When I was young man, I sang in a pop group. My trademark was the ability to kick my purple trousered leg high in the air. I would have a hundred teenage girls screaming and a hundred teenage boyfriends scowling at me.
I realized two things from this experience: (1) I couldn’t sing, and (2) I still enjoyed being in front of a crowd.
Many years later, I showed an Australian playwright a copy of my book “Second Spring: The Regeneration of the Jesuits,” which I had just completed. He asked if he could write a play based on the images. He also asked me if I would play the part of myself in this production — a one-man show about my life as a photojournalist.
I trained for three months to appear on stage. I was shown how to use my voice, how to stand, how to make or not make eye contact with the audience. It was basically a short course on how to perform in public, taught to me by a stage director. I was incredibly lucky to have the benefit of such an intense series of workshops.
And it came at just the right time.
A Last-Minute Substitute
As this was going on, I was asked by a friend to give a speech at a luncheon function. The scheduled speaker had dropped out at the last minute. Often around the dinner table, my friend had heard stories about my travels and the people I met in the course of my work. He wanted me to tell these stories at the luncheon.
By chance, a representative from a speaking agency attended the luncheon. He was impressed with my talk and asked if I was interested in signing a contract with his agency. I did and ever since have been speaking at corporate functions, conferences and festivals all over the world.
I once travelled around Australia speaking in a tent for a leading insurance company and then flew to Ethiopia where I spoke to aid workers.
I completed a PhD focusing on ethical issues surrounding the practice of documentary photography, and as a result I am often invited to speak at universities and photography schools. In fact, I recently spoke to students and lecturers at Nanjing University in China. The audience came from several different faculties — anthropology, sociology and, of course, media.
Sharing Your Experiences with Others
Because of what we do in our profession and the insights we gain, there are probably more people than we realize interested in what we have to say.
And the speaking circuit has its rewards. In addition to the fee that I receive from these events, I get the opportunity to sell my prints and books to my audiences. I also network with people who I would not normally have the chance to meet.
Here’s a video I use to help market myself for speaking engagements. It’s also useful for marketing my photography business.
I am sure there are many photographers who have great stories to tell and the ability to stand up in front of an audience. It is, after all, another way to make a living between assignments. And it’s a great way to talk about something we all love, photography.