Has your speaking career stalled? Has the phone stopped ringing? Getting fewer jobs?

This week is when summer officially begins, so I thought it would be a good time to talk about spring cleaning, since summer is typically a slower time in the speaking business.

I remember watching a video of Joe Calloway speaking at an NSA conference. He talked about how we tend to cling to our old speeches, outdated training manuals and jokes that no longer work. His solution… “throw it out!”

As speakers we work incredibly hard doing research, preparing speeches, writing books, creating workshops, putting together one sheets, etc. So hearing that we should just throw it all out sounds a little daunting.

But all artists (I would call a speaker a performing artist), need to occasionally sit down and take inventory of what’s working and what isn’t. There’s no point in spinning your wheels going in a direction that isn’t working for you. Every so often you need to re-evaluate your speaking career, and now is as good a time as any while business is slower. Here are a few things to think about when it comes to reinventing yourself as a speaker:

  • Do a forensic analysis – Go through all of your marketing materials one by one. Which things bring in the best ROI? Is it your website? Your printed one sheet? Postcards? Referrals? Are your materials outdated? Can they be improved? Sit down with someone who will give you honest feedback and get their input. Hire a speaker marketing coach to help you. Get several opinions. If you hear the same advice from a few different people you need to take notice. 80% of your business is probably coming from 20% of your effort. Find out where it’s coming from and do more of it.
  • Create your material in different ways – Keynote speaking isn’t the only kind of speaking out there. Many speakers make a great living doing workshops. In fact, I recently talked to a meeting planner who told me they got all of their keynote speakers for free. When I looked at the line-up, I was surprised. “You mean this guy speaks for free?” He said “Not only does he speak for free, but he actually pays us to speak on our stage”. I was surprised. So, if established speakers are paying to speak, where does that leave up and coming speakers? He said his company pays very well for trainers, and that it’s going to be much more in demand in the future. So, do you have a workshop ready to go? Do you have training materials? I lost a good job opportunity a couple of years ago because I didn’t have a workshop prepared.
  • Freshen up your performance – When I first moved to L.A. I worked in a comedy club and I watched how comedians prepared their material. One night was dedicated to open mic, where new comedians could get practice and established comedians tried out new material for their act. If it bombed, usually no one saw it. And if it got a great response, they would add it to their act, and constantly honed it until they got 5 minutes of the very best material. You can do the same thing as a speaker. Summertime is a great time to try out new things. Test out something new, and if it works, add it to your speech, while cutting the lame, old material that isn’t your best. What you want is what comedians aim for – 60 minutes of killer material.



If there is a speaking topic out there, it’s a pretty good bet that someone, somewhere is making money speaking about it. Some speakers have a unique background in the topic or work in a particular industry, and some choose the topic based on a burning passion to learn more about it and share that knowledge with others.

Here are three speakers with niche speaking topics who have made a career out of a passion:

Tom Ingrassia – Motown

Tom is an example of a speaker who took a passion and turned it into a book and speaking career. He’d had a long, successful career in education, but in 2001 he decided to act on a lifelong dream of working in the entertainment industry.

Tom is an accomplished music journalist, with more than 25 articles printed in publications ranging from Billboard, Record Auction Monthly, and San Francisco Hot Ticket. He collaborated with Barbara Alston (of The Crystals) on her autobiography, “There’s No Other,” and Carl Gardner’s (of The Coasters) autobiography, “Yakey Yak, I Fought Back” before writing his own book “Reflections of a Love Supreme: Motown Through The Eyes of Fans”. Tom is also the host of  “The Motown Jukebox” on WCUW 91.3FM, in Worcester, MA.

His pop culture programs, “Motown and The Civil Rights Movement” and “Girl Power: The Supremes As Cultural Icons” have been presented at the National Conference on Race & Ethnicity, on college campuses, for performing arts centers, museums, senior centers, libraries, and business groups.



John Granger – Harry Potter

John Granger is another speaker who turned a passion into a writing and speaking career. According to John, he became a Potter Pundit in response to the ‘Potter Panic’ of 1999-2007, during which it was widely believed that the popular series was “the gateway to the occult” and poorly written. His books and talks have overturned this narrative — and have earned him the title “the Dean of Harry Potter Scholars” from TIME magazine.

John is the author of several books on the subject of Harry Potter including “How Harry Cast His Spell: The Meaning Behind the Mania for J. K. Rowling’s Bestselling Books” and “Harry Potter Smart Talk”.

His speech “Why we Love the Harry Potter  Stories — Exploration of the Artistry and Meaning of Joanne Rowling’s Hogwarts Saga” has been given at universities, academic and fan conferences, and churches.



Julianne Soviero – Sports Scholarships

If you read through Julianne’s website you will see that she is absolutely obsessed with pitching. In fact she says so on the first page! And she has the credentials to back it up. She was an All-County Athlete, the recipient of a Division I athletic scholarship, and an academic All-American.  She has over twenty years experience pitching and over fifteen years of experience teaching pitching.

She speaks on the topic of sports scholarships, which is a surprisingly complex topic and is usually hired by travel teams. She’s even written a book on the subject called “Empowered Recruiting”. She says she got started on this topic because of working with female pitchers, many of whom earned scholarships in an increasingly complex market.



These speakers have turned their passion into a lucrative speaking career in a specialized niche. Do you speak on a niche topic?



If you’re working as a speaker, you must be an expert at something. But what makes someone an expert? Does writing a book make you an expert? I could write a book about scuba diving. In fact, I could write a whole series of books about scuba diving, but it’ll never make me an expert.

sexpert speaker

expert speaker

I have a crazy theory that you should have actually put in a certain number of years into practice that which you claim to be an expert in. My doctor’s been practicing medicine for 30 years, but he’s never written a book. I would call him an expert.

But I’m not the one who makes the decision to hire speakers, and having a book and being high profile does appeal to plenty of meeting planners. Of course, if you have the experience and a book and you’ve gotten a lot of press, you are way ahead of the game. (more…)