Editor's note: This article is the sixth and final article in a series on preparing and presenting the perfect speech. If you have questions or comments regarding this series of articles, join in on our inc.com discussions area.

Most of you will be honing your speaking skills as a tool for advancing your business. A few of you may discover you're so good at getting your message across to groups that you're considering doing it full time, perhaps as a spokesperson for your industry or profession. If so, here's some advice. Even if you'd never consider professional speaking, many of these tips apply to starting any new business.

Develop Your Material

You can't make it as a speaker on your looks or the power of your personality, not even on your speaking skills alone. Audiences expect you to have original material or, at the very least, an original slant on your material. Can anyone else say it? Does anyone else say it? If so, don't say it.

As you grow and develop, new material will too. Start with one good speech that people really want to hear rather than 16 indifferent speeches. Once you have this speech, work on adapting and expanding it, ultimately turning it into a seminar. Then go for speech #2.

Get to Know Your Audience

Arrive early well before your presentation at a conference or special event. If they are having one, go to the cocktail party or reception, walk around and look at the exhibits at a conference, talk to and learn about your audience. You have to be social. You have to be nice. If there is a social event the night before, such as a dinner with the board of directors and their spouses, then it behooves you to attend. However, I draw the line at parties at an off-site location 10 miles away with country-western dancing where my presence won't make any difference.

Diversify Your Client Base

Never have all your eggs in one basket. A speaker friend gave a presentation about how he had lost 96 speaking engagements in two days. He had three clients that each booked more than 30 dates. Then all three had business reversals. Another speaker was thrilled that 70% of his business came from IBM. Guess what happened when IBM eliminated all outside contractors?

Pro Bono?

There is no such thing as a free speech. There are just speeches that you don't get paid for directly. Even at this stage in my career, I still do "targeted showcases" for meeting industry groups as part of my overall marketing strategy. I don't expect anything to come of them, but it's amazing how often they produce future business.

My early clients didn't realize that my "free speeches" cost me about $130 each for preparation, travel, and lost time at my hair salon.

Negotiate Your Fees

If there's an organization that can't pay, but you really want to speak for them, remember these magic words: "What else can you give me?" The first year I was a full-time speaker, my calendar wasn't as full as it is now. A woman had heard me speak at the National Association of Catering Executives. "I know you're worth it because I've seen you," she said, "but we can't afford your fee." "Let's not give up so easily," I said. In the end, my brother and I spent five days at a lovely hotel in Berkeley, with a suite each, breakfast, lunch, and dinner, including one with friends -- all for one free speech to 150 meeting planners on a day I wasn't booked. If we'd actually paid for it, the cost would have exceeded my fee. This was one of the best vacations my brother and I ever had together.

Another time the program chair for Women in Travel and wanted me to speak at their installation of officers. The date was open on my calendar, but they couldn't afford me. "Well, I don't need the practice," I told her, "and I'm not doing it for nothing, but I will take a trade. Why don't you call me back tomorrow with your best offer you can."

The next day, she called back. "Would you take a free, round-trip, first-class airline ticket to England?" "You negotiator, you!" I said.

Just Do It!

Speaking before a group of strangers can be intimidating. Just keep focused on the positive impact the presentation will have on your business reputation and your bottom line.

Don't expect to be a magnificent speaker the first time out. Your goal is to present the most valuable information possible to the members of the audience. Think of it as the beginning of many long-term relationships.

Go on! Step up on the podium and profit from the experience!

Read the rest of this series:

Patricia Fripp is a San Francisco-based executive speech coach and professional speaker on change, teamwork, customer service,promoting business, and communication skills. She isthe author of Make It, So You Don't Have to Fake It and Get What You Want! Fripp also served as president of the National Speakers Association. She can be contacted via e-mail, at 800-634-3035, or through her Web site Fripp.com.

Copyright © 2000 Patricia Fripp