I have been giving speeches since I was a skinny, squirmy sixteen-year-old.
Right before my junior year of college, I *accidentally* walked into a speech and debate workshop that gave me confidence, tools, and a purpose. After my first workshop speech, I knew I was hooked on the art and science of public speaking.
The first part of my career was studying rhetoric and communication and teaching others to speak up with confidence, power, and joy.
About six years ago, I realized how much I missed being on stage. While I loved supporting others in speaking up about their stories, I knew I could impact others by being a professional speaker. I had vast experience in how to craft a powerful message, teach tangible tools, and call others to action. However, I didn’t know the ins and outs of the professional speaking business.
I purchased many programs and books, listened to countless podcasts, and invested in strategic coaching. In January of 2020, I was READY to break out into the speaking circuit, and thanks to a few referrals, I booked a few keynote speeches almost right away. Because of my early success, I thought my journey to being a full-time professional speaker would be a piece of cake.
I don’t have to tell you what happened in March of 2020…
Having had all of my events canceled, I struggled to get new gigs booked, and I couldn’t decipher if it was something I was doing or if people were still in pandemic panic. So I tried it all. And I mean ALL:
- Social Media
- You name it, I tried it
Don’t get me wrong, these are all great marketing strategies that did produce results and get me booked. But the events I was getting at first were low attended, low (or no) pay. And I noticed that I wasn’t being asked to come back to events to speak.
My speaking engagements were scarce and sporadic and they didn’t yield much traction. What I didn’t know is that this is the name of the game. Until you build up a solid reputation, you are going to be on a roller coaster of emotions as you build your business. And, in full transparency, my business is not as consistent as I would like it to be. There is still a lot of work to be done.
But I have found ONE strategy that rises above all others. This is something that I do any time I feel like I am in a rut, especially if my calendar doesn’t have a whole lot of events on it. It is a strategy I knew all along, but one that I didn’t put into REAL practice until early spring of last year. My June calendar was jam-packed with events. There was one stretch where I was going to be speaking four times in two days across three different cities.
May was a barren ground for events. I had little to nothing on the calendar. So I took advantage of that. I paused in May of that year and did the following with each of my keynotes:
- Brainstormed my MAIN idea – because audiences can only really hear one
- Evaluated how I can communicate this idea through Logos, Pathos, and Ethos
- I wrote out my entire keynote speeches. Word for word. From start to finish
- I highlighted areas that I got to memorize, speak extemporaneously, and some opportunities for improvisation, following the learning
- I designed interactive activities for my audience
Then I did something that most aspiring speakers, and unfortunately, most professional speakers, resist and ignore: I rehearsed.
I don’t just mean that I looked at my notes and thought about my talks. I delivered my talks over and over and over and over. And over. I would start in the early morning. I would pack lunch, snacks, and any other hiking necessities. Then I would go on a hiking trail for two, four, six, sometimes eight hours and rehearsed and revised my talks.
Over and over and over and over.
Let me tell you. It was not fun.
It was mundane.
It was monotonous.
It was often times boring.
And it was effective.
My confidence grew. And so did my calendar and bank account.
Here is the very simple answer to how to get paid for speaking events: be a GREAT speaker.
Now, that is simple, but it is not easy. Most people think that just because they can talk, they can be a speaker. And, unfortunately, most people don’t have people who will give them direct, interruptive, constructive feedback on their speaking. So most speakers think they are great!
And ALL speakers ARE great! They all have a great message to share.
But not all speakers are effective.
And not all speakers put effort into the craft of speaking.
I will give you an analogy. Let’s pretend you are not a speaker. Let’s pretend you are a musician.
You have a great website, a GREAT social media brand, and your SEO is through the roof.
You get a call from an event planner wanting to book you!
You get booked!
Then you show up and…you wing it. You “play from the heart” and “live in the moment” as your authentic self. Yes, some appreciate it, but most will see it for what it is: a waste of time.
If you are a speaker without signature talks, you are a musician without a set list.
If you are a speaker without a regular rehearsal schedule, your skills are not going to be great. They might not even be good.
And I get it – rehearsal is long and boring and there is NO instant gratification to it whatsoever.
But keep this in mind: speaking is not about you. It is about the audience.
Yes, I as a professional speaker benefit financially for my craft. But I can’t benefit financially from my craft if I don’t work on my craft, and I can’t gain benefit from my audience unless I first benefit them.
Because after all is said and done, a speaker is not a self-serving performer. A speaker is a servant leader – one who does the hard things, the things that most people don’t want to do (like rehearse) to report back to others how best to speak up their stories.
I am still learning the ebbs and flows of the professional speaking world. But one thing has not changed: to be a successful speaker, you have to invest in the art and science of speaking.
If you are looking to go more in-depth on how to get paid speaking events, check out my video.