So what does it take to become a professional speaker? (that means, you actually get PAID to speak…)
Here are a few things to consider about whether or not speaking professionally is right for you. There are many people online who sell programs that say that speaking is easy and pays the big bucks – but I want to be real with you. There can be ease in the process of building your speaking biz, but it’s just like starting any other company. There is a learning curve. And a personal investment of time and resources will be required. Most folks starting a business wouldn’t call it easy.
When I started speaking professionally in 2002, I was not known. I was not a subject matter expert. I was 22 years old. I had very little money. I was in the midst of a personal crisis, having lost my friend to a random homicide, followed by 9/11 happening just 3 months later. (I commuted daily to the World Trade Center, so this tragedy directly impacted my life.)
It was a terrible time to launch a speaking business…or perhaps the best time. I wanted and needed to speak, in hopes that sharing info about violence, safety and self-defense could keep women and girls lead safer lives. I felt compelled to learn, and compelled to teach.
And it worked. Beautifully. For 12 years I grew my company Girls Fight Back from being just me, to a team of speakers based around the world giving the live seminar. We worked with multiple speakers bureaus in different markets, as well as represented ourselves to sell the program. We reached over a million women in live events in under a decade, and many lives were changed by the information we shared.
Really, it was the best of both worlds. We made money, AND we made change. All of it accomplished via public speaking.
While I hope your start-up story is less tragic than mine, perhaps something you have learned or experienced is what has you feeling compelled to speak to the masses. If you’re reading this, and have something to share – know that nothing will ever replace the power of one person standing up and speaking their truth to a room full of witnesses. (even if the room is small at first) And it’s even more awesome when it becomes your JOB to effect people in this way.
So here are 5 tips to get you started on your path to speaking professionally…
#1: Give yourself permission to be authentic on stage.
As John Mayer sings, “Say what you need to say.” Allow yourself to be the authority on your topic. You are one of a kind, and no one can say it like you. Just as with most things, we are our worst critics and the critic might say you’re not ready, not good enough, not experienced enough. But push through, and apply step #2, which is…
#2: At first, speak to anyone who will listen.
Don’t be picky who you say it to – offer to speak at schools, nonprofits, reading clubs, for your co-workers during the lunch break, at your dad’s retirement home, etc. Don’t be a diva, just be a relatable person who goes into the engagement wanting to leave an audience better than you found them. Take advantage of these events to have fun, experiment with jokes and play with new material. See what connects, what lights up faces, what gets people laughing, when people are scrawling a lot of notes…then keep the good stuff and ditch the fails. And guess what? The best way to get booked to speak, is to speak. (Most of my bookings stemmed from someone seeing me speak somewhere else.)
#3: Testimonials can be more valuable than dollars.
After reading number 2 above you might be thinking, “Well yes, but they can’t pay me.” That may be true at first, but they can do other things. I firmly believe in “no fee” gigs, meaning money is not exchanged but appreciation or reciprocation is somehow shown. If you ever want to have marketing materials created or bureaus to consider representing you, you will need things like testimonials and references. Start seeing value in more than just the green stuff, and you’ll go a long way. That said, as you go pro, you deserve to be paid. So when it’s time to start collecting a check, be strategic about pricing and no-fee gigs, both early on and as you grow.
#4: Practice what you preach.
While some people make their 100% living on just speaking, I don’t recommend it for several reasons. First, you want to diversify your business in case speaking gigs dry up for a stint. But also, it’s important to stay relevant in the field you are speaking about. Speakers should be experts in their field, and it will be difficult to remain an expert in our rapidly changing world if you’re not a participating professional in that realm. So be known for something. Do awesome stuff. Then speak about it.
#5: Get representation with a speakers bureau.
Can you be a paid speaker without representation? Absolutely. But it’s a hell of a lot easier to be represented by someone whose job it is to sell you. The job of a speakers bureau is to be the broker of great speakers to meeting planners, and it’s a huge industry in the USA.