Transcript of Learning to Speak Like a Pro
John Jantsch: This episode of The Duct Tape Marketing Podcast is brought to you by Klaviyo. Klaviyo is a platform that helps growth-focused eCommerce brands drive more sales with super-targeted, highly relevant email, Facebook and Instagram marketing.
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 is a speaker, author, blogger, podcaster, and founder of The Speaker Lab Podcast and Speaker Lab Summit, and so guess what we’re going to talk about today? We’re going to talk about speaking and how to get into speaking, how to become a great speaker, and how to get paid to speak. Grant, thanks for joining us.
Grant Baldwin: It is an honor and delight to hang out with you, John.
John Jantsch: I’d love to hear a little of your backstory. Anybody who is a paid speaker and now a trainer of paid speaker, what was your path to speaking?
Grant Baldwin: That’s a great question. In high school I was really involved in my local church and my youth pastor had a really big impact in my life and so for a while I was kind of like, “I want to do that.” That seemed like a really cool gig and he was doing some speaking and I felt like speaking was one of those things that I had done a little bit of like in high school and felt like I was decent at it. It was never one of those things that I thought of a like a career type of thing. I think for most speakers, we never really even knew it was an option. It was never on the career menu so to speak.
Grant Baldwin: After high school, I went to Bible college and then worked at a local church for a little while as a youth pastor, and so in that context I was doing a decent amount of speaking. I was speaking to the youth group on a weekly basis and then from time to time I would get to speak in big church on the weekends. I think it was really there where I felt like, “Okay, I think I’m decent at this. I feel like this is something that I could do.” In fact, in college, I actually worked for a guy who was a full-time speaker and kind of got to see kind of the back end of the business. He was traveling all over the place and speaking and I was kind of helping with like the travel and the logistics and the contracts and just kind of, again, the back end side of it. I got to see a little bit of like, “Okay, this is actually a thing. There’s a career path there.”
Grant Baldwin: After we left the church that I was at, I met a couple of guys who were full-time speakers and just sort of learning about the business and so I started kind of going down that path. I started just doing things that allowed us to… just kind of speaking locally for free or beginning to reach out to potential decision-makers and clients and would book one thing and try to leverage it into something else. It took me about a year and a half to go from zero gigs on the calendar to being able to do it on a full-time basis. To fast forward, I’ve been doing it full time for about the past eight years or so, speaking a lot in the education market, doing a lot with high school and college students.
Grant Baldwin: Today, we do a little bit more with entrepreneurs and corporations, but really, really enjoy speaking. Speaking is an absolute blast. There’s a lot of ways that speaking can be used for entrepreneurs and their business, which you could do it on a full-time basis, but you could also…. John, you and I, we both have friends who they don’t want to speak full time. They want to do five, 10 things a year, and by all means there’s absolutely opportunities for people to do that.
Grant Baldwin: I got to a point a couple of years ago where I was speaking… I think I did about 69 events or so, and it got to a point where part of the challenge with speaking is it just doesn’t scale very well, meaning that you are one person, in one place, at one time, speaking to one audience, and while that’s great and there’s nothing that can compare to like that 45 minutes or one hour on stage, the nature of speaking means that you have to leave your family. You have to go somewhere. It’s dependent on you being someplace.
Grant Baldwin: I remember early on having a buddy tell me like, “Speaking is a very high-paying manual labor job”, meaning that we get paid way too well to travel and stand on stages and run our mouths, but again, the nature of it is you have to… it’s a manual labor job. You have to do something in order to earn that check, and so I wanted to do something that was… I still wanted to speak, but just wanted to create more of a business that was less dependent on me.
Grant Baldwin: We started The Speaker Lab, which you mentioned, and so now we do a lot with training speakers and helping speakers on the business side. There’s a lot of people out there that teach on kind of the performance side so to speak of how you create and deliver a good talk, and that’s something that we teach a little bit on, but a lot of what we try to teach on is the behind the scenes like, how do you actually build a business of a speaker? How do you find bookings? How do you know how much to charge? What do you speak about? How do you connect with decision-makers? That’s a lot of what we do today.
