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Establishing Stature & Credibility

Related to showcasing your speaking talents is establishing your credibility and stature. From the perspective of event sponsoring organizations, the high stature of their primary speaker rubs off on them, and conversely, a lack of perceived stature can make their event seem smaller and less important.

People making booking decisions are often the same people responsible for promoting the event for which a speaker is being booked. When they read your biographical profile, most will be looking for the sentences that they can lift for their event promotion campaign. Will you attract people to their event? Will you seem to their potential attendees to be someone they’d want to hear, someone whose insights would be seen as valuable, and maybe even someone they’d want to get a chance to meet in person?

If, after the fact, your speaking appearance is a great success, the person making the booking decision will get kudos. On the other hand, if the audience is underwhelmed or feels you were off focus relative to their interests, the person making the booking decision will get the blame. To the extent that this is so, booking can sometimes be a fear-driven decision, and your success in securing an engagement depends on putting these fears to rest.

Overall Stature

Stature, or prestige, is conveyed by both associations and accomplishments. It is often observed that we live in a celebrity culture, and we certainly live in a culture that venerates winners. So, a best seller conveys stature whereas just another book does not. An article published in The New York Times imparts prestige, whereas an article in your hometown newspaper may not. An interview on the CBS Nightly News conveys stature, and a local TV interview does not. Being invited to make a presentation at Harvard means something different than speaking at a state college, and speaking for a Fortune 500 household name means more than for a business that nobody has heard of.

You may find the above irritating, or even angering, but when venues are paying thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars for one talk, they often want a little glitter along with the substance. If you can add some glitter to your biographical profile, it will sometimes help you succeed.

There are many other ways (beyond those mentioned above) to convey stature and prestige. Some examples: Quotes about how extraordinary and accomplished you are from a name (or titled position) that many will recognize; A large number of invited talks (establishes that you are both well known and valued as a speaker); A large number of books and/or published articles (similar to previous); Member or contributor to important (or widely recognized) body or effort (e.g. National Academy of Sciences, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or similar); Visiting scholar at prestigious university; Recipient of high profile honors or awards; Notable accomplishments as a green advocate or thinker; Quoted as an expert source by high stature publications; and many others.

You can succeed as a speaker without any of the above simply by demonstrating your speaking excellence and by establishing your credibility on a topic or topics in demand from venues. The point of this section is simply to encourage you to think carefully about your work to date and see if there are things you can add to your biographical profile that will establish stature and prestige.

Credibility On Topics

Speakers don’t often get hired for keynotes based on topical expertise. They get hired for their qualities as a speaker, for how audiences react to them. On the other hand, once a venue is seriously interested based on these considerations, they will then want to know that their audience will see you as credible on the topics you would be addressing. In the end, most bookers will require you to satisfy this requirement. They won’t engage you for your expertise, but they won’t engage you without it.

The above should not be taken as meaning that how you present your topics isn’t very important. Many venues have very specific ideas about what they want their speaker to address, and where this is the case, you should seek to understand that as well as you can as early in your interaction with the booker as possible.

It often seems to speakers that if they demonstrate speaking excellence in general and topic expertise where that is important to the booking organization, that those making the speaker decisions would connect the dots and conclude you’d give an excellent talk on the topic they want.

It often doesn’t work out that way. If they watch a video of you on a topic different from what they want, no matter how well delivered the talk, they are likely to say “but he/she doesn’t really focus on what we are interested in.” If they are a business organization and read glowing testimonials about your talks to academic, community or activist organizations, they are likely to say “but what will satisfy our audience is very different from what pleased those audiences.”

If your video and testimonials are very strong and hit directly on the topics of greatest interest to a venue, you’re golden. But that often won’t be the case. If you have concluded that they care strongly about the content of your potential presentation, assure them that you’ll create a presentation uniquely for them and point them to specific work, articles, book chapters, segments of videos, and particular testimonials that best establish your fit for their needs. Then, saying directly that you are showing them video and testimonials that, while not focused on their topic, shows your ability to connect to an audience. Say again that you’ll craft a presentation to fit their needs and apply your speaking skills to delivering it effectively.

In other words, even though in general your video and testimonials may be the most important elements of your presentation of yourself as a speaker, if the content of those materials doesn’t line up directly with what a particular venue is seeking, you may be better off not to lead with those materials. As noted above, they likely won’t connect the dots, or make the leap from a demonstration of speaking excellence on one topic to the conclusion that you’ll display that same excellence on their topic. Once they’ve formed the idea that you may not be a good match for them, it is very hard to change that conclusion.

Craft your pitch to them (just as you will later shape your talk) to meet their unique needs and wants.

Many things can contribute to establishing your credibility on a topic. If you are seeking engagements on several topics, or to several different types of audiences, you’ll be well served by assembling a package of supporting materials for each topic and/or each type of audience.

Among the things that can contribute to your credibility on a particular topic are:

  • Authoring one or more well received and positively reviewed books on the topic.

  • Placing multiple articles on the topic in credible newspapers, magazines and/or websites.

  • Being quoted on several occasions as an expert source in credible publications.

  • Being included as an expert interviewee multiple times in national broadcast news stories.

  • Awards, honors, and other recognitions for your work related to the topic.

  • Quotes attesting to your insights and contributions in the topic area from well-known leaders.

  • High stature speaking testimonial quotes from leaders in the topic field.

  • Lots of paid speeches on the topic in prestigious venues.

For each of the points above, how much credibility on topic is gained depends on the qualities present. A best seller is worth more than just another book. Articles and expert source quotes are worth more in The New York Times than in your local paper. Appearances on major national broadcast programs are worth more than a string of local news appearances. A Nobel Prize is more valuable… you get it. But to establish your credibility on a topic, each of the points must clearly relate directly to the topic on which credibility is being established.

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