Transcript of How to Start Your Speaking Business
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John Jantsch: Hello and welcome to another episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast. This is John Jantsch and my guest today is Grant Baldwin. He’s the creator of the Speaker Lab and Speaker Lab Podcast, which I think I’m an alumnus stuff.
Grant Baldwin: You are. You are.
John Jantsch: I couldn’t remember what show was. And the online course Booked and Paid to Speak and then a new book we’re going to talk about today, The Successful Speaker: Five Steps for Booking Gigs, Getting Paid, and Building Your Platform. We’re going to talk about speaking today. Grant, thanks for joining me.
Grant Baldwin: John, thanks for letting me hang out with you. All right, I was pulling those up here you are on kind of a compilation episode, episode 100, but then had you on recently on episode 261. Yeah, you have certainly been a repeat guest on the Speaker Lab Podcast.
John Jantsch: Well, and of course I thoroughly enjoyed our time together. I just couldn’t remember if you had more than one podcast. I wasn’t spacing it completely. But since we’re going to talk about speaking, I think it’s probably valid for me to ask you how did you become a speaker?
Grant Baldwin: Yeah. If we go way back in time, in high school I was really involved in my local church and my youth pastor had a really big impact in my life. I was like, “I want to do that.” That seems really cool. He was a phenomenal speaker as well, so one of my favorite speakers. That’s kind of the path I was on. I eventually got a job as a youth pastor at a different church and that gave me a lot of at-bats. It gave me a lot of opportunities to speak on a weekly basis to high school and college students, and then from time to time we get to speak on the weekend and big church.
Grant Baldwin: Speaking is one of those things I just really enjoyed, just one of those things that came naturally to me, and felt like I was decent at it, and I wanted to do more of it and found myself in a spot where a lot of listeners may be or people that are somewhere spotted just saying like, “I want to do more, I don’t know what to do next.” And how do you find gigs, and who pays speakers, and what do they pay speakers to talk about, and how does this mysterious black box work?
Grant Baldwin: I stalked a bunch of other speakers, and I’m sure you’re amongst that list, and just try to figure out anything I possibly could. Started booking a few gigs here and there and eventually got to the point where I was doing a 60, 70 gigs a year myself and really enjoyed it. Then had a lot of people asking me like, “Hey, I want to be a speaker. How do I do that?” I felt like we have built really good systems and processes for how do you actually consistently find a book gigs without having the big platform or having a big name.
Grant Baldwin: I didn’t have any big following or anything. I didn’t have any crazy story. I hadn’t won any medal in the Olympics, or been cured of cancer, or landed the plane on the Hudson. Just I’m a white male from the Midwest and has had a pretty average life, so on paper there’s nothing that qualifies me to be a speaker. But we figured out what worked and how to find a book gigs. I started teaching that. That’s kind of the core of what we have inside the new book.
John Jantsch: Speaking is, maybe I’m in a little bubble here, but it’s a pretty hot topic amongst marketers. I mean, do you tell people everybody should be a speaker, everybody should learn to speak, should you just do it for money, are there other reasons to do it? I mean, let’s kind of start with who we’re talking to.
Grant Baldwin: Yeah. Nice thing about speaking, as you well know, John, there’s no right or wrong amount to speak. Both know speakers who do a hundred plus gigs a year. It’s basically 100% of their income and revenue and their whole business model. And that’s all they want to do. They don’t do want to do any consulting or coaching or anything else. I just want to speak. That’s fine. That’s largely what my career was early on. Then there’s other speakers who say, “You know what, I’ve got other things going, but I wouldn’t mind doing, I don’t know, five gigs a year, 10 gigs a year. But again, I’m just having trouble figuring out how to actually find those and how much do I charge, what do I speak about, how to put together a talk, how do I deliver?” You know, those type of pieces and questions. There’s really no right or wrong way.