John Jantsch: Well, and one of the things I want to emphasize, because we are going to talk about the business of speaking for somebody who really wants to be paid and maybe have that be their primary source of revenue, but I think there are so many reasons to look at yourself as a speaker, get better at speaking because I think it makes you a better salesperson, it makes you more confident in everything that you’re doing.
John Jantsch: For me, I speak at an amount that people would consider as a full-time job, but I do it just as much because we sell books and we sell courses and we recruit people to our consulting network. In fact, when I first started speaking, it was the greatest way to get clients. I would go speak to a group of willing participants, show them how smart I was for 45 minutes, and inevitably two or three would come up and say, “Hey, we want to hire you.” There is so many reasons to get good at this and look at this as a legitimate channel, even just for lead generation.
Grant Baldwin: I would totally agree with that. In fact, one of the students that we work with, he was telling me recently in the past 12 months he had earned $372,000 from speaking for free. I was like, “Whoa, whoa, whoa. How does that even work?” He said he speaks for free as lead generation for his coaching business, and so sometimes there’s kind of this misconception with speaking that, “Well, if you aren’t getting paid you’re not a real speaker, you’re not a professional speaker”, and that’s not true at all. Like you said, John, you can use speaking to generate revenue in a lot of different ways, whether that’s through selling books, or curriculum, or training, or coaching, or consulting.
Grant Baldwin: I know for me personally, and I’m sure you’ve experienced the same, where I’ve had a few events where I’ve actually generated more in back of the room sales than I had from my actual speaking fee. There’s a lot of ways that you could use speaking to build your business beyond just the “You went, you collected a check, and you went home.” Again, that’s great. That’s one way to generate revenue and to build your business, but there’s a lot of ways that you can use speaking to market other parts of your business as well.
John Jantsch: I actually look at it as a channel, just like I might PR our advertising, quite frankly. Let’s get into some nuts and bolts. I’m out there. Maybe I have a company. Maybe I want to be a speaker, so we’ll keep it a little bit generic. How do you figure out who to talk to?
Grant Baldwin: I think there’s three key questions that I always challenge speakers to answer, people that are interested in getting started in the speaking world. First of all, number one, would just be, why? Why is it that you want to speak? Kind of in a related vein there would be, how do you see speaking fitting into your business? Speaking is one of those things that for a lot of people it’s kind of like, “Well, I did it. I spoke at a local Rotary Club”, or, “I spoke at a conference for a friend and just did a little workshop and it was really fun and I just want to do more of that.” That’s great, like it is absolutely fun, but being really, really clear about why you want to do this and what the win is for you.
Grant Baldwin: Like we were kind of talking about there, John, do you want to speak in order to sell more books? Do you want to speak in order to travel? Do you want to speak to find more clients? Why is it that you want to do it because why you want to speak will kind of help dictate and determine the context of the types of events that you should be speaking at. If you want to sell books, for example, there’s going to be some environments and contexts where it’s a heck of a lot easier to sell books through speaking versus others. Understanding that “why” ahead of time really makes it easier on the marketing piece later.
Grant Baldwin: Once you understand the “why” piece, the other two questions would be, what do you speak about? Who do you speak to? These are super basic marketing questions, but again, a lot of times speakers, we just don’t think those things through. Again, it’s just kind of, “I like speaking. Speaking is fun, so who do I speak to? I’ll speak to humans. I want to talk to people. Anybody that will listen.” “What do you speak about?” “I don’t know. What do you want me to speak about?” You cannot build a business that way.
Grant Baldwin: I think about it like a book. John, you’ve written several books and so if you had a book that was being published… I know you’ve got a new book out and people were to ask you, “Where on the shelves of Barnes & Noble would your book go?” Well, if you were to reply like, “Well, it could go anywhere, like any section, and it’s for everybody”, well, it’s really for nobody, so you have to be super, super clear of, “This is who I speak to and this is what I talk about.” Once you’re clear on why you speak, what you speak about, and who you speak to, well, then it’s a heck of a lot easier to find potential opportunities and events and engagements versus trying to just stick your stake in the ground and saying like, “I speak to humans about everything”, because in reality you cannot find speaking gigs that way.
