How I Built a 6-Figure Business from a Single Speech

Dr. Michael Hudson is a member of my Elite Regency Mastermind. He is also a teacher, speaker, writer, facilitator, coach, & ideapreneur. He helps people discover their vision, write their story, and speak their vision into existence using his proven VisionSpeaker™ System.  Visit to download your free copy of Michael’s ebook filled with practical insights you can use to increase your impact every time you speak.  ~ Ray Edwards

Breaking the $100,000 revenue level in any business is a key milestone. For many it is the target that defines success. That’s why in the spring of 1999 I was sitting at my desk pondering how I could grow my speaking business with that number in mind.

And then the phone rang…

Little did I know that call would be the first step on the path to building a 6-figure business that would continue for over 15 years.

The Unexpected Inquiry

The call was from the president of a statewide trade association. He knew that I offered speaking, consulting, and training, and asked if I had any programs on service.

I shared that one of my current ‘best-selling’ (meaning more than one client had invested in it) programs was The 7 Deadly Sins of Customer Service. We briefly discussed the program content and he asked whether I would be willing to “make a couple of adjustments so the program would better fit his audience.”

“Absolutely,” I responded.

“Well here’s my dilemma,” he said. “Our annual convention is on Friday and our keynote speaker just cancelled. Any chance you’re available?”

The Immediate Response

Since the event was within 10 miles of my home office (and I had nothing on the calendar), I again responded: “Absolutely.”

We talked about the set-up of the program and his expectations, I secured his permission to video-tape the event, and we agreed on an appropriate investment.

The deal was done and it was time to prepare.

Based on what I had learned in our conversation it was clear I needed to learn a lot more about the people who would be in the audience. So I requested a few names and phone numbers of people I could contact.

Though the timeline was tight, I was able to connect with most of them and pick their brains a bit about how they saw the topic, what they wanted to learn, and their favorite stories related to customer service.

I leveraged what I learned, updated my presentation, and rehearsed it several times.

The Event Results

The event was a success. The stories I gathered from the audience members made it seem like I really understood their industry. The changes to the presentation based on the input of the association president were perfect. And the video came out great!

More important, the meeting planner was effusive in her praise of the event. She specifically identified three things that she felt made the presentation “perfect for their audience.”

Applying a lesson I had learned from a mentor I thanked her for her comments and asked if she would mind if I put them in writing to share with others. She said that was fine and I thanked her for the opportunity. Then I visited briefly with some of the audience members.

One CEO asked me if I did leadership training, and told me what he needed for his team. He ended by handing me his business card and telling me to call him the following week to schedule an on-site session.

Another CEO asked if I facilitated strategic planning sessions. I shared a bit about how long I had been doing it and how the process worked, then he hand me his business card and asked me to call him the following week to schedule his next planning session.

The Follow-Up

To say that it was a good day would be a bit of an understatement, but from my perspective all of the positive outcomes came from one thing: Taking the time to understand the audience and customizing the presentation based on what I learned.

But wait. There’s more…

Over the weekend I reflected a bit on the experience and realized there was an opportunity at hand. After all I had a video of a presentation that connected well with an audience served by a trade association in every state, and I had great feedback from a meeting planner who had peers in all of those organizations.

So on Monday morning I made three phone calls. I called the CEO who wanted leadership training. Then I called the CEO who wanted me to facilitate his planning session. My third call was to the education director of the trade association.

The first two calls focused on setting up meetings later that week, each of which resulted in a 5-figure contract to be delivered within the next 60-90 days.

The third call focused on getting permission from the meeting planner to share her comments in a letter from her to her colleagues recommending my services. Included in that letter was a P.S. indicating that she had asked me to send them some information about my speaking topics.

Later that week I sat with the meeting planner as she signed the letters and I stuffed them into envelopes and mailed them. One week later I sent a mailing to each of the recipients with a list of three speech topics, a bio, and a 3-minute demo video from the event. Within a month of that mailing I had 15 state trade associations booked for keynote and breakout sessions to be delivered in the next 6-9 months. And 30% of those sessions led to additional bookings for leadership and strategic planning engagements.

The net result: Within 90 days that single speech generated agreements for business over 6-figures during the next 12 months. This established the foundation for serving that market for the next 15 years.

A Replicable System

At this point, you may be thinking that this was a special situation and wondering if it can be repeated. The truth is that it can because it is based on a simple 7-step system:

  1. Listen to the client — Ask questions, probe for more information, and focus more on learning about their needs than selling yourself. This creates the foundation for success.
  1. Respond to their needs — Customize your program and your approach to meet (or better yet exceed) the expectations of the person hiring you. This creates shared ownership of the outcome.
  1. Understand the audience — Invest time to speak with and learn about audience members. This provides a clear pathway to connection because you are sharing their stories and using them to illustrate the key points of your message.
  1. Prepare judiciously — Put in the time to prepare the right presentation for that audience at that time, and rehearse it well. Ensure that you deliver it perfectly. This creates raving fans.
  1. Share relevant stories — Replace your trusted stories with actual stories from the industry and from members of the audience. This makes you an insider and that leads to more opportunities.
  1. Follow-up quickly — Do what you say you will do and take immediate action to follow-up. This differentiates you and secures additional business that others miss.
  1. Leverage feedback — Listen to feedback and ask permission to capture and share it. This deepens your relationship and creates advocates who help you grow your business.

