How to Build a Speaking Business

How would you like to travel the world? Make a meaningful difference in the lives of others? Get paid for sharing your expertise and life experience?

That was my dream when I walked away from my corporate career eight years ago.

My dream also had a deadline: Five years. Within five years I wanted to be consistently booking 50 live events annually and earn an income equal to what I had just walked away from in that corporate job. I promptly hired a coach (like any serious professional committed to breakthrough success does), and she challenged me to dream quite a bit bigger.

I was inspired by the vision she shared in her book, “The Wealthy Speaker”:

“Imagine you’re at the height of your speaking career. You’ve just walked off the stage after speaking to 1,000 people who jumped to their feet in appreciation of your message. The standing ovation is music to your ears and you are being paid more than you ever thought possible.

How does this sound so far?

Is it a dream or reality?

Well, right now you might think this is a dream, but it’s been a reality for many speakers that I’ve represented and the speakers who have contributed to my book, ‘The Wealthy Speaker.’ And, it can be a reality for you, too.”

My coach, Jane Atkinson, believed so much more was possible if I was willing to develop the right game plan and follow through in doing the work.

Years later I am grateful to say, she was right. We absolutely destroyed my original five-year plan, and it still feels like we are just getting started!

How can I get paid to speak?

People ask me all the time for advice on how to get paid to speak, and I’m happy to share what I’ve learned in my career as a professional speaker.

The business of public speaking and training has experienced a dramatic reset in the new economy. There is an abundance of opportunity for emerging speakers to embrace a new set of principles and tactics to capitalize on the shift in the marketplace. There is a big appetite for new voices and expert perspectives. However, one constant remains true: You have to both deliver from the platform and develop a rock-solid sales and marketing strategy to stay booked.

Here are my favorite tips to help you as you are learning how to build a speaking business.

Speak Every Chance You Get

The more you speak, the more speaking opportunities you’ll generate. The more you speak, the better you’ll get. Most people I know that speak professionally did a lot of free speaking prior to getting good enough to get paid. If you speak and immediately generate more requests to speak as a result, that is a good sign you are good enough to do the work.

Make time to Write

A bestselling book is a reliable gateway to getting paid speaking engagements. While you’re working on your book, find other ways to publish your content. Writing helps organize your thinking, accelerate your credibility and connect you to people and opportunities. This blog has certainly been a catalyst for growth in my business. The real secret to writing is that you are ultimately doing it for yourself.

Study the craft

The business of speaking has its own industry norms and quirks.

If you’d like to start with a book, I recommend The Wealthy Speaker and Confessions of a Public Speaker. The Wealthy Speaker is a valuable “how to” guide from an experienced speaker coach, and Confessions breaks down the business from the entertaining perspective of a pro. The Why Speakers Earn $30,000 an Hour excerpt offers a bit of insight into the getting paid part of the business.

You can learn a lot about the business of speaking by connecting with other speakers, via social media or associations.

I also recommend checking out the National Speakers Association. I am a graduate of both of their Professional Development programs for emerging speakers, and they have a ton of great resources for emerging and experienced speakers.

When I registered for the National Speakers Association Minnesota Chapter Speaker Academy years ago, I was working full time as an ad agency executive and in truth, the idea of getting paid to speak seemed a little far-fetched and even a bit self-indulgent at the time. However, I was keen on learning more and improving my presentation skills that were an important part of my job.

That course was the catalyst that led me down a path to completely change my career, build a new business and transform my life.

Invest In Your Speaking Business

While the barrier to entry and fixed capital costs to start a speaking business are low, the best professional speakers run their operations like any other business. That means establishing a budget and a business plan with specific and measurable objectives. That also means investing in your growth. Website. Video. Marketing. One of the best investments I’ve made is a professional coach.

Dedicate time for Selling

You have to know how to sell yourself first before anyone else can succeed selling for you. We have scheduled selling time built into the calendar every week. Third-party platforms can accelerate sales growth for a professional speaker; however, it takes time and patience to cultivate the right bureau and meeting planner relationships. It also takes a demonstrated track record of success.

Speaking is competitive. It takes practice, patience and persistence to break into the business. It can also be very rewarding and worthwhile as a hobby, part-time endeavor or full-time career, depending on what is right for you.

Your experience is unique. Your expertise is valuable. Your ideas and insights are worthwhile and can most certainly have an impact. Every opportunity to speak is an opportunity to make a difference.

Read more from the blog

And join our email community to receive bi-weekly insights with actionable tips and videos, new research, and inspiration and ideas for cultivating growth in business and life.