John Jantsch: Totally, totally right on, dead on, but I’ll throw in the caveat that I tell a lot of speakers, if you’re just getting started, go speak to wherever two people will have you because you got to get practice. That’s where you’ll find what works, what doesn’t work. Don’t get so hung up on that, “If my leads aren’t in this room I’m not going to speak there”, until you can get to the point where you can do that I think.
Grant Baldwin: Totally, totally, and I think like a way to kind of frame that is from a marketing perspective, I tell a lot of speakers, “If I were to go to your site and I’m considering hiring you as a speaker and it feels like it’s for everybody and nobody, I’m probably not going to be interested in you.” I remember early on, because I was speaking a lot in the high school and college market, that’s really what I kind of based my marketing materials around.
Grant Baldwin: Now, if that meant that I spoke at an event and someone saw me speak and they’re like, “Hey, do you also speak to corporations or associations or this totally different demographic?” It wouldn’t be like, “Well, no, no, no. I’m sorry, I can’t do that.” Well, if something came up, and again, if it was an opportunity for an at-bat and an opportunity to speak, then by all means. if I felt comfortable doing it. I think that’s a key, too.
Grant Baldwin: You don’t want to put yourself in a position where it’s like, “Oh, man, I’m talking to an audience that I am way over my head or talking about a subject that I literally know nothing about.” If it’s in the vein of, “Yeah, yeah, I could do this and I could do a solid job”, then by all means do that, but kind of in the upfront marketing communication you don’t want to be the person that’s like, “I can speak about anything to anybody.”
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John Jantsch: Once you’re out there and you’re starting to do it and you decide, “Hey, this could pay off. I could either get paid for this or maybe I am getting paid for this or I can get business out of it.” What are some of your resources… we could spend hours talking about this, but essentially, how should somebody go about getting better at it?
Grant Baldwin: Well, I think one of the best ways to get better as a speaker is you actually speak. This is the same thing that’s true with anything. You want to become better as a writer, you have to actually write. I’ve got three daughters, and so if I was teaching one of my girls how to ride a bike, we could watch TED Talks about riding a bike. We could read articles about riding a bike, but the way they actually learn to ride the bike is you have to get on the bike. The same thing is true with speaking, and so the more opportunities you speak, the better you become. I know the more comfortable you feel, you figure out what works and what doesn’t work.
Grant Baldwin: One of the kind of misconceptions with speaking is that professional speakers, they can talk about anything, they just make it up on the fly, they shoot from the hip, and the reality is is, John, we both know that they’ve got like one or two talks that they do and that’s it, but those talks are extremely, extremely polished. They are really, really dialed in. They have given those talks hundreds of times and told those stories hundreds of times so that they’re really, really focused and tight and it’s not something that they’re just kind of making up. Whenever you speak, you get some of that real-world feedback immediately from audiences. You start to figure out, “You know what? This part of the story worked really, really well and this part didn’t, and so I can tweak that and modify that.”
Grant Baldwin: Whenever you’re kind of staring at a blank screen and creating a talk, it’s all an educated guess until you get in front of an audience, and then you actually figure out what works and what doesn’t. I would start by trying to find some of those local events or trying to see what you could do for free, and even if it’s something like speaking at like a Rotary Club or a chamber of commerce or even a Toastmaster, just something where I’m getting some practice, I’m getting some at-bats that gives me the opportunity just to speak. Again, the more often you speak the better you become.
Grant Baldwin: I think today at this point, I’m a pretty decent speaker, not because I have some special gift that nobody else has, it’s because I’ve given hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of presentations. Over time, you get a better feel of what works and what doesn’t. You just start to feel more comfortable, and again, it’s true with anything. The more you can speak, even just for free, I think the more comfortable and the better you become.
