I was talking to a speaker the other day and asked her what topic she spoke about and she answered “whatever they want”. That might have worked in the speaking industry 20 years ago, but today’s meeting planner is looking for an expert in a topic, a thought leader who knows more about that topic than anyone else, and has a solid background to back it up.
You might think that limits your opportunities as a speaker, but it’s actually the opposite. I’ve spent some time studying the top speakers, and work with some top speakers, and one thing they have in common is that they have narrowed down their niche. They dig deep within the one thing they know better than any other speaker and they stick with it.
I know so many speakers who have incredible hard skills knowledge they could be using, but say they would rather speak on topics that meeting planners simply aren’t looking for, the speaker isn’t really an expert in, or the market is saturated with.
Meeting planners talk amongst themselves, and when they are looking for a particular topic your name should come to the top of the list. If you want to speak on branding, have you ever actually created a brand yourself? You will be competing with people who have created world class brands that are household names. Why would they choose you over someone who started a Fortune 500 company with a brand that’s a household name?
I’ve seen speakers who say they speak on the topic of social media who only have 300 Twitter followers and a Klout score below 40. Why would a meeting planner hire them to teach their employees about social media?
The first thing I look at on a speaker’s website is the “about” page. What kind of background do you have that qualifies you as an expert in that topic? As an audience member, why would I listen to you? Just because you’re passionate about a topic doesn’t mean you’re the right person to deliver that message. Your credibility is something that has to be earned.
If you look at the backgrounds of some of the top speakers, they have extensive knowledge, hands-on experience in the real world, media attention in their area of expertise, industry awards and years of training. They’ve earned the right to stand on a stage and speak on that topic.
The good news is that most of us have all of those things. It’s a matter of doing what speaker Joe Calloway calls “picking a lane”. I know I’ve used this example before, but Brene’ Brown is a good example of a speaker who picks a lane. In fact, on the home page of her site it says she has “spent the past 13 years studying vulnerability…” When a meeting planner is looking for that topic, she’s at the top of the list. And she works… a lot.
Another part of a speaker’s brand is in their delivery. If you look at comedians, someone like Jim Carey has a very different style from Steven Wright, Mitch Hedberg’s style was very different from Melissa McCarthy’s style. They all found their own audience, as you should do as a speaker.
As far as style goes, there’s no right or wrong way when it comes to being a speaker, but it should always fit your comfort level. I would never feel comfortable lecturing from a podium with a lot of charts and grafts. But many meeting planners would rather have that style, and there are plenty of speakers who feel more comfortable giving them what they want. There’s no reason to fit a square peg in a round hole. Be who you are and the audience that’s right for you will find you, love you, and hire you over and over again.