4 OF 4 THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW TO BECOME A PROFESSIONAL SPEAKER

How to be perceived as a professional and why it matters.

When working through a bureau or agency, professionalism is an important key for a speaker to be successful in this industry. It seems like this goes without saying, but you’d be surprised at the gamut of professionalism one sees in this field. I’ve seen a level of professionalism as poor as a speakers backing out of a contracted and mutually agreed upon agenda while onsite at the event; other speakers professionalism lacks in something as simple but important as failing to have high-quality headshot; there are those speakers who just don’t return calls or respond to emails in anything resembling a timely manner when agencies are actively pitching them; and then there are speakers who have it all together — a killer website, compelling intro, quality headshot, complete bio, active social media presences, an incredible team, and so on. Agencies take notice and a speaker’s level of professionalism impacts how often they are pitched and booked.

Kindra Hall

Kindra is a consummate professional. She’s pleasant to work with, responsive, prepared, an excellent speaker, and she makes the entire process easy for agents and for sponsors. Having worked on the speaker management side of the industry, I know that’s not easy to pull off, especially when speaking isn’t the only thing a speaker does, but she puts the effort in and makes it a priority.

SHE’S ONLINE

She has a badass website. The layout is clean, the language is concise, the message is clear. If you want to be taken seriously as a speaker, you need a clean and solid online presence. Get you website.

SHE MAKES THINGS EASY

Be prepared and make it easy to pitch you. If you’re looking to be a professional speaker there are a few must-haves:

Headshot

This should go without saying but get some professional headshots. Agents literally send a picture of you to a sponsor when pitching you. If you have a low-quality headshot they’re going to think you don’t have the money to get a professional headshot, which means you’re not speaking often, which means you’re not a good speaker, which means they shouldn’t trust you as a speaker, and eventually you’ll lose the event. Get professional headshots.

A Pitch Bio

Your pitch bio should be roughly 250 to 500 words, no more. Write it up. Post it on your website. This isn’t a bio that drones on about your accomplishments. This is a bio that sells you as a speaker. It should include your gimmick, your accomplishments, and how audiences can expect to experience you and/or what they’ll take away from your visit.

Intro

Draft an introduction you want folks to use when introducing you at an event. This is a great way to tell the audience (through the person introducing you) what you’re currently up to, what projects you’re working on, and so on. The person introducing you would be happy to brag about you.

Bakari Sellers

A sponsor reached out to me and wanted to book Bakari Sellers. He was on CNN every other day around this time. Prior to that request, the agency had never booked Bakari. I did some digging around, found his email and asked him if he speaks and if so what’s his fee and travel requirements. Within 5 minutes he responds with his fee, travel requirements, headshot, and bio.

Issa Rae’s Team

When starting out as a speaker it can be tempting to ask anyone and everyone for help. Your friends can quickly become your “assistant.” Your spouse can become your “manager.” Your children can become your assistant. Occasionally, however, because of the long-established dynamic of those relationships the seriousness and professionalism required to be well represented by people with whom you have a long-standing personal relationship with can end up hurting your career as a speaker.

How do you build a team like Issa? Here’s what I imagine she did.

First, I imagine she set clear expectations with her team. Clear expectation can be two-fold:

  1. She let people know that she’s only committed to having the best people on her team, which means that at different stages of her career she’s going to bring new people on board and let go of some people. So, no one can or should expect to stay on just because they’re friends.

Tarana Burke

When #MeToo took off and blanketed every social media platform with bravery and solidarity of survivors of sexual assault, I knew Tarana Burke would be a sought-after speaker. I read she started the MeToo movement more than ten years ago. What I wasn’t ready for was how passionate she was and is about bringing survivors experience to the forefront. Tarana’s passion for what she’s doing and what she gets to do through speaking comes through in nearly every interaction with her. This is not a gimmick or schtick for Tarana that she uses to grab the attention of audiences. MeToo is what Tarana believes in. It’s what she is passionate about — and it’s infectious. You can’t help but want to be around her and hear her speak about what to do next. You can’t help but be inspired by her graciousness and humility while also being empowered by the fact that someone who was relatively unknown dedicated their life to something that matters and now the tides of her work are topping those who held positions of power and influence all around the country. I know if she makes me feel that way, then she’s going to make sponsors and a sponsor’s audience feel the same. Because of her passion, I want to send Tarana everywhere.

"I just want to have a kickass time and live in service to God's will." -Rainn Wilson