Authors & Speakers Network Blog with Larry James

Sunday, September 1, 2013

5 Mistakes I Made in My First 5 Years as a Professional Speaker

Filed under: Speaker Tips — Larry James @ 8:30 am
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Rory Vaden, Guest Author

There are a whole lot of things that our team has done right in growing our different business lines at Southwestern Consulting. Looking back however, there are some mistakes that I made specifically in building my keynote speaking business. I now realize these are pretty common and wanted to share them with you to share with anyone you know who is trying to make it as a “speaker.”

PROSpeaker1. I marketed to Speakers Bureaus too early: In my ambition to get my career off the ground quickly I thought in my mind that Speakers Bureaus were the key to success and the obvious way to go. I thought “hey they book speakers all day every day, why wouldn’t they want to book me?!” While I can’t fault my own initiative and enthusiasm I would not advise other young speakers to go that route.

You often only get 1 shot at getting your foot in the door with people like that and there are some that I wish would’ve heard about me from their clients rather than from me – and had I spent more of my time marketing to clients and prospects then they probably would have. Joe Calloway later shared with me that the way he started working with bureaus was he sent them 100 testimonial letters from clients (shrunk 4 to a page) along with a demo video of his full keynote that had been absolutely polished. I wish I would’ve taken that route. However, I didn’t make the same mistake of going to book publishers too early. For that I waited until I had a platform big enough to sell through enough books to create a successful launch.

2. I was too contrived and mechanical on stage: Having been to the World Championships of Public Speaking twice for Toastmasters at a young age, I had made a true science out of speaking. While that has served me tremendously well and it has enabled me now to get to a skill level on stage that few ever get to, I focused too much early on in my professional speaking career on speaking mechanics instead of audience connection. Today’s paying audiences want conversational and genuine, not methodical and trite. One thing I have learned is to never let the science get in the way of the art.

3. I didn’t understand the value and importance of “my list”: It makes me queasy thinking about how many more people I would be helping right now had I had the presence of mind and intention to capture and store contact information for all my early fans. Now with so many technological tools for staying in touch, I’m kicking myself for not having made it more of a focus to gather email addresses when I first began. This is building your own audience and putting yourself in control of your own destiny rather than having to rely on other people to decide if you are good enough to be in front of an audience. (I know a whole lot of speakers that after years are still not building their lists!)


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4. I didn’t create content consistently: While following Larry Winget’s advice of having “one keynote speech” that is amazing was one of the true cornerstones of any success that I’ve had in this business (as opposed to trying to be all things to all people), unfortunately I over-applied that advice to not furthering my expertise. Creating content forces you to think intensely on whatever your topic is and the deeper you go the more valuable the insights are that you find. Getting into the discipline of blogging 3-5x a week has been one of the most valuable things I’ve done for my career, my positioning, my web traffic, but most of all for my thinking.

5. I focused too much on myself: Like most speakers, I got into the business largely for the dream and cache of being on stage in front of a huge audience. And while that has always been fun, it’s just so self-centered. When my career really started taking off was when I got relentlessly focused on helping businesses solve their problems. The moment I started trying to sell my solutions to companies rather than selling myself as a speaker was a key turning point both in my success and in my humility. You have to ask yourself “who are you doing all of this for?”

If it’s for you, then people can tell from a mile away and they’ll run the opposite direction. But if you are committed to finding real new and unique answers to today’s toughest problems then clients seem to come running after you.

Whether you’re a speaker or not, these are 5 mistakes you have to watch out for. The first one is about relying on someone else to sell you instead of you taking matters into your own hands. The second one is about letting the science of your profession get in the way of the art of serving people. The third one is about a commitment to building lasting, meaningful and value-added relationships. The fourth one is about challenging your thinking to get to a new level. And the last one is about being a true Servant Seller instead of a self-centered promoter. Hopefully you can apply these regardless of what business you’re in.

RoryVadenCopyright © 2013 Rory Vaden. Rory Vaden, MBA is Cofounder of Southwestern Consulting, Self-Discipline Strategist and Speaker, and New York Times bestselling author of Take the Stairs .



Authors & Speakers Network Blog

Larry James is a professional speaker and the author of three relationship books, “How to Really Love the One You’re With: Affirmative Guidelines for a Healthy Love Relationship,” “LoveNotes for Lovers: Words That Make Music for Two Hearts Dancing” and “Red Hot LoveNotes for Lovers.” His newest book is “Ten Commitments of Networking.” Larry James also offers “Author & Speaker” coaching. Contact:, P.O. Box 12695, Scottsdale, AZ 85267-2695. – More than 110 articles especially for Authors & Speakers at:

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1 Comment »

  1. […] Articles: 5 Mistakes I Made in My First 5 Years as a Professional Speaker How To Overcome Fear and Shyness ~ Video Speakers: Stay on Time! How to Structure a Great […]

    Pingback by Overcoming Glossophobia! | Authors & Speakers Network Blog with Larry James — Monday, September 9, 2013 @ 7:30 am | Reply

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