You’re probably familiar with the 80/20 rule— it seems like virtually everything in life can use it in some fashion. Some of the rules invert the two numbers such as 80% of your sales come from 20% of your clients, while others slice two or more things into an 80% chunk and a 20% chunk. In public speaking, the latter rule is used – 80% of your time is spent on preparation while 20% is spent on practice and delivery.
When I talk to people about paid speaking engagements, they can’t believe the numbers they hear. When I tell them that relatively unknown speakers get a few thousand dollars to give a daylong seminar, they immediately do the math in their heads and say things like “Wow! That’s $500 per hour.” And of course, it leads to more calculations about how someone only has to work a couple days a month to earn a six figure income and how by working just one day a week, one can find themselves in the top 1% of income earners in the United States.
What they fail to realize is that there’s a lot more to giving a speech than simply delivering it. Yes, experienced speakers that have developed presentations that they’ve given multiple times and can deliver these programs without a huge amount of prep work. However, in most cases there’s a lot of prep work behind the scenes — and even in the case of someone who delivers the same talk over and over again, there’s still the coordination of the speaking engagement.
People who speak for a living spend a great deal of time marketing themselves and their programs. So to get those three or four speaking engagements a month, they have to prospect, network, advertise and promote themselves to drum up new business. It’s a lot more difficult than it sounds considering that many of them are in highly competitive industries and the barriers to entry can be tough — getting your foot in the door to most companies is often even more difficult than going through the job interview process.
So once you have the event booked, the first thing you have to do is coordinate all the details. Even with an unpaid speech, you still have to confirm the date, time and location as well as the topic. If travel is involved, you need to make and confirm your arrangements. And if you’re getting paid for your speech, you need to negotiate your fee, draw up a contract, confirm details, make arrangements for payment and, of course, do all the associated accounting. This is already a lot of work and we haven’t even gotten to your speech topic.
Now you’re finally ready to begin actually preparing your speech. You need to choose a topic unless one was given to you. If you’re creating a new speech, then you need to research your topic, create your outline, write your speech and then tweak it. Even if you have your speech already written, you may want to update it to include current research, humor, stories or events. You may also want to tweak your speech to meet your audience’s needs (you’ve researched your audience already, right?).
Another important detail that you don’t want to overlook is the introduction to your speech. Even if you have a standard introduction, you should always adjust it for your audience. Of course you’ll want to confirm who’s introducing you, make sure that the right version of your introduction gets into their hands and then make sure that they understand that they are to read it exactly as it is written (note: this last step is usually the most challenging part).
So now, you’re finally ready to practice your speech, make any last minute tweaks and deliver it. So that’s not too bad.
Speech preparation is a huge topic in itself so I’m sure I’ve left out some things, but you get the picture. Entry level speakers, those who make about $2000 for a full day of speaking, may appear to make a lot of money (the math appears to be $250 per hour, $500,000 per year if working full-time). But the reality of it is that they work a lot harder than you think to get there. So the next time you feel like a speaker is overpaid, think about all the work that they had to put in before they set foot on stage.