Grant Baldwin: In addition, there are speakers who speak full time and they’re kind of a traditional gun for hire. You and I both done a lot of that. You come in, you speak, you collect your check, and that’s kind of the end of the transaction. That’s all that they you’re brought in for, and others to speak more for, let’s say, lead generation, for some type of coaching, or consulting, or marketing, or some type of service based business that they’re offering or operating on the back end. Yeah, it’s one of my favorite things about speaking is there’s, again, not a literally a no right or wrong way to do it, but there’s also just a lot of format that speaking can be valuable for any entrepreneur.
John Jantsch: If somebody comes to you and says, “I really want to get into this speaking business. I heard you teach people how to do it.” What’s the first thing you would tell them that they need to get figured out?
Grant Baldwin: Yeah. Inside the book, we walk through what we call the speaker success roadmap. It makes the acronyms speak, S-P-E-A-K. The first step is the most important step, the S, is select a problem to solve. Select a problem to solve. For a lot of people who are interested in speaking, John, you and I, we just enjoy speaking. Speaking is just fun, right? And so if we were given the choice of just like, well, who do you speak to? I don’t know. I speak to people. I speak to humans. I speak to everyone, right? Or when someone asks a speaker what’s the problem that you solve or what do you speak about?
Grant Baldwin: And when speakers say, “Well, what do you want me to speak about? I can speak about marketing, or sales, or advertising, or leadership, or consulting, or parenting, or sports.” It’s just like you may know something about all those things. You may be passionate about all those things, but you can’t try to run a business speaking on all of those things. The best speakers on the planet say, “No, no. I speak to one specific audience and I solve the one specific problem,” versus trying to be all things for all people. One of the things we talk about inside the book is that you want to be the steakhouse and not the buffet. The steak house, not the buffet.
Grant Baldwin: Meaning, John, if you and I were going to go, we’re looking for a good steak dinner, we could … Actually, you’re up in the Kansas City area. I ate at a good barbecue place up there. Is it Q something?
John Jantsch: Q39, yeah.
Grant Baldwin: Q39 okay. So if we’re looking for like a good steak, good barbecue, we could go to a buffet where steak or barbecue is like one of a hundred different things that they offer or we could go to Q39 where they do one thing, but they do one thing really, really, really well. Right? You don’t go there for tacos, you don’t go there for lasagna, you don’t go there for spaghetti. You go there because they do barbecue. They do steak. They do one thing really, really well. That’s the thing that you want to try doing as a speaker is not trying to be all things for all people, because probably whoever the executive chef is at Q39 or whatever your favorite restaurant is, they could probably cook any number of things.
Grant Baldwin: But they say, “No, no. I’m going to make a conscious decision that I’m going to focus on this. I serve this audience in this way. I create this one type of product for this one type of audience. I create this one type of meal for this one type of person.” There’s people who are like,” Oh, I’m vegetarian so I’m probably not going to go to the Q39,” and that’s okay. You don’t need to go there. Right? That’s what you want to try to do as a speaker is draw a line in the sand and say, “No, I solve this specific problem for this specific person,” versus trying to be all things for all people.
John Jantsch: Well, and I think frankly, that’s the message I give for marketing in general. I mean, people don’t want our products and services, they want the problem solved. The company that gets that and can communicate that is probably the one that’s going to stand out in a company.
Grant Baldwin: Yeah. Because it’s so much, I think, sometimes especially for speakers, I hear people who come to us and say, “Hey, I haven’t really spoke before but I’ve got a cool story. I was in a car accident, or I lost my job and now I’m successful, or fill in the blank thing that has happened.” I always try to politely say, “Listen, nobody cares.” Like, “The audience doesn’t care. You’re in the problem solving business. You have to bring some type of solution.” Your story, that’s great, but the audience is always wondering how does that relate to me? You overcame cancer, you climbed yourself out of a hole, you overcame this crazy thing. But what does that have to do with my life, right? So, you always, again, being very solution-minded, what is the problem that you solve?
John Jantsch: Let’s talk about style. Maybe this is kind of a personal bias on my part, but we’ve all seen speakers that, I mean, they go there, and they educate, and they get a point crystal clear, and they simplified things. Then we all know speakers who are all over the map, but gosh, dang, they’re funny and entertaining. Which one should we be?
