Geeks have two things of value. They have the products they create or the services they provide; and they have the knowledge they possess.
Both of those can be used to make money.
For most people, the logical step is to focus on the products. Many geeks see themselves as entrepreneurs (at least in the making). They dream of turning their ideas into companies that grow, employ other geeks, frighten Bill Gates then beat Microsoft back into the garage it grew out of.
The alternative route though can be a lot easier. It can also be very lucrative and bring a unique satisfaction that can only come from helping others.
Speaking Lets you Share Success
Professional speaking is about sharing your special knowledge with other people so that they can go out and achieve success themselves. It’s a path that seems to be mostly trodden by marketers like John Chow and Mark Widawer but look a little closer and it’s not hard to find that many of the people at the podiums have their background in technology.
Joel Comm, for example, who’s now best known as an AdSense expert and creator of “The Next Internet Millionaire,” started out by co-developing ClassicGames.com. He later sold it to Yahoo! where it became Yahoo! Games. Jason Calacanis, who also speaks at marketing conferences, created Weblogs… and sold it to AOL.
The idea that an audience would turn up to hear a former programmer explain how to use Ruby on Rails or create a blogging platform might be a little strange though — and it would be, if that was all professional geek speakers did. In practice, if they want to be a professional speaker rather than just a speaker, they have do more than that.
Professional speakers identify techniques that other people can use, deliver a talk that gives an overview of what those techniques can do and leave the audience so persuaded of the real benefits of those techniques that many of them pick up a copy of the speaker’s kit on the way out of the hall.
First, Create a Plan…
The first stage of becoming a professional speaker then isn’t to sit and write a talk. That will come. The first stage is to identify methods that other people can use, and create a kit that explains in detail how to use them.
A programmer, for example, could explain how to spot flaws in software products that entrepreneurs can exploit.
A designer could create a manual showing how to use website layout to improve sales.
A gardening expert could reveal how to create a home-based plant business.
The kit could include a technical guide, CDs with interviews of people in the same business or who have used your techniques in the past, and related booklets, but as long as it brings real, valuable benefits, a speaker can charge hundreds of dollars for it.
And if the talk is good enough, find that people are willing to pay.
Once you have the kit, the next step is to get on the speaker circuit, and that’s usually what gives potential speakers pause for thought. Call a major conference, for example, and ask if they’re short of a speaker and you’re likely to be given short shrift.
Paul Hartunian, a publicity expert who trains professional speakers, offers one solution. He recommends that new speakers skip the big venues at first and start small by organizing their own events. They could even try teaching their system as a course at community colleges and adult education centers. While speakers won’t be able to sell directly in a classroom, a hard-sell approach is never the most effective anyway, Paul teaches. Audiences want to be alerted to an opportunity, not sold.
“Your job [as a professional speaker] is to inform and to create curiosity and interest,” he writes in his own professional speaking kit.
That doesn’t mean you can skip the conferences though. They’re still good for seeing how the top professionals do it, as well as for networking. And they should be the ultimate destination.
Selling a stack of $200 kits to a room filled with 20 people is a nice evening’s work. Selling a stack of $200 kits to a room filled with 200 people is a much nicer evening’s work.
The best part of being a professional speaker though isn’t the pile of checks at the end of your talk. It’s the emails and letters that come in from people who have used your system and found that it worked for them.
That’s something that even the most appreciated product or service just can’t compete with.
Professional speaking is ultimately about selling success so clearly it helps if you’ve already achieved it. But as you’re making your way towards your goals, be aware that helping others achieve their goals can be another way of reaching your own.