How to Become a Professional Speaker: Tips on Getting Started

By Adam Witty

Speaking in front of a targeted audience of peers and potential customers is one of the most powerful tactics in creating and building your authority, establishing your brand, and securing your place in the market.

But as successful as you are in your business, unless you’re on the speaking circuit A-list, you can’t sit back and wait for event planners to call and offer you a spot at their next event. Booking a speaking engagement in front of the right audience requires a certain amount of work.

How often have you gone to a conference and thought you knew more than the speaker? Why weren’t you the one up there speaking to the room full of business influencers and future clients? There are a lot of successful business people who are puzzled as to why they’re not getting more opportunities to speak.

As somebody who has spent more than a decade advising people how to forge their authority through a variety of tactics, including speaking, I’ve come to some conclusions.

A major factor is most people are not well-marketed as speakers. Google an entrepreneur’s name and you’ll land on their company website. Dig a little deeper and you’ll find their bio under the “Management” heading or on the “Founders” page. If organizers are looking for someone to speak from that specific organization, then that might be good enough. But generally organizers are looking for a stand-alone personality, an experienced expert in their field and a proven speaker.

This is why I encourage people to distinguish themselves as an authority with a personal website—a distinct place where they can be featured as a dynamic thought leader and speaker. Having a personal website connotes a whole different brand than being part of a corporate website.

Setting up a personal website

Here are the three key assets you should have on your website:

A speaker’s kit. This is a two- to four-page PDF attachment that can be downloaded or sent to those requesting more information about you as a speaker. This includes your bio, three to five popular keynote topics you can speak to, logos from past events and media appearances, and quotes from people who have heard you speak. If you have any media, include that in there. Show them that you’re a big deal!

A promotional speaker’s reel. This is a highlight video that establishes you as an entertaining and thoughtful speaker. Such a video is typically two to four minutes long and provides highlights from several different speeches. Think of it as a “Best Of” reel.

A raw 10 to 20 minute unedited video of you on stage giving a keynote speech. This is being requested more and more frequently by event planners. Are you engaging? Informed? Relatable? How does your audience respond? Event planners want to see that.

You’ve probably picked up on the Catch-22 conundrum here. You need video of yourself speaking in order to secure a speaking gig, but you need a speaking gig in order to create the video.

Booking your first speaking gig

So let’s break this down. How do you make this happen? Where do you speak? How much do you charge? Let’s start with that last question.

Nothing is the answer. Start speaking for free. This allows you to gain experience and develop those visual assets we just discussed: the video and pictures. Once you have established authority, you can slowly start charging a speaking fee.

Now let’s tackle the other question: Where?

If you perceive your first speaking engagements not as income-producing, but as investments in your future—an opportunity to gather the assets necessary to have a viable, impressive speaker sales kit—then the “where” in the equation becomes broader. Here are some ideas:

  • Universities—Contact the dean of the appropriate department at a local university and offer to be a guest lecturer. In lieu of payment, ask if the school can video the presentation. Universities usually are equipped to do such things.
  • Chambers of commerce and Rotary Clubs—Most chambers and Rotary Clubs organize recurring events for their members, such as monthly luncheons, quarterly breakfasts, or other networking programs. They are always looking for engaging speakers.
  • Local businesses—Approach the HR departments of some of the larger local companies and offer to share your knowledge with their employees. It could maybe be a brown bag, lunchtime session.
  • Libraries and community centers—If you can share information on a topic that’s relevant to its members, you’ll be welcome as a speaker.
  • Networking events—Is there an organization like 1 Million Cups, the entrepreneurial education and engagement program, in your community? If not, maybe there’s something similar.
  • Your clients—Don’t forget to go right to the source. Ask your clients what groups they belong to and whether they accept outside speakers.
  • Other speakers—Reach out to other professionals who have spoken at appropriate industry events. They can tell you where to look and hook you up with connections that should come in handy.

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Thinking before you speak

And finally, here are some useful tips:

  • Do the research—Before you approach an organization to speak, make sure what you’re offering is specifically relevant to the organization and its members.
  • Be aware of timing—If you’re in an industry where your expertise is particularly timely, coordinate and focus your outreach around that calendar. For example, tax lawyers and accountants would be of particular interest around tax time. Financial planners would be relevant at the beginning of a new year, when corporate and personal budgets are being designed. Health and wellness professionals? Tap into the “new year, new you” feeling at the start of the start of the year.
  • Present a complete package—Many of the places you’ll be reaching out to are not-for-profits with limited staff and resources. The more complete and well-thought-out your presentation is when you offer it, the more attractive you’ll be. If you present an attractive package on a silver platter, a group can’t say no. Another option: Consider teaming up with two or three of your peers to create a panel in your particular field.
  • Differentiate yourself—Yes, I know you’re special and you know you’re special, but to event organizers, you’re another email in their inbox. Focus on what you can offer that distinguishes you from all the other professionals who are vying for the same speaking slot.
  • Video every speaking opportunity, however small—If you can’t use it for your reel, you can study and learn how to better your presentation.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Speech is power: speech is to persuade, to convert, to compel.” Without a doubt, speaking is the most effective way for people to see how awesome you are and for you to grow your business. Take the time to create a smart campaign. It’ll be worth it.

RELATED: Lessons on Public Speaking from 12 Superstar Entrepreneurs

About the Author

Post by: Adam Witty

Adam Witty is the founder and CEO of Advantage | ForbesBooks, the authority marketing specialists. Working with business entrepreneurs and professionals to elevate their brands and grow their businesses through publishing, he has built the company into one of the largest business book publishers in America, serving over 1,000 members in 40 U.S. states and 13 countries. Adam is also a sought-after speaker, teacher, and consultant on marketing and business growth techniques for entrepreneurs and authors.

Company: Advantage | ForbesBooks
Connect with me on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

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