John Jantsch: I think that “comfort” word is a big one because you see a lot of speakers when they’re first getting started, I certainly was this way, they’re very nervous and they’re thinking about what they’re going to say and whether or not the slide is going to work. That all gets in the way of you just being you, and so the more practice, the more comfortable you get. It’s such a huge deal.
John Jantsch: Let’s go to some practical things, too. Now, I’m starting to get some business around this. I’m starting to get known and people like my talks when I give them. They get highly reviewed. How do I go out and, as a professional, start getting that 2, 3, 4, $5,000 kind of paid gig? What are some of the tools out there for me to promote myself?
Grant Baldwin: There’s several different things that you can do to actually start picking up some business and starting to kind of generate that flywheel so to speak. Again, kind of going back to those three questions of why you speak, who you speak to, what you speak about, when you’re really clear, especially on the “who” question… Let’s say, for example, you wanted to speak primarily to accountants. Kind of a bonus fourth question would then be, where do those people gather? There’s a lot of existing events, associations, conferences, groups, clubs that gather on a regular basis that are looking for speakers. This is a really key point here, that it is much simpler to get your foot in the door with organizations and groups that are already looking for speakers versus trying to convince some organization that’s never hired a speaker that they need to hire one.
Grant Baldwin: It’s kind of like if someone… We’re recording this right now in the fall and it’s a beautiful day. I’m home here in Nashville, and so if someone came to my door right now and said, “Hey, would you like me to shovel your driveway?” I don’t have a need for that. You’re asking me for something that I just do not need versus someone that comes in January and it’s dumping snow. You’re providing a solution to a need that I have.
Grant Baldwin: If you wanted to speak primarily to accountants, one of the simplest things you could do is honestly just start with Google and start kind of just browsing around to figure out… looking up phrases like “accountants conference”, “accountants association”, “accountants conventions”, “accountant event”. I would look this up by state or region or province or territory as well. The reason being that is if you will look up like “accountants association” right now, you would probably find like some of the bigger national conferences, and oftentimes those bigger associations and groups are going to be bringing in bigger national speakers.
Grant Baldwin: When you start looking up… if you just looked up let’s say the Missouri Association of Accountants, they may not be able to afford some bigwig big name speaker with a $20,000 speaking fee. What they’re looking for is they’ve got, like you said, John, a 3, 4, $5,000 budget, and so they’re looking for a quality speaker but they can’t afford the $20,000 speaker. If you are someone who is within… I remember early on, I tried to look for like within a three-hour driving distance of where I was what some potential organizations and groups would be because at that point, again, if you find let’s say some association or conference or group that is bringing speakers in to speak to accountants and you are someone who speaks to accountants, again, you are providing a solution to a need that they have. That’s where I would start is even just using Google.
Grant Baldwin: Now, from there, there’s a lot of things that you can do in terms of finding repeat business, of building referrals from existing clients, of networking with other speakers and finding referrals. This is a big thing that a lot of people don’t think about, is they think speaking is very, very competitive and there’s a lot of speakers out there. The fact of the matter is, John, you and I are both speakers, but there’s no reason why we couldn’t refer business to one another because kind of this misconception is like once you or I go speak at an event, even if we do a phenomenal job, most likely that client will not hire us again for another three or four or five years because typically they have the same audience. The want the audience to turn over a little bit. They just don’t want to bring the same speakers back year after year after year.
Grant Baldwin: If I go do a great job at an event and they ask me, “Hey, we’d love to have you back in five years”, I want to maintain that relationship with that client, so why wouldn’t I go to the client and say. “You know what? I know you’re not going to have me back for a few years, but let me introduce you to my friend John. John would do a phenomenal job at this conference. You really need to talk to John.” There’s a lot of times where I have referred business to other speakers, other speakers have referred business to me because, again, we want to maintain that relationship with that client. If I speak this year and I refer John, and John shows up and he kills it, it makes me look good. I continue to build and solidify that relationship with that client.
Grant Baldwin: Again, there’s a lot of ways kind of long term that you can start to find gigs and book business, but again, I think just the hustle and grind of just digging through the haystack and looking for some of those needles there of groups that are looking for speakers to talk about what it is that you talk about to the associations or the groups that you would typically speak to, just doing that is a great way to get the ball rolling.
