3,300 presentations over 10 years have taught me a lot about getting bookings as a High School Motivational Speaker. I’ve trained dozens of speakers and was a speaking trainer myself for two years. Looking back over a successful and very fulfilling career, this is the key advice I would want to know if I was just starting as a youth motivational speaker.
If you found these steps helpful please comment below. Comments are super encouraging and let me know I’m speaking to real people! More importantly, my whole career resulted from a best friend sending me an article like this ten years ago and telling me to “give it a go”.
Now. Down to business. Like the NZ Army used to tell us, “A master has mastered the basics”. The following are the 3 majors you need to master in the speaking business. I’ve linked the first two to more specific blogs however this article is going to focus on the key point of getting bookings themselves.
- Get Regular Bookings
- Develop & Deliver Great Messages
- Improve Every Single Time (Qualities of a great Youth Speaker)
With bookings, you have chances to improve your message and speaking. You naturally become better, however without them you're stuck. So, even though it seems back to front I’ve found new youth speakers grasp the concepts a lot better when starting with this one first. Get Regular Bookings:
11 Ways to get Speaker Bookings
- Get A Demo
- Spend a Day with a Speaker
- Ask a Teacher
- Social Media
- Website & Google Ad
- Ask for the referral
- Teacher Magazines
- Speaker Websites
- Start by Serving
- Card Always Ready
1. Get A Demo Video & Clear Topic
Research shows that event planners who are looking at hiring a professional speaker require to see a demo-video (24%). Moreover, they want to see someone who is an expert in their chosen field (34%). So before we talk about how to get bookings I wanted to make sure that when you do get bookings you record your presentations and take photos for your future topical demo video.
Example of my Promo Video:
Watch the video above. See How it starts with a voice-over, leads into "sound bites" then into testimonials from the authorities in the market (largest schools). This is how you should structure your promo video to get maximum view time and leads. I've A/B tested five videos and this one has worked the best.
My first video was focused on one topic but as I grew my audience I begin to do more presentations. However, if you're starting out the key is to focus. This is critical and I'll talk more about why later in this blog.
Did you watch the video? Notice how I never speak directly into the camera or 'self-promote'. I've tried this and it doesn't work as well as teachers (your ideal client) seeing other teachers talk about you in a positive way.
So, if you're serious about being a Youth Speaker your first goal should be to get a great promo reel. Before you go on, watch the entire video and see yourself coming up with something similar. Trust me when I say to become a great youth speaker you need to be able to watch other speaker's videos & marketing and reverse engineer them.
2. Starting off: Spend a day with a Youth Motivational Speaker
Google youth speakers and your area, see who comes up and ask if you can meet them at a school and learn any tips from them. Email saying;
“Hi Bob, I’m wanting to become a youth speaker and would love to spend 1/2 a day with you if you have time. I can bring a camera, record your talk & give you the memory card if it helps - please let me know. Thank you”
Now, just to let you know, many speakers get pretty worried about people asking as sometimes seemingly lovely people end up stealing material and ideas. I had a girl who took my personal story like it was her own and spoke about it at an Easter camp to over 5,000 students. It was very confusing, and I confronted her afterwards.
I’ve had two youth speakers here in Sydney use the same website images, layout and even change their tagline to my own. “most requested speaker” … ‘Guys, we can't have 3x most requested speakers’! I’ve changed my website twice to get away from their image. I don’t give it much attention as it's a small country, and I’ve had multiple teachers bring it up with me and laugh about it.
(this was a photo I took of Simon: He used it for his book, website and video)
Ten years ago, I made a friend (wait, there's more). For the sake of the story, we’ll call his name “Isaac” … because that's his name… and he knew a speaker called Simon Clegg - who at the time was the best speaker in Australia. I asked him if he could introduce me to Simon. He told Simon about me, and he emailed saying "I'm speaking at this school if you want to come hear me”.
It was 4 hours away, but I didn't care. I drove down and asked if I could film Simon Clegg speaking. I went up to teachers at the end and asked if the liked the talk, and if they said Yes, I followed up with asking if they wouldn't mind giving me a 5 second testimonial.
I asked Simon Clegg if he had his skateboard and took photos of him skating (he was an ex pro-skateboarder). I gave him the memory card from my camera because I wanted him to know I wasn't taking his IP. He ended up using those photos for his website and video testimonials for his video.
