The Ultimate Survival Guide To Professional Speaking

Cece Payne

Cece Payne

Content & Graphic Design Manager - Follow us on social media to stay in the flow!
Cece Payne

Cece Payne

Content & Graphic Design Manager - Follow us on social media to stay in the flow!
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At first glance, the world of professional speaking can seem like a walk in the park. Even as a new speaker, you get to travel and share your ideas, all while earning thousands of dollars. Sounds like a dream, right?

As you’ve probably already guessed – and as any established speaker will tell you – the reality of professional speaking is much more complicated. For one thing, many speakers launch their businesses on their own. This means, on top of attending events, they also have to find opportunities, close them, and negotiate contracts. Additionally, they must continually be on the lookout for ways to improve so they can stand out from their competitors. 

If you’re at this point yourself or if you’re merely considering a speaking career, this guide is for you. In the following sections, you’ll find everything you need to know about professional speaking. 

From pros and cons to commonly asked questions, it covers everything our clients have mentioned they wished they knew when they started. That way, you can learn from their experience and start a speaking career in style. 👌

Common Reasons To Become A Speaker

First, let’s tackle the many positives of professional speaking. As far as professions go, speaking is unique for a number of reasons, including the independence you can gain by managing your own speaking business. It also tends to be one of the most public and eye-catching careers, thanks to virtual presentations and social media, making it a frequent path for those seeking to build a worldwide reputation. Below, we’ll break down these benefits along with a few other commonly mentioned “pros,” so you’ll know what to expect when your speaking career takes off.

Lucrative Pay

The first and probably most well-known benefit of professional speaking is the money. Depending on their speaking experience, personal and professional accomplishments, and sales skills, speakers make between $1,000 and $20,000 per speaking event. These fees generally include the cost of travel to and from the event and pre-event preparation. However, the exact components of a speaking contract vary from event to event, making it possible for one speaker to charge twice as much as their competitor simply because they knew how to better advocate for high fees. In fact, some celebrity speakers charge as much as $30,000+ for a single keynote based on their credibility and reputation alone. Although most non-celebrity speakers don’t charge quite that much, the same meteoric rise to profitability is possible. It’s all about providing value and motivation and building a sales mindset. 

Fame & Acclaim

Speaking of celebrities, the second professional speaking pro is the attention that comes from a speaking career. If you’ve followed any established speakers on social media, you likely already know how visible they make themselves. From their recent speaking engagements to the launches of their new products to current events in their personal lives, most speakers build their personal brands into a household name by sharing their fame on and offline. A few examples include Mel Robbins, Simon Sinek, Tony Robbins, and Simon T. Bailey. Admittedly, not every speaker will reach the level of fame as these four. But, the fact remains that public speaking makes you visible, plain and simple, and even new speakers can attract attention and praise quickly. 

International Travel

Third on our list of professional speaking pros is international travel. Nowadays, virtual events have changed the landscape of speaking to some extent, but live events remain one of the most popular, profitable forms of communication in the events and entertainment industries. For speakers, this means a reliable stream of sales opportunities and national or international travel between live events. Longterm, this can even allow speakers to build an international reputation in which they consistently serve, learn from, and collaborate with industry leaders worldwide. Considering that most speakers launch their careers because of a desire to share their ideas, this benefit is especially important. Plus, who doesn’t love getting to see new places and meet new people, all while getting paid to do so? 

Worldwide Community

On a similar note, number four of our professional speaking pros is the global network created by speakers worldwide. As a small business in the speaking industry, we work with speakers and speakers associations from around the world on a regular basis including the National Speakers Association (NSA), the International Association of Speakers Bureaus (IASB), and the Canadian Association of Professional Speakers (CAPS), to name a few. With each of these organizations and their members, we’ve gained countless insights into speaking for and marketing to a global audience. In the same way, as a speaker, joining the speaking industry gives you the opportunity to connect not just with clients around the world but thought leaders, too. That way, you can take inspiration and insight from everywhere and build your business as quickly and efficiently as possible. 

