Advisorist Podcast – Episode 19: The Speaker’s Platform — Getting Fun and Lucrative Gigs


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In this podcast, we discuss: 

  • Guidelines for TEDx Talk
  • TEDx Talk subject – Parenting is a Breakthrough, not a Break from your career.
  • Saying yes to the right questions to secure TEDx Talk
  • Experience as a speaker as a pre-requisite to giving a TEDx Talk
  • The popularity of TEDx Talks, even though they are non-paid. 
  • TEDx talks selected for placement on website 
  • Criteria for moving from TEDx to TED talks
  • Process of building a speaking career to supplant or replace income.
  • How a Speaker’s Bureau works, along with advantages and process.
  • Coaching individuals on topic selection, writing and delivering a speech

Bea Wray has dazzled audiences for 20 years speaking about entrepreneurship, leadership, and women in business.

Although she has been taught by the best minds in academics and business at Harvard Business School,  motherhood was what really taught Bea how to negotiate, communicate in the business world, think on her feet and adapt to ever-changing circumstances. Raising three kids is undoubtedly the best training for understanding what it takes to succeed and thrive in the entrepreneurial universe. Those lessons traveled directly from the playroom to the boardroom.

Michael Levin is a versatile and talented columnist, author, distance runner, and musical performer who has ghostwritten more than 700 books ranging from finance and entrepreneurship to health care and technology.


Note:  This Advisorist Podcast transcript was created in part by computers – Please forgive any grammatical or spelling errors…or sentences that just downright don’t seem to make sense!  Please compare to corresponding audio if clarity is needed.

Jeremiah: Hi, this is Jeremy Desmarais, Founder of Advisorist and it gives me great pleasure and really it’s an incredible honor to introduce to you one of the hosts of the Advisorist podcast, Michael Levin. Michael is not only a personal friend, but he’s one of the most established ghostwriters in the nation and a New York Times best-selling author who’s written, co-written, or ghostwriter over 550 books. Hundreds of them in the financial services arena of which 18 are national bestsellers. You would be hard pressed to find somebody that hasn’t been in more outlets than Michael. He’s been on Shark Tank, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Politico, the LA Times, The Boston Globe, Writer’s Digest, CBS News. I mean, the guy has even had his work optioned and made for film by Steven Soderbergh of paramount, HBO, Disney, ABC, Frank Perry, and so many more. He ghostwrote for some of the biggest names in sports and business including Dave Winfield, Pat Summerall, Howard Bragman, former Schwab CEO David Pottruck, Marketing legend Jay Abraham, NBA star Doug Christie, and the list goes on and on and on. As the host of All Eyes on You, Michael will bring his unique blend of insights and wisdom as it relates to using books to get to the level of your dreams that you’ve always desired. They are one of the most powerful introduction tools that financial advisors and insurance agents can use today. I know when I got my book written, oh my, did the doors open up. That’s why I’m so excited to have Michael hosting All Eyes on You as part of the Advisorist network. Michael, take it away my friend.

Michael: How do you get a TED talk?

Brea: So I love talking about TED and how to get a TED talk. There’s no exact formula but I’m a big fan of the TEDx programs. They are probably in a city near you. There are hundreds of them around the world, probably thousands and most medium sized cities host their own TEDx talk. There’s a very strict set of rules, but they are all basically looking for an idea worth spreading that can be communicated in an effective speech and about anywhere from 12 minutes to 18 minutes. And they want something usually connected to two things. One, the community- so the town. I used to host the Savannah TEDx and we didn’t only have people from Savannah but mostly had people connected to our community. Secondly, the current theme of the year. So a TED theme could be happiness, or resilience, or whatever the theme that is the volunteer committee has chosen for that year. They’re pretty much looking for a great idea worth spreading from someone who is connected to the community and is particularly passionate about the theme. Those are usually the things that matter. It is not a professional speaker, very often being a professional speaker or being an author is actually kind of a, I don’t want to say to say, a mark against you. But almost TED wants to elevate the voice that isn’t already being heard more than just be another recording place for a voice that has many avenues for being heard.

