In my role as a professional speaker and public speaking and storytelling coach, I meet many people who would like to get paid to speak, or aspire to become a professional speaker. I love helping people in their journey towards that dream.
I fell into a speaking career by accident when I could no longer work as a midwife. Before this turning point, I had worked for over 20 years mostly in the specialist area of neonatal intensive care. When a virus destroyed a significant amount of my hearing that was the end of my clinical career.
I became interested in public speaking during the intensive rehabilitation in learning to use the cochlear implant. I became fascinated with the art and science of public speaking and I sought out training and mentoring from some of the best speakers in the world.
In 2014, despite the naysayers declaring my madness in wanting to leave a secure job, I began the transition from employee to entrepreneur. It was a huge leap in making the decision to leave a well-paid job into the unknown world of small business.
What does it take to become a professional speaker?
Like many things we want in life, becoming a professional speaker requires a solid strategy. Before you go and hit the pavement as a speaker, think about your intention, and how you plan to leverage speaking as a tool to help you grow your business. If you are like myself and many other speakers, you may have multiple strands to your business and speaking may be one of them. If you are a business owner and speaking is not currently one of your strands, then I encourage you to start speaking, or speak more if you are already dabbling. Appearing as a guest speaker is an essential part of your marketing strategy.
Whether you are at the beginning of your speaking journey, at a crossroads, you are seeking to redefine and refresh your message, or you are ready to get paid as a speaker, consider the following four areas as part of your speaking strategy.
Become a Professional Speaker – Your Message
What is it that you want to say to the world? What is the topic that excites you and one that you have a vast amount of knowledge and experience? How would you sum that message up in one short sentence, and what is the one-word theme?
If your talk were a bumper sticker, what would it say?
One of my early mentors’ world champion speaker Ryan Avery challenges emerging speakers to think about what short message they would share if they had one day left on this earth. This exercise allows you to get focus on what matters and to find that ‘big word’.
At this stage, your message may be a high-level concept, but choose a topic that you can immerse yourself in, as you will speak about it, write about it, live and breathe it, as you are the credible expert. You don’t want it to be a topic you are going to get sick of talking about!
You may have several similar messages that you can tweak for a particular industry but to start with, pick one overall theme.
Once you have decided on your theme and idea, it is time to get to work creating your keynote or signature talk and your marketing materials.
This may be the time when you are honing your craft, practicing often and testing out your content (often for no or little payment). It’s a time for review and refinement. Here is an article I wrote about the importance of practice and how to review and improve your speaking while being kind to yourself.
Aim to speak to many different audiences and always be learning. Wherever you are on your speaking journey, there is more to discover. Think about your message as the problem that you help others solve, and how you can serve others. While your topic may not be unique, your version is original, and the opinion you share will come from your life experience and knowledge.
Become a Professional Speaker – Your Market
Who will fill the seats in the auditorium? Who will be on the other side of the screen watching your video, what type of person will buy what you have to offer? Your topic must be marketable and so do you, as your audience and prospective customers are keen to get to find out about the person behind the message.
When deciding on a topic you may consider a narrow niche and pick a well-defined ideal client, or you may cast your net wider. But most importantly you want a topic that is sellable, a talk or program that offers exceptional value, and a market ready to buy the topic and your unique perspective as a subject matter expert. If there is a flooded market with many others speaking on the same issue, ask yourself what can I say that is different?
If you are starting from scratch, you can begin by brainstorming organizations, groups and people who may be interested in your topic. Have a one-page speaker sheet that you can send out, and some testimonials and photos of you speaking.
Avoid cheesy stock images, or photos of you posing as a speaker in a studio with a microphone! You want real and natural footage and photos of you speaking to an audience. You cannot expect to be paid to speak without this marketing collateral so if you don’t yet have these things, perhaps you can speak pro-bono with the aim of getting photographs, feedback, testimonials and video footage.
Get comfortable with rejection, as not everyone will be interested in what you have to offer. Mastering the art of sales conversations is predominately about having the confidence to ask, and even if you are not getting paid you need have a handle on having sales conversations.
Most speakers fail because they don’t understand the business of speaking even, though they may be good at the craft and have an interesting topic. You may have heard a speaker before and thought to yourself “I could do that just as well (or better!)”, the reason why they are up on stage is because they understand that speaking is a business and they are competent at marketing themselves and their offer.
When you are considering what price point you are aiming for, consider what outcome you can help your clients and audiences achieve, as well as an understanding of what current market trends are. Now may be the time to work with a mentor who understands the world of professional speaking.
Become a Professional Speaker – Your Medium
When we think of speaking it is often the image of a stage or auditorium and a large crowd. There are many other ways that you can touch others’ lives with your message. For many people the idea of standing in front of a large group is exciting, the lure of international speaking may be part of your grand plan. For others, the thought of spending multiple nights in hotels away from loved ones may not float your boat, and that’s ok as there are many more options.
Perhaps you can speak virtually in the form of webinars or live streaming, or you may be interested in talking on television or making videos (every business owner should make videos to allow people to find out about you and the person behind the business).
You may be interested in radio. I think that chatting on the radio is as exciting as standing on stage; you may be speaking to one other person in the studio but think of all those listening in the car. Podcasts are growing in popularity, and as a speaker, you can offer to be a guest on others’ podcasts, or consider starting one of your own.
These are some of the many forms of speaking, and you may be keen on one, or many, or all!
Become a Professional Speaker – Your Method
What type of talk do you want to offer? Would you prefer to be a keynote speaker offering a traditional 45-60 minute presentation that is primarily delivered at a conference? Do you see yourself as a trainer or facilitator rather than a speaker, or are you all of these things?
Is your chosen topic one that you can modify for a webinar, a training workshop, masterclass or seminar? One talk can have many different uses so that you can reach more people.
If you want to branch into offering workshops in your industry, you will need to develop a specific skill set and a solid understanding of adult learning principles and a program and curriculum to meet learning outcomes. I have seen many speakers turn a talk into a training session with no knowledge or skills as a trainer. Despite both involving public speaking, they require different complementary skills. Facilitation and group coaching are another form of speaking.
The skill of speaking is different from the business of speaking.
Get the right help to become a professional speaker
There is plenty to learn about the art and science of speaking but even more to learn about the business of speaking. Working with a business coach or seeking guidance and support from an experienced mentor may be the next step for you. I recommend that you look for a coach or mentor with an in-depth knowledge of the world of professional speaking so that person can help you avoid the pitfalls and navigate some shortcuts along your journey.
Ten years ago, I would never have imagined becoming an international speaker, coach and author. Often the detours we are forced to take in life turn out to be the most scenic routes. These days I enjoy speaking, serving and sharing and as a mentor and coach helping others to reach their speaking goals.
I have a mentoring program exclusively for female speakers called She Speaks. The program is a six-month program with a blend of individual mentoring and group coaching. If you’d like to work with an experienced speaker coach and a professional speaker, then get in touch to find out how you can apply for a place on the program.