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Professionally Speaking: Tapping into the Lecture Circuit

by Communications Staff

Jeff Zimmerman, PhD, a clinical psychologist and organizational consultant in Avon, Conn., frequently speaks to corporate audiences about reducing conflict in the workplace. He also addresses executives on the topic of building leadership skills. And, he presents a niche practice program for high-conflict divorcing parents to the public and to divorce professionals, including psychologists, therapists, lawyers, judges and mediators.

As a paid public speaker, Zimmerman’s speaking engagements play an important role in his professional life. “Public speaking is invigorating,” he says. “It adds diversity to my practice and gives me a chance to apply my skills to a broader group of people than I can reach in my office.” In addition, says Zimmerman, the income he earns as a public speaker provides a source of non-insurance-based revenue for his practice.

Zimmerman and other experienced public speakers say that paid speaking opportunities for psychologists abound, but they caution that practitioners who want to tap into the benefits of the paid lecture circuit will need to:

  • have interesting and relevant information to share

  • present information in a professional and compelling manner

  • recognize that cultivating paid speaking opportunities takes time and persistence and

  • clearly define the goal of each presentation.

“The key is having something to offer, such as a unique program, topic or skill to train others or speak about, and providing a useful service that is valued by the community,” says Zimmerman.

For example, recognizing a demand among corporations for staff development resources, Zimmerman parleyed his knowledge of organizational consulting into workshops and retreats for business and industry. His presentations address such topics as the psychology of customer service, violence prevention and conflict resolution, and enhancing management team functioning.

Another psychologist who has translated his expertise into paid speaking opportunities is Alan R. Graham, PhD, of Park Ridge, Ill. Recognizing a demand among parents in the Chicago area for information about ADHD, Graham paired a parenting “Smart Discipline” seminar with specialized information for parents who have children with ADHD. These seminars are designed to help families cope with the organizational, behavioral and emotional issues associated with ADHD. The seminars and his other public speaking activities have earned Graham a reputation as an expert in ADHD and parenting issues.

In addition to presenting interesting information that meets a demonstrated interest, experienced paid speakers say it is important to present the information in an entertaining way. For Graham, the performance aspect of public speaking comes naturally. “I love getting up in front of audiences,” he says.

Those who are not as comfortable in the role of public speaker may need to develop speaking skills to become an effective speaker..

One way practitioners can hone their public speaking skills is by accepting unpaid speaking engagements. Local community organizations in particular are often looking for professionals to speak about a variety of topics.

In addition to helping practitioners polish their public speaking skills, unpaid public speaking opportunities can help practitioners establish their reputations as good speakers and can open the door to paid speaking opportunities.

“Many times, I find that one unpaid presentation produces interest that turns into a paid presentation in the future,” says Zimmerman.

Cultivating Paid Speaking Opportunities

Zimmerman discovered early on that paid speaking opportunities are rarely advertised. He learned that making community connections is an important part of cultivating paid speaking engagements. “The key is networking, public relations and meeting people who see that you have something to offer,” he says.

Zimmerman finds out about most of his paid speaking engagements through word-of-mouth. Many of his invitations, he says, are a result of people hearing him speak elsewhere, often at no charge. Joining a speakers bureau, local chamber of commerce, or other business or industry associations can also yield speaking opportunities, especially for practitioners who are new to the lecture circuit.

Earning a reputation as an expert can also help practitioners to cultivate paid speaking invitations. “Become an ‘information maven’ on the topics you want to speak about,” advises Graham. “This will lead people to your door.” He adds that having a website that offers information about you and your expertise can also serve as a useful promotional tool.

Graham also recommends that practitioners develop a repertoire of several presentations that they can give with limited preparation.

Cost-Benefit Analysis

In thinking about setting a fee for a speech or presentation, experienced public speakers say it is important to consider the purpose of the presentation.

According to Zimmerman, the benefits of exposure, or the opportunity to diversify your practice activities, may justify setting a low- or no-fee. “It’s not all about the money.”

Even when a fee isn’t offered, some practitioners don’t shy away from requesting compensation. “Don’t be afraid to ask for a stipend,” says Zimmerman. “The host can always say one is not available. However, at other times a stipend can be made available; especially if what you request is reasonable.”

Practitioners can find creative ways to earn revenue through public speaking. One method is to sell books and other materials at the event, says Graham. “You can offer to speak for free as long as the organization will provide volunteers to sell your materials during and after the event. This brings in a stream of income.”

Even when a fee is offered, Graham has learned that sometimes it is necessary to turn it down. After traveling to several cities one year to give day-long presentations, he found he couldn’t justify the related costs. “When I factored in the travel time, cancelled appointments and expenses, I decided not to accept those anymore at the fees they were offering.”

Additional Tips

Some additional tips for practitioners aiming for success on the paid lecture circuit:

Be mindful of APA’s ethical guidelines related to the marketing of your presentation. Section 5.03 of the APA Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct, “Descriptions of Workshops and Non-Degree-Granting Educational Programs, ” reads: “To the degree to which they exercise control, psychologists responsible for announcements, catalogs, brochures, or advertisements describing workshops, seminars, or other non-degree-granting educational programs ensure that they accurately describe the audience for which the program is intended, the educational objectives, the presenters and the fees involved.”

Prepare, prepare, prepare. Even if you have given the same type of presentation a number of times, remember to practice, fine-tune, update and enhance it for each audience.

Talk about what you know. Don’t accept speaking engagements on a topic you are not well-versed in, unless you are willing to do the research necessary to become knowledgeable in that area.

Get to know the audience and their expectations for your presentation by talking to the event coordinator. “Many times the initial description of the presentation (e.g., workplace stress) is not the real presentation that might be needed (e.g., conflict resolution in the workplace),” says Zimmerman. “It is far too easy to give the ‘wrong presentation’ to the right audience.”

Seek feedback on your performance to identify areas that need improvement.

Talk to an expert. A mentor or consultant can help you prepare your presentation and think through strategies for cultivating paid speaking opportunities.


Date created: 2005