Improving The World!

The fifth and final benefit of professional speaking is the core reason for many thought leaders’ careers: making the world a better place! Behind every famous professional speaker is a message about creating positive change. For instance, Mel Robbins preaches the “5 Second Rule” and dedicating consistent time to your goals. Another example is Lizzie Velásquez who promotes self-love, kindness, and being grateful despite obstacles. No matter where you look and which speaker you ask, you can almost be certain that their main goal is to help their speaking clients – and their teams – improve in some way. Likewise, if there’s a way in which you want to make the world a greater, happier, safer place, speaking is one way you can share that mission with others. 

Common Challenges Of Professional Speaking

Besides the aforementioned pros, there are also a sizable number of cons to consider before starting a professional speaking career. Some of them are expected, such as the time necessary for global speaking appearances. However, for many new speakers, some of the less noticeable downsides tend to come as a surprise. Below, we’ll discuss some of the most persistent of these challenges, so you can avoid any surprises in your own speaking career.

Switching From Free To Paid Gigs

First and foremost of our professional speaking cons is one that traps far too many new speakers, namely speaking for free. When starting a speaking business, it makes sense to start for free in order to gain exposure or build your speaking skills. The problem comes when speakers speak for free without setting goals to increase their fees and – more importantly – without considering their own cost. In too many cases, they’re focused on helping their clients and forget that asking for payment isn’t selfish. It’s necessary and ethical, considering they’re running a business, too. As you launch your own business, keep this in mind and stay vigilant about your worth. Remember, as long as you’re providing value to your clients, requesting compensation is always justified. 

Increasing Your Speaking Fees

Second on our list of professional speaking cons is the difficulty of increasing your fees. If you’re considering speaking currently, you may already be thinking, “How do I know what to charge per event?” or “How do I know when I’m charging too little?” Unfortunately, both of these questions remain top of mind for many experienced speakers, too. They’re not insurmountable – far from it – but they are daunting, and it can be hard to find solid, actionable advice. It can also be intimidating to argue for higher fees if you don’t have a background in sales. Again, you can conquer this fear and build a confident sales mindset over time, but it takes a great deal of hard work, consistent sales efforts, and acceptance of your sales failures. Being aware of these challenges before you jump into speaking is vital. 

Finding Paid Speaking Opportunities

The third con of professional speaking is a continuous source of anxiety, even for many established speakers: finding leads. Currently, there are hundreds of places to source leads as a small or large business, such as Data Axle Genie, D&B Hoovers, and Leadfeeder. The bad news is that, when you’re looking for upcoming events with speaker openings, none of these tools apply, making sales outreach difficult and customer relationship management seemingly fruitless. The good news is that we’ve developed tools and systems to combat both of these issues, including our Intel Engine and CRM. We’ll talk more about these tools shortly. But, for the time being, keep in mind that finding leads – even with these tools – is no cakewalk. Even the most successful speakers have to put in the work if they want consistent new business. 

Tight Schedules & Frequent Travel

Moving on to our fourth con, after finding speaking opportunities there’s also the struggle of balancing your schedule. If you’re traveling between live events, you may need to travel from one event to the other without stopping at home, and you may miss family events or birthdays because you’re on a plane. Even if you’re a virtual speaker, it can be difficult to balance ongoing events with your personal priorities, especially if you’re speaking frequently in order to hit a high revenue goal in your business. All of these near-certainties can make it difficult to speak professionally if you have a young family or will be speaking as a second job. Additionally, I’m sorry to say that this “con” doesn’t truly disappear until you’re able to increase your fees and, by extension, lower your total event count each month. 