Grant Baldwin: I don’t know that there’s necessarily a right or wrong, but I will say that when you’re creating a talk, you want to create it through the lens where the audience is always asking themselves two questions, so what and now what. So what and now what. Again, going back to what we just touched on, the audience is always wanting to know so what. That happened to you? That’s great. So what? What does that have to do with me? And now what? What am I supposed to do as a result of this? So if the audience is like, they laughed a lot, but then they leave and they didn’t do anything different, and there’s nothing that was impactful, and they’re kind of like … Again, I think speakers, audience members, we’ve all left talks where you’re like, “It was good, but I don’t know. What am I supposed to do now? Or what was the point of that?” You know? You always want to connect the dots of so what and now.
Grant Baldwin: I think humor can be very, very effective, but it also kind of depends on the context. You know, if you’re hired to more like an in depth training, technical type of talk, then humor can break it up a little bit, but you’re probably need to be a little bit err more on the education side. Versus again, there’s other times when they want more of a lighthearted motivational inspirational type message, and so you may be able to use more humor. Some of it just kind of depends on the context of which you are hired in the group that you’re speaking to.
John Jantsch: If you’re not Magic Johnson, for example, what would you advise somebody? I mean, what’s a way, or what’s the path, or the type of talk, or the type of groups to talk where people get paid the most?
Grant Baldwin: Yeah, so there’s seven different speaking industries that we talk about inside the book. You have corporations, associations, faith-based in churches, non-profits, government and military, colleges and universities, and education, K through 12, so elementary, middle school, and high school. Now, they’re each going to have different fee levels and they’re also going to have different supply and demand. There’s absolutely going to be some, especially like corporations associations, where typically you can charge more than others.
Grant Baldwin: But a mistake that I see some speakers make is they look at it purely through that lens, and it’s absolutely a factor, but it’s not the only factor. If a speaker just says, “All right, I want to be a speaker. Where can I make the most that?” In the same way that if you know, a college student says, “All right, I’m picking out a career. Which career pays the best?” That’s a horrible approach. Versus saying like, “No, no, I’m really passionate about this. Now that I have determined that and I’ve determined there’s a problem here and I’m an audience I can speak to, let’s absolutely maximize that and figure out how can I generate the most bang for the buck?” But it has to be more than just here’s the industry that I can make more in, so I’m going to pursue that.
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John Jantsch: Let’s go back to the let’s call it free speaking for leads. What’s a way for somebody to maximize that? There are plenty of places you can go speak for free, so how do you make sure that, and again, not selling product from the stage or coming off salesy. I mean, how do you maximize that?
Grant Baldwin: Yeah. I absolutely think there’s a misconception that speaking for free is a bad thing. And so, what I would say to that is that if you’re going to speak for free, you need to know why you’re doing it. As a speaker, you are providing something of value and so you need to receive something of value in exchange. Now, ideally that isn’t in the form of a check, but let’s talk about some of the other different ways that you can receive value otherwise. Right? You mentioned if you have some type of service, and so not even necessarily a pitch from stage or a sell from the stage type of thing, but I can think of certain events where … In fact, I had this past week, there was a friend of mine that had like a small little local mastermind.
Grant Baldwin: There was like a dozen people there. Is a small little thing. I went and did a little session on some of what we’re talking about here. The guy who’s putting it on, he bought a book for everyone there, so that generated a little bit of revenue. But then also, there were people there that have already reached out about working with us for coaching, or consulting, or something like that. It didn’t pitch anything. I didn’t do any sell from stage. Same with like this right now, you and I, there’s no financial transaction between us, but there’ll be people who will listen that will probably start following some of our stuff or maybe reach out about inquiring about working together in some capacity, right? There’s certain lead generation that can happen that may not have come actually from pitching or offering anything from stage. That’s one route.
