Twenty-five years ago Dottie Walters wrote a shopper's column in a rural weekly newspaper in Southern California. She promoted it by speaking occasionally to luncheons on the subject of customer relations.
One day after she presented a speech to the Redlands Chamber of Commerce, a person came up to her and asked, "What do you charge to give speeches elsewhere?"She had never even considered giving speeches for money, but the result was the Walters International Speakers Bureau, with more than 14,000 full-time speakers available to give speeches on a variety of topics all over the world.
Walters herself became a world-class paid speaker. She speaks about customer relations and about a new book she has written with her daughter, Lillet, titled "Speak and Grow Rich," published by Prentice-Hall. On Friday, Nov. 16, Walters is giving a Toastmasters seminar on that topic in Salt Lake City.
The idea for a speakers bureau is not new. The Redpath Bureau of Boston was one of the earliest and featured such illustrious speakers as Charles Dickens, Mark Twain and Ralph Waldo Emerson. Emerson drove his carriage to performances and charged $5 per engagement, plus oats for his horse.
Speakers contracted by Dottie Walters make a lot more than that - anywhere from $1,000 to $25,000 per speech - and some, like Ronald Reagan, make $60,000 per speech. According to Walters, many professional speakers earn as much as $800,000 per year, with all travel expenses paid.
Last year there were 1.65 million major conventions within the United States, according to the tourist and convention bureaus. Many of these cover several days and use up to 100 speakers of all kinds on any number of different topics.
Walters says these conventions "are becoming the greatest adult education system in the history of the world."
Some speakers work in costume. There may be a demand to hear from Albert Einstein, for instance, so a speaker who can work in costume and stay in character may be very popular.
Walters' advice for aspiring speakers:
"Start speaking free in your own area. Practice - that's what it takes. Study the audience. Get a little recorder that clips on your belt and record your speech. Listen to yourself and the audience and find out how they react. If you notice a lull or an unfunny joke - fix the problem. Get a drama teacher to watch you and rehearse with. You will get better and better. When a person in the audience comes up and says, `What would you charge?' then you know it is time to become a paid speaker."
Walters does not train speakers - she takes people who are ready for the circuit and books them. Anyone who thinks he or she is ready for such a charismatic career can invite Walters or one of her representatives to attend the speech, if it is given in the Los Angeles area. The speech becomes a showcase and, possibly, the beginning of a speaking career.
Normally a speaker can expect very little in start-up costs - under $1,000. Then he or she adds materials as the career grows and the speaking fee grows progressively higher.
"Harvey McKay," says Walters, "who wrote `Swim with the Sharks,' a best-selling book about business success, owns an envelope factory. He talks about what he knows and earns $25,000 a speech. Victor Kiam of Remington turned that business around when it was going bankrupt. He gives speeches about turning a business around.
"That's what we need - real people who can talk about what they know. We don't need theory. We need practicality. We don't need a professor who only knows the classroom. We need someone with experience in the world."
Can anyone become a good speaker?
"Speaking is a skill. If you put your mind to it, you can do it," Walters says. "If you speak about who you are and what you know. After that it is practice - people in any field who say, `What if I could go beyond this speech and get paid?'
"A good speaker needs passion, purpose and valuable information," says Walters.
Walters is sure the world could accommodate many more than 14,000 speakers.
"This business will become the biggest business of the decade! You can not only give a speech all over the United States and Canada - but you can go to London, Brussels - all over the world - with all expenses paid. Not only can you earn big money as a speaker, professionals and business owners can promote their businesses or establish themselves as experts in their field through speaking."
If Walters if right, some Utahns experienced in speaking - on church-related or other topics - may be about to find big money on the tips of their tongues.
Dottie Walters' seminar, "Speak and Grow Rich," will be at the Salt Lake Hilton from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. Friday, Nov. 16. The seminar, sponsored by Toastmasters District 15, is open to the public. The cost is $295 for the First person, $150 for the second, and admission includes albums and written materials.
To Contact the Walters International Speakers' Bureau, write to P.O. Box 1120, Glendora, CA 91740, or phone 1 (800) 438-1242.