All about Professional Speaking – Interview with Shelley Dolley

I have known Shelley for several years and she is amazing when it comes to speaking professionally.

Shelley’s official bio:

Shelley Dolley helps business book authors grow successful speaking careers. She’s worked for over a decade with management guru Tom Peters and advises her clients with an industry insider’s perspective.

I had a chance to talk to her about, well, professional speaking. Here is what we talked:

RS: How can one get their first (paid) speaking engagement?

SD: Speaking begets speaking. Once you’ve created a presentation (or two) that’s closely aligned with your book and will be entertaining to your target audience, practice more than you think is a sane amount of practice. Then keep going. Not so that you sound like an automaton, but so that you know the material so well, you can adjust it in the moment.

Start going to Toastmasters, then try to find opportunities to speak to local organizations. These first speeches may not be related to your book, but they’ll get you comfortable in front of an audience. Next, branch out to local chapters of groups that are focused on or contain your target audience (e.g. if you’re a marketer, look for opportunities to speak at American Marketing Association chapter meetings). At this point, instead of asking for a fee, ask them to purchase a number of books in exchange for your talk. Continue to research your target audience and the kinds of events they attend. Attend the events to familiarize yourself with the content that’s covered, the other experts in your field, and connect with future clients.

Rules of thumb:

  1. Speak every chance you get.
  2. Find out which organizations pay for speeches in your niche.
  3. Network like a friend.
  4. Make it clear on your website that you speak.
  5. Constantly refine your content, with the intent to spark action.

RS: How can I leverage my book into a speaking career?

SD: You can certainly earn more by speaking than from book royalties. In order to do that you must specialize in a topic that will appeal to people who pay for speeches. If you’re a business book author, that means you need to appeal to event planners for large organizations and associations. You need to appeal to the audience in a way that would be supported by the people who write the checks (i.e., leadership or customer service, not “How to Moonlight on Company Time”).

When hiring speakers, clients are looking for the person who will make the biggest impact on their audience, or attract the largest audience. That means that their primary concern is name recognition, either of your name or of the name of your book. If you don’t have that, you have to make sure it’s clear that you are a credible source of information and entertainment. You need to become the expert in your subject matter. You become an expert by producing quality content on your topic and then networking intensely to become known as the most reliable source of this quality content. Also at issue is the timeliness of your material. If you haven’t published a book in the last five years, you’re considered dated. Executing on all of these fronts is by no means a simple feat, but if you’re passionate about changing people’s lives from the stage, not just the page, it’s worth the hard work.

RS: What are the pros and cons of self-publishing as it impacts a speaking career?

SD: If you’re a business book author that’s trying to make a career out of speaking, you must publish traditionally to be successful. Yes, self-publishing eliminates the long time-frame of traditional publishing, the author has more control, etc. However, imagine that you need to hire a speaker for an event, and your job is dependent on the success of the event. You’re more likely to choose someone who has had their idea examined and critiqued by professionals. The client is taking a risk each time they hire a speaker. The risk is mitigated if there’s substantial credibility involved. That begins through the backing of a publisher. More established speakers (or anyone with a very large audience or tribe) have the luxury of experimenting with publishing formats.

RS: When someone wants to hire a speaker, what are they looking for online from a speaker?

SD: Your online presence needs to make it obvious that you are an expert, a business book author, and a speaker. Your site should have plenty of easily available information that will help the client make a decision about you: speech topics, video samples, content samples, client list, not to mention contact information. Every speaking event has some level of promotion involved. The client will need easy access to information they can use to promote you. That includes at the very least a succinct, three paragraph biography and a photo. At most, they may ask you to participate in interviews and promote the event at your site and through social media. It’s in your best interest to be as helpful as possible in promoting these events.

RS: How can I earn more money as a speaker?

SD: In order to earn more money as a speaker, you need to become the speaker that a client is eager to spend money on. Think about people who earn high fees, or who you want to pay to see on stage. These are people who have accomplished something remarkable and who are entertaining. These are not people who are selling self-published books from the back of their car. Work to build the size of your fan-base so that they are helping to spread your ideas. The more people are talking about you and your ideas, the more value you bring to a client.

Treat your performance as a craft that you are constantly working to improve. People want to be entertained, so pay close attention to how you deliver your content. Your passion for the content should be obvious. Find ways to customize your speech so that you connect with each audience. The harder you work on remarkable content as well as a remarkable performance, the higher you’ll be paid. If you ask for a higher fee, be sure you’re delivering the goods.

RS: What are three things that an aspiring speaker can do to improve their chances of getting booked?

SD: Here you go:

  1. Be the expert in your niche. Figure out how your topic relates to groups who actually pay for speakers, then tailor your content to help them. Become the person who specializes in addressing their issues.
  2. Build a higher profile. Network with the other experts in your field and work on building your audience. The more people who know who you are, the more they’ll be able to suggest you as an option.
  3. Have someone actively selling you. Whether this is a private agent that you hire or getting listed with a speakers bureau, nothing beats having someone connecting with buyers and exposing them to you as a terrific option for their event.

Last but not the least, Shelley is teaming up with Todd Sattersten and Tim Grahl to host BizBookLab on June 21st and 22nd. You can learn more about the event below:

BizBookLab LIVE – June 2011