Workplace blogs

Building a Speaker Business

I’ve recently been flooded with requests from new speakers asking me about the exciting, often dangerous world of professional car racing. Since I know nothing about car racing, I usually try to Business_Presentation_In_An_Of_456404steer the conversation around to a topic that I do know lots about, such as avocados or penguins. This provides a perfect jumping off point to talk about just why we aren’t talking about the obvious topic at hand (which they are obviously trying to avoid)—namely the exciting, only occasionally dangerous world of professional speaking.

So I thought I would take this opportunity to outline my patented, trademarked, copyrighted, registered program: “How to Become a Professional Speaker in Several Easy Steps Mixed in With a Few Difficult Steps That You Might Not Be Able to Do But Heck It’s Worth a Shot Because the Other Steps are So Easy Program.”

Step Number One: Quit your job. Speaking takes nothing less than a full time commitment, so unless you have one of those cushy jobs that includes things like a pension, medical benefits, and a regular paycheck, make the commitment to walk away from your old job and into your new life of uncertainty and chaos. (I’m kidding about the chaos part. Sort of. Well, okay, it’s one of those “half kidding, half-not kidding” comments that people aren’t ever really sure how to take.)

Step Number Two: Print up some business cards that include the words “Professional” and “Speaker”—preferably in that order. Some speakers also like to include a photo of themselves on their business cards (although, since I started using Johnny Depp’s photo, my business has increased ten-fold).

Step Number Three: Tell your spouse about step number one. Preferably after a few bottles of Chianti.

Step Number Four: Apologize to your spouse for not telling him or her sooner and ask if you can come back home because you’ll need to set up a home office—pronto.

Step Number Five:
Set up a home office—pronto. This may necessitate having your children share your bedroom for a few years, asking your in-laws to leave, asking your children and your in-laws to leave, or actually purchasing a home.

Step Number Six:
Figure out what it is you’re going to speak about. Some speakers go their entire career without worrying about this step, but I have found that the sooner you can pinpoint an ambiguous, ill-defined topic, the better. Here are a few suggested topic areas that are hot right now:

“How to Have It All and Then Get Everyone Else’s All Too!”

“Is It Me. . .or is it You?”

“How to Sell Anything to Anyone, Any Time for Any Reason, Anywhere, Any      How and Any Way to Anyone at Any Time, Anywhere.”

“The Future: When Will It Arrive and How Will We Know When We’re There?”

“The Secret and Often Misunderstood World of Avocados.”

Step Number Seven: Partner. Partner, partner, partner, and when you’re sick of partnering, partner some more. I can’t say enough about partnering, mainly because it’s this issue’s theme. And also because it’s crucial to your success. Like a tick on a rhino, like a parasite on a monkey’s back, you need to attach yourself to someone who knows what they are doing, someone who can match you up with paying audiences, someone gullible enough to believe you look like Johnny Depp.

Remember, no speaker is an island; no meeting planner an atoll; no a/v tech a coral reef; no audience a tidal pool. To quote a meeting planner I recently met: “Without partners, you’ll be going to the dance alone, and then where will you be? I’ll tell you where you’ll be. At the dance. Alone.”

Step Number Eight: Once you’ve located partners through the usual means (Yellow Pages, Internet chat rooms, and by joining as many professional associations as your new mortgage will allow) you need to roll up your sleeves—literally—in order to impress potential partners with your gold watch and expensive jewelry.  Flashing some bling bling their way will get them thinking: “Wow. This person has bling bling, whereas I’ve only got bling—this is definitely someone I need to partner up with.”

Step Number Nine: Build relationships with your new partners. This entails calling them by their correct name,  pretending to pay attention to them when they talk and, as Prime Minister Steve Harper discovered last summer, making up a fun nickname for them. And then, to sustain the relationship over the long haul (which may last several days, if not weeks), you’ll need to keep in touch with them regularly, take them to lunch, or buy them a new car.

Step Number Ten:
Once your new partners start bringing business your way and asking for an 80% commission, you’ll need to learn how to speak, although again, this is a step that many professional speakers such as myself have never really taken the time to worry about.

Which is why maintaining an endless stream of new partners is so very, very critical.

Michael Kerr is the president of the Humor at Work Institute and the author of five books, including the best selling “You Can’t Be Serious! Putting Humor to Work,”  “The Humor Advantage,”  and “What’s So Funny About Alberta?”.  For humor at work  articles and other resources, surf him up at or reach Michael at

Copyright Michael Kerr, 2008


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