We sat down with some professional speakers and asked them about the challenges and keys to success in their profession. For Diane DiResta, it’s about learning constantly, maintaining cash reserves, and fostering connections.
Describe a day-in-the-life of a professional speaker.
A typical day is about making calls, writing emails, and creating content and programs. It’s about practicing — putting together your Powerpoint, calling people for info and feedback, going to professional meetings, networking, traveling, spending time in airports and on trains. It’s a lot of activity.
What are your top day-to-day challenges?
Getting the business is always the hardest. Getting people on the phone, getting responses to emails. Finding new markets and opportunities is always one of the biggest challenges. Most speakers love speaking, and that is where they may be putting all their effort, but it’s really a sales and marketing business.
Another challenge is time: being organized and being productive. You get pulled in a lot of different directions. You need to be on social media, but it can suck your time. You need to be developing content to get your name out there.
Supporting a team of people is a big challenge. It’s very hard to compete when you don’t have the size and scope and funds of larger companies. Having a team is key. I know a guy who has five full-time people doing his digital content — that’s what it takes.
What unique strategies do you use to tackle these challenges?
Forming strategic alliances is important because referrals are the easiest way to get business. Starting from scratch is a long process, so a personal introduction makes a big difference.
I constantly look for strategic alliances. Who’s working with my market and could refer me? Whom do I complement instead of compete with? I make sure to stay in touch with people who’ve referred me in the past and with all my past clients.
You need to be visible and build your brand. Go to events even if they don’t pay you. I had someone call me in 2014 because she heard me speak at an unpaid event 10 years ago!
Speaking is one of the best marketing tools. As a speaker, it’s essential to be visible because it lets people test-drive your product.
What’s the secret to your success as a professional speaker?
Two words: cash reserves. I don’t hear a lot of people talking about that. I’ve always had money in the bank. I’ve always had reserves. When 9/11 happened, when the recessions came, I was able to ride them out. Even though it can be scary not to know where the next business is coming from, I knew I could pay my mortgage, and I knew I wouldn’t starve. That is the best strategy. Saving gives you the ability to be there for the long run.
You also have to be a lifelong learner. You have to stay relevant. The market has changed so much that you have to continue to learn new skills, new technology, and new ways of doing business.
Relationships are the other secret to success. This is a relationship business. You want to be friends with competitors because they might need someone who can substitute for them when they can’t make an event. Or when they were the headliner last year and a client can’t repeat speakers. Bigger projects require more than one speaker and I’ve brought in other “competitors” to be part of the team. Today it’s more about “co-opetition.” When someone reaches out or wants to network, meet with that person, because you never know what business it can bring.
What advice do you have for speakers just starting out?
When you are starting out, find mentors. After that, it’s always about working on the skill, the subject. And after you have been in the business for awhile, you need to look at how you constantly reinvent and rebrand yourself.
I have friends who aren’t really connected on social media. When you do that, you don’t look relevant. Even if you’re not a big content creator, you need a presence. It’s easy to look irrelevant very quickly if you don’t stay up-to-date.
Sometimes we need to get our of our own arena. In addition to speaker conferences, what other industry conferences or other areas of interest do you have that you could develop and learn? Sometimes you find something very interesting that you would’ve missed if you’d stayed just in your own industry. Expand your horizons by going to other conferences to learn different things.
What are your predictions for the biggest trends in professional speaking in 2017?
I think it will continue to be tough, and the bar will continue to be raised. Paid professional speaking is a challenge. It’s easier if you’re a celebrity or a sports figure or you’ve climbed a mountain. You have to stand out or be an expert.
It’s a growing profession, but it’s harder to break into now. Audiences are more demanding. The old-fashioned motivational speaker will be less in demand. Motivation is important, but people want substance behind it – unless you’re a humorist. People will continue to want comedy and humor.
There is a more of a trend toward thought leadership than there was in the past, which is connected to content creation. A president of a tech company told me, “All companies are digital.” So, we have to change the way we think.
Looking for more on professional speakers? Check out our entire interview series.