How to Get Started in The Speaking Business

If you haven’t heard the story of how I launched my speaking career, here’s a snapshot. Read below or enjoy this brief video, recorded at one of my events for speakers, coaches, consultants, and trainers:

In 1977, I attended my first National Speakers Association convention. At that point, I was traveling nationwide for a hair product company speaking to hairstylists about how to promote their business. This had grown out of my hair cutting demonstrations. Usually, stylists giving demonstrations would just cut hair first and explain what they’d done afterwards. If you’ve attended one of my events, it might not surprise you that while I demonstrated hair cutting I could simultaneously deliver a presentation.  I understood that even attendees who had come for a hairstyling show would want to hear more than a stylist’s take on a haircut. I gave the audience sales strategies and promotion ideas to help them sell more products to their salon customers.

My program became so popular that the company extended my tour. I continued to hone my presentation skills and became the star of the Dale Carnegie Public Speaking Courses I attended and my Toastmasters club.

Executive salon clients would say to me, “Oh, you need to come talk to my Rotary Club, Kiwanis Club, Lions Club, Optimists Club…” I was a captivating speaker and these audiences were interested in hearing about my sales and marketing techniques. Step one, start where you are. (My brother, the legendary guitarist Robert Fripp, recommends this and he became one of Rolling Stone’s, 100 Greatest Guitarists of all time!) So, start with the people who know and love you. You need an audience to get started. It doesn’t matter whether they pay.

I gave some great talks at my first free engagements. Through the Dale Carnegie courses, I had learned about organizing my ideas and presenting conclusions. I always had prepared notes in my head. As a speaker, you have to be of value to the audience. Your speech cannot be a promotion. It shouldn’t be a commercial. It can be about your expertise, your industry, or your interest.

My hairstyling clients loved me and my personality. I always aimed to be better than they expected. Step two, in any circumstance, look for more opportunities. After a presentation, I would line up more speaking engagements by approaching audience members and asking, “If you liked my speech, would you give my card to your program chair?” In any organization, the program chair has a tough job. Imagine trying to book a free speaker by next Thursday.

At my speaking engagements, I also had the opportunity to collect business cards. I would offer a drawing for a free hairstyle at my salon because I wanted to bring in new clients. Some days later, when the lucky winner would go back to their organization, their colleagues would notice their new hairstyle and say, “Hey, you went to the Fripp Salon. Look at you!” That was a great way for me to promote my business.

As a result of the free speaking engagements, people began to approach me and ask, for example, “What would you charge to say that to the Oakland appliance dealers?” The first time I heard this, I replied, “$50.” Later, when someone from the San Mateo Rotary Club asked, “What would you charge to talk to school administrators about goal setting?” I had learned from my earlier experiences. So I answered, “$50 an hour and travel time.” They said, “We’ll pay you $125.”

I attended my first National Speakers Association convention in 1977. I was two years into a ten-year lease on my salon. Outside of hairstyling, I was earning just $175 for a presentation. I thought, “No one here is going to want to talk to me.” At the time, I was still specializing in presentations to hairstylists and Rotary Clubs.

Two magical transformations happened. First, I saw the vision of what was possible. I was smart enough to realize I was looking ahead to a long-term goal. I thought, “What if, when I am 40 years old and at the end of my lease, I could make my living as a speaker?” Don’t quit your job. Have a vision of how your career can and will evolve. Secondly, I began to use speaking to promote my salon so it wouldn’t need my income to cover the bills. My staff was able to expand their own clientele.

For some time, my boss had been Jay Sebring, the famous Hollywood hairstylist. When I saw him interviewed in Time Magazine, Newsweek, Playboy Magazine, and quoted by the illustrious San Francisco columnist, Herb Caen, I realized that no matter how good you are, it means nothing unless the world knows about you!

That’s when I became a shameless self-promoter. In those days, I would be go to Harpoon Louie’s, meet handsome guys, and give them my business card. Today we would call that networking. In those days, it was maximizing what I had. I was young, cute, and a natural extrovert. I essentially built my business through networking and speaking.

I’m often asked, “How’d you first market your speaking business?” If you ever have the chance to ask me a question about speaking, that’s the wrong question to ask. So much has changed. At that time, technology’s leading edge was a big ad in the Yellow Pages. We never dreamed about content management systems. We never dreamed about the Internet, email, Facebook, Twitter.

Understand this, whether you are a novice, intermediate, or advanced speaker, there has never been a better time to promote yourself for free. However, there has never been a tougher time to get noticed in the clutter, because everyone can take advantage of YouTube, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. So this is my advice… One, maximize your presence within your unique context. When you’re an aspiring professional speaker, if nothing else, tell everyone on your Christmas card list, “I’m speaking on X and would appreciate an invitation to speak.”

Two, build your list. Build your contacts. Build a way to keep in touch with people, anyone who would be interested in hearing from you. Build your personal Facebook presence; your business Facebook presence; certainly your LinkedIn Profile and Network, since LinkedIn’s is primarily focused on the business world; and of course also, your YouTube Channel.  In my experience, video continues to be a powerful business tool. All of these are great, easy, cost-effective ways to get started with promoting your speaking business.

Then, look for the partners who can help you get noticed, give you the information and advice that you need to get noticed, teach you how to follow up and maximize all opportunities, and help you appear to be even more established than you actually are at that moment in your speaking career.

Fripp Virtual TrainingAs an in-demand speech coach, I work with executives, sales teams, and even high-fee professional speakers to transform their presentations, both in content and delivery. The secrets and strategies I share with my coaching clients are now available 24/7, through Fripp Virtual Training. Transform your presentations easily, conveniently, and quickly:

“I wanted a super bowl-quality coach, and I was lucky to be introduced to Patricia Fripp. Her help in coaching and scripting was world class. With Patricia Fripp on your team, you can go places.”
– Don Yaeger, Long-Time Associate Editor for Sports Illustrated magazine, Award-Winning Keynote Speaker, New York Times Best-Selling Author

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