tell a story about yourself. No matter how technical, professional, or serious your topic of choice might be, it shouldn’t be dry. If I can find a way to make a presentation about installing solar panels on RVs funny and entertaining, so can you.
DO IT YOURSELF:
Create you own speaking gig!
A lot of these examples talk about how to get hired to speak at an event. Of course, us self-starters know there’s another way to become a public speaker.
Don’t wait for anyone to hire you or say yes, give yourself permission and organize your own workshop, event, seminar, or talk. Make yourself the main attraction, and hire your friends and people you admire to come and speak with you.
So, what do you think? Will you give public speaking a try? Or does the very thought of it make you wanna sh*t your pants in fear? I wanna know in the comments!