10 Ways to Become a Paid Speaker
To turn you into a better public speaker, I’m not going to tell you to stand up straight, avoid verbal “fillers,” speak clearly or abstain from reading from your slides. That was probably on your group-presentation rubric back in high school.
Instead, I want to focus on what differentiates a volunteer speaker from a paid speaker. Your value isn’t only what’s listed on your LinkedIn profile, but also in the delivery and branding, and the experience, you give your audience.
Here are ten tips to help you start charging for your speeches.
1. Solve a problem.
As a speaker, you could go onstage and share a thrilling story about how you jumped off a cliff and built a parachute on the way down. Yes, that’s a cool story, and it would be a hit at parties. But your audience is there to be taught and inspired. Therefore, you need to ask yourself, “What problem am I solving?” If you share the story about jumping off the cliff and building that parachute, follow up with the importance of thinking on your feet and taking risks. As you create content for a speech, always think about what it’s going to solve.
2. Tell a story.
That said, your first instinct — to stand onstage and tell people how to live their lives but not connect to what you’ve done in your life — probably won’t end in a standing ovation. For example, a part of my speech deals with failure therapy and moving past rejection. I give the example of how, when I was in sixth grade, I submitted a poem every day for two months to Chicken Soup for the Soul.
One day, I got a letter in the mail saying that one of my poems was going to be published and I would be paid $75 (which for a sixth grader was basically like winning the lottery). When I told my friends and family I was getting published, I left out the minor detail that this had been my 65th attempt. Even though I had been rejected dozens of times, I only had to be right once.
Using this story not only has entertainment value, but teaches my audience through example rather than just a litany of lessons.
3. Have some one-liners ready.
Nowadays, most audience members have their phones out during a speaker presentation looking to tweet or post something they’ve learned, which is a great opportunity for you to get social media exposure. Therefore, you want to make this as easy as possible.
Figure out what the “one-liners” are in your talk. For example, I talk about the first day I started my company and my only order was from my mom. I was confused because I had all the plans in place, I had the vision, and my website was live. But I learned that, “It’s not about what we do when we dream. It’s about what we do when we wake up.”
This is always the most tweeted line of any presentation I give. I put this exact line on a slide with my Twitter handle below it and click to it as soon as I start saying the line. This makes it simple and easy for an audience member to take out his or her phone and tweet away.
Another trick is possible if you know a conference staff member will be actively tweeting your talk. Send him or her your one liners ahead of time and the approximate time they’ll be said. Not only will your most popular lines be tweeted, the conference will love how organized you are.
4. Offer some laugh lines.
One of my good speaker-friends, Jeremy Poincenot, became legally blind at the age of 19. He’s now the Blind Golf Champion of the world and shares his story through professional speaking. Sure, he could make his talk super depressing about how he once had 20/20 vision and then suffered when it was stripped away from him one day in college.
Instead, he makes his story inspiring but funny. He’ll share stories about his thinking he had a scratch on his car and starting to wipe it off before realizing it was bird feces; at the same time, he’ll use the hashtag #BlindGuyProblems. You too might have a really inspiring story and lots of useful lessons, but if the audience isn’t entertained, you’ll most likely not get booked. Some people say you don’t have to be funny to be a speaker. I agree, but I think you have to be funny to be a paid speaker.
5. Make yours a visually appealing presentation.
Your visual aid isn’t there to help you, it’s there to help your audience. You should be able to talk without having to check what’s on the screen behind you. That said, if your slides are so simple a middle school student could create them, it’s time for a visual revamp. I like using programs like Canva.com to create visually appealing slides and infographics.
To be safe, use a black background and white font so text pops from the screen. Also, before you give a talk, check with the host and see what dimensions the screen will be so you can format your PowerPoint properly.
6. Create a website.
This should be obvious, but just in case, here it is. You should 100 percent without a doubt have a speaking website. I personally use Weebly for mine and love how simple and user friendly it is. Your website doesn’t have to be loaded with content.
But some things to include are: headshot, bio, titles and summaries of your keynotes, testimonials, video footage, social links, a contact form and instructions for booking. Once you start getting some gigs on the calendar, you can also include your speaking schedule for the next few months so people can see you’re in demand.
7. Have a video.
To think a potential customer would pay thousands of dollars for a speaker to come in without seeing this person speak is a little unrealistic, unless that person has had a killer referral. So, the next time you speak (especially if it’s on an awesome stage before a large crowd), invest in camera and audio equipment to film it.
Even better, you might learn that your host will have a tech crew filming it anyway, so be sure to ask to use the footage. I’ve done discounts on my gigs in exchange for high-quality footage. Once you have a few different videos, create a promo video or a speaker reel to put on your website and in your email signature.
8. Get testimonials.
At the end of your talk, if people are coming up to you and saying you’re the best thing walking the face of the earth, ask if you can quote them in a testimonial. If they’re super jacked about you, ask them to write a testimonial about their experience and email it to you.
In business today, reviews are your bread and butter. To thank audience attendees for writing a testimonial, I offer one of my books or one of the headbands from my company. If you’ve formed an especially good relationship with a customer who enjoyed your talk, request his or her participation as a referral for future gigs. Better yet, ask for introductions to any other organizations that might need a speaker.
I once did a gig for someone who had seen me speak before in exchange for three written testimonials and three email introductions to other companies that might need speakers. Put it in the contract, and you could get a big return.
9. Have a clear ending.
There’s nothing more awkward than a slow clap because the audience doesn’t know if the speaker is finished or just pausing. Sometimes I awake in a cold sweat and have nightmares about applause starting before I’m done (I’m being serious). So, don’t have an end slide that says “Thank you!” Have a strong, clear ending that motivates even the person texting the whole time to stand up and clap.
Unless the host asks, I wouldn’t do audience Q&A either, after you’ve finished. It can fizz out the excitement of your ending. Instead, take individual questions at the side of the stage after you’re done.
10. Create your speaker fee.
Now that you’re a problem-solving speaker with stories, one-liners, beautiful slides, an awesome website, killer testimonials, a five-star promo video and a mic-drop ending, let’s talk about the green. When a customer pays for you, you’re not being paid just for an hour of your time onstage, but for every moment and every hurdle you’ve jumped to be able to stand on that stage and inspire that audience. That customer is paying for the change you’re going to make in audience members after they walk out the door.
This is hard to quantify, so first look at the market. What are other speakers charging? What credentials can you offer that make you more valuable? For example, after I was featured on the Today Show, I raised my fee because I gained more credibility.
This also goes for publishing a book, getting a degree or being able to tout any other professional milestones. You can value yourself by how often you speak and how long you’ve been speaking for. Your fee can fluctuate over time, and depend on the nature of the opportunity (e.g., travel cost, length of time you stay, etc.)
Another good idea is to obtain representation (I use CampusSpeak for my college gigs) to handle the logistics of your talks. Depending on the individual agency, sometimes it will handle your marketing, travel and contracts in exchange for a flat fee per gig or a percentage of your speaker fee.
Good luck on the speakers’ trail!