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December 9, 2008 6:51 AM   Subscribe

How do inspirational/motivational/informational speakers get started?

In a MeFi from last week someone linked this video of Alvin Law, and it got me thinking. How do speakers like Mr. Law get started on the speaking circuit?

I understand that once they're established, with a few shining references, it's easier to promote oneself, and depending on success, may even have the luxury of picking and choosing. But how does anyone get those first few gigs? It's not like bands, where they can play at a bar or venue for free and get exposure.

If you're not already wildly successful or famous ("Come See Donald Trump next week at..."), how do you get there? I'm not talking millions of dollars or hitting the talk shows, just enough traction to make it a job.
posted by explosion to Work & Money (5 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I think you start small. Local organizations, user groups, etc. are always on the lookout for interesting speakers. For example - assume you are a web marketing guru. You start by doing free talks for the local chamber of commerce events, rotary groups, networking groups etc. That builds business for you as a web marketing consultant, which is good, and establishes credibility as a speaker which in time leads to bigger speaking engagements. If you are really good, at some point IBM calls and offers you $15,000 to speak at their worldwide users group meeting. However, its a long road from the chamber of commerce to speaking for dollars as a career,and only a handful of people will ever make it.

So, other words, I would not set out to be a paid speaker as a career. Odds of failure are very high. Set out to speak as support for something else you do, and if you are really good, and probably somewhat lucky, maybe it develops into paid speaking over time.
posted by COD at 7:37 AM on December 9, 2008

(1) Having expertise in some field relevant to an organization/association/community that is able and wanting to assemble to learn more.

(2) Have a position of leadership/prominence in the community that would allow you to do something like this [i.e. if you're a small business owner but that small business employs a lot of people in a one town/city, you draw enough water to give some lectures/speeches].

(3) Gun 100% on your charisma, and market yourself as someone who knows something (like all those assholes on TV).
posted by AlbatrossJones at 11:11 AM on December 9, 2008

How do speakers like Mr. Law get started on the speaking circuit?

To be blunt, Alvin Law got his start by being born with no arms.

Put another way, a lot of people get started by being extraordinary in some way. For some, like Alvin Law, it's overcoming some significant physical hurdle. Deborah Scaling Kiley became one after surviving adrift in shark-infested waters after a shipwreck. Some take a more... proactive route and build successful companies from little or nothing, or against great adversity. What's common is that their lives are inherently interesting and inspiring.

Informational speakers are a bit different, they're just authorities in some field. Does your city/town have a chamber of commerce? If you are/consider yourself an authority in something and want to give talks, start there- schools, societies, etc. always need speakers. Pay sucks/is nonexistant, but that's where you start.
posted by mkultra at 11:23 AM on December 9, 2008

Oh, one more bit on the motivational front- there's a corporate-slanted subset of this area, geared toward confidence-building, leadership, public speaking, etc. I've met a couple folks who do this who were former teachers and recruiters. The latter certainly provides a network to sell yourself into.
posted by mkultra at 11:28 AM on December 9, 2008

Best answer: It's one thing to have expertise; it's another to share it. I've recently received requests for speaking engagements through my blog and I know others who've built entire empires out of blogging.

I've heard of an Australian speaker who started out by sending a letter to every school he could find explaining himself, his topic, and his rates. Schools started booking him and recommending him, and he's now one of the top public speakers.
posted by divabat at 2:14 PM on December 9, 2008

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