Paid Presentations: How To Become A Professional Speaker

by drjim on December 8, 2008

Becoming A Professional Speaker Requires A Great Speech And Business Skills

Becoming A Professional Speaker Requires A Great Speech And Business Skills

Not everyone dreams of becoming a paid presenter; however, as we labor over a speech we have all had that thought that started something like “I am NOT being paid enough for all that I do”. Considering how many people are terrified of public speaking, if you can do it and do it well, why not give some thought to “turning pro”?

One note of caution before we start this discussion: it’s been said that in the world of professional speakers, 1% of the speakers make 99% of the money. What that really means is that it’s not just enough to be able to speak in public, but rather you also need to have good business sense.

Jane Atkinson has spent two decades working in the professional speaking business and she knows a thing or two about what it takes to be successful as a pro. Here’s are a few suggestions that she has for those who are considering trying to make some cash from this speaking thing:

  • Where Will The Money Come From? If you want to speak professionally, you are going to need to get paid. The key here is to find out who will be willing to pay you for your speech. You need to have unique information or a unique style that is going to help someone solve a problem. Once you know what problem you can solve, you need to find out who has that problem.
  • Move From Free To Fee: Everyone would like to get paid for every speech that they give from day 1, but life doesn’t work that way. Instead, what you need to do is to start your professional speaking career by giving free speeches and then the paid gigs will follow.
  • I.T.S.S.: It’s the speech, stupid! At the end of the day, it’s your speech that people will be paying to hear. It’s got to be the very best speech that you can give. What this means is that you’ve got to create the speech and then refine, refine, and refine it again.
  • Well, Aren’t You Special: If you expect people to pay to hear you speak, then you had better come up with a bio that paints you as being a special person. Your bio should clearly state why anyone would want to hire you.
  • Learn From The Pros: If you want to be a professional speaker, then you need to start spending time hanging out with other professional speakers. You will learn the most from those who are currently making a living speaking professionally.
  • Mind Your Business: Although the speaking part is what people are buying, it’s really a small business that you are running. This means that you need to be taking care of sales, marketing, accounting, etc. Lots of speakers are great speakers but end up failing because they forget to run the business.

Have you ever thought about speaking professionally? Do you know what topic you would speak on? Do you spend time with professional speakers? What have they taught you about the business? What do you think I left off of my list? Leave me a comment and let me know what you are thinking.

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{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Olivia Mitchell December 8, 2008 at 12:45 pm

Many professional speakers make at least 50% of their income from “back of the room” sales. So to make a decent income you need to develop your own information products which complement your speech topic.

Olivia

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GreatManagement December 9, 2008 at 6:01 am

I work with one of the World Champions of Public Speaking and it is all about the ‘transfer value’ of your speech.

You must think like an expert, not a speaker. Think what value do you have to transfer?

I also agree with Olivia – “back of the room sales” make a big difference to your income.

Andrew

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Barbra Sundquist, Bio Writer December 19, 2008 at 8:57 pm

You make a good point about writing a professional bio. I especially like this part:

If you expect people to pay to hear you speak, then you had better come up with a bio that paints you as being a special person. Your bio should clearly state why anyone would want to hire you.

A bio is a little advertisement for you. So think about who will be reading your bio and what you want them to know about you. Then advertise your best and most relevant features!

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Stevie King May 13, 2009 at 9:29 am

As an aspiring professional speaker I am currently trying to wrap my head around “what is a professional speaker?”. I have always felt I had the business sense but not the story to be on the platform. Through competing, and making it to regionals, in the TM international speech contest, I have seen that people do identify with my stories and that I do have some value to give an audience. I try to read anything I can relating to learning the business and this post is simple and to the point with good information I can use.

Thanks

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Dr. Jim Anderson May 15, 2009 at 8:13 pm

Stevie: oh man, have you asked a loaded question! I’ve done a lot of research on this one and talked with many folks who identify themselves as professional speakers. My #1 discovery is that nobody can support themselves as just a professional speaker (unless you are President Clinton, Tony Robbins, Suzy Orman, etc.). Instead, they create books, videos, workshops, audio downloads, etc. In all honesty, a much better term would be to say that you are an aspiring information marketer who wants to use public speaking as ONE way to communicate and earn money. There’s a whole lot more to this…!

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Valerie August 11, 2009 at 6:32 pm

I just competed training with NSA National Speakers Association- Speakers University and the Speakers who taught the classes all said the change in the Speaking Platform is changing from A Speaker to An Expert. Companies are hiring experts, and yes many of thier income is coming from other sources- products, books, CD’s, Training, Coaching, Consulting.

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Dr. Jim Anderson August 17, 2009 at 2:20 pm

Valerie: I’ve taken courses offered by the NSA in the past and I agree 100% with what you’ve found. It turns out that very few people actually can make a living from just speaking – ex-Presidents seem to do very well at this. However, the other speakers need to create and sell additional products. Being seen as an expert sure can help make this happen!

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Marty September 11, 2011 at 6:31 pm

As we all know, their are very few original ideas out their anymore. My question is can someone be paid to present on a cognitive tool that already exists?

Two years ago, I developed a very simple cognitive tool, for myself, to quickly manage overwhelming stress, create daily structure, and achieve short term and long term goals.

After some research, I discovered the exact cognitive tool already exists, and is utilized in the business world. I would like to apply this tool in several different arenas.

I am confident that my personal life story is what would make my speech unique, but the tool is what would captivate the audience. It actually works, and can be demonstrated easily with audience participation.

In addition, I had created my own PowerPoint and handout before discovering the tool already existed.

Could their be an legal issues around the fact that I am “reinventing the wheel” but sharing my material, my story, and targeting different audiences?

Thank you for your time and assistance.

Marty

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Dr. Jim Anderson September 16, 2011 at 2:55 pm

Marty: The answer is always “yes” — the story that you have to tell about how the tool changed your life is one that, if told well, others want to hear. Create a speech and try it out — see what kind of reaction you get from your audience. You’re way of looking at the tool may be different than everyone else’s and that could be what makes your message valuable. Good luck!

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Marty September 17, 2011 at 1:28 am

Dear Dr. Jim Anderson,

Thank you so much for your input and support!

Just the other day, I had the opportunity to present my version, of an existing cognitive tool, at the King County Behavioral Conference in Seattle. I spoke for an hour and a half in front of an audience of 40 plus people. They were all asked to fill out a questionnaire at the end. I was happily surprised to receive almost all “excellent” marks! This has really boosted my confidence and has given me the desire to pursue this further.

My next step, after I save some money, is to invest in myself. I want to “hang around the pros” so I can improve my speaking abilities even further. Then I will need to find support when it comes to marketing, sales, accounting, etc.

Again, thank you for your encouragement.

Sincerely,

Marty Abdo

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Sunil May 16, 2013 at 12:33 pm

OK, so I am way behind you guys on this curve! I do aspire to become a paid/professional speaker though. My strengths:

1. I have a topic that I feel passionate about. At parties, I speak pretty well on this particular topic!
2. I am a good speaker/presenter in general.

My weaknesses:

1. Writing the speech! I am a decent writer but not an expert at SPEECH writing.

I have all the material that I wish to present – in my head. Should I write my speech myself or work with a speech writer?

In short – where do I begin??

Thanks!

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Dr. Jim Anderson June 7, 2013 at 1:53 pm

Sunil: I’ve got some good news for you: speech writing is a skill that can be learned. I’ve written a lot about how to go about doing it. Check out this link in order to learn more: http://www.theaccidentalcommunicator.com/category/create

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