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Becoming a professional speaker can be a rewarding career, but getting started can be intimidating. Speakers bureaus and major meeting planners are not interested in novices unless you are a celebrity or have accomplished something of significance. However, there are ways to work around this problem and build a full calendar of engagements.
Besides your business card, you will need three marketing tools -- a brochure, website and demo DVD. All should present a unified theme built around your topics or expertise. Three-way folders work well for brochures. Include pictures of yourself, a brief biography, highlights of your presentation and references. Make your website thoroughly professional. If you do not have the skills to build it yourself, hire a web designer. Be sure to include video clips of yourself. Live performances in front of an audience are always better than talking to the camera. To get video for your DVD, have a friend record several of your speeches. Ideally, short takes from several presentations work best to show you in different venues. Again, if you are not comfortable editing your videos, hire an editor. Image is everything.
Many speakers began their careers with pro bono presentations to local civic organizations. The Rotary, Kiwanis and Optimists typically meet weekly, and each meeting needs a speaker. Many of the members are business professionals such as lawyers, CPAs and insurance agents. Each of these is likely to be a member of a professional association that also needs speakers for conventions, continuing education programs and other professional programs. Always ask your host for a letter of recommendation. Exchange business cards, share your promotional brochure and follow up later, asking for contacts who book speakers. Explore the opportunities to have a company sponsor you.An insurance company, for example, might pay you to speak to their clients and prospects.
Some speakers find that public training companies offer a good way to break into the field and make it their permanent career. Fred Pryor Seminars and CareerTrack -- both part of Park University Enterprises -- and SkillPath all offer a wide range of programs. Speakers typically work a week at a time, delivering the same seminar in different cities. In addition to speaker fees, the presenters also have the opportunity to earn commissions on book sales or Web training subscriptions. You can gain valuable experience while earning a living, but you will have to define the clear niche that you want to occupy. These training companies also offer webinars, an alternative that you can explore with them or on your own. Whether you are in the room with the trainees or speaking to them via Skype, you are being paid.
Ultimately you must build your own network. Join a professional organization such as the National Speakers Association, which has more advanced speakers who can mentor you. You may also pick up some speaking gigs through your membership. Look online for the Convention and Visitors Bureau in your closest major city to see what organizations are planning events in the coming year. Contact them and inquire who they have for speakers. Usually, a major convention will have a big-name speaker with others leading smaller breakout sessions. Find groups that hire speakers like you. Once you have identified those groups, look up their contact people and make your best pitch.
Thomas Metcalf has worked as an economist, stockbroker and technology salesman. A writer since 1997, he has written a monthly column for "Life Association News," authored several books and contributed to national publications such as the History Channel's "HISTORY Magazine." Metcalf holds a master's degree in economics from Tufts University.
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