Michael: Are there particular areas that they look for that they are interested in?

Brea: No, I don’t think I mean, they obviously don’t want anything that will be offensive to people in the audience. It’s all about community building. I’ve heard TED talks on communication, on how to use a paper towel, on fatherhood, on creativity. They wouldn’t want something that excludes individuals but actionable items are preferred and a unique perspective. So I’m really blessed. I have a TEDx talk that I’ll be giving in Hilton Head on May 4th. My idea worth spreading is that parenting is a breakthrough, not a break from your career.

Michael: How does that work?

Brea: Well, I took six years off to raise my children on this bridge, Ellis Island. And when it was time for me to come back to work, I was terrified. How can I possibly have a skill? I hadn’t been in a corporate office? What did I know? Well, come to find out businesses done with people. And in my situation, the greatest way that I’ve ever learned about how to deal with people was to try to raise them in my home. I learned more about patience and communication and misunderstanding and clear vision setting as a mom than I ever have it either as an entrepreneur or running an organization or at the Harvard Business School. So how did you get the talk? Oh, well, interesting. I’ve been invited to a couple. This is this the audience that I chose and there’s an application process, interestingly enough that it’s not set, have to be set by the National Ted, but very often the platform is the same for the location in Charleston, in the application in sedan or the application in Hilton Head. And I just completed it and shared. This was my idea we’re spreading. This is my experience with it. This is why I’m passionate. And they do all ask: “Are you willing to be coached?” “Are you willing to put the time in to be coached?” “And will you commit to certain days like getting your slides in by a certain day and showing up for the dress rehearsal, and of course, being there for the full day of the TEDx event?” And so I said yes to the right questions. They said yes to me. My experience with TEDx talks is usually about 10 or 12 people get selected out of anywhere from 85 to 250 applicants for those 10 or 12 spots. You have to be real clear on what it is you plan to talk about and you may not get it the first time around.

Michael: Here you are. You’ve got a great idea. You’ve got a cool topic. The listener is saying, “What hoops did she has to jump through? What did she do to go from I want to have a TEDx talk to? They said yes.”

Brea: So the number one hope is you have to apply. My recommendation is you apply to two or three or four that you have some relationship with. So maybe it’s your town and maybe it’s the university you graduated from. Maybe it’s your spouse’s hometown. But find a place where you have a connection. And I don’t mean a personal connection. Many times the TEDx committees frown on leveraging of the sort of calling in a favor, I mean, that you can emotionally answer the form question, I’m connected to this place. And that will come across in your talk and in your presentation. And that will make the experience better for all of the audience. So find three or four, look at the dates that are times you can go to these places or be part of them. And think about what theme they are trying to build this year and make a case for how that theme is related to your topic or how your topic is going to better flesh out that theme in a productive way. Some of the TEDx organizations don’t care as much about the theme, but others do. The Hilton Head one on May 4th is about reinvention. So it works really well because what I just told you is I was reinventing myself from a stay at home mom to back into a corporate world. So that helped. That’s not always the case. But I think it should come across in your application. Very often, what we’ve done when I hosted the three I hosted in Savannah is we would have to narrow people down in the written applications. And then we would have a few stages of interviews, on the phone interviews and then in person interviews to help get a sense as to whether or not that speaker was really clear on what they would talk about and whether or not they were really open to coaching and whether or not they had the passion that would come across on stage. And so that’s how we would narrow it down from more than a hundred applications to the 10 or 12 that we selected.

Michael: Did you have to write your speech in its entirety before you applied?

Brea: I did not. I could have but you wouldn’t want that because the TEDx committee really likes to coach you on honing the speech in a way that will be best for the whole day. And so I’m really looking forward to the coaching.

Michael: So first, you propose a topic to TEDx based on the points that you just made a moment ago. And then if they accept you, at that point, you write it based on their coaching, is that correct?

