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Articles from Experts, Public Speaking, Self-Discipline

The 15 Points Checklist About Leveraging Discipline To Become a Professional Speaker by Rory Vaden

Rory Vaden is a leading author, motivational speaker, and performance expert who relates profound truths coupled with humorous anecdotes empowering professionals to conquer their fears and take immediate action in their businesses and their lives.

Consulting with organizations, companies and individuals on leveraging self-discipline to create extraordinary performance, his personal coaching clients include individuals such as Chad Goldwasser, the #1 Keller Williams Real Estate Agent Worldwide.

On this post, Rory shares 15 points that would help anyone interested in jumping in the public speaking to know what it takes get there. Following is his article from his Take The Stairs blog at

Rory says: "Take The Stairs"

When I was 17 and 18 years old I knew I wanted to spend my life reading, researching, writing, and speaking on the topic of self-discipline. And whenever I’d meet people who were authors/speakers I’d always ask, “How’d you get into that?” I imagined they probably got the question a lot and were probably annoyed that I was asking it but I couldn’t help it because I needed to know the answer.

There are so many days I feel like I’m so far behind where I want to be in this business; but in the past year the tables have definitely turned to where I’m on the other side of the “How’d you get into that?” question. Recently it seems as though I’m getting asked dozens of times per month. While I’m a million miles from the top of the speaking “stairwell” I have made a good bit of progress over the last 10 years so I figured I’d share the short steps of my journey thus far for anyone who cares or is looking to get into this business.

  1. Joined a Direct Sales Company (The Southwestern Company) and became a top producer selling educational children’s books door-to-door for 6 days a week, 80 hours a week, in a city away from home for 5 summers. Made a total of $250k during that time which paid for launching my business but more importantly made me into the PERSON I needed to become to have something worth sharing. Plus, I got incredible stage time speaking at events inside the company and running group interviews to recruit students to join my team. What can you do that will help you make money WHILE you speak as part of your job? What can you do that will help you develop a transferable EXPERTISE?
  2. Joined Toastmasters (much love to my first club in Nashville,Donelson Early Birds, and especially to my real home – Cherry Creek Toastmasters!)
  3. Joined NSA – National Speakers Association.
  4. Spoke 304 times for free to anyone who would listen (Toastmaster clubs, KiwanisRotary, chamber of commerce, churches, schools, open mike night at comedy clubs, local businesses, etc.) Where can you get stage time? I would drive 45 minutes to get 5 minutes of stage time on several occasions because Eric Chester and Darren LaCroix told me it was worth it. They were right.
  5. Got Leadership (Pioneer Leadership Program), Management, Accounting degrees and MBA from University of Denver. Education is one of what I refer to as the key “Credibility Indicators”, is there a way you can get another degree in your field?
  6. Recorded every single speech and watched it. Every SINGLE one of my first 400 speeches. I watched them over and over and over and over….Are you?
  7. Paid about $10,000 for speech coaching [taking boot camps, private coaching, having experienced speakers evaluate my film, NSA and Toastmasters dues, reading dozens of books on humor and presentation skills, meet with mentors about business advice, etc]. Post a comment below if you want to know what the best resources are. Some of them are along the right side of this blog – seriously. Want to shorten your learning curve? Takes money to make money. Invest into resources from people who’ve been there. Best program I’ve ever seen on this subject: “Kick your speaking business in the butt” by Larry Winget.
  8. Made it to the Toastmasters World Championship of Public Speaking in 2006 when I was 23 – lost.
  9. Made it back again in 2007 and lost again – but lost higher. :) I took second in the world out of 25,000.
  10. Worked for a public seminar company (actually, I partnered with my college direct-selling company and started my own with them and some partners called Southwestern Consulting™) and traveled to a new city every 4 months doing 50 workshops per campaign for 4 years. The way it works is we call on companies over the phone offering them a free workshop (sales training) then sell them a ticket to our conference and we get paid commission on the ticket. I traveled and did over 250 workshops. We’re now into the 3rd generation of leadership with that company and it’s growing fast. Many of the greatest speakers of all time have followed a similar path working for some form of public seminar company: Tony Robbins, Mark SanbornEd Tate, etc. Again, what job can you take where you get stage time as part of the job?
  11. by Roger Axtell available on Cheap'Shop

    Still speaking wherever and whenever I could get stage time. I spoke about 200 times at Southwestern (group interviews of students to sell books), 304 times preparing for the world championship, a few dozen comedy clubs, 250 workshops at Southwestern Consulting, and then paid gigs wherever I could get them. My mentor, Eric Chester, said I had to speak 1000 times before I’d be any good so I’ve been racing toward that number as fast as possible. I crossed that mark last year so now I guess I’m at least “an okay speaker.” ;)

