Chip MacGregor

February 23, 2012

Thursdays with Amanda: 10 Steps to Growing a Public Speaking Platform


Amanda 2 CropAmanda Luedeke is a literary agent with MacGregor Literary. She posts about growing your author platform every Thursday. You can follow her on Twitter @amandaluedeke or join her Facebook group to stay current with her wheelings and dealings as an agent.

When I first met Chip, I’d occasionally run a book idea by him just to see if anything sparked his interest. I remember at one point, I came up with this GREAT idea for a book all about making your wedding your own. It was about ditching tradition and going for something that reflected your uniqueness as a couple. But when I pitched this future bestseller to Chip, he kind of glazed over. He gave me a few pointers, patted me on the back and sent me on my way. And I couldn’t figure out why.

But now, years later, I know exactly what he was thinking: I’m not a wedding expert. People don’t ask me for wedding advice and I certainly don’t have an all-things-weddings blog. Heck, I’m not even a wedding planner. I’m a “no one” in the wedding biz, so who in the world would ever pick up my book and listen to what I have to say?

Most nonfiction writers are like I was a few years ago. They think that just because they have this great idea or a fabulous success story, people will want to listen. But think about it…

When we have money troubles, we look to Suze Orman or Dave Ramsey.

When we have health troubles, we look to Jillian Michaels or Dr. Oz.

When we have political confusion, we look to … Jon Stewart.

We will always pick the expert over the nobody. So how do you cross that divide? How do you become an expert?

Become a speaker, my friend. Become a speaker.

Speaking has gotten a bad rap lately because there’s not really any money in it anymore. Plus, it’s expensive. There’s all that travel, meals in restaurants and time spent away from the home or job or both. But if you’re smart about it, speaking can be a great boost for anyone looking to become an expert.


10 Steps to Growing a Public Speaking Platform:


  1. Figure out what venues work for your audience. People gather all the time and for every reason on the face of the earth. Don’t believe me? Pick up your city’s latest “What’s Happening”-type publication (almost all have them) and take a look. There are events at colleges, high schools, churches, VFWs, libraries, country clubs, and more. Everyone from doctors to academics to parents to students to nonprofit volunteers will be amassing at some point in the not-to-distant-future. But an expert in PTSD isn’t going to hit it off with the First Baptist Youth Group as well as they would the VFW. So think about who your audience is and where they go to congregate.
  2. Make a list of all possible venues, gatherings and groups in a 100-mile radius. For new speakers covering their own travel expenses, 100 miles is doable. You can be there and back in a morning or afternoon. There’s no overnight expense and if you’re really watching the budget, you could even pack a lunch.
  3. Put together a few talks. Your talks shouldn’t be autobiographies on your life or ways through which you can tout your opinions and stand on your soapboxes. Your talks should provide answers, information, insight or advice to the listeners. They need takeaway value. As agents, we do this all the time when we visit conferences or try to get invited to new conferences. We have our go-to workshops all polished and ready to go…and if you’ve noticed, not a single conference offers a workshop on “How Amanda Luedeke Became an Agent.” Nope, workshops are full of helpful information. Your talks should be the same.
  4. Perfect your pitch. You can’t call someone up and say “Hey, I was just wondering if you needed someone to talk about paying and planning for your kid’s college?” Yawn. You need to intrigue them…make them believe that you have a secret that they and their group need to know. Something like “I’ve helped numerous parents plan for their kids’ education with my talk ‘Get Henry to Harvard’, and I’d love the chance to share it with your parent group. It’ll include free consultations and a download of my step-by-step booklet. I’m not looking to make any money on this…just trying to get my name out there, so if you want a sample of my style, you can check out my video on YouTube…”
  5. Start scheduling. This is the hardest part, because it’s a bunch of phone tag, calendar-checking and polite refusals. But stick with it and form friendships. You’ll find that groups will ask you to come back…they’ll even recommend you to their friends, social groups and more. But you have to be persistent and aggressive with following up and making the whole scheduling process as easy as you can on the event organizer.
  6. Bring your own gear. The easiest way to uninvite yourself from ever speaking again, is to be high maintenance. Don’t demand that they have all this high-tech equipment ready. Don’t get angry when you get there and all they have is an overhead projector that they’re really proud of. And above all, don’t complain. Ask politely what type of equipment they have and fill in the gaps yourself. Come armed with a plan B and C, extra printouts, your powerpoint presentation on a flash drive, your own computer, and an idea of what you’re going to do should you end up with no technology at all.
  7. Give listeners a place where they can get more. A website, a blog—someplace you provide frequently updated information, a way for them to contact you and the details of your future speaking engagements. This will come in handy when shopping your goods or when you’re trying to get audience members to remember you post-event.
  8. Consider the power of webinars, Skype, Youtube, epublishing and other such media. Once you have things moving forward, you’ll find that you have a following. A real, growing group of people who know who you are, believe in what you do and share it with their friends. But you’ll soon find that there’s no way to get in front of this growing group when you’re just one person doing one venue in one town at a time. By offering online webinars, ebook downloads, weekly podcasts and the like, you can keep in touch with your audience…even when you only make it to their neck of the woods once a year or so.
  9. Track your numbers. Keep a ledger of how many you have in attendance for each gathering, where you go (the more states you can add to your list, the more impressive it looks), website stats, ebook downloads and any other pertinent information that shows the size of your following and potential promotional reach.
  10. Stick with it. Speaking builds off of itself, and when you take lengthy breaks it affects your momentum. DON’T STOP MOVING. Even when life gets busy, sneak in a talk here or there. Vacation can be a great time to build a following outside of your intial 100-mile radius. Don’t let that opportunity pass you by!


That’s all I have for now, although some seasoned and fledgling speakers alike probably have more to add. Sound off in the comments below!


UPDATE: check out SheilaGregoire's comment below…she has a free public speaking training website and advice/encouragement for those starting out.  

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