Brea: You may already have it, they will ask you how much experience do you have with this topic, I actually speaking on it and living it if you have certain experience that’s made it possible. For example, I’m a parent and I attended the Harvard Business School, so those things mattered. Secondly, I did send actual footage of me speaking on this subject and a related subject, so they had a chance to see me speak, it would be very hard to get a TEDx talk, if you’ve never spoken publicly anywhere because they want experienced people. So even if it’s on a related topic or a different topic, there’s a place for you to upload a video of yourself speaking. All of that said, the last thing a TEDx committee seeking is a canned presentation. So they want you to have experience but be open to improvement or editing. The TEDx format usually allows for that because oftentimes you’re only giving a 14 minutes TEDx talk. And experienced speakers often have 30 minute video reels. So there’s plenty of room to edit that down.

Michael: So they want you to have some experience talking but not a ton, is that correct?

Brea: You can have tons of experience talking from the stage but they don’t want you to lose your passion for their events. It should not just be one more chicken and armor where you don’t care about the TED mission or the unique idea we’re spreading or that community.

Michael: Why is TED, the venue for speaking? Why is it the most desired speaking gig right now, especially if they don’t pay?

Brea: They definitely don’t pay? I think the TED talks are good. And there’s a lot of, again, the brand name is huge. Millions of people are watching the content on an hourly basis. And I think part of that is just the sea change in the way we consume content. You and I grew up where there were three channels on a local TV station. And what you were watching was basically this same thing I was watching on a Tuesday night. And now we have so independently curated content that people are watching. And it’s often independently or individually created content. And TED talks are a part of that. So tonight, you may go sit home with your four children and your wife and you say, “Hey, what are we going to watch tonight?” Someone will say, “Hey, how about a TED talk?” So there’s a channel for it in the mainstream, and then there’s channels for it professionally. And so if you want your voice to be heard, attaching the TED Brands is a great way to get it pushed through that. Now just because you gave a TED talk in Savannah, Georgia, or Hilton Head or Los Angeles doesn’t mean you will get on It’s actually a very small number that get on that centralized website. Almost all of them are videotaped and they can be found on YouTube. So you can always share your talk. I am lucky enough that when I curated the TEDx Savannah for the years that I was there, one of our talks did get placed on And it was about communication actually, in Celeste Head Lee’s talk was one that I was sitting in the front row and had a great time talking with her and honing her talk. And I’m really proud to see it hitting literally millions of views.


Michael: So what’s the benefit? If you’re not allowed to promote a business or a profession or practice? How does it pay off to be a TED speaker?

Brea: Well, I’m not sure it does. And I’m positive Ted doesn’t want you to think about it as paying off. It’s a community that you get connected with. And it’s a chance for you to hone your speaking for sure because any Tedx Coordinator spends a great deal of time finding amazing coaches that will take an average speech and make it really powerful. So you will be a better speaker once you’ve been selected and once you put it out there. All of that said, I’ve never met anyone and I’ve met dozens and dozens of people who have done TEDx talks and I’ve never met anyone who kind of hides it under a bushel. If you’re blessed enough to get your TEDx talk, you’ve typically put it on your LinkedIn profile, you might have it in your signature of your email address. You’re constantly forwarding it because it will elevate your status as a thought leader even if the topic that you spoke on is into the main topic of your business. So for example, I work with an amazing woman named Joanna Blur and she talks all over the world. She’s a keynote speaker on really awesomeness, that’s our topic. And she stands in front of audiences and helps people think about a unique way to introduce their passion and their story. And she’s hired by corporations to come in and to have HR departments elevate people’s own self dialogue of their work. However, her TED Talk is shared. And it’s her image on her website because she went to big Ted and did a five minute speech in front of all sorts of world famous people. And her TED talk was about Laila, which is a 3d printed woman that she carries in her pocket as a way of losing weight. Joanna was struggling with her weight and she decided that checking a scale in the morning was not sufficient motivation to saying “No, thank you” to the desert the night before. So instead, she 3d printed her own body in case around a little image of herself in a workout outfit, puts that in her pocket. And when the waiter comes over and says, “Would you like that chocolate Cake” She touches the 3d printed images as “No, thank you.” And that was her TED Talk. So very unrelated but a unique idea we’re spreading. And even though she is not a weight loss speaker, the fact that she has spoken at TED is something she builds into her brand and leverages on a pretty regular basis.