John Jantsch: What about agencies? Or I’ve run into a group recently called GigMasters, which is kind of an online tool or community that help folks get gigs. Is that an important step? Or is that really just more… is the agency route more just kind of personal choice?
Grant Baldwin: There’s pros and cons both ways. On the agency and kind of bureau thing, sometimes, again, another misconception here is, “All right, I want to be a speaker, I just need to find a bureau. I just need to find an agency.” It just doesn’t work like that. One of my neighbors here in Nashville is the President of Premiere Speakers Bureau, and he said it a great way. He said that, “Bureaus don’t create demand, they manage demand.” They don’t create demand, they manage demand, meaning if you can’t book yourself, why would a bureau be interested in you?
Grant Baldwin: Now, if you’re at a point where, “Man, I’m booking a lot of stuff and things are really going and hopping”, then that’s the point where most bureaus and agencies might be more interested in you. Again, if you’re someone that is like, “I’ve never booked anything on my own, I can’t get anybody to hire me, I’ll just find a bureau”, well, if you can’t sell yourself, what makes you think you think a bureau or an agency would be interested in you? Now, when you go to some of those third-party sites of, like you said, the GigMasters of the world, you may be able to find some opportunities there.
Grant Baldwin: It’s also going to be… it can be a bit of a meat market where you just have a ton of people… you may just hundreds and hundreds of speakers trying to pounce on a handful of opportunities there. You got to kind of sift through that, and so again, rather than, “I’m just going to wait for some of the right job listings so to speak to post on some of these sites”, I would rather be more proactive and going and trying to find some of those types of gigs. Again, sometimes speakers think, “Well, I put on my website that I’m a speaker”, or, “I posted a YouTube video and now I just sit back and wait for the phone to ring.” You cannot build a business that way. You have to be more proactive in going out and finding business.
John Jantsch: I tell you another thing that a lot of people don’t do that was… I’d tell you how I found all of my first, especially when I was speaking for leads, I would go to some of these conferences that were close by and go to the luncheon at the Remodeling Contractors of Kansas City were holding, go as a guest. That’s how you meet the program person because they’re there. They might not return a phone call or an email, but while they’re there and in the environment and somebody introduces you to them, then all of a sudden you are in the context of them trying to hire. It’s a great way, too.
Grant Baldwin: Well, yeah, and you bring up a great point there that one of the important things about the speaking business, and I think just business in general, is this is a relationship business. People do business with people they know, like, and trust. There are times I’ve done the exact same thing, John, where I may go speak and do like a free workshop because it’s something that’s within a couple of hours drive just to get my foot in the door. Just to like meet that client because you can exchange emails or phone calls, but when you meet someone in person, it just changes the dynamic of the relationship.
Grant Baldwin: John, you and I, we had exchanged a couple of emails I think and then we had met in person at a conference this past fall in the Portland area and it just changes the dynamic. When you meet someone in person, we were just talking beforehand of we’re both going to be at the same event in a few weeks, and it just changes that relationship when you’re able to meet, both speakers and potential clients there.
John Jantsch: Tell me a little bit about… obviously we’ve got people listening. If they’ve listened this long, they’re interested in speaking. Tell me a little bit about the training and the workshops and the courses that you offer at Speaker Lab.
Grant Baldwin: We’ve just kind of scratched the surface of some different things that are important for getting started, and again, for people on all different phases of the business of where they’re at. We do have that website that you mentioned, thespeakerlab.com, the speakerlab.com. We’ve got a podcast over there with over a hundred episodes that people can check out, all types of topics and interviews and those type of things, but then also we have a free email course people might be interested in checking out. It’s a nine-email course, just walking through, again, how to find and book speaking engagements. If people are interested in that, they can find that over at thespeakerlab.com, and right on the home page there they’ll give you a link to register for that.
John Jantsch: Awesome. Grant, great catching up with you here, and as you mentioned, we’ll see you in real life out there on the road.
Grant Baldwin: Looking forward to it. Thanks, John.