Managing A Speaking Business As A Solopreneur

Last but not least, the hardest con of professional speaking – and the reason that many speakers drop out of the industry altogether – is the time, energy, and tenacity required to run a speaking business on your own. Like most startups, the average speaking business starts with a tiny budget and a long list of “to-dos.” This includes calling potential clients, creating a website, posting to social media, starting and building a content strategy, defining a personal brand – the list is huge. Put simply, launching a speaking business definitely isn’t for the faint of heart. But, on the bright side, it isn’t impossible and, if you have the right connections and resources, you won’t have to go it alone. Again, we’ll share a few reputable tools and resources later in this guide so you can manage this “con” as easily as possible. 👍

Frequently Asked Questions About Professional Speaking

At this point, we’ve covered the top five good and bad things we’ve heard in response to, “What did you wish you’d known before getting into professional speaking?” Now, it’s time to get into the nitty-gritty and answer some of the most common questions we’ve heard from aspiring speakers since we launched SpeakerFlow in 2019. 

Hopefully, these provide some clarity for your own questions, but, if we missed any, let us know in the comments! The more information we can provide in this guide, the better, so any and all questions are welcome. 

1. How do speakers balance life on the road and their personal life? 

Because a busy schedule is almost unavoidable, especially at the beginning of your speaking career, the most impactful way you can ensure work-life balance is to be present. Block off time for work and time for personal matters, and stick to that schedule. If you’re knocking out a list of sales calls, limit distractions and focus on that task. If you’re at your cousin’s birthday party, turn off your email notifications. Then, check them for client requests when you’re next in your office. As speaker Laura Stack says, “Just because you can be constantly connected doesn’t mean you have to be… Establish a sharp divide between work time and free time. Turn off your electronics and connect instead to your social life when you have loved ones in front of you.”

2. How do speakers navigate the startup phase of a speaking business?

If you’re feeling overwhelmed with the amount of work-related to a new speaking business, ask for help! Around the world, there are organizations dedicated to helping speakers build their careers more efficiently and with less monetary waste. In North America, for example, there’s the NSA and CAPS, as mentioned previously, and in the UK, there’s the Professional Speaking Association (PSA). Wherever you’re located, find the speakers association nearest you and connect with its members. Then, see what resources, tools, and systems they’ve found to be most effective. 

Pro Tip: You can also book a free call with our team if you’re looking for immediate information and coaching. We’re all about connecting speakers – new and established – with up-to-date, valuable information and connections. So, if that sounds like you, just say the word

3. Do I have to be certified in speaking to become a professional speaker?

Many organizations in the speaking industry offer certifications that claim to help you stand out from your competition. A few common examples include the NSA’s Certified Professional Speaker (CSP) and Council of Peers Award for Excellence (CPAE) awards and eSpeakers’s Certified Virtual Presenter badge. However, none of these awards – or any, for that matter – better qualify you for professional speaking. 

4. Do I need to be affiliated with a speakers bureau to succeed as a speaker?

Although speakers bureaus can be a solid source of new speaking engagements if you’re an established speaker, for most new speakers, a bureau partnership has little effect. Our advice is to build your speaking fees and experience to the point that bureaus are approaching you. That way, they’re already primed and ready to promote your speaking programs and you’re more likely to see success from the partnership. In short, don’t chase bureaus; let them chase you. 

5. Where can I find speaking opportunities as a new, aspiring speaker?

The most affordable and predictable way to find speaking engagements is by using the SpeakerFlow Intel Engine. This tool uses complex Boolean searches to scrape the web for events with speaker openings. It then provides a list of the Engine’s findings, all based on keywords related to your focus industry(ies). To learn more about the Intel Engine and see it in action, just schedule a free demo with our team. 👋

6. What do speakers generally offer event planners in their speaking packages?

Generally, base speaking packages include the speech itself and dedicated time before the event to prepare and coordinate with the event organizer. More expensive speaking contracts can include products and/or services specific to your clients’ needs. For instance, your first package may be a keynote alone, your second may be a keynote and copies of your book, and your third may be a keynote, books, and post-event consulting. 

