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How to Become a Public Speaker

how to become a public speaker

To set the stage, when I talk in the book about how to become a public speaker, I mean how to get to the point where you are *paid* to speak to audiences. If you want advice on becoming a better speaker, or overcoming fear of speaking, there are lots of resources you can tap.

For our purposes, I’m talking about what it takes to get from casual speaking, here and there, on your own dime, to sought-after presenter and/or trainer who is paid to get up in front of the podium and educate or motivate or entertain.

As I explain in Chapter 3 of Speaking on the Side, I got my breakthrough totally by accident. But you can learn in about 5 minutes what it took me years to figure out.

Looking back, it was so obvious!

how to become a free public speaker

To give you some background, I had previously spoken for free to a number of groups over the years—almost all local organizations. If you’re reading this, odds are you’ve also presented to local groups in the past, like chambers of commerce, church groups, or service organizations. Because these groups almost never have speaking budgets, I never made any money speaking to them. I did it solely as a marketing tactic, to create sales leads for my day job.

My breakthrough public speaking gig — when I really felt like I had finally become a speaker — happened in 2004. Like so many great discoveries, this one happened by accident.

At the time, my employer, a small branding agency, did a lot of graphic design work in the insurance industry. So, getting involved with a national group of financial communicators seemed like a good idea.

I met one of the group’s volunteer executives at a regional event in Philadelphia. We must have hit it off because a couple of months later, she mentioned during a phone call that her group needed some speakers for its annual conference. It went something like this:

Association Executive: So, we’re trying to find a couple of new speakers, to bring some fresh blood to our national conference, and I thought maybe you would …

Me: OH MY GOSH I WOULD LOVE TO AND I’LL WORK ON MY PRESENTATION NIGHT AND DAY AND I WON’T EVEN STOP FOR A DRINK OF WATER UNTIL IT’S ABSOLUTELY THE BEST PRESENTATION THAT YOU’VE EVER …

Well, it wasn’t quite like that. But you get the picture. I was just excited for the opportunity to speak at a national conference to a sought-after audience. I wasn’t thinking about getting paid to speak! That all changed a minute later, when I heard the executive say:

Association Executive: Believe it or not, we are a pretty small organization and we don’t have very large speaker budgets. If we hired you to speak, would $750 plus travel and meals work for you?

Me: (stunned silence)

​I think what I wanted to say was, “OH YEAH, BABY!” Fortunately, I had attended a number of sales training workshops and knew to play my cards closer to the chest.

Me: Why, I think that would work, thank you.

What’s the moral? If you want to get paid to speak, you need to find associations, companies, and organizations that pay people to speak. That’s the Cardinal Rule of how to become a public speaker. It sounds kind of obvious, doesn’t it? But that’s the fastest, best way you make money speaking on the side. The truth is, most chambers of commerce, religious groups, community colleges, service organizations, and local chapters of national associations don’t pay speakers. You can spend your time with them, and they might enable you to make a lot of money at your day job … but they are not going to pay you to speak.

Fortunately, there are many other groups that will pay you to speak. If you want to become a public speaker on the side, your first task is to go find them.

How to Get Speaking Engagements

So, what I’m telling you (in case you missed it) is the only things you really need to become a public speaker are speaking engagements. Particularly, paid ones. Easier said than done, but I talk a lot about that in the book and you can read some excerpts that focus on how to get speaking engagements if you like.

A few other things you might want to have:

how to become a public speaker with dental floss