The Business of Public Speaking: Interview with Tod Maffin

business of public speaking

I recently recorded an interview with a professional speaker I’ve admired for a while, Tod Maffin. He works in the digital marketing space with private and government organizations. We crossed paths while speaking at a real estate conference last year and just now had the chance to connect. I personally picked out a ton of extremely valuable tips and ideas from our interview and I’ll share some with you below.

You can get access to the full interview in MP3 once you join The Speaker’s Life community (sign-up form is below this post). Just scroll down to the Special Bonus section of the page once you sign up. Here is some of our discussion, edited for the blog format.

What were some of your career breakthrough moments?

I would probably say that the first one was to move to the bureau my previous agent had moved to. A company called Speakers Spotlight in Toronto. They are fantastic and they kept me busier than I wanted to be. In fairness, other agencies do a great job as well, but I chose to go where I could build a strong relationship and it has served me really well.

Something else that worked very well was for me to understand the business I was in… and this is really important for keynote speakers. Especially those who want to do it professionally. People often identify themselves with having topics: I give a presentation on this, I do a presentation on that and they see themselves as mirrors of presentations with titles. That’s a great way to get started, but what helped me just fairly recently was asking myself: What am I actually in the business of? What do I do better than anyone else? And that led to a tagline that I developed which is called making the digital world human, and that helps me broaden what I can offer to companies.

I do work around generation Y, mental health in the workplace and Social media. I have done a number of presentations on different topics and they all sold really well. But then I realized what they all had in common is that they all focused around getting us back to being human again. So I think of myself less as a presenter of leading the facebook generation and more as someone who will help you understand the digital world, the people who are in it and how it can become a human medium again.


Are you a keynote man or a PowerPoint man?

Keynote all the way! The reason I love Keynote is that it actually does fewer things, but it does those better than PowerPoint. If you want 59 different graphics, 38 different shades of green and 100 different font styles, you can find a way to make PowerPoint do that. You can find a way to make Keynote do that too but I just find it smoother.

I’m going to get nerdy for a moment – part of the reason I find keynote better is that with MacOS all the heavy lifting including graphics, animations and transitions is built right into the operating system itself. So it’s really smooth. PowerPoint, with Windows on the other hand, has the graphics going with each application, making it kind of sluggish. You can absolutely tell the difference between a transition in PowerPoint and Keynote just based on how smooth and quick it is.

Keynote also protects the speaker against themselves. When desktop publishing first became available for the masses through a program called PageMaker, everyone started making newsletters on their own instead of hiring graphic designers. But what ended up coming out were these god-awful blocky, ugly pieces. The tools were rudimentary and not really user friendly, but because they were there – we all used them. Well PowerPoint has all of these and then some. Keynote is much more simplistic and in a way it kind of protects you against your bad designs.


What tips would you have for those starting in the speaking business?

Start a mailing list. It’s really important. It may be the biggest, most important thing I tell people to do. I wish I had started mine a few months prior. I use MailChimp and love them. They have great autoresponders, great service and plug into all sorts of applications. You can go to (affiliate link) and sign up.

Get a video of yourself. Hire a company, don’t just get a buddy with an iPhone and put him in the back of the room – because it’s actually worse to have a bad video to send to speakers agencies than it is to have no video. Hire a professional crew and get at least two cameras. The reason you want two cameras is so is that they can do cutaways. You want one camera on you the whole time and one to capture crowd response and different angles. This should not be a highlight reel. Every agency will tell you this. Far too many speakers have these tightly packaged 90 second reels that speaker agents will stop watching after 20 seconds. What they want is five solid minutes, uninterrupted with no edits. They want to see what you’re like in real life.

Start a relationship with an agency. Some speakers have good luck being a free agent which means they will go with any agency that books them. Some speakers say they get tons more business not being exclusive because any agency can book them. But then you’re not really friends with any particular agency. Your one of many speakers in their catalog. I’ve always done it exclusive. So if someone wants to book me they have to go through them.

Do not approach an agency until you have your video in place, on your website because you only get one shot with these people. I get asked “how do I hire an agent?” two or three times a month. It doesn’t work like that, they’ll find you. Put your best foot forward with a really good video, send them a link and ask if you can have just 3 minutes on the phone with them. Remember, the good agencies like speakers spotlight get pitched 50, 60 speakers a week.


I hope those tips are as valuable to you as they were to me! There are quite a few more in the full interview which you can get access to as part of the Speakers Life community, just look for the Special Bonus section once you sign up.


But now… are you a Keynote or PowerPoint fan?