The exact components of your packages depend entirely on what your ideal clients are looking for and how you can best help them accomplish their goals before, during, and after the event for which they’re hiring you to speak. Below are some of the ways in which you can do this. 

  • Pre-event social media promotion
  • Pre-event appearances to network with audience members or participate in a panel discussion, etc.
  • Q&A with audience members immediately after your keynote speech
  • Post-event consulting or executive coaching
  • Post-event workshops with the entire organization

7. How do I determine what my speaking fees should be?

Your speaking fees depend on a variety of factors including your speaking industry experience, whether or not you’re traveling for the event, the add-on services you’re providing pre- and post-event, etc. They also vary from speaker to speaker. So, even if you sell the same services as another speaker, they may charge more than you simply because they have more sales know-how and confidence. To get around this and build your fees over time, I recommend checking out our two previous guides: “How Much Should I Charge As A Speaker?” and “The Ultimate Guide To Speaker Fees.”

Professional Speaking Resources

Now that you know the basics, all that’s left is to share some resources to make your dreams a reality! Within the SpeakerFlow ecosystem, at least, we share a ton of content regarding the speaking industry, including our weekly blog publications and podcast episodes. Both of these resources are – and always will be – completely free. Plus, the podcast, Technically Speaking, features a different expert from the speaking industry in each episode, so you can hear a wide range of experiences and advice to help take your speaking business to the next. 

Additionally, besides our free resources, we also offer a handful of tools and services, all designed specifically for speakers. Each is listed below so you can weigh your options. Hopefully, you can join the party as you kick off your speaking career and we’ll see you soon. 🙌

SpeakerFlow Intel Engine

Among speakers, two of the most common sources of potential speaking opportunities are (A) lead lists and (B) good ol’ Google searches. Nevertheless, while these methods produce some results, the former tends to be shared with hundreds (if not thousands) of other speakers. Even worse, the latter can take hours while still yielding only a few speaking gigs. 

To address these issues, we and Sam Richter (a speaker himself) created the SpeakerFlow Intel Engine. The Intel Engine is a simple and affordable option for any speaker looking to find highly qualified leads in a matter of minutes. For only $39 per month, it allows you to input keywords just as you would in Google, then, with a single click, pull results from across the Internet. In short, while a standard Google search pulls from 4% of the Web, the Intel Engine pulls from 100%. This gives you more results, increases your chances of finding speaking opportunities, and reduces your lead searching time dramatically. 

SpeakerFlow CRM

Another common challenge among speakers, as mentioned above, is managing all of the ins and outs of a sales process. From finding leads to closing deals, most companies have an entire team devoted to sales. But, as a speaker, all of those roles fall on you. 

When we created SpeakerFlow CRM, our goal was to ease this burden and make speaker sales and streamlined as possible. With speaker-specific modules, built-in automation, and custom fields, the entire system is built with the speaking industry in mind. Plus, after the initial template fee, the subsequent monthly cost of $45 per month includes more than 40 additional Zoho applications, all of which can integrate directly with the CRM. That way, you can bring your speaking business processes under one roof and save money in the process. Win, win!

Group Coaching (i.e. SpeakerFlow University)

Finally, as you may have heard me say in other SpeakerFlow blogs, our team entered the speaking industry partly because of the need for high-quality content. More importantly, though, we entered because of the connections. Between speakers, vendors, and industry experts, everyone shares what they know and what has helped them succeed so far. 

With that in mind, in 2020, we launched SpeakerFlow University. This online community, created for speakers of all experience levels, includes a broad and ever-increasing collection of resources to help SFU members meet their goals and better manage the stress of starting a speaking business. It also includes our group coaching program, which meets twice weekly to share resources and strategize together. In this way, you not only have the tools to succeed. You also have a team of consultants, coaches, and fellow speakers to support you along the way.

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