I’d like to be a speaker

May 1, 2007
Dear Dianne, I heard you speak recently at a continuing education course. I really enjoyed your lecture.

Dear Dianne,

I heard you speak recently at a continuing education course. I really enjoyed your lecture. I’d like to be a speaker too, so I was wondering if you could give me some tips on how to get into this business.

Without being too nosy, I’d like to know how much money I could expect to earn as a speaker. Just looking around the room in the lecture I attended, I estimated there were about 100 attendees. When I multiply what I paid times the number of attendees, it looks like a lot of money.

Do you get all that money? What costs are involved? What professional training would be beneficial? How do you know what to speak about? How do you get invited to speak? I’d like to know what is on the other side of the fence of being a speaker.
Interested Hygienist

Dear Interested,

I remember having all the same questions when I began pondering a speaking career. Many trails lead to the same point, so I will share some of the things I’ve learned on my journey.

My speaking career has evolved over many years of hard work in dentistry. When I look back at my beginnings at the front desk of a small dental practice in 1972, I would never have imagined that I would be doing what I’m doing now. My lifetime of experiences in clinical dentistry and teaching - coupled with my education and insatiable thirst for learning - has helped me get to this point.

One of the toughest challenges for a beginning speaker is building credibility. I mean, who’s going to pay money to hear a speaker with no real credentials? There are several ways to build credibility. For me, it has come through writing and being published, not just once but over and over again. I’ve had more than 100 articles published over the past nine years.

My advice is to write, write, and write some more! Write about subjects you are passionate about. Prepare to drown yourself in research if you plan to write and speak on clinical topics. You must have good science to back the things you say from the lectern. School is never out for the speaker.

After you have written on a topic, submit it to appropriate journals. Editors are always on the lookout for fresh, new material. Don’t write on topics that everyone else is writing about. Don’t be discouraged if your first few pieces are not accepted. With every piece you write, you improve your writing style. Don’t be offended when editors suggest changes in the way you word something, but learn with every writing experience.

Writing also helps create lecture material. First, create a one-hour lecture to present in local venues, such as hygiene component meetings or local dental societies. There’s nothing more valuable than “podium time” for the speaker. I urge you to join Toastmasters and/or National Speaker Association (NSA) (www.nsaspeaker.org) to learn from experienced speakers. My NSA membership has been invaluable for learning about the business of speaking, and my early Toastmaster membership gave me podium time.

Now let’s get to where the rubber meets the road. There are two types of meetings - public seminars and association meetings. Much expense is involved in providing continuing education courses in both venues.

The money behind your speech

The expenses incurred by the meeting planner include all the mailings and associated costs, such as a graphic artist to do the brochures, postage expense (significant!), registrations, securing mailing lists, securing the meeting site, signing the contract, planning the food, duplicating the handouts, ordering pens and pads, shipping the course materials and microphone to the speaking sites, interfacing with audiovisual technicians and banquet people, making air arrangements, renting cars, and more.

In a public venue, the speaker’s pay is calculated after expenses are paid. Hence, the more people that come, the more money the speaker and the meeting planner make. Some meetings are profitable, some are mediocre, and some lose money.

Association speaking is different in that the speaker receives a set fee, no matter what the turnout is. Speakers can price themselves out of the market by charging fees that do not fit into the budget of the meeting planner. Conversely, speakers who charge too little are viewed as novices. Many speakers align themselves with companies that pay sponsorship amounts, which help to defray the cost of the meeting. However, companies do not want to pay for speakers who do not “draw,” which all goes back to credibility and notoriety.

Many people have the mistaken notion that speakers live a glamorous life traveling to cities all over the country. I love the speaking business, but please understand that travel is often very difficult and is getting worse. Flight delays, cancellations, lost luggage, and long lines at security and check-in are all a giant headache!

How would you like this? You have a daylong lecture on Friday. Your flight was due to arrive at the destination city around 3 p.m. on Thursday, but doesn’t actually get in until midnight. By the time you retrieve your luggage, get a cab to the hotel, check in, and get to your room, it’s 1:30 a.m. You get into bed around 2 a.m., only to be awakened by the noise in the hall at 4 a.m. You call security to settle the commotion in the hall. You have to get up at 5:30 a.m. to allow ample time to shower, dress, and eat some breakfast before you get to the speaking room at 7:30 a.m. to set up.

Attendees start arriving at 8 a.m. for the 9 a.m. lecture. You lecture all day with only three hours of sleep. You run on pure adrenaline. By the end of the day, you’re so exhausted that all you want to do is go to bed. But that’s not possible, because you have to pack up and head to the airport or catch a shuttle to the next speaking site for the all-day lecture on Saturday. And so it goes.

I’ve had altitude sickness twice and been very ill on the day I had to lecture. I developed plantar fasciitis in my foot from wearing the wrong shoes to stand in all day and lecture. I’ve lectured through laryngitis, migraines, and sinus infections. About the only things that cancel my lecture are death or snowstorm, which have both happened!

Rarely do I do anything in a new city other than stay in the hotel, which means I don’t sightsee or vacation. Occasionally, someone will take me to dinner, which I really enjoy.

You have to love this business or you quickly burn out. There’s no feeling like “connecting” with your audience and knowing that they are learning things that will help them be better dental professionals. I’m definitely not in this for my health, and I like the money when it’s profitable. As with most things in life, you have to take the good with the bad.

If you are serious about a career in speaking, invest in some advanced education and attend one or more of the great programs for speakers, such as the Speaking/Consulting Network (www.speakingconsultingnetwork.com) or the National Speakers Association annual convention.

So there you have the skinny on the speaking business. Do you still want to be a speaker? Don’t quit your day job too soon. It took me about five years of hard work before I launched full-time.
Best wishes, Dianne

Dianne D. Glasscoe, RDH, BS, is a professional speaker, writer, and consultant to dental practices across the United States. She is CEO of Professional Dental Management, based in Frederick, Md. To contact Glasscoe for speaking or consulting, call (301) 874-5240 or e-mail [email protected]. Visit her Web site at www.professionaldentalmgmt.com.