Profile: Getting Paid to Speak
This Toastmaster gained courage, confidence
and the ability to follow her dreams.
By Julie Bawden Davis
Like many Toastmasters, Sarah Taylor dreamed of making a living by speaking professionally. She envisioned herself another Tony Robbins – but just for an instant. After the daydream soon passed, she began thinking of how she could make a mark with her own unique brand of motivational speaking.
“It’s hard to compete with a popular generalized speaker, but it is possible to create your own motivational speaking niche,” says Taylor, a former pharmaceutical sales professional.
“Considering my background and the fact that no one else was doing it, I decided to be a motivational speaker for the pharmaceutical industry.”
In January 2004, Taylor quit a lucrative job with pharmaceutical giant Merck & Co. and opened Taylor Presentations (www.taylor presentations.com). The company has been highly successful, and she credits Toastmasters for its success.
“I earned more money in the first three months of 2007 than I made in an entire year in pharmaceuticals,” says Taylor, who is currently a member of the WWEE club in Tacoma, Washington, which she helped charter in August 2004.
“Taylor Presentations wouldn’t exist if I hadn’t visited Toastmasters in October 2002,” she says. “From the moment I walked into a meeting, I loved the organization, and it didn’t take me long to realize that I enjoyed public speaking and wanted to make a career out of it. My fellow club members were supportive and helpful and really gave me the tough love I needed to succeed.”
After reading the book Speak and Grow Rich by Dottie and Lilly Walters, Taylor realized that she could be successful as a professional speaker if she chose a promising niche.
“I looked at what I know best, which is pharmaceutical sales, and what I’m passionate about, which is health. Then I considered all of the books and information out there and saw that there is a lot said about getting into pharmaceutical sales, but nothing about how to be successful once you get into the business. I also chose the topic because I believed that it would be a desirable subject for corporations where I could command top dollar for my message.”
Taylor started her business by writing the book, Secrets of Successful Pharmaceutical Salespeople ($14.95) the first year and then began offering keynote presentations and sales training to go along with the book. Soon afterward she added another arm to the business, which is speaker training for physicians.
“I hired 14 other Toastmasters to help me teach physicians who speak about pharmaceutical products to be more effective and engaging at the lectern,” says Taylor, whose policy is to hire only Toastmasters. “We break the doctors up into small groups of about 10 each and then videotape them as they speak, giving them a formal evaluation (Toastmasters style) with video afterward.”
According to Taylor, the doctors are always amazed at the skills of her team. “My secret is that they are all Toastmasters, and they’ve already been trained,” she says. “The Toastmasters network is amazing, and I was able to find some really good people. I have two 3rd-place winners from the World Championship of Public speaking, a pharmacist, a medical researcher, and a past employee of the World Health Organization who used to speak to crowds of over 2,000 people. And this is only a smattering of the incredible talent I have found and hired from Toastmasters.”
To get the best of the best, Taylor put the Toastmasters who applied for the positions through rigorous screening.
“What was remarkable about Sarah’s hiring practices wasn’t that she hired only Toastmasters, although that in itself was a key component of her success,” says fellow Toastmaster Kyle Hall, who was hired by Taylor. “What I found remarkable was the high standard she set and how she went about getting it.” Taylor required applicants to write about their speaking and evaluating experience, then she selected 30 to interview. Passing the interview meant a trial run of presentation coaching. Those who succeeded were prepared by Taylor, personally, for this specialized industry. The process netted her a team of exceptionally-skilled speakers, trainers and evaluators.
Hall, who is a member of the Orcas Speaks club in Eastsound, Washington, was equally impressed with Taylor’s leadership skills. “Sarah is a values-centered leader and is quite good at getting a group to gel around her vision and mission,” he says.
Taylor credits Toastmasters with teaching her leadership skills. “Toastmasters gave me the necessary tools to manage 14 people,” says Taylor, who is also Vice President of membership of her local NSA (National Speakers Association) chapter. “Before joining Toastmasters I wouldn’t have had the confidence to start my own business, but the organization gave me that extra edge.”
One of Taylor’s first clients was Ja Marr Brown, who is Southwest District Manager for C.R. Bard, which specializes in medical devices. “I met Sarah at the Annual Academy of Opthamology meeting right after she had left Merck and was in the process of writing her book,” says Brown. “I asked her if she wanted to present her message and book to my sales team.”
Brown remembers being impressed with Taylor’s speech. “Sarah’s overall presentation skills are excellent. She is energetic and engaging and inclusive of the entire group to whom she speaks. Her book is equally authoritative. She did an excellent job of pulling information from people in pharmaceuticals sales about how they made themselves successful.”
One of the highlights of Taylor’s speaking career so far was her keynote speech at the American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgery Convention in April 2007 in San Diego, California. The audience consisted of 1,400 opthamologists and their staff, and the topic was how to increase the number of people signing up for Lasik.
“I was thrilled to walk into a huge convention center and see my face on posters with the title of my talk,” says Taylor. “Toastmasters gave me the courage, confidence and ability to take big risks and follow my dreams.”
Julie Bawden Davis is a longtime contributor to the magazine. Contact her at Julie@JulieBawdenDavis.com
Editor’s Note: Do you have an inspiring story of how the Toastmasters program has helped you? Tell us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sarah Taylor’s 5 Tips for Breaking Into Professional Speaking
Besides suggesting Toastmasters membership, Sarah Taylor offers the following five tips to help you succeed as a professional speaker:
1. Pick a really, really good niche. It’s hard to compete with established motivational speakers, but it’s easy if you’re the only pharmaceutical sales motivational speaker.
2. Understand that as a professional speaker, your first priority will be to sell. You will be a salesperson first, and a speaker second. More people probably fail in getting their speaking business off the ground for this reason more than any other.
3. Either be a world champion-level speaker or be a really good speaker with invaluable information. Most professional speakers wouldn’t make it to the regionals in Toastmasters World Championship of Public Speaking contest. That’s okay. A “good” speaker can still get by, as long as he or she has fabulous information that makes them highly sought after.
4. Invest in high quality marketing materials. Nothing screams amateur like a homemade business card, brochure or Web site.
5. Join an Advanced Toastmasters club. The level of feedback you’ll get at an Advanced Toastmasters club is unparalleled. Attend several advanced clubs in your area and pick the one that will challenge you the most.