Michael: How do you make the jump from TEDx to TED? How does Ted decide? Is there any sense of the kind of thing that makes it or is it seemingly random?

Brea: I’ll certainly have to be an excellent speaker and your talk has to go very, very well. So quality counts but content counts also. So they have a mosaic on the website that is not exactly scientific but they are going to have a certain number of speakers from this geography in that geography, this gender and that gender, this color, this background, this ethnicity, that ethnicity. It’s a wide range that’s actually going to be on there and content. So very, very well watched TED talk is about how to use one paper towel. The shake and fold, I think, is the name of the talk. And the gentleman talks about shaking your paper towel out and folding it and then you can limit the use to one. So that is a talk, not a lot of people are talking about how to use a paper towel. So that one is on the main site, whereas there may be tens of thousands of people talking about leadership or motivating people. You’re just going to find a lot of competition for that.

Michael: Does the person who spoke about the paper towel, does he have any connection to the paper towel industry or what does he do?

Brea: I don’t think so. I don’t remember what his connection is. It’s an older talk.

Michael: So it’s sort of mystifying in the sense that the most coveted speakers’ platform today is something where you are almost penalized if you speak directly about the thing you do that makes money or the thing you do that serves people. And instead it’s really, what is it about you that would be intriguing to others? And then if you want to publicize it yourself because it’s a TEDx talk, knock yourself out but this is not a forum for finding profit. Is that fair?

Brea: For sure, definitely not a forum for finding profit for sure.

Michael: So why the lower? I think that’s actually the reason for the allure?

Brea: There’s plenty of places where you can find profit and that’s easy to chase. There aren’t as many places where you just get elevated on greatness and contribution and community.

Michael: So if you want to build out a speaking career to go alongside your current career, either to supplant your income or to replace it, let’s leave Ted to one side right now. How do you get started on that?

Brea: So speaking and speaking and speaking wherever you can and videotaping it and taking pictures is how you get started. Whether it’s your rotary. Whether it’s your chamber of commerce. Whether it’s your local business group. Go ahead and hone your skill as a speaker. How you make money. Find a specific topic where you are excellent and makes a difference in companies. So you know how to bring candor into the workforce and you know that it can be really expensive if companies are dancing around the elephant in the room and no one’s actually talking about the big issues but you’ve got the 10 secrets to how to make your office speak with more candor or you know how to engage millennials or you have a topic that is relevant, how to build a workforce that is agile and flexible. So the best way to get paid is to think about and know what that worth is. If having candor in the workplace avoids, on average, three major lawsuits or risks or conflicts of interest or compliance violations and those each cost $50,000, goodness, someone’s going to be more than happy to pay you $20,000 to come speak to their group. So what I do when I work with speakers who are building a career, depends on what level they are, they just want to get started, I do what I just told you is just get out there speak to anyone you can. Get really clear on what it is, that’s your specialty and describe it. I like to speak on an agile workforce or I want to speak on engaging millennials in the office. And here are the 10 most important pitfalls to avoid. So describe that, describe the audience that benefits from it and describe the top takeaways. And then get a lot of imagery of you speaking, get some video tape of you speaking, get some testimonials from people who’ve heard you speak and pick out 30 great things that you said that are one or two liners that can be used in social media. And I’ll send you over the beginning of a platform. And now you start to think about who needs this from a corporate level. Every fortune 1000 company is hiring speakers, at least on a monthly basis, to come in and talk to kick off their sales team, to kick off their marketing year, to land an offsite retreat, to have an executive seminar. And that will be the platform for being the person who gets paid somewhere between 3000 and $20,000 to deliver that message to that group.

Michael: Sounds like a lot of fun.

Brea: I think you would be great at it. Michael, we got to get you going.