Approach your business using these 7 steps and it will take everything you do to the next level. These 7 steps can provide a solid foundation for building a 6-figure business in a relatively short period of time.

What challenges do you face in your speaking business?

Dr. Michael Hudson is a teacher, speaker, writer, facilitator, coach, & ideapreneur. He helps people discover their vision, write their story, and speak their vision into existence using his proven VisionSpeaker™ System. Text HUDSON to 33444 to receive your free copy of Michael’s ebookThe 3-Step Roadmap to Start, Run, & Grow Your Speaking Business.

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  • Great article. I especially liked where Dr Hudson sought out audience members to better understand and tailor his message to them. So simple and common sense and I’ve never done it. Good early morning reminder that you can learn new things every day.


    • Thank you for the kind words Scott. I’m delighted that the idea of connecting with audience members before events caught your attention. It is a real game changer that is well worth the time and effort. The insights and stories you’ll get from those conversations (and I recommend conversations versus surveys or impersonal approaches to gathering the info) will be invaluable in positioning you as both knowledgeable and caring for the audience.

  • Thank you for the clear directives. I’m posting the 7 steps on my desk as reminders.

    • Thank Dennis. I’m honored that those 7 steps will find a prominent place on your desk…I know they will serve you well as you take your speaking business to the next level in 2016 (and beyond).

  • Thank you Michael, for a very clear and valuable article. You were generous to share it with us!

    • Thank you Ray! It was a pleasure and a privilege to be able to share this information with your readers.

  • I’m glad to hear someone say listen to the client. So little businesses put the client in the loop. Listening to what he want and changing accordingly.

    • Thanks Moshe…I’m with you on this 100%…listening, responding, and delivering based on engaging the client is the KEY to creating an impact with any audience, and it doesn’t add as much time to the process as people think it does. In fact, I would argue it shortens the preparation time because you don’t have to guess what they want, wonder what they know, or debate what they need to hear–because they told you when you asked.

  • DeVaughn

    My issue is getting guilted into speaking for free. I seem to appeal to groups who can’t or at least claim they can’t pay or promise they will and never do. How do you get out of that cycle and make your presentation appealing to groups who can and will pay for your services?

    • Thanks for sharing your concern DeVaughn…I know you are not the only one facing this challenge as you look to build your speaking business. In fact, I am fairly certain every speaker has gone through the ‘will speak for chicken’ phase and the ‘our audience really needs to hear your message, but we don’t have any budget to pay you’ phase.

      You recognize the key challenge in your comment – making your presentation appealing to groups who can and will pay for your services. And though this may feel a little personal, the first place you have to create that perception of the value you provide is in your own mind.

      One way to start is to make a list of the benefits that you provide the audiences to whom you speak. Map this out on a sheet of paper or in a blank document on your computer by answering these questions:
      1. What are the key takeaways that you provide to your audiences? How do these change their lives, make them more effective or productive, make their lives easier, etc.?
      2. If/when they take action, what benefit do they realize and how can it be measured? Is there a way to put a dollar value on it?
      3. What will it cost audience members if they don’t learn the lessons you share? Will they struggle for success because they don’t know what you can teach them? Will they have personal, family, or business problems? Will they make less money, be less happy, etc?

      Once you complete this list make a second list of the things that people say to you when they ‘guilt you into speaking for free.’ These objections are things you need to create responses to so that you can pushback in a way that is logical and that focuses the conversation on the benefits the audience will get if they bring you in.

      Use the two lists to ‘script’ the conversations you will have when people call you – have your go to script ready when they raise the objection and teach them the value of what you deliver to their audience.

      Then, and this is the most important step, rehearse these conversations so that you are comfortable delivering the information and so that it comes across as a business practice, not an on the spot reaction. I recommend using a recorder and asking yourself the questions (aka the objections from your list) and then answering them leveraging the benefits from your first list.

      It will take time and you will find it easier as you go. But the first step is to start saying NO when someone asks you to speak for free and get comfortable walking away. You deserve to be fairly compensated for the work you do and you should be comfortable sharing that with the person who is booking you for the event. When you believe that and can share how your message will impact the audience, it will become easier to get booked for the fee you are seeking.

  • Michael, this is a beautifully crafted article. But above all, you have blown my mind on what is possible. I have been shying away from speaking. But you have given me the impetus and clear steps I require to build my leadership coaching and communication business. I will definitely head over to your website for more. Thank you!

    • Thanks you Kimunya. I appreciate your kind words and am delighted that the post resonated with and inspired you to take action. Here’s to your success in building your leadership coaching and communication business!