I've written about this several times over the past few years and here I am again. The bulk of the first quarter trade shows and conventions are over and now is the time when people should be thinking about speaking at next year's conventions, not three to four months before. So, let's hit some things you need to think about.
In previous lives, I constantly received requests from people who wanted to be a speaker at a convention or at a Hasselblad sponsored program. Now, I'm getting them for SCU, which is an even more difficult venue to teach at. If you've been bitten by the speaking bug here's a great check-off list to consider:
1. Have you spoken in public before? Seriously, there are people out there who think just because they won an award they're ready to hit the lecture circuit. Awards for imaging only prove you're a great photographer, NOT that you can teach or present effectively.
2. Do you have a relevant topic? I know it's basic, but everyone today, including me, thinks they have something poignant to say. We get so wrapped up in our own day in day out issues we forget our challenges aren't necessarily everybody elses. Or, even more embarrassing, is getting your own program and finding out, the speaker before or after you is hitting the exact same topic!
3. Are you sponsored? Pay attention - this is a big one. Budgets are tight everywhere, especially for those associations and organizations who sponsor the convention at which you want to speak. That means if you have some sponsors to underwrite the cost of you speaking, the association can pay you less and put the money back into another aspect of their convention. You're always going to have a better chance landing a program if you're sponsored.
The thing I hate about this is that some conventions seem to have lowered their standards and if you're sponsored you're almost sure to get a speaking slot. My only request would be if you think you're in over your head, but you have a company who wants to sponsor you then at least tackle this like it was the most important thing you've ever done. Work hard to make your presentation flawless and worthy of every person's time who comes in and takes a seat!
4. Don't get too many sponsors! Too often photographers align themselves with too many different companies and the result can be devastating. Being just a hired gun doesn't give you credibility! Plus, trying to mention too many sponsors in a program is like watching all the logos at a NASCAR event!
5. Baby steps...Speaking at a venue like IUSA, for example, should be the end result of building your reputation, not the first step in your career as a speaker. Start presenting and teaching on the local level, then build up to regional conventions and then go national. Hold back from trying to speak at national conventions and shows until you're really ready and have a little bit of a reputation established.
6. Are you a good speaker? This is a tough one to really explain, but the short version is to simply say it takes practice, listening to the criticism from your friends, learning to stay focused and cut out all the "ums" that become the trademark of a less seasoned speaker. Your message needs to flow naturally without being nervous. And prepare for the worst in AV problems. I once heard Denis Reggie present an entire program without one slide when the AV system blew up. He never missed a beat and the audience never cared. His message was solid and he knew his material so well he didn't need his slides!
There are some great presenters out there and you need to attend their programs. At the risk of alienating friends I don't have room to list here, Joe McNally, Arthur Rainville, Michele Celentano, Scott Bourne and Dane Sanders are just a few of the presenters with a style that's professionalism at its best. The secret ingredients are enthusiasm, passion, style, content and quite simply, they know their stuff!
7. Once you get on the speaking tour - be careful what you wish for. Remember your message is only as good as its validity. It's not enough to just lecture about great photography, you have to be a great photographer. Once you step too far away from your core business as a photographer and spend too much time lecturing you lose credibility as a speaker. If you're not careful you'll join the ranks of too many photographers/speakers who started to believe their own press releases. A few came close to losing their businesses and families because they were so focused being on the circuit.
8. Get to know the people who have to approve your request as a speaker. Don't be disappointed if you get turned down the first few times you put in a request. There's a huge part of every business that comes out of relationships. It's that extra ingredient that gives you an edge versus somebody making a cold call. Spend time building relationships with the people you're hoping will hire you as a speaker some day. Get to know them, their needs and what they're looking for. You're out to develop a long term relationship, not be a one hit wonder!
9. Be careful on your speaking fee! When you do get a shot at speaking, go easy on what you think you're worth! I've seen so many speakers lose sight of the value of their message and suddenly hit the wall because they've simply priced themselves out of business!
Being a public speaker is incredibly rewarding, but it's not for everybody. If you think it's something you want to do and can do well, then go for it, but attack the challenge the same way you've worked to build your business. The key operative word here is "build" - take your time, put speaking projects together brick by brick and build them on a foundation of enthusiasm, professionalism and great content.
As I read this post over this morning, I realized it's relevant to so many different aspects of your business. It becomes almost trite to think about how many of these points can apply to your blog, your presentation to a client even customer service. It all comes back to the one most important singular ingredient in running any business, passion! If you've got it, you'll work hard to find all the other ingredients, but without passion nothing in your garden of ideas will grow!