Getting Paid to Speak

Whatever your area of expertise, whatever techniques you’ve used to develop your successful business, there’s an audience out there who wants to hear how you did it. And they’re willing to pay you well to share your secrets. Public speaking has blossomed into a lucrative second career or profitable sideline for thousands of successful business owners.

To gain experience, start out by accepting unpaid speaking assignments. “Every successful speaker I know got started that way,” says professional speaker and radio talk show host Carole Copeland Thomas ( “These opportunities may come from service clubs such as Rotary or Kiwanis, schools and universities, or faith — based organizations. The experience you gain this way will help to prepare you for that all — important, first paid assignment.”

According to Thomas, another important first step is creating a Website to promote your speaking services. “If you use your existing business site, be sure to create a separate page for your speaking services. Otherwise, your speaking capabilities may be lost.”
While most successful speakers employ an agent or work through a speakers bureau, beginners do not have that option. “Agents or speakers bureaus will work only with speakers who already have a proven track record,” says Thomas.

Polish Your Presentation
Once you get that first speaking assignment, whether paid or free, it’s important that you do the best job possible. First impressions are lasting, so make sure you present yourself at your best. Here are some tips from Jacinta Gauda, senior managing director for the Global Consulting Group:

Prepare beforehand and don’t try to talk off the top of your head. It won’t work. Talking exclusively about material with which you are thoroughly familiar will add to your confidence. If you’re not comfortable with your material, your nervousness will increase and your presentation will suffer.

Greet as many members of the audience as you can before your talk, and learn as much as possible about them. What are their interests, their concerns? It’s easier and more comfortable to talk with a group of friends than with strangers. Gauda likes to mentally picture her audience as her “guests.”

Concentrate on the points you want to make, not your anxieties.

Get comfortable with your surroundings. Professional speakers know the importance of arriving early to size up the room and the speaker’s lectern. Don’t hesitate to make your needs known in advance. If you arrive expecting a lapel mic and you find a fixed microphone, it may be too late to change.

Make eye contact, but don’t stare. Look audience members in the eye, but not for more than five or six seconds. Eye contact longer than that will make your listeners uncomfortable. Avoid focusing your gaze on a single person or spot in the room. “That’s a definite no — no,” says Gauda.

Finally, as you’re speaking, remember that your listeners want you to succeed. Audiences are on your side; they don’t want you to fail.