How to Get Started as a Professional Speaker

If you are thinking of becoming a professional speaker and you want to know where to start, then I offer you the same advice that helped me launch my speaking business many years ago.

The speaking business is not a get rich quick scheme. There are exceptions. If you are a past president of the United States, a recent Olympic Gold Medalist or an airline pilot who just landed your plane on the Hudson River then you can grab some quick and ready cash as a professional speaker. But, beware that your cache might fade quickly.

Here are the four nuggets of advice that I was told and followed to get started into the professional speaking business. My early benefactor of advice and encouragement was Fraser McAllan.

Don’t quit your day job yet

If you still have a job – keep it for awhile. Positive cash flow reduces stress and helps you make better business decisions. Cash on hand makes it easier for you to make the strategic investments in yourself and your business. Starting a new business usually means going through a period or two of negative cash flow. A successful entrepreneur who made the transition from the corporate world gave me similar advice. She said, “When you go solo have enough money in the bank to live for the first year.”

I started and operated my speaking business part time for two years while working at my corporate job. Evenings, weekends and vacations were for building the business. When I left the corporate world my business was generating enough revenue to be viable.

Get good at the craft of speaking

If you want to be a speaker you must learn how to present well. It might be a great insight, story or experience that gets you started. But if you want it to last at some point your paying audiences will expect you to get better.

Public speaking is a skill – not a talent. Don’t rely on talent. Don’t wing it. Learn the principles of presenting, practice your presentations and get coaching. You might take a course or seminar on presentation skills to start.

Toastmasters offers an effective low cost alternative to developing your presentation skills. Toastmasters is the largest and longest running non-profit organization that develops presentation skills for its members.

At some point you will need to work directly with one or more presentation coaches.

Read everything you can find on presentation skills. Watch TV, movies and theatre from the perspective of observing the presentation skills of the actors. Study them from the point of what works and why.

Speak as often as you can

Speak – speak – speak. If you want to be a paid professional speaker you will need to speak a lot – even if it is for free. Why? Two reasons. One, you need the experience and two, people need to see you to appreciate you.

While speaking you might discover that material you thought was wonderful didn’t go over so well with that audience. Don’t throw it out. Instead ask why that didn’t work so well. What might you do to adapt it?

In the beginning you might need to beg for opportunities to speak. Start with the groups that you know or who know you. Volunteer to speak for the associations that you are or have been a member of. It might be the monthly chapter meetings or the annual conference. Accept anything in the beginning. And always deliver your best presentation.

Offer to speak more at your job and in your volunteer work. Get known as “the speaker”. Offer to introduce other speakers, chair a meeting or MC a panel discussion.

There are thousands of associations that meet every month that need a guest speaker. That could be you. For example, Rotary groups meet every week and need a speaker every time. They often invite guest speakers. I spoke to many Rotary groups while developing my speaking business.

Ask for referrals and testimonials from every presentation you deliver.

Become known as an expert

Speakers are a dime a dozen. Lots of people are willing to speak for no money. Some of them are even fairly good at speaking. If you want to make real money as a speaker you must be known as an expert.

Perhaps you already know what that expertise is. Perhaps you need to do some research. If you want to be a professional paid speaker then your expertise must be something that the market is willing to pay for.

And it’s not enough to be an expert. You must be known and valued as an expert by your target market.

There are three strategies to boost your reputation as an expert:

Speak on the topic of your expertise
Write and publish
Appear in the media

You can make these strategies work if you follow a focused system for each. Do all three. Each is important.

That’s the advice I received when I started in the speaking business and I offer it to you here freely.

Good luck in your speaking business.

George Torok
Bestselling Author – Professional Speaker – Radio talk show host

PS: My mentor Peter Urs Bender said, “The speaking business is the easiest business to get into and it is the hardest to survive in.”

PPS: Time management expert and speaking colleague Harold Taylor said, “If you want to be successful in this business, stay in it for 20 years.”

© George Torok, Professional Speaker 905-335-1997

Executive Speech Coach, Business presentation tips from George Torok, the Speech Coach for Executives


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