The professional speaking market is crowded. What are the best ways to build your speaking brand? Over Cyndi Maxey’s 30 years of speaking professionally and co-authoring six books with major publishers on communication and presentation skills she’s learned a thing or two about what it takes to be a professional speaker and author. She also has her own unique take about how to build your speaking brand. That’s what we spoke about and that’s what she loves to share with other professional speakers.
One thing that’s different than many speakers is that when referring to her career Cyndi doesn’t use the word “passion” to describe what she does. That’s not what has made her successful as a speaker. Rather than “passion” she teaches people to balance the practical with the creative. Focus on building your business and speaking brand by sharing what makes you unique as a speaker.
Focus on building your business by sharing what makes you unique as a speaker.
When Cyndi sits down with aspiring speakers to impart wisdom, she first teaches that a career is made by answering these two questions:
- What is the message that you want to share?
- Who is the audience that you want to help with that message?
Speaking is an entrepreneurial endeavor. After answering those two questions you need to dig deeper and ask:
- Who is the audience that needs to hear your message AND has a budget to pay you?
After answering those questions, to help with your journey as a speaker, Cyndi suggests joining a professional organization such as NSA. With great groups like NSA you get a professional education AND you get important networking opportunities to build your speaking brand. The networking opportunities go both ways; not only can you learn from more experienced speakers, but you have opportunities to teach them too. One example from Cyndi’s early years with NSA was when an experienced speaker asked her how best to get organized when it comes to taxes. While Cyndi was new to the speaking industry, she was an expert at being organized and could offer help. Everyone has expertise to share at different levels of their careers.
Move From Free to Some Kind of “Fee”
You can further educate yourself via books, podcasts and other resources so you can develop a deeper understanding of the business and learn new ways to grow your career and build your speaking brand. Getting educated helps you navigate the ever challenging “free to fee” journey. She took on free contracts when she could get in front of her key target audiences AND create other opportunities to make money. When she wasn’t getting paid, one opportunity she created was to sell her book. That way she always created a sales opportunity even if it wasn’t a paid speech. You can ask to have a video made of your talk in exchange for speaking. You can ask for recorded testimonials with audience members after your talk. There are many things you can ask for when money isn’t on the table for your talk.
All of that is the practical half of the equation.
Be Unique to Build Your Speaking Brand
Being unique is the beginning of the creative side of the equation. Design an original template for your talk, don’t make a presentation made up primarily of other people’s quotes and content. This will help build a stronger speaking brand and stand out from the crowd. Even if you’re a new speaker speaking about leadership, you can share your own opinions and experiences about what it takes to be a great leader. Bring your unique stories, style and humor on stage with you and share them with your audiences.
In Cyndi’s case she has a custom template about what it takes to be a “fearless facilitator” rather than just “how to facilitate a meeting”. She made the template from the chapters of her book, “Fearless Facilitation”. Cyndi also has a background as a teacher and with theater experience. At first, she was hesitant to bring those subjects up because the stories related to them aren’t about being a professional speaker. Then she realized those things are part of what makes her unique and sharing them helped her stand out in her speaking brand.
You also need to understand and exude charisma and credibility. You’ve got to have a business that is credible. This includes aspects such as how you market yourself, how you deal with setting up contracts, how you handle your travel, etc. In addition to those practical things you must be liked. When you’re well liked people will hire you more often, bring you back and recommend you to new clients. That’s another component of the creative side of the equation.
How Books Help to Build Your Speaking Brand
Cyndi’s involvement with NSA directly lead to her first book. She was part of a group of professional speakers that each contributed a chapter to a book. That taught her about the authorship space and jumpstarted her career as an author.
Everything outlined here also relates to writing a book. You need to first have a unique message to share and understand who you’re writing the book for: Which audiences need the information in your book? Which audiences will pay for your book? What makes your book unique? Define those parameters and then follow the methodology of combining the practical side and creative side of things while you’re writing.
Stuck on developing the topics in your book? Instead of trying to come up with everything yourself interview OTHER people and share THEIR stories as they relate to the topic of your book. This will build your network while enhancing your book.
Those things, when successfully combined, will help build your brand and your book of business as a professional speaker.
To further expand your speaking business, read How To Build a Professional Speaking Business!
About the interviewee
Cyndi Maxey is a long-time member of NSA and NSA Illinois where she served as our Chapter President among other leadership roles. At a National level, her articles have appeared in Speaker Magazine and she has presented at NSA conferences and Meet the Pro’s.
Over the past 27 years our chapter has enlisted her programs on publishing, topic development, the speaking business, and platform and engagement skills. Not many know that she was a founder of Speaker Academy (then called Candidate Camp) which has grown into a major source of revenue, service, and spirit for our chapter.
Professionally, she attained her CSP 20 years ago; her audiences have included healthcare and insurance professionals, women’s associations, and the inspiring students at DePaul, Loyola, and Columbia College. She is the recipient of Loyola University’s student-nominated Award for Excellence in Adult Learning.
Along the way she’s co-authored six books – all with major publishers – on communication and presentation skills – four of them with Kevin O’Connor.
In her free time, she can be found playing mediocre tennis, lake walking (when it’s legal), singing second soprano with the Edgewater Singers, or enjoying a call from her two active grown children who continue to bring both balance and chaos to life.
About the interviewer
Mark has 15+ years’ experience in the Chicago events industry. He was a member of Meeting Professionals International, Chicagoland – the world’s largest chapter at that time – where he served as the Marketing Co-Chair, Director of Marketing and eventually Vice President of Marketing. While with MPI he also booked top level speakers for their conferences and managed negotiations for the speakers. He currently serves as co-chair of the NSA Illinois marketing committee.
Mark has a passion for helping speakers and authors. A couple of his favorite projects in those worlds were running book launches and tours for New York Times Bestselling Business authors and building a conference with the founder of TED where he managed logistics for 50 world class speakers.
Outside of the event space Mark follows his other passion, mentoring and has created mentoring programs for undergraduates and graduate level students at major universities and is currently working on programs for entrepreneurs.