Michael: Okay, well, let’s get the listeners going. So do they think about hiring a speaker’s bureau? Or is that just for the people who are ultra celebrities in society,

Brea: It’s definitely not for just the people who are ultra celebrities. There are so many Speakers Bureaus that I don’t personally know. How to have you choose one over the other and they can be a great place to start. So usually a Speaker Bureau will give you the chance to be searched: by topic, by location, by dollar value that you typically charge. And so that’s a great place to start. I do believe it’s really just a beginning, as opposed to a more boutique firm that can kind of take you to the next level and present to you to known and build relationships with corporations. And that’s where the profit actually comes in. It’s not only when you are hired to come into a company and be paid $5,000 for their keynote but then they bring you back for the deeper dive with the 20 executives who want a four to five hour workshop, perhaps on candor or on some of the lessons that you’ve presented in your keynote address.

Michael: Well, if you’re talking about candor and they say we want you back, how do you know they’re telling the truth?

Brea: It’s a good question. You start asking them questions, just being silly.

Michael: Like what are you gonna pay me?

Brea: Yeah, there you go.

Michael: So how do you find a Speaker’s Bureau?

Brea: Well, there’s so many, it’s pretty easy to find. So I’ve done it work with Premier, I’ve been a member of the National Speakers Association. I work with a company in Charleston called the keynote group. And that’s a spectrum of attention if you will. The National Speakers Association is one decent place to start. And it’ll put you in touch with thousands of peers who are going through this at the same time. Some are competitive, some are cooperative, where you might need a buddy at the conference and say, “Hey, Michael, you just spoke at this audience, I’d really like to do that, can you make an introduction, and by the way, I spoke here two months ago, they would love to have you” so that I’ve seen a lot of really good relationships out of their Washington Speaker’s Bureau is one of the best known. And most of these will have any range of a $3,000 speaker, it’s pretty low, maybe a $5,000 speaker to a $50,000 speaker, who’s more of a celebrity. And there’s just a matter of making a connection, usually if you’re thinking about being professional speaker, you probably are at least a second degree connection on LinkedIn with someone who works at a Speaker’s Bureau. And that’s a great way to say, “Hey, can you give me an introduction” and then they will get a cut on every talk that is secured through their website. So that’s where they make their money. All of that said, they do a lot of work. So they don’t want you there unless you’re going to be serious. So they will interview you. And they will see what you have and what images you have and how ready your talk is before they put you up on their web page because that is a reflection of them. And then there are these, I mentioned the keynote group. That’s another whole level of personal connection actually even creating the content for the workshop. And so there’s a continuum? Do I get a teeny tiny bit of help with the National Speakers Association? Do I get a little more help with the Speaker’s Bureau? Or do I kind of hire a best friend to sit right next to me and get it done?

Michael: Just the last question, and I appreciate you taking all this time, how do you serve individuals? And let’s say someone listening wanted to bring you on board to coach them up in terms of how to speak effectively, how to write a speech and how to get speaking, what would you say to that?

Brea: Well, I would say I can’t wait to hear your message and to get to know you. I do personally have a website, my first and last name, I do take on a handful of clients that I help with thought leadership. I don’t have a cookie cutter program. But I also just work with people usually not less than six months to a year to kind of set out well, what are your goals today and where do we need to go? So the main thing I would say is reach out to me either directly through the website or through LinkedIn and we’ll start a conversation and see if that’s something I can help you do.

Michael: Okay. Ladies and gentlemen, Brea Wray thank you for joining me today. I appreciate you taking the time and I hope folks do the smart thing and reach out to you and kickstart their own speaking career. So thank you again.

Brea: Well, I really look forward to being contacted soon. Thank you Michael, it was delightful to be with you today.

Michael: My pleasure, Brea. Thank you so much. Bye Bye now.

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Jeremiah Desmarais

Jeremiah Desmarais

Jeremiah is the founder and CEO of Advisorist® and is a 23-time award winning financial marketer, a TED speaker and philanthropist. He’s been featured on Forbes, CNN, and Worth. His work has generated over $2 million insurance leads and helped advisors in over 51 countries generate over $300 million in sales commissions. He is the author of the best selling book, SHIFT.

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