I was recently standing at the back AV table de-microphone-ing after a presentation when one of the attendees approached me. He thanked me for my keynote and revealed the other reason he wanted to introduce himself:
"I think I want to do what you do, speak for a living. I'm just not sure how to start."
I recognized the tone in his voice; nervous but hopeful. It was the same tone I used in the spring of 2014 when I bought a speaker coffee hoping that, in exchange, he would share with me his secrets to launching a speaking career.
If you've ever flirted with the thought of earning an income speaking but weren't sure where to start, here are the first four steps to getting paid for public speaking:
1. Have something to say.
Obviously. Unless you're a celebrity, a celebrated athlete, a reality star, or have held significant political office, you're going to need more than your sparkling personality to ask for a fee to speak.
People will pay to hear you talk, but only if you have something valuable to say.
Don't underestimate the current value of your knowledge and experience. If you successfully started a company or figured out the secret to motivating Millennials, people will want to know about that and will be willing to pay for your secrets.
2. Find an interesting way to say it.
The next step is to put your message together in a compelling way. Start with a story to capture attention. Organize your expertise so it's easy for your audience to digest and apply. Use slides, but beware the dangers.
Lastly, practice! Talk to your reflection in the mirror. Talk aloud in the car. Even talking to a wall can help (I learned that trick on the speech team).
3. Find people who want to listen.
This was the big question I asked the speaker over coffee that day. I knew what I wanted to say, I had a pretty good idea how to say, but I didn't know how to find audiences to listen.
If this is your stopping point, the answer is twofold. First, ask yourself who would find what you have to say valuable? Who needs it most?
I reached out via email to several local chapters of relevant associations, offered my topic and speaking services, and several chapters booked me as their local luncheon speaker. Suddenly I was in business. Well. Sort of...
4. Speak for free.
Yes. This article is about getting paid to speak. But in order to get paid, sometimes you have to do it for free (or a significantly reduced amount).
I agree with Taylor Swift that artists should be paid for their work. However, even the biggest stars play small venues for pretty low returns when they're just getting started. To hit the big time, you need a message that has been audience-tested and approved. Small budgets can give you the priceless opportunity to perfect your message for a live crowd.
I once spoke at an event in a small city in Pennsylvania. They paid what ended up covering only half my flight and only 10 people showed up. I spoke my heart out and prepared to chalk it up as an expensive lesson.
However, a few months later, I received a call from one of those 10 people--she was planning an event for 300 people. Could I speak? I could. I did. And I got paid to do it. Then, within days, one of the 300 people at that event hired me to speak at a different event and paid even more.
As you're starting your speaking business, sometimes speaking for free pays off big.
I didn't have much time to chat with the hopeful speaker that day because I had to head to another event. But I told him I'd write my thoughts in an article and send it his way. Hopefully this helps, Tim.
And to everyone else: I hope it helps you too.