For over nine years, my public speaking and acting (storytelling, if you prefer) was strictly a sideline to my main business as a self-employed writer. It began as a lark in 1990 when the Convention and Visitors Bureau in Jefferson City, MO, asked me to portray Thomas Jefferson and welcome conventions to their namesake city. Through the years, I got better at it, added a couple more characters, and got to the point where I was getting $300-$400 for local performances, more if I traveled to St. Louis or Kansas City, each two hours away. I made 20-25% of my income from this endeavor.
In late 1999, I decided to turn this sideline into my main work. I wanted to take my work outside my home state and get paid more for it, but I wasnt sure how to do that. Someone, whom I dont remember, asked if I belonged to the National Speakers Association. I didnt know there was such an organization! I tracked them down, got an application, completed the required documentation, and attached a check for the tidy sum of $525. Guess what? I was now a member of NSA, for whatever that meant. I hoped it would give me credibility. Thats why I joined!
Not knowing any better, I began contacting speakers bureaus to promote my work. They all invited me to send my material, but no one told me that my fee wasnt high enough for a bureau to be interested in me. I later learned that most bureaus wanted speakers with an established track record and a fee above $3,000. I had the former but was a LONG way from the latter.
One kind lady from a bureau in Dallas, whose name and company I cannot remember, actually returned a phone message Id left for her! They, too, had a $3000 threshold. She told me, "I dont know how to take a person from your level and get them to the point where our bureau would work with them, but the best advice I can give you is this: Join the National Speakers Association and get just as active as you can, at both the national and chapter level. From one perspective, all the members are competitors, but you will find them the most helpful, encouraging people in the world." I found an NSA chapter in St. Louis. Another application and another $125 and I was in!
Participating in NSA, now in my third year, has been a valuable experience. Consider these reasons:
1. While probably not typical, I received a lead from the St. Louis chapter that lead to a presentation in Syracuse, NY. That fee alone paid for two years membership in NSA!
2. NSA sponsors a 2-day Winter Workshop and a 3 1/2 day Annual Convention each year. Ive attended two of each. Once again, its pricey to attend but you get to be around hundreds of people who talk for a living! You get to see and hear some of the best people in the speaking profession. You have access to dozens of seminars, covering topics from platform mechanics to speaking skills to marketing to ethics.
3. My marketing materials and efforts are better for what Ive learned from NSA.
4. Im a better speaker for what Ive learned from NSA.
5. My fee is justifiably higher than it was when I joined.
6. I now have a little "product" that I sell after some of my presentations, which makes me a bit more money.
7. Ive been inspired to write a book to sell after my presentations. Seven of 20 chapters are written.
8. There seems to be an ethic of "giving" in NSA. People dont participate with the mindset to get, but to give. And in their giving, they also receive.
9. You get to rub shoulders with some of the best in the business. At the July 2002 Convention in Orlando, I shared a breakfast table with Harvey Mackay. I read his book, How to Swim With the Sharks Without Getting Eaten Alive, 20 years ago! He is famous in the business world. Although he wouldn’t remember my name, I suspect could call him right now, remind him we met at NSA in Orlando, and he would give me his time willingly. How else could that have happened?
10. Ive learned that the best public speakers, regardless of their areas of expertise, are actually skilled storytellers. They use that skill not simply to entertain, but to communicate their knowledge and experiences to their audience. In so doing, they leave a lasting effect. And they get paid very well for doing it!
10. Ive made friends!
NSA might not be for everyone, but membership is a sure sign of someone who is serious about the speaking business. If youre not any good as a speaker, I doubt that NSA can help you. If you are good, however, or at least have some skill in the area, then NSA can help you get better. It might even help you get a lot better.