Two months later, he emailed some schools for me and said, “Jonny Shannon wanted to speak to your group for free”. I got four bookings (2 of which were in a different state), and I did them for free. I recorded my presentation using both the photos and video for a demo video on a WIX website.
3. Ask a friend Who’s a Teacher
Do you know any teachers or have friends who know of teachers? Write a quick brief with crucial points of what you cover and send it to them asking if you can speak in a classroom. I got a booking with an assembly and asked them if I could talk to 10 classrooms instead of 1 big class. It allowed me to get more time practising my presentations plus teachers are more likely to let you speak to a classroom than an entire assembly.
When I started, I did my first 50 schools for free. After that, I only charged $250 for nearly a year. Five years later, I started charging more and that was only where I needed to hire a full-time booking coordinator.
One thing that also worked well for me was that I talked to a guy who ran a company and asked if he would sponsor my next 10 talks going into schools around the topic of bullying. He agreed to the sponsorship and so I emailed several local schools notifying them of the following;
“10 sponsored talks valued at $500 for Free. First in, First served”
I got far more responses back from schools from ‘sponsored presentations” than “free” - why? Because there's no perceived value in free. But the value of $500 is $500 (unless you're in America … $500 Australia is like $50 bucks).
4. Social Media
Personally, if I were to start over, I would spend more time on marketing. The business of speaking is not just speaking itself but learning how to market.
I would have used Linkedin & Twitter a lot more, as many teachers don't go on Instagram and Facebook as often as younger audiences, as they don't want students trying to contact them. Most teachers I know, if they are on those platforms, don't use their real names for the very reason I stated above. This makes it hard to find any teachers and reach out.
Linkedin, on the other hand, is excellent. A lot of teachers, business owners, principals and conference organisers. My PA got me countless talks just by reaching out and signing-off with a simple “... and if you ever need a bullying presentation at your school, let me know. Thanks :)"
5. Website + Google Ads
It's real easy to over complicate it at the start and spend too much time and money on Website aspects before actually mastering successful speaking (at schools) --- on the other hand, its industry-standard to have at least an essential website. So, where's the middle ground? The best way forward is to either ask a friend to build you a website or build it yourself on WIX or another DIY templated website. Make it simple: Name, Topic/What you cover, quotes from schools, Contact details.
Google Ads are easy to set up - but I will say they can cost a lot. “Youth Speaker'' in Australia costs anywhere from $5-15 a click and so getting 100 clicks will cost $500-1500 (that's quick math). On the other side, those 100 clicks may end in 5 leads, leading to 1 sale. Now you need to charge at least $500 a presentation just to cover the cost (ad/marketing, travel, accommodation) or run at a loss until you start gaining momentum.
Pro Tip: pay for terms that are locally relevant to what you want. For instance, “Youth Speaker Sydney” is right for me because the leads are local and mean you won't be paying for people researching "How to become a youth speaker".
When I first started, this is what I did. Years ago, it cost me $5 a click, and every 100 clicks would get a booking. I lost money but made the most of every lead.
6. Ask For The Referral
Speaking of making the most of every lead, after a presentation I'd be sure to ask the teacher if they liked the presentation if they wouldn't mind recommending me to other local schools. A lot of the time, they would say yes. Even better was when I was more specific and straightforward ask something like this;
“Do you know anyone at South High School, West High School or Eastern High School? Could I ask you for a favour? Would you mind if I email them saying you enjoyed the presentation and would recommend me?
Then email those schools saying the local teacher recommended you and would like to book a time for a call to talk through what a presentation could look like and the benefits.
7. Teacher Magazines & Websites
Advertising costs money, but this has a better return than most. Simultaneously, Google & other social ads take a while to start working (usually three months), this is due to the algorithm needing time to figure out your ideal target audience.
For instance, you can pay for the keyword “youth speaker”, but many people who search for that term are not school coordinators but students and others looking at becoming a youth speaker. This ends up costing a lot as I mentioned above.
If I were to start again, I would have advertised more in teacher magazines as it’s 100% your target audience. Google “Teacher magazine”, and your local versions will come up. For online versions, You can also ask for a tracking tag to see how many viewers came from their website to yours to compare to Google and social ads.
When advertising, tell them what you do well. “(name) speaks on (topics) He/She is; Funny, Engaging & Educational”. 30% off for bookings made in September. Examples:
8. Get Listed on Speakers Websites
I haven’t got many inquiries from these types of websites - however, it’s worth playing the numbers game as well as having the ability to display their logos on your website to help you with credibility when you're starting.