Grant Baldwin: Another thing may be the way that you get better as a speaker is you speak. The way that you get better as a writer is that you write. The way you get better as there anything as you do the thing. But in order to become better as a speaker, you typically need audiences, right? One of the ways that you could use speaking for free is just to get the practice, just to get the at-bats. Because when you’re creating a talk, you’re creating an educated guess until you get up in front of an audience. I think this is funny, I think this will resonate, I think this will make sense, but I don’t really know until I get up and speak, so speaking for free, just for the practice can make sense.
Grant Baldwin: Speaking for free and certain industry events where, let’s say there’s other event planners that may be there who may be looking for speakers like you. I know that there’s events that I have done knowing that if I do a great job, and I know that there’s the right people in the audience, that this is probably going to lead to additional speaking engagements.
Grant Baldwin: Then one other one I would mention to you would be for travel. I’ll give you an example. There is a friend of mine who doesn’t do a lot of speaking, but he got invited to speak at something in Europe. He’s like, “How much do I charge? How do I figure this out?” We we’re kind of talking that through. They invited him to come speak over there and I think it was in Spain. They had a lower budget than what he would have liked. I said, “Let’s talk through how you can turn this into a European vacation.”
Grant Baldwin: And so, long story short, they paid him, but then also paid for his wife to come along, paid for her airfare, his airfare, covered several additional nights in hotel there in the area. He’s like, “All right, I was able to make a little bit financially, but I was also able to get a European vacation with my wife out of it.” Right? There’s something of value versus saying like, “Oh, they didn’t have enough, so, oh well I’m just going to go ahead and do it.” He received value in a couple of different ways there.
Grant Baldwin: I don’t think it’s black and white versus like you got to check or you didn’t get a check. Always look for ways that you can receive value beyond just the check itself.
John Jantsch: Yeah. When I was first getting started and I would do what I called speaking for leads, when somebody would ask me to speak at an event, I had a price. It was $2,500, let’s say. But because you’re a nonprofit agency, and I’m local, and I want to give back to the community, I’m going to discount it to zero, but here’s what I want in return. Quite often, that conversation went, “Well, I got the list at the end or I got to make like just a little pitch at the end to say, here’s what I do if you want to find out more.” I think that that sometimes people forget to negotiate, like as you said at the outset, because you are delivering value.
Grant Baldwin: Right? Right. No, absolutely. You have to kind of pick and choose when makes the most sense. I wouldn’t recommend like speaking for free, and they’re not going to cover any travel, and I just need to practice and I have to fly halfway across the country to do it. No, but if you have an opportunity there locally at a Toastmasters, or chamber of commerce, or rotary club, or something like that. I’m just like, “I’m just going to try and get an at-bat, then yeah, it may make sense for you to do that there locally.
John Jantsch: Let’s talk a little bit, and of course you have a whole section in the book that covers this, but let’s talk about the actual talk itself and what makes one talk better than another. Is there a formula? How do I know that I’ve got the message delivered? I mean, what’s the process for that?
Grant Baldwin: Yeah, so again, it can be intimidating when you are staring at a blank screen going,” I have some idea of what the talk’s going to be around, but I don’t know. Where do I begin? Where do I go?” And there’s not just this end all be all one way to do a talk. It’s not like, “I have to have an intro, and then I have to have three points, then I have to have a conclusion.” You know? You can certainly do that, but there are a lot of ways to go about that. Again, one of the things that we touched on there is always thinking through the so what now what, but also really beginning with the end in mind. You don’t want to get to the end of a talk and again be a have the audience be like, “I don’t really understand what was the point of that or where it was going.”
Grant Baldwin: Think of it like a road trip or some type of travel experience. You want to pick everybody up at the same origination point and you want to drop everybody off at the same destination, right? So thinking through where do I want to take them and what is the best logical path to get them from point A to point B. So, by the end of this, am I trying to get them to think differently, or feel differently, or act differently? I would say within this, one of the simplest things that any speaker can do is to tell a lot of stories. Stories are incredibly powerful, incredibly relatable, memorable, impactful. One of the simplest things you can do that has a lot of impact is to tell a lot of stories.
