Get started on the long path of becoming a sought-after speaker Have you ever seen a rockstar TED speaker, or watched extremely engaging presenter at a conference and think to yourself, “Why isn’t it me up there on stage?!”
If you have, you might wonder how they landed the gig and want to know how much they are getting paid. It is natural to be curious — the moment you feel that you can be that speaker, presenter, or YouTube rock star is the moment that can change your life.
You might think that all you need to do is analyze their professional career and reverse-engineer the secret method to become an A-list public speaker yourself, right?
Wrong. I have helped people find their spot on the TEDx stage and land gigs that pay good money. I have been paid to speak locally, nationally, and internationally. It is not as easy as you may think, and the path to paid speaking is not always direct. In fact, you might be doing all the wrong things.
To save you time, I have collaborated with Andras Baneth, founder of SpeakerHUB, to collect our top 10 tips to get you started on the long (but rewarding) path of becoming a sought-after presenter, who’s not only in high demand, but also gets paid top dollar for your work.
1. Think Like A Startup.
Becoming a professional speaker doesn’t happen overnight, so you need to look at it as a startup venture. You need to think of yourself as a startup. Don’t cut the cord and quit your day job just yet. Begin by honing in on your expertise and building a plan. This should include a realistic timeline to transit into full-time speaking. Once you do that, be prepared to take a dip, which is a scary place to be. Startups don’t become successful overnight, and neither will your speaking career. But with proper expectations, planning, and grit, your risk will pay off.
2. Proper Product-Market Fit.
Persistence without active listening is just bad business. If you’ve branded yourself as a leadership speaker, but can’t seem to land any stage time, re-evaluate your positioning in the market. Riches are in the niches. Listen carefully to what is trending and seek feedback on your branding and speaking topics. As all startups eventually learn, you must be agile and ready to pivot a few times before finding the niche topic that works for you. Instead of being a general leadership speaker, narrow your topic. Try something like, “Leadership for Millennial Females in Tech” or pick a new angle altogether if you find one that works. Don’t be the speaker of all trades and master of none. Make sure you have the right ‘product-market fit’ and adapt if necessary.
3. Seek Support within the Speaking Community.
The path to becoming a successful speaker should not be a lonely journey. There are thousands of speakers out there, but you should not feel like you are in competition with all of them. Many professional speakers remember how hard it is to get started, and if approached strategically, could be major allies along the way. There is high value in sharing ideas, providing feedback, and building a strong network of speakers. If you don’t know where to start, join the Need a Speaker, Be a Speaker LinkedIn group, check out various Facebook communities, join a local Toastmasters club, or simply reach out to fellow speakers in your area.
4. Speak For Free.
Don’t be fooled by the price-tag — an event that doesn’t offer a fee may still be an amazing platform to jumpstart your speaking business. When you are establishing yourself, saying ‘yes’ to free requests is one of the fastest ways to gain experience and credibility. “Exposure” is the most common bargaining chip event organizers offer, but there is more than meets the eye: you may be able to do back-of-the-room book sales, land a consulting assignment, direct listeners to your online course, or get a superb video recording that you can leverage for future speaking opportunities.
5. Keep Applying.
Event planners, especially those in charge of high-profile conventions and large conferences, tend to get dozens or hundreds of pitches when they put out a call for speakers. By understanding the psychology of choosing a speaker, you can ‘hack’ the process to your advantage: crafting a killer title and talk description and having a trustworthy speaker profile with videos, endorsements and other credentials will all play a role in getting picked. As the saying goes, luck is when preparation meets opportunity, so make sure you do your due diligence, and things will work out sooner rather than later.
6. Position with Passion.
Subject matter experts are easy to find, but experts who speak because of their passion for their topic are few and far between. Your strategic goal should be to brand yourself in becoming one who has a deep understanding of a topic, is able to add inspiration to it, and has the right speaking skills to tie it all together. Only those at the intersection of these three elements will be successful, and once you master this mix, you’ll be on track to become a well-positioned, professional speaker.
7. It Only Takes One.
If someone invited you to speak to a group of 8 people, would you accept? And if you were told that these eight are actually Apple’s board of directors, would it change your mind? Size doesn’t matter: quality, profile, relevance does. Ever so often, you only need one or two audience members to be so impressed by your message that you get positive word of mouth referrals. Keep your ego in check and bring your A-Game to every presentation.
Businesses, including your speaking business, will not take off quickly. You must consider this when planning your financials, investment in the collaterals, marketing, and content. In the beginning, you will not be able to charge much for your talks (if anything at all), but you can keep increasing your fee as the positive feedback kicks in. It may not result in a hockey-stick growth, but once you write a book and/or create online content that generates revenue while you’re asleep, you’re pretty much set.
9. Your Network is Your Net Worth.
Hiring a speaker is based on trust, and trust is based on human connections. Whether it’s on Twitter or small talk at a cocktail party, making connections is a crucial part of a speaker’s strategy. Create a mailing list, curate content in your niche, reach out to business executives and association managers, and be a helpful asset to their work. As long as you’re strategic about the events you attend and online platforms you use to position your thought leadership, your online presence will reflect the persona you want to be known for. With these elements in place, the only thing you need to do now is continue to focus on your personal brand.
10. Build Your Personal Brand.
Develop your personal brand, get featured in major publications, grow your social media following and you will find yourself on the radar. Your online presence can easily be a friend or foe: be conscious about how your website and your speaker profile shows up in a Google search, which articles you’ve authored get listed, and if there is any negative feedback about your performance that may hurt your brand. You should seek to be viewed as a top expert in your niche. Over time, with a strong brand you will be top of mind for your topics when event organizers are looking for their next keynote.
There are many other lessons to learn about becoming a professional speaker. You may have some easy wins or some long-fought battles — these top tips were collected to give you an idea of what to expect. Success rarely “just happens”: it takes skill, training, practice, and continuous improvement to build a booming speaking business. Share some of your learning lessons on your path to becoming a professional speaker that actually gets paid!
Do you have any other tips to add to this list? I would love to hear them as comments!