If I were in America - I would do anything to be a part of Josh Shipp’s organisation “Top Youth Speakers”. Josh Shipp is a close friend of Simon Clegg who helped me become a public speaker. Josh Shipp encouraged me to be a youth motivational speaker through his youtube videos & books. He's like the Tony Robbins of youth motivational speaking, and I hope I meet him in future travels.
If you're in Australia I’ve created a list below. Simply put it into an excel doc and mark off which you have applied. Let me know if you know of some good ones and I'll add them to this blog for others.
*Addition. Just had a direct message: A-speaker's is another good one.
9. Start by Serving: Conferences
When I was starting, I once saw a sizeable mental health conference advertised in a teacher magazine (yes, I was looking at my ad and saw the conference). I gave an email and suggested a free presentation. They replied and explained they already had enough speakers however they got me to speak at their young version 4 months later.
After that, the organisers got me back as the keynote for the major conference, and a year later, I was speaking to over 50,000 audience members in one sitting. There was a six month period where over half my schools tick the box to say they hired me because they heard me at that conference.
My point is, when you are starting out you need to invest in your business. Be willing to serve for free and do it wholeheartedly, expecting nothing in return; trust me when I say it comes back to you.
Are their conferences near you? Search your topic and find the organisers. For example, if you are in cybersafety searched “cybersafety training/conferences/” etc. Email in saying you would like to help.
10. Go to ToastMasters
When I started, I used to do toastmasters night classes. I was there to practice speaking. However, it was being around other successful speakers, which helped me more. “the fastest way to get to where you want to be is to hang around others who are always there”.
The quote “You become like the five people you spend time with” is very accurate. In my class, two people were quite famous for public speaking, and one ended up doing a TV program. One of them recommended me to many schools from people he knew and helped me, and the other got me to present to over 25,000 youth even in the largest arenas in the southern hemisphere.
11. Be Ready
My last piece of advice would be to always be ready. Have business cards on you at all times and keep your message simple. I’ve had countless presentations when another teacher (usually a substitute teacher) was at one of my speaking engagements. They heard the talk and wanted my card. In one case, I got five bookings from one teacher.
In my first year as a speaker, I worked part-time as an insurance broker, but if people asked me what I did for a job, I would say, “I'm a youth speaker who speaks on bullying in middle schools and high schools”. I wanted to have a simple job, and message people would remember. Jonny speaks at high schools on bullying.
I had friends who would tell their friends that were teachers about me just from saying that line. My point is to make it clear who you are and what you do. Many of my first gigs were from friends hearing what I did and telling their friends in education.
Pro Tip: Part-Time Jobs
I would end it there, but after bringing up my part-time job in my first year, I feel I have to cover this. I think when your starting, having a part-time job is excellent. I’ve always said, "speaking is the worst full-time job, and best part-time job until you have money".
If you don’t rely on the income - it is fun, it’s creative, it keeps you learning and giving back. When it's your full-time job and you need the money, it is stressful to travel and be away from friends, family, and partners. Also, things change, like Covid - I know some speakers just stopped working. I know of some whole speaking companies who worked in schools that just stopped.
Some people say, “don't have a plan b - cause it only distracts you from plan a”. Personally I don’t think that’s good advice. I would never want someone who talks on ‘mental health’ and stress management or any other topic to be going against healthy practices like regular hours, sleeping habits (touring), and the added weight of financial stress.
Make it work for you. If you have a full-time job, maybe start off working nights and weekends on your youth speaking. Once you get some gigs, ask for those days off.
When you start to get too many gigs, ask to go part-time and when you get more (and have enough in the bank, remembering you don’t get paid for school holidays!), go full-time.
My point is; financial stress is real. Speaking is hard and takes a lot of time to build up. Anyone who says any different is trying to sell you something.
If you master the basics of getting bookings, you will get more time in front of the audience and more time to master the craft of speaking - but without bookings your speaking can't improve.
If you want to be a youth motivational speaker, I wish you well. It’s one of the most challenging but most rewarding jobs in the world. There's nothing like sharing your story in a way that encourages young people and gives them practical advice and hope in their situation.
We need good youth speakers. So, work hard, stay focused on the basics and hopefully, I will see you at a youth conference, and we can share some stories. Until then, ‘Give it Heaps!’ and keep learning!