1 OF 4 THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW TO BECOME A PROFESSIONAL SPEAKER
Every professional speaker has a thing — a shtick. Their thing happens to be true and able to be summed up in a sentence or two. Captain Scott Kelly was in space for a year. Liz Murray went from Homeless to Harvard. Noor Tagouri is the first American journalist to wear a hijab while reporting the news (Yes, that’s a big deal in America).
This question isn’t as simple as do you have a nice elevator pitch or one-liner to describe yourself. The question is, 1) is your one-liner accurate; and 2) does anyone care? Agents at speakers bureaus have to pitch you to their clients. Most of the time these agents work on some form of a commission or bonus scale. To make money they have to book speakers and they have to do it fast. Your schtick has to make the agent’s job of pitching you easy, more specifically, make it easier than pitching any of the other speakers they represent.
When thinking about your shtick, you should answer the three questions:
1: What’s Your Shtick?
When answering this, you want to summarize who you are and what you’ve done that will matter to other people in one sentence.
“Bree Newsome is an organizer and activist who climbed the flagpole at the South Carolina State House to remove the Confederate Battle Flag.”
2: Is Your Shtick Extraordinary?
Seriously. Have you done something that others who don’t know you would view as extraordinary?
I get why it’s tempting to want to be a speaker, but have you done something that would inspire folks to bring you in front of their audience and pay you $5,000, $15,000, $250,000 to tell them about it? These are blurbs about extraordinary things speakers have done.
“With a hashtag, Beverly Gooden started a movement — now this victim’s rights advocate shares her personal story of survival, and outlines what you can do to help victims of domestic abuse.”
“At 14 years old, Craig Kielburger rallied classmates to help buy children their freedom from slavery in developing nations. He now heads the largest nonprofit in the world working to Free the Children by galvanizing the power and influence of students.”
“During the recent height of police and community tensions, activist and academic, Frank Leon Roberts, decided to teach the only course in the country specifically on the Black Lives Matter movement, at New York University no less, a predominately white institution (PWI).”
If you haven’t done something extraordinary, are you willing to?
For example, a woman with a solid niche following reached out to me last fall and said she wants to be a speaker, and asked what does she have to do to become one. I told her she had to increase her platform and to do that she had to do something extraordinary. Then I suggested something. She did it. Within weeks she was featured in People, Teen Vogue, Huffington Post, BET, Essence, New York Magazine, Glamour, Newsweek, The Guardian, on MSNBC and countless other media outlets. She raised more than a hundred-thousand dollars for a national non-profit and landed a national ad campaign with one of the leading apparel brands, Under Armour.
If you haven’t done something extraordinary, you still have time.
Most people aren’t willing to do something extraordinary. They think whatever they’ve done is enough. It’s not. If it were you’d be represented by an agency already.
3: Is Your Shtick Timely?
There’s a lot that grabs the public’s attention. I’m willing to bet that between the time you started reading this post and now you probably flipped between Facebook, text messages, a news alert, children, or something else. There’s a lot out there vying for our immediate attention.
What is it about you that an agent will read in your one liner or shtick that will grab their attention now, their client’s attention now, and their client’s audience’s attention now. Today.
Bob Denver’s extraordinary thing would be “I played Gilligan on Gilligan’s Island” but since Gilligan’s Island has been off the air since forever (and Bob Denver’s dead), his life and story may not be relevant to many people.
Here are some ways to ensure your schtick is relevant and/or timely:
-What Currently Matters in the World
Politics/Current Events — Can you tie your shtick to the White House or Congress in some way? Or something else that’s current?
Industry Innovations — If you’re a mechanic, can you tie your shtick to the latest in automotive innovations in some way?
Or is it something else? It’s easy for you to think what currently matters to you matters to your prospective audience. Don’t be so self-centered. Be honest with yourself. Look at what they’re talking about. Find out what matters to them now and do the work of tailoring your offering to meet their immediately concerns. You do that work by finding connections between your schtick and whatever you identify as mattering in the present.
This takes some work, creativity, and perhaps some willingness to be bold. Now that you know what currently matters to your audience, think about what you’ve done that connects to what matters to your audience. All you need is one solid connection.
For example, Scott Dikkers, the founding editor of the Onion recently wrote a book titled Trump’s America. Frank Leon Roberts is writing The Black Lives Matter Syllabus, a reader for college students and professors alike. Trace Lysette shared that she is trans and stepped into a trans acting role in the Emmy Award Winning Transparent. All three speakers have been around for many years in their fields and have found ways to address subject matters that are timely and relevant to the world. Do the same.
If you work to identify your thing — your schtick — in the ways I’ve outlined above, you’ll be on your way to breaking into the professional speaking industry. If you have any questions, leave a comment below.