We sat down with some professional speakers and asked them about the challenges and keys to success in their profession. Shep Hyken discusses smiling and dialing, cultivating discipline, and staying in the game.
What are the top day-to-day challenges you face as a professional speaker?
I’ve been saying for years that the job isn’t doing the speech, it’s getting the speech. The speaker’s job is marketing and relationship-building. The speech is the outcome of everything you do.
The speaking business is two words: it’s speaking and it’s business. There are successful speakers who are good at what they do. Then there are amazing speakers that will blow you away with their speaking ability, but they don’t get much work. The difference is that some people have figured out that the speaking business is two words, and others haven’t.
Some people consider writing a book or an article or developing content as part of their day-to-day activities, and many times speakers use that as an excuse to not get on the phone with clients. Maybe it’s call-reluctance or fear of rejection, but if we spend 40 hours a week working at getting work, we’ll probably be successful. My mentor and close friend Bud Dietrich told me that many years ago when I first started.
What are your unique strategies for getting the job?
The short answer is: pick up the phone and make phone calls to potential clients. I call it Smile and Dial. When I first started out, I went the magazine store and bought every business magazine available. I tore out every full page ad. I figured if they were big enough to have a full-page ad, they were probably selling something worthwhile, and they were big enough to have a meeting about it. So I figured out who was in charge of those sales meetings and I called every one of them. That’s how I started my business.
I always tell people: the fastest way to fill that calendar is to pick up the phone and start calling people. One concept I learned is to make a certain number of calls per day. My goal was to make 100 per week, 20 to 25 per day. I would connect with about 15% and of that, about 10 to 15% of those had sincere interest. So every week, I was picking up one or two good leads.
Today I write a tremendous amount of content, a minimum of three articles per week. I do blog posts, my weekly column, tweets, and videos. Now that my career is established, the amount of time I was spending on the phone is now devoted to writing articles. I post an article, and it goes to potentially tens of thousands of people.
There are article repositories, LinkedIn, your own blog site — all different places where you can potentially be seen. The exposure I can get from that one hour spent writing an article is so much greater than if I spent that same hour making two to four calls. Over time, you’re recognized for what you do in your career, recognized as an expert. Then the phone starts to ring, and the email inbox starts to fill up with inquiries.
Professional speakers need to be disciplined. If you aren’t on a stage speaking, you aren’t making money. Sure, we can talk about passive income from book sales and products, but at the end of the day, if you want to be on a stage or on one of these different channels getting paid to speak, you need to make it happen. You need discipline.
We have a calendar of things we do every single day. I have social media flowing seven days a week. We kick things off on Monday with an article. Tuesdays I do my radio show. On Wednesday, it’s my regular blog. Thursdays I do a video. My article in Forbes comes out every Saturday. There is always something going on social media-wise. People ask the secret of my success: it’s discipline.
What’s your biggest career accomplishment?
I don’t think it’s happened yet. I’ve had great milestones. I was president of the National Speakers Association. I was inducted into the National Speakers Association Hall of Fame for Lifetime Achievement in the speaking industry. The Council of Peers Award of Excellence (CTAE) is made up of other Hall of Fame members — legends like Zig Ziglar, Ronald Reagan, Colin Powell. They induct up to five people per year. That would be way up there as a top accomplishment.
In the 1980s, when I was developing my speech and really working hard to make a living, IBM hired me. I’m a customer service and customer experience expert. For IBM to hire a young guy in his 20s to talk to their people about customer service — when in my mind, they were the preeminent customer service organization the world — that was a huge accomplishment.
Of course, my first speech that I booked was a huge accomplishment. But mostly, these are milestones. I think my greatest accomplishment is yet to come.
What are your predictions for the biggest trends in professional speaking in 2017?
More and more people will get into professional speaking. A lot of people don’t have jobs, but they have expertise that they can share. I think that they’ll be able to monetize some of that expertise in what is now considered professional speaking. Professional speaking is easy to get into but not easy to stay in. It’s hard to sustain multiple bookings long-term.
There are multiple ways for professional speakers to make money in the business. It’s not just getting up on a stage and delivering a message. A professional speaker today can communicate to people in multiple ways: a webinar, a teleseminar, Google Hangout, an online experience, in-person experience, or a streamed experience.
Today, I don’t have to be in person to present my speech. There is a new tool called GenieCast that specializes in booking virtual speaking engagements. One morning, I did a speech in Chicago from a hotel in Dallas, where I was giving a speech after lunch the same day. I did my presentation with a high-quality camera connected to my computer. They had a camera for me to view the audience, and I actually talked to people in the audience.
The smart speakers are going to exploit these different channels and widen their audience and widen their exposure. Social media and blogging is all part of content marketing, and I think the channels of content marketing are going to expand. It’s all about adaptability. The top speakers making a living at this will be open minded, will try new things, and will find new ways to reach different audiences.
We’re going to see more international engagement. The world is getting smaller. The internet and social media have made it easier to communicate with people on the other side of the world.
Looking for more on professional speakers? Check out our entire interview series.