One of the top questions I get from entrepreneurs, experts and other professionals is “How do you go about actually getting paid for public speaking?” I turned to some of my well-respected colleagues who speak at various fee levels to get their best advice and have boiled it down to eight steps for you.
1. Speak for free.
Before you get to go pro at anything, you need to spend some time as an amateur. As Gene Marks, President of The Marks Group PC, advises, “Speak a lot for free. Reach out to your local rotary and Lion’s clubs, small chambers of commerce and networking groups. That way, you can hone your content and get lots of practice. Plus, as you get better, you can use these places as references for when you’re pitching paid gigs.”
It may seem difficult to find, but there are myriad events happening in just about every city every single day. As Scott Stratten, one of the most sought-after keynote speakers and President of UnMarketing Inc. puts it, “There is a huge difference between speaking and paid speaking. An infinite number of slots exist for free talks, not so much for paid talks.”
2. Hone your craft.
Speaking for free gets you warmed up, but if you are going to make the leap to getting paid, you need to take it seriously. Michael Port, the Wall Street Journal bestselling author of Steal the Show and Co-Founder of HeroicPublicSpeaking.com, says, “Professional speaking is a craft like acting, directing, producing or writing. The only difference is that, as a professional speaker, you must master all of those disciplines.
“You are the writer, the director, the actor and the producer. You are creating and performing a one-person show. Just having expertise in a subject isn’t enough anymore. Audiences and meeting planners expect an extraordinary experience.
“No, they don’t expect you to sing or dance, but they do expect to be entertained while you educate and inspire them. Fortunately, we see more professional speakers taking the craft seriously. Studying, training, and rehearsing all in the pursuit of mastery.”
Ramon Ray, who has been a paid public speaker for about 20 years, travelling around the world and speaking to groups of dozens, hundreds and thousands of people, re-emphasizes how important this dedication is.
“You must be an amazing speaker,” says Ray. “There are many speakers, but to get paid and asked to come back again and again, you must be highly engaging, highly informative, connect with your audience and just be darn good.”
3. Create a value add.
As you hone your craft and work through your material, think about how you’re adding value to your audience. Phil Gerbyshak, a social selling and technology trainer with Philgerbyshak.com, suggests:
“As you transition from free speaker to for fee speaker, focus on what is the new ‘added value’ you have that you can now charge for. Perhaps you have a ‘formula’ or a ‘system’ or a ‘program.’ Give it a name, and be specific in who it benefits.”
4. Get your technology and marketing materials in order.
Before anyone will hire you, they want to know how you speak and what you speak about.
Catherine Morgan, a career transition expert and speaker, says, “Not only does having the right web presence as a speaker help you get found when an organization is searching for an expert speaker on a certain subject, but once they find you, they want to see you working your magic. They hire you to keep an audience engaged, and need to see that you can hold an audience’s attention.”
Phil Gerbyshak echoed Morgan’s sentiments, emphasizing that you need to devote time to your speaker demo video, also known as a ‘sizzle reel’.
“The difference between a free speaker and a for fee speaker,” Gerbyshak says, “is how good they are on this video. More and more people expect they can ‘try you before they buy you’ by playing your video for themselves, for the committee who makes the hiring decision, and even in front of a sampling of your audience. I’ve been hired on my sizzle reel alone, as what you see is what you get.”
I personally have taken that one step further, listing not only some of the high-profile clients and companies I have spoken for, but including pictures to back that up. I have one photo right up top on my site showing Richard Branson giving me a standing ovation, which gives a prospective booker confidence in my skills.
I also suggest using keywords that relate to the types of speeches and audiences you reach and either highlights or a full speaker’s kit related to the topics that you cover and specific speeches that you give.
5. Always be marketing.
If you become an excellent speaker with a lot of experience, you may eventually get representation, but that doesn’t happen overnight. That’s why you need to go out and do the work. Reach back to organizations where you spoke for free previously to see if they have other events with budgets. Watch organizations that have meetings regularly and solicit them for future meetings.
Also, make your brand and your speaking experience known across social media. Ray says, “I’m very active on social media and use lots of video. I have two audiences; my tribe and community of people who follow the ‘Ramon Ray brand’ and then those who pay me to speak– they lurk around and definitely see my videos.”
6. Speak for a small fee.
As you transition from free to paid, be willing to take a modest fee. Barry Moltz, an active small business speaker, says, “Speakers speak. Whatever stage you are at in your paid speaking career, set your fee so you can get hired at least two to three times a month. This profession takes a lot of practice in front of live audiences. There is no substitute!”
Catherine Morgan agrees. She says she always gets career transition clients from her talks by asking attendees to fill out a form if they would like receive her newsletter and have a complimentary 25-minute phone consultation to talk about their job search.
She also suggests that, where allowed, you should “sell product in the back of the room. If you have a book or a program you can offer, that’s one way to get paid from the gig. You can also ask for the organization to do an email mailing for you as partial compensation.”
7. Set your timing expectations.
As you work on your paid speaking career, knowing the time it takes to book gigs is critical. Stratten says, “It takes time. Some committees can take a year to pick a speaker and some take a week. Also, it takes time to build stage momentum and credibility unless you’re thrust into the spotlight. I make $20,000 a keynote, but I’ve done 350+ keynotes to get here. The first 30 were free, the next 40 were for $2500 and so on.”
8. Negotiate well.
Getting paid your value as a speaker may be even more difficult than transitioning to becoming a paid speaker. This means that you need to know how to negotiate and often get creative, realizing that cash payment isn’t the only type of payment of value.
As Phil Gerbyshak says, “Be creative with your fee, especially as you’re starting out. Finding out what else they [your clients] have of value, or what else is in their budget, before turning down a no-fee gig is critically important. If you need a sizzle reel, a conference that is willing to give you the raw footage of you on their main stage may be well worth waiving your fee for. Sometimes a no-fee gig has money for training but not for speakers, or they can buy books for everyone in the audience or something else of value.”
“Also, consider that they may be able to connect you with sponsors who may sponsor your talk by having you mention them in one of your signature stories. As you’re starting out, you may need to help the event planner be creative in finding the money. However, don’t be afraid to turn down a gig if they can’t meet your value needs.”
As you progress in your experience, you will still need to negotiate. As Stratten says, “The first day of meeting planner school,you’re taught to ask for a discount. It’s just part of the business. Don’t fall for the ‘we’re non-profit’ line; it doesn’t mean they have no money or budget. I always tell them, ‘I’m happy you’re non-profit, but I’m not.’”