Speakers bureau

10 Steps: How To Get A Speaker’s Bureau Interested in You

by Bernie Swain

Imagine having the force of a full-service marketing agency, a compassionate coach, and an efficient organizer to help support and guide your career. That’s what being part of a speaker’s bureau does. I founded the Washington Speaker’s Bureau, the largest speaker’s agency in the world, because I am a strong believer in the value and the importance of the professional support a bureau can offer.

The support a speaker’s bureau can provide includes:

  • Marketing you as a speaker
  • Proactively finding and booking speaking events
  • Briefing you on each event
  • Managing all the financial arrangements
  • Providing logistical and travel support
  • Giving you a sense of professionalism and community.

The following steps are designed to help you find a speaker’s bureau that is best for you. Whether you get represented by a bureau or not, these ideas will go a long way in making you a great speaker and building a great career.

  1. Think Big – Any great challenge in life requires planning, thought, creativity, determination, patience, and the ability to overcome adversity. Making yourself a great speaker and getting a speaker’s bureau interested in you is certainly no different.There is a great children’s book that I keep on my desk titled, What To Do With An Idea.

Whenever I start something new, I read it over several times until my mind is focused. I did that recently when, oddly enough, I taught myself how to speak about my new book, “What Made Me Who I Am”.

To paraphrase, here is the idea of the book: “One day I had an idea. I didn’t know what to do with it, so I just walked away. But it followed me. I wondered what others would think of my idea, so I kept it to myself. I was afraid others would think it silly, and many of them did. But then I realized what do they know. This is my idea. So I worked with it, played with it, most of all, gave it my attention. And it grew.”

Think Big! Find your idea, make it your own and nurture it. I took an idea I found in one article in Fortune magazine and built it into the largest lecture agency in the world. You can do the same with your speaking career. But, realize from the very beginning that speaking professionally is like any other big challenge in life. If you are not dedicated and committed to the idea, then time, hardship and adversity will defeat you.

We spent 14 months in a stationary closet trying to start our company before we had our first success: our first speaker. I remember sitting alone in that closet late at night with my head in my hands thinking, “What have I done?” But I woke up every morning excited by the prospect of a new day.

Building a speaking career will be just as hard and challenging. So believe in that idea, “play with it, give it your attention and let it grow.”

2.  Conquer the Fear and Connect – The fear of speaking, known as glossophobia, is one of the greatest of all our fears. “It has been estimated that 75%“ of us suffer severe anxiety when faced with the prospect of speaking to a large group in public.

You may have already overcome the anxiety of speaking. But, there is a difference between overcoming the fear of speaking and passionately connecting with an audience. Speaker’s bureaus, especially the better agencies, are looking for speakers who can passionately connect with an audience. That is your ultimate goal!

When I began to teach myself to speak about my book, I discovered a trick to connecting with the audience that worked for me. For all of my practice, my wife Paula was my only audience. I was too unsure of myself to practice and make mistakes in front of anyone else. While she was stern and demanded much from me, I found her easy to talk to.

There was a natural bond between us. Even though she was critical of how I said something, she was always interested in what I had to say. So, when I gave my first speech, in the round at the Nantucket Project, I wanted to find her in the audience. As I got on the stage, I didn’t see her, but I saw another face smiling back at me.

As I began to talk, I spoke to her as I had spoken to Paula, and as I rotated around the audience, I looked for more smiling faces or other people nodding in agreement with me. By concentrating on one smiling or interested face at a time, I discovered a way to transfer the personal bond and passionate connection I had with Paula onto the stage and out into the audience.

Passionately connecting with your audience will depend greatly on how well you prepare. Each of the next 7 steps is designed to help you establish that passionate connection as well as make you a better speaker.

3.  Determine How You’re Different – To be represented by a speaker’s bureau, you need to be different. What is your story? What differentiates you and your story from other speakers and their stories? This is the most important of all the steps in passionately connecting, because this is where you establish common ground with the audience.

When I retired and wrote a book, I decided to speak to share my story, I discovered there were a lot of successful entrepreneurs like myself. What made me different? My industry was different and the speakers I represented added some glamour. But what else? “Think deeper,” I thought.

For me, no one in my family had ever attended college. My mother and her family were farmers in central Virginia and lived off the land. My father grew up in the poorest of mining towns in West Virginia and spent part of his childhood in an orphanage.

So, in attending college, I had come a long way.When I got our very first exclusive speaker after founding our speaker’s bureau, I reached an agreement on a handshake, rather than the traditional written contract. That mistake on my part turned out to be a defining moment in our new little company, establishing a tradition of handshake agreements that built a unique and successful culture of trust.

These unique facts about my background and the way I built my business are differentiators for me. What makes you different from the “competition” in your field?

Read the remaining 7 tips on how to get a speaker’s bureau interested by filling in form below. 


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