This guest post is by Marcus Sheridan of The Sale Lion.
We’re all communicators. That’s what we do. Some of us love the feel of pen in hand. Others find joy as the fingers hit the key pad. But for me, the magic is in the communion that occurs in front of a live audience, a place where I feel more at home than any other.
Like you, I’m a blogger. I’m also a business owner. In fact, I own a swimming pool company. Ten years ago, I started the business with my two partners. The challenges of entrepreneurship were satisfying for the first seven years, but three years ago I knew my time of being a “pool guy” was coming to an end and the next phase of my life would soon begin.
Although I wasn’t exactly clear where I was headed, I knew I wanted to be a professional speaker, and I also knew I wanted to help as many people and businesses as possible to reach their potential.
But to be a professional speaker, it has to start somewhere. You can’t just say, “I’m a speaker” and then boom!—all of the sudden you’re booked up for months and months.
So that’s what I want to talk about today. I want to share my journey and it is my hope that you’ll find some lessons here that you might also apply to your life, and ultimately reach the goals you currently envision.
Phase 1: Kicking down the first door
Often times, the hardest step in professional speaking is getting the initial opportunity. In my case, being in the swimming pool industry, there was one main event held each year at the National Pool/Spa Convention in Las Vegas. But to speak there, I had a few cards stacked against me. The first of which was the fact that I was only 30 years old (meaning I’d be far and away the youngest speaker). The second was the fact that I had very few connections in the industry.
Notwithstanding my low chances of entry, I decided to find out who the head of the event was, and soon learned it was a lady named Tracy. Therefore, when the show came around a little over three years ago and I attended, I found out where Tracy’s office was and, tossing all fear aside, I decided to approach her. Walking straight into her office at the show, I had the following conversation with her:
Me: Hello, you must be Tracy.
Tracy: Yes, that’d be me. And who are you?
Me: My name is Marcus Sheridan, and I’m the best speaker you’ve never had. (With a big, big smile.)
Tracy: (laughing) Really now? And tell me Marcus, what can you speak about?
Me: I’ll speak on anything you want—Sales, Marketing, I’m ready.
Tracy: How about a hot tub sales class?
Me: I’ll give the best Hot tub sales class you’ve ever had. (Again, with a big smile.)
Tracy: Hmmm, and how can I be sure you’re good?
Me: I’ve got a DVD of some videos I’ve made for my company in the past. (I hand it to her.) I think if you watch them, you’ll see I’ll be a good fit.
Tracy: What’s your price?
Me: I’m just asking for a chance. That’s all. If I’m good, then we’ll talk price for next year when you bring me back. (Again, with a big smile.)
Tracy: Okay, I’ll let you know, Marcus.
About a week later, Tracy emailed me and let me know that she was inviting me to speak at the convention. Needless to say, I was thrilled. Since that time, I’ve spoken at all the events for the National Pool/Spa Conference, and I get paid well to do so.
Lesson one: Getting in your first door sometime takes guts. I approached Tracy the way I did because I knew the cards were stacked against me. So dare to be different. Be original. By so doing, you may be very surprised to hear that magic phrase: “You’re in!”
Phase 2: Pushing harder, building momentum
Just a little over two years ago, I started blogging about content and inbound marketing for business, as well as personal development principles on my blog, The Sales Lion. Knowing that I wanted to again break into the speaking realm of my new industry, I did two key things:
- I produced helpful and powerful content at least two times a week, without fail, for over a year.
- I took the video recordings of the events I’d done in the swimming pool industry and placed them on my site so others could see me in action.
Upon doing this, slowly folks in the blogging and marketing realm started seeing me as a fresh voice and also noticed from the videos that speaking was my passion.
Wanting badly to speak at an industry event, in January of last year, I submitted a speaking application to Blog World to speak at their New York event. As many of you might know, they get hundreds upon hundreds of applications, and have to turn away a very high majority of these applicants.
In my case, it was no different: Blog World turned me down. Instead of speaking, I hopped in the plane and went to listen instead.
Like everything in life, though, things happen for a reason, and I didn’t allow the rejection of my proposal to deter the enjoyment I had for the event, and my continued vision of what was still possible.
In March of last year, I finally got my first break. Within the course of two weeks, I was asked to speak at two industry events.
The first was the MarketingSherpa SEO conference in Atlanta, Georgia. They had heard my success story of using content marketing with my pool company and asked if I’d be willing to share my message. Just as had happened two years before, they could not pay me for the event, nor could they pay my plane ticket, but it was an opportunity, and I took it.
The other invitation was from another person who had noticed my blog and read about my success as a “pool guy.” His name was Joe Pulizzi, the founder of Junta42, and he was gathering speakers for his inaugural event—Content Marketing World.
Never having seen me speak, Joe told me he could give me 25 minutes to share my message. I knew it wasn’t much time, but it was better than nothing. Once again, I had to pay my way and all of my expenses.
Lesson two: Sometimes you’ve just got to get your foot in the door, even if it costs you money. If you’re good at speaking, it will be more than worth the time and investment, as you’ll now see.
Phase 3: The moment of truth
To make a long story short, the event at MarketingSherpa was a hit. My unique story and presentation style made quite an impression, and a few weeks later the event coordinator asked me to speak at theirin Las Vegas. This time, though, I would be paid, and would also be one of the keynotes, along with Brian Solis.
Although the Sherpa conference was great, Content Marketing World was even better. The event was this past September and I knew going in that many folks I highly, highly respect in the industry would be in attendance.
Just as with the MarketingSherpa presentation, my session went very, very well. In fact, as soon as I was done with speaking, I was immediately approached by Deb Ng, who coordinates all the speakers for Blog World. On the spot, she asked me if I’d be willing to present at their Los Angeles event this past November. As you might imagine, I happily accepted, and was speaking in LA a couple of months later.
But Deb wasn’t the only one who was in the audience listening. That same day, the founder of Social Media Examiner, Michael Stelzner, asked me to speak at his online small business summit in February of 2012. This also led to guest posts on his incredible site and loads of exposure I otherwise never would have received.
Furthermore, another gentleman in the audience who was listening asked me to speak at the MeshMarketing conference in Toronto a few months later, which wound up being the first time I’d ever done an event outside of the United States.
Literally, with these two events alone, my entire career started to snowball. Now, as I look ahead to all the events planned for 2012, I can only smile.
Lesson three: Carpe diem! When the moment arrives, seize it.
This year I’ll be speaking at both Blog Worlds, and Content Marketing World as a keynote, as well as multiple other summits and conventions.
That’s the thing about speaking—once the snowball gets rolling, it will roll very, very fast, as one event will open up the door to three or four others. Unfortunately, most folks simply don’t hang around long enough to watch this snowball grow and pick up speed.
I’m not here to say that becoming a professional speaker from your blog is easy. Without question, it’s going to require guts, persistence, and an iron will. But it is possible.
So if this is a dream you have, my suggestion is you go out there and get it. Don’t wait for it to pass on by. Will your future. Walk into the office of your target event and tell the person you’re awesome.
And then, when the moment of truth comes, give the best dang presentation you’ve ever given.
If you liked this article, you’ll love Marcus Sheridan’s site, The Sale Lion. And while there, don’t miss the opportunity to download his FREE, 230-page eBook: Inbound and Content Marketing Made Easy.