  12. Hired a brilliant branding coachDavid Avrin, who taught me to answer these most important and critical questions:
    • What have you earned the right to talk about? (what do you do better than anyone in the world?)
    • What is your message? (8 words or less – what do you want people to think feel or do when you’re done?)
    • What is your brand? I knew discipline was my message when I was 18. Narrowed that down to “teach people how to do things they don’t want to do” when I was 22. Finally Dave and I came up with my brand “Take the Stairs” 7 years later when I was 25. Been building that brand side by side with Southwestern Consulting™ ever since.
    • Who will pay for your brand and message? Dave taught me not only to look at what I want to say and what the market wants to hear but to learn to focus in on who has money and can actually pay for that message? He says there are 3 audiences to every speech: yourself and your opinions of how it went, the audience and what their response was, and then the people in the back of the room with the checkbook. You better be the best thing the audience has ever seen for sure but you also better be touting a message that has Team Purse Strings in the back of the room nodding their head saying “Yup, that’s exactly what our people need to hear.” People hire Rory Vaden and Take the Stairs now because I create a change in behavior. There is the immediate physical change in behavior in that they walk out of the room and Take the Stairs but more than that they stop procrastinating, eliminate distractions, become more focused on the critical activities in their job. I challenge them and tell them they need to get back to the hard work necessary to survive in this economy and that we all need to suck it up and have a little more discipline. My focus is delving deeper into research and study so I can provide insights on HOW to change your way of thinking so that you will do things you don’t want to do. “Take the Stairs” is memorable but it’s  just the metaphor, the reminder, the brand but the magic is in the real change in behavior that happens after they hear me. From what I can tell that is what meeting planners want right now. In other words, they hire me because I can be an outside voice validating the things they are always promoting internally and there is an action that directly results from my having been there. How can your message be congruent with what a company wants? What problem do you solve? Branding and messaging is a place that most of us speakers struggle with; if you do, then I suggest you buy Dave’s brand new book from Wiley It’s Not Who You Know It’s Who Knows You byClicking Here.
  13. Wrote books and created products along the way to sell at back of room to make money. I created resources for people that just taught them the things that I knew about. This allowed me to speak at places “for free” early on and still make a living from doing it. What do you immediately know that has value to someone else? Turn that into a product and go speak to an audience who cares about that expertise. That will start to fund some of the bills while you’re developing your true passion and expertise for the long term.
  14. Started getting asked to speak for money (this happened earlier, too, but my fees were just whatever people could afford in the beginning). Once I developed an amazing 60 minutes (and finally after hundreds of paid programs I have confidence that my keynote “Take the Stairs” is solid) then bigger groups wanted me to come. I had less time available so they had to pay me more to get me there which drove my fees up, up, up.
  15. Hired two program directors to assist me in calling on companies and working through referrals to have me hired as a speaker. The names of my two program directors are Mom and Fiancée. I also hired an amazing web guy to handle my website; his name is Dad. Again, surround yourself with amazing people and treat them well because you never know what skill sets they have that you will need help with one day. And obviously, treat all your clients and friends like gold because it is the right thing to do and because that is the only place that you will ever really get hired from consistently. Who in your immediate network has a skill set that you need help with? Work something out with them.

by Dale Carnegie available on Cheap'Shop

NSA for years has taught me that the #1 way to get hired to speak is because someone has seen you speak. As speakers we just need to go speak. Anywhere. To anyone that will have us until we get good enough that our preferred audiences start requesting us. Also, a brilliant friend of mine, Scott Ginsberg, said that “writing is the essence of wealth in this business.” He writes all the time. And therefore his content is out in the public domain in all different places which means people read it. If they read something you wrote and like it, it’s almost as good (and in the next generation possibly even better than) as if they see you speak. Then Zig told me the that one of the keys to this business was that he reads a couple hours each day. Larry Winget has also read like 4000 books. So boiling all that down, means that to become a “speaker” we need to read, write, and research on topics that provide solutions to our audience. It seems that the days of gimmicks are dwindling and that we have to provide actionable insights and solutions in order to get hired. Almost as if getting hired as a speaker is a bi-product of having a usuable and relevant expertise combined with strong branding and strong platform skills.

Now I try to write several articles and try to appear regularly in the media – emphasis on TRY. Media is a tough one that I haven’t really cracked yet. But it is one of the other key “Credibility Indicators” that I’ve identified and something I will figure out.

Other than that there doesn’t seem to be much science to this whole game.

Of course this isn’t the only path; just mine. You definitely want to have things like a blog and social media profiles to help build your brand, tribe, and following around your message and expertise during this whole time.

Overall, I’ve been very lucky to have made it to the World Championship (a bit of luck is required for this) and to get involved in NSA where I met so many successful speakers and learned critical skills. Plus having the opportunity to have funding from Southwestern to build a large training company in a few short years was a life changing gift. And the money I personally spent out of pocket on coaching (including NSA and TMI) is what cut my learning curve down probably a solid 10-15 years.

Along with everything else I just got incredibly lucky to be blessed with the most phenomenal mentors from the speaking business. Eric Chester, Dave Avrin, Mark Sanborn, Laura StackDarren LaCroix, Ed Tate, Dan Moore, Scott GinsbergCraig ValentineMark BrownJim KeyDavid Brooks, Dana Prieto, Ron Marks, and I could go on and on. I have an entire family that supports me, the mentorship and guidance from “investors” and business partners at Southwestern, and an internal team of the most intense badmammajamma selling and operational ninjas at Southwestern Consulting who partner with me in building a bigger a platform for all of us to reach more people. It seems as though success truly comes from the simple things in life – the people around you, and the daily decisions; not an American Idol-esque big break. Are you surrounded by great people?

Last year I did catch some lucky breaks with a spot on Oprah radio, then speaking at devotions for Dave Ramsey, then Zig Ziglar had me do a program for them, then Success Magazine, etc. So media builds slowly like all other parts of the business. But I’m definitely not the authority on how to “make it” as a speaker. I’m just another guy in the “stairwell” right now making the climb. My focus has shifted dramatically in the past couple years from being a speaker to providing solutions.

So like anything it’s luck, it’s opportunities, and it’s definitely the amazing blessing of so many people around me lifting me up. People in my family, at Southwestern Consulting, NSA, past clients, and Toastmasters all LIFT me up – so that is luck and opportunity and blessing.  And discipline sure has helped put me in the right place at the right time.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on what has worked for you and what hasn’t whether you are a new speaker or a well-accomplished speaker. If you have insights for all of us, please share below.

We definitely recommend you to get in touch with Rory Vaden and to visit his blog for more information on how he can help.

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