Speaking Sells Books in the Education Market

Josh Shipp, founder of Youth Speaker University 

Here’s what I know about you.  You are a smart person.  You wrote a book, and were able to get that book published.  And you wrote that book because you had something to say.  Something you thought was important.  Something you thought would actually help people.  And because of that, your ideas and thoughts deserve to be heard by the widest possible audience.

But if you only have a book, even a book that is selling better than you expected or hoped, you are absolutely NOT reaching the widest possible audience.

And that’s a shame.

But good news my friend it does NOT have to be that way.

In 1644, an English philosopher by the name of John Milton published a small pamphlet called “Areopagitica.”  The title is taken from Aeropagus, a hill in ancient Athens where great thinkers would engage in legendary debates about the most important questions of life.  Milton’s basic premise was that life is like a giant open-air market, and ideas float around.  To Milton, in this “free market of ideas” the best ideas would naturally gain the most support.  This might have been true 300 years ago, but that was before certain ideas had the unfair advantage of amplification.  Milton couldn’t have imaged People Magazine, or celebrity endorsements, or television.  Dear heaven, if he’d seen a glimpse of “Dancing with the Stars” he likely would have gone into a deep depression and given up on human civilization.

The point is, now, if you want to get your idea out there, you need to be LOUD.  I don’t mean volume loud.  I mean, you need to force people to pay attention to you.

Let me give you an example.  A few years ago, I went to an Official State Fair in a state that will remain nameless.  Let’s just say it rhymes with Choke The Homer.  Over the course of 11 days, more than 1 million people visit this State Fair.  And over that 11 days, more than 37 million dollars is spent.  That’s a lot of funnel cakes.

As I walked around the grounds of this State Fair, I was overwhelmed a bit by both the size and the magnitude of the whole operation.  But two things really stuck out to me.

1. How crowded it was.  People were lined up all over for a chance to plunk down $5 to not win that carnival prize or get that deep-fried cheese-infused breaded dill pickle.  And the number of attractions and vendors and rides and booths was mind-blowing.

2. How hard the vendors worked to get people’s attention.  Because there were so many people and because there were so many vendors, the distraction of the average fair attendee was incredibly high.  Vendors realized that if they didn’t do whatever it took to attract attention to themselves, they’d be leaving money on the table.  One booth had a barbecue spit in front of its booth, and was handing out fresh samples of its pulled pork.  Another booth would periodically blow a whistle, and then country music would blast out of speakers and all the employees would do a short choreographed dance.  Another booth was home of the “throw’d rolls.”  Please don’t think I approve of this grammar.  When you purchased a meal, a guy in the back would throw a roll to you.  Luckily, I played baseball in high school, and was able to snag several line drives.  They were delicious.

Here’s my point: our modern society is a lot more like that State Fair that you’d think.  And just because you have the best product doesn’t mean people are going to automatically come to your booth.  You have to get noticed.  You have to have a platform.  I read somewhere that the average US attention span is now only slightly longer than the life of a tsetse fly.  Scientist blame the internet and the Kardashians for this.  You have to learn how to stand out.

And frankly this is how I’ve been successful.  Frankly, you’re probably a better writer than me.  But the secret to my success is where I found my audience.  And I built it by speaking at live events.  In the Education Market.  In schools.  In front of students, parents, and educators.  Over and over and over and over again.

Early in my career I started speaking to students, parents and teachers in schools. I just told my story of being an abused and abandoned foster kid with a dream of triumphing over tragedy. My speech challenged listeners to overcome their obstacles and live life to the fullest.

In the last decade I have given this speech to millions of people.  Literally.  And because of this, I’ve been able to sell my books because people hear me speak, are interested in both me and my content, and I’m able to serve them by giving them more resources – namely my book.  I’ve been able to positively impact millions of people and have been paid millions of dollars to do such.  You see, our industry keeps us honest.  The only way to make more money is to serve more people.  Sell 10 books, you impact 10 people and make 10 books worth of money.  But if you learn the strategies to sell 10,000 books, you’ll impact 1,000 times the number of people and make 1,000 times the money.

Recently, after digging into my business model, Inc. Magazine put me on their “30 under 30” list of successful entrepreneurs, labeling me as “the highest paid youth speaker in the world.” Even Inc. was shocked to discover how lucrative the Education Market is.

But this is not just about money.  It’s about influence and impact.  Because I actually believe my message is helpful and because I actually believe my book will help people, I don’t mind doing the leg-work to do whatever it takes to get to my audience and convince them to buy it.

Here’s what I have found: local schools are incubators of innovation, information and ideas. Every school district is committed to progress and expects its teachers and administrators to spend a quarter of their lives in formal learning. Also, schools can be culturally diverse – including people from various spectrums of race, religion, politics and economic standing. If you want to influence an entire community, schools are the place to do it.

Now I know what you’re thinking.  You’re thinking, “But my content isn’t aimed at 14-year olds.”  That’s fine.  I don’t expect you to be Justin Beiber.  The world – and the vocal chords of millions of prepubescent teens – could not handle another Justin Beiber.  Speaking in the education market doesn’t mean that you only speak to students. It also means speaking to parents, teachers, college students and mental health professionals who serve youth. There are more than 130,000 K-12 schools and thousands of universities, which means you have endless opportunities for impact.

Within 50 miles of you there are scores of schools with thousands of students, teachers and parents, gathered in a single setting with a common purpose. Starting local is a great strategy because it enables you to perfect your speech, sell books in bulk and grow yourself quickly to national prominence. As your impact grows, so does your income.

1. Define your message.  This is easy.  The main points of your book are likely what you’d say on stage.
2. Define your audience.  Who would your information have the greatest impact on?  Who would most benefit from your content?  Teachers?  Students?  Principals?  Parents?  How can you alter your message just a bit – say 15 percent – to serve an audience you maybe hadn’t thought of?
3. Define your buyer.  The buyer is different from the audience.  For example, my audience is a 17-year old, but my buyer is a 47-year old principal.  You have to market to the buyer.
4. Deliver the product.  Give your speech to your audience.  Practice for 100 hours if you need to.  Rock.  The.  Stage.
5. Leverage your book.  Look, you already HAVE a product.  You’re published.  Include 100 “free” books with your speech (for which you charge $3,500).  Schools often have budgets for curriculum which makes your speech not just an hour on Wednesday, but an hour-long kick-off to a multi-week learning process involving your book.

Not many folks can say they are living their dream. At the risk of sounding like a late-night infomercial, I must say that I am truly living mine. I have built a platform, recruited a responsive audience, positively influenced countless individuals and made a small fortune doing so.

Do yourself a favor. Visit nearby schools. Let people know that you have a powerful message to share – and watch the road ahead pave itself.

Do it for your message.  Because unlike fried twinkies, it deserves to be consumed by as many people as possible.

Josh Shipp is the founder of Youth Speaker University, a comprehensive training program for those who want to make an impact and an income in the Education Market. He is the author of “The Teen’s Guide to World Domination,” and stars in the documentary TV series Teen Trouble airing on LIFETIME and A&E. 

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