Article Category: Speaker Habits

How to Get Started as a Professional Speaker: 6 Key Steps

How many times have you sat in an audience and thought to yourself: “Man, I’d like to be up there!”

Perhaps you’ve given a few presentations and you find out that you’re pretty darn good at this speaking thing. Maybe you join Toastmasters and rise to the top of your club. Some time goes by and you start thinking “I can make a living at this. Imagine getting paid to speak!

You decide to go for it.

So what’s next?

Here are a few broad steps that you can take to get started in the world of professional speaking:

  1. Pick a Lane
  2. Be the Expert
  3. Get Good
  4. Set Up Shop
  5. Creating a Great Promise
  6. Develop a Marketing Program

If you want to get paid well and be known as the expert on one thing, then pick a lane.

-- Jane Atkinson

1. Pick a Lane

The first step along your journey must be to “pick a lane.”

You need to choose a topic area to focus on, based on your expertise. Now you might say, “but I have several speeches that I’m very good at – how can I choose just one?”

Ask yourself this question: “What do I want to be known for 5 years from now?” If you don’t want to be known for anything and don’t care much about getting paid, then by all means continue with all of your speeches.

If you want to get paid well and be known as the expert on one thing, then pick a lane.

2. Be the Expert

When launching into a career as a professional speaker, many people make the mistake of thinking of themselves as just a speaker. In the big picture, however, you are the central cog of a company that helps to accomplish something.

Whether you help people manage their time better, lead others, get motivated, or be educated on the economy, your company should have a mission.

You should think about speaking as just one of the channels which you use to distribute your knowledge. You might also write books, consult, coach, run teleseminars, host retreats, etc.

The key is this: when you think about yourself, don’t narrow it down to professional speaker; be the head of an empire that helps people in your lane of expertise.

Remember that you can’t fake it. Your expertise must be real and credible. If you aren’t there yet, go out and develop your expertise before pursuing this path.

You should think about speaking as just one of the channels which you use to distribute your knowledge.

-- Jane Atkinson

3. Get Good

Winning a speech contest is a step in the right direction towards getting good, but it doesn’t mean that people are going to pay you.

The real test to knowing when your speech has “made it” is when someone comes up to you after your presentation and says “I’d like to book you to speak six months from now in Las Vegas.”

When spin-off, which is king in our business, is happening on average 2-3 times after every engagement, then you can stop working on your speech. Until then, work the speech. [Ed.: spin-off refers to a future speaking engagement you gain as a direct consequence of your present engagement]

Make a Splash into Professional Speaking4. Set Up Shop

The speaking business is like any business. If you don’t have an entrepreneurial bone in your body, you may be in for hardship.

To get started, you need cash flow – start up capital. If you are starting on a shoe string, then you are going to find it more difficult. That said, with today’s technical world, things are a bit more possible.

For instance, you can use a blog as your website and manage it yourself. If it looks professional enough, then you might be able to save the costs of setting up and managing a website which can creep into the thousands depending on your supplier.

The key is to be able to communicate what you can do for people within 15 seconds of their arrival to your site. In our ADD web world, you don’t have long to impress someone. [Ed.: ADD = attention deficit disorder]

If they don’t see what they are looking for, they will abandon your website in a heartbeat.

5. Creating a Great Promise

The promise statement is the key to communicating your value to your prospects.

It’s like a tag line and would go on your website and marketing pieces. In five to nine words (less is more), the promise statement tells prospects what they will get by working with you.

For example, a speaker who delivers programs on team-building might create a promise “Helping Teams Win in a Competitive Field.”

You can work on making your promise more clever or reflective of your personality, but the real key is to show the outcome and the value, and to get that decision maker to lean in and say “Yes, we need that!”

6. Develop a Marketing Program

In my opinion … it takes 3 years to launch a professional speaking career.

-- Jane Atkinson

Now obviously I’m simplifying here, but once your website is up, you’ll want to create a flow of traffic to it.

You’ll want to choose industries that would be a good fit for your message and start a marketing campaign that will allow you to position with those groups as an expert.

I often recommend to my clients that they start a twelve month marketing calendar. The goal is to develop a list of followers by having people sign up for something on your website. Then to stay in touch with that list on a regular basis so that when they have a need for your expertise, you are top of mind. A few marketing ideas are:

  • developing articles for your target markets
  • postcard campaigns
  • e-mail campaigns
  • direct mail
  • utilizing social media
  • teleclasses

In my opinion (which comes from 20 years of working inside this field) it takes 3 years to launch a professional speaking career. Of course, there have been a few exceptions. But if you are determined to dive in and earn a living in the world of professional speaking you’ll need to pick a lane, establish your expertise, get good on the platform and develop a consistent marketing campaign.

And if you do all that and show your clients the outcome that they will get by working with you, then you will be on your way to becoming a wealthy speaker.

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Comments icon5 Comments

  1. carol says:

    finding your lane is very much like finding your own niche. I would like to add that public speaking is not all about money and fame but to be an effective public speaker, one must be very passionate about his or her work or their so-called “expertise”.

    thank you. this is a great post. I find it very helpful. 🙂

  2. Allyncia says:

    Its so true that we have to focus at what we are good at and then, I see the challenge of today’s economy is to prove we can take on more.
    Good article! Focus is crucial to building one’s personal brand.

  3. My only thought to add to this great article is always remember to speak with your own unique passion, your audience will feel it and be moved by it.

  4. High Ballou says:

    Thanks for this step-by-step explanation of a very important topic. I am sure many others have also received benefit from this plan.

    Hugh Ballou

  5. Hello, I just found your site, and I thought you could be a perfect fit. We get speakers booked to talk at events, conferences, and keynotes and with content like yours, I know I can definitely help out. Do you mind if I send you some quick information, would love to be apart of you vision!

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