John Jantsch: I remember when I first got started, I was guilty of trying to pack too much into my talks because I was afraid. An hour? How can I talk for a whole hour? I put everything I knew into a talk, and about 30 minutes into it, everybody was exhausted. You certainly do learn that over time, don’t you, that you’ve got to actually give the audience the chance to breathe?
Grant Baldwin: Yeah, absolutely. You’ve got to kind of have some ebb and flow to it, so think about if you’re watching a movie, or a Netflix series, or something, you may have some intense heavy drama scenes that I got to really lock in and pay attention here. But after that, I need a minute just to catch my breath and to slow down. That’s where humor can work really well to just kind of break things up.
Grant Baldwin: In the same way, like in a typical TV show where they’re going to do several minutes of something, and they may have some different scene changes, but then they’re going to go to commercial, and part of it is from a financial ads perspective, and part of it is just to give the audience a mental break. Like, “Ooh, that was heavier, that was intense.” Or that was, “I just got to process that.” Right? Just you just said something that was really good. Just let me chew on that for a second. So yeah, learning to kind of add that the ebb and flow to the talk.
John Jantsch: Let’s talk about the performance part of it, so when you’re up there on stage delivering, I mean, there certainly are practices and techniques that help you get across a message, or let’s face it, make you less distracting while you’re delivering the message. How do you suggest that people get better at that? I’m not sure if you’d even use the word performance, but that’s what I would call it.
Grant Baldwin: Yeah. One of the best things that any speaker can do at any level is to practice. The best speakers on the planet that you look up to, you admire, you respect, you think, “Oh, they just scribble down some ideas on a napkin, they hopped up there, and they just wing it, and it’s just perfect.” It’s like, “Nope. Doesn’t work like that.” They spent hours, and hours, and hours practicing, preparing, rehearsing, going over their talk time, and time, and time again. So by the time they get up there, it does look like it’s just off the cuff. It looks like it’s just natural. But it’s because of the amount of time that they spent behind the scenes. That’s something that you don’t have to have any special talent or ability, you just have to be willing to commit to practicing.
Grant Baldwin: A way to think about this is if you think back to middle school, or high school, or college, or university and you remember taking a test or a quiz of some kind. You could show up and just kind of like, “Ah, I didn’t really study. I’m just going to wing it and hope it all works out,” And typically it doesn’t. Versus I’m going to spend the time going over my notes and reviewing and practicing and preparing. And so when I show up, not only does it typically go better, but I just feel more comfortable. I feel more confident because I’ve done the work going into it, versus again, just getting up there and hoping it all magically works out.
John Jantsch: How about getting training? Obviously, this is a layup for you I’m about to serve up. I mean, because again, practice is great, but in some cases practice will only take you so far, right? I mean, if you don’t have proper form shooting free throws, it doesn’t matter how many thousands you shoot. How should somebody go about getting training, or looking for training, or again, is that something everybody should invest?
Grant Baldwin: Yeah, so a big thing that what we do, our company’s called the Speaker Lab and everything we do is over thespeakerlab.com, but the core of what we do is on the business side. Because to your point, if you’re a phenomenal speaker and yet nobody knows you exist, it’s really hard to build a business that way. Speaking is very much a momentum business. Your best product, your best marketing is a great talk. The best speakers on the planet and those that are booked a lot isn’t just because they’re great marketers and isn’t just because they pay attention to it, it’s because they do a great job on stage. There’s absolutely two sides of the equation. But again, if you’re the world’s greatest speaker and nobody knows you exist, you’re out of business, and so you have to be able to communicate clearly who it is that you serve, who it is that you help, what’s the problem that you solve for them, and have a plan to actively be able to find a booked gig.
Grant Baldwin: The problem that a lot of speakers have is like, “Okay, I know who I speak to. I know what the promise that I solve. I’ve got a website, maybe I have a demo video. And now I just sit back and I wait for the phone to ring. I wait for some things to fall in my lap or wait for an email or an inquiry to come in.” It just doesn’t work like that. You have to be proactive and continually work at it over time.
Grant Baldwin: John, you’ve been in the speaking industry for a long time. It is certainly easier for you to get gigs today than it was years ago, but my guess is it still requires effort, it still requires work, and if you turn off the work and effort, and eventually those leads and those calls on those bookings are going to dry up. You have to continually to beat that drum, but having a system in place of knowing what to do and how to consistently do it is what’s really important there.
John Jantsch: Let’s transition to all right, so we got our talk down. We’ve found somebody who wants to hire us. Once we get the gig, are there some things that that more professional speakers do to, again, make sure that they’re prepared, make sure that the whoever booked them is communicated with that maybe they follow up afterwards? I mean, what are some of the best practices for making sure that hiring you was a good experience as well?
Grant Baldwin: Yeah, that’s a great question. Think about it like if we went to a restaurant, right? Let’s go back to like a Q39 or some nice restaurant. Part of what you’re paying for when you go to that restaurant is the food, right? Absolutely, the food may be the star of the show, but part of what you’re also paying for is just the experience. So if you go to a nice restaurant and the food’s amazing, but the service sucks, and everything is slow, and the atmosphere is kind of, “Eh,” and just shady, and it’s just like everything else about it just lacks, it’s the same thing as a speaker who shows up who is amazing on stage, but they drop the ball in every other area. Part of what an event planner is hiring you to do is to be great on stage, but part of what they’re hiring you to do is to be really good to work with.
Grant Baldwin: And by really good, I don’t mean you’re a prima donna, or you’re this diva, or you need the jar of red Skittles, or you need this European imported water at a certain temperature. I just mean that you make their life easy. You look at it from an event planners perspective, and as a speaker, you’re an important part, sure, but you are one of hundreds if not thousands of moving pieces that an event planner is trying to think through. The easier you can make their life, the easier you can make their job, the more you can just really stay out of their way, the more likely they’re going to want to be to work with you, to refer you, to recommend you to others.
Grant Baldwin: As a quick example, when I was doing 60, 70 gigs a year, one thing we were always really diligent about was asking for testimonials and recommendations from clients that we worked with. I had a lady at the time that was helping me, her name was Lisa. Basically, I would work to book the gig and I would pass the Baton to Lisa and she’d handle contracts, and logistics, and travel, and yada, yada, yada. We’d get these testimonials and recommendations after the events, like, “Grant did awesome from the stage, Grant was worked great to work with, but man, we loved Lisa and Lisa was so good, and Lisa took care of everything, yada, yada, yada.” List and I always kind of have this joke of like, “Hey, if you’re great interacting with them and working with them, I don’t even have to be that great on stage, because you’ve made their life easy.”
Grant Baldwin: And sure, of course I’m going to do my best on stage to deliver, but part of what they loved was working with Lisa and the customer and the client experience that made it great. Part of what goes into that is just simple things, like whenever they send you an email with a question, that they don’t have to follow up a few days later, or they send you the contract, that you get that right back to them, and whenever they say, “Hey, please be here at 8:00 AM for an AV tech walkthrough,” that you’re not showing up at 8:15 with your Starbucks. You know? That you do what you say you’re going to do, that you are on time, that you’re punctual, that you’re professional, and that you’re just a good person to work with. That makes such a huge difference.
John Jantsch: Yeah. It’s just not that hard to stand out, is it?
Grant Baldwin: It isn’t it.
John Jantsch: Grant, tell people where they can find out more about the Successful Speaker and the work you’re doing at the Speaker Lab.
Grant Baldwin: Yeah. Like I said, everything’s at thespeakerlab.com. We have a podcast by the same, like we mentioned, that you have been a guest on. The new book is called The Successful Speaker: Five Steps for Booking Gigs, Getting Paid, and Building Your Platform. Like we said, anybody who’s interested in speaking at any level, whether that be full time or you just want to do a couple of gigs here and there, would definitely encourage you to pick up the book. The book is on Amazon, and Barnes & Nobles, and wherever you buy your books. Yeah, go check it out. The Successful Speaker.
John Jantsch: Awesome, Grant. Thanks for stopping by and hopefully we’ll see you soon out there on the road.
Grant Baldwin: Thanks, John.