How I Became a Paid Public Speaker

Before I dive into today’s post, I want to share that I’m thrilled to be delivering the closing keynote this year at the SMPS Southern Regional Conference in San Antonio, Texas coming up Jan. 30 through Feb. 1!

If you’re like to learn more about this incredible conference for marketing professional in the professional services industry, check it out and register today at smps-src.org. And let me know if I’ll see you in San Antonio!


Public speaking is big business. And it’s a business that doesn’t have a formal on-ramp for breaking into. In the past three years, corporate training and public speaking has become the biggest revenue generator in my entire business model. And, I have to admit, I love this kind of work more than anything I do.

I get such a podium high from feeding off of the energy of a room full of people with whom I’m creating an electric environment of learning and growth – for both of us. I learn something new every time, and make it my mission to hone my craft and clarify my message with each opportunity I’m given to take the stage.

Here’s what I’ve learned about breaking into the industry and becoming a paid public speaker:

1. Develop your voice

Before anyone’s going to think about booking you for a speaking gig, they need think of you as a thought leader or expert. What kind of scholar are you? What issue areas have you made it your mission to master?

Whether these subjects are directly related to your work and career or more of a hobby, it can take a while to prove that you’ve got a unique perspective to share.

For me, blogging and writing became my first avenue to develop my voice and my unique perspective on issues relating to gender in the workplace. Creating online courses, developing curriculum for in-person workshops for individuals – like Bossed Up Bootcamp – and even developing the Bossed Up podcast all helped me showcase my unique perspective while providing value to readers and listeners for free.

If I didn’t show that I had something to say first, it would have been unlikely that anyone would give me a chance and just put me on stage in front of their employees or their conference attendees without having an idea of what I was about to share.

2. Tailor your message

It’s one thing to come up with a message that speaks to workers, but it’s a totally different thing to consider how your message will be of value to the people who actually pay for public speakers.

For example, one of my favorite ways to help individual women get bossed up is to provide training and coaching on salary negotiation. It’s an art form I’m obsessed with and I absolutely love helping more women talk positively about their strengths and get paid for all they’re worth. But what company is going to PAY for me to come in and train their employees on how to negotiate?! I’ll tell you – NONE.

So I had to think about which components of my message really speak to what companies and conference organizers care about. My most popular training is on Assertive Communication. The reality is, my assertive communication workshop helps women make their voices heard in a world that’s not always listening to women, but the other reality is, it also helps with leadership development, employee retention, and cutting down on passive-aggressive behavior in the office. That’s the kind of framing that makes managers and HR directors alike see the value in what I can bring to the table.

My second most popular talk is all about burnout prevention. I’ve opened conferences with my “Beat Burnout” keynote across the tech industry, legal field, and even medical industry. Why does that one work so well? Because it’s not just about helping the individual, it’s about a collective consciousness-raising for an entire industry to do better.

So for anyone thinking about entering the ring of public speaking, know that your message needs to resonate not only with members of the audience, but with their bosses and their conference-organizers, too.

3. Start for “free”

Speaking is a weird business. Figuring out your pricing for workshops and keynotes can feel like venturing into the wild, wild west. But in order for me to get my speaking sea legs, so to speak, I was more than happy to speak for free.

I’d show up for any nonprofit or association or women’s empowerment group that could fill a room. I’d barter to make sure that everyone who attended could sign up for my email list, at the very least, and saw these engagements as opportunities for me to try out new material and see what landed.

Stand-up comedians are known to do the same thing, and let’s face it: they’re superhuman public speakers and total masters of the craft.

Whenever I speak for free, my goal is the room with a handful of leads for future speaking opportunities, too. Right after you wow an audience is the best possible time to focus on new business development. If you’ve done your job and people are feeling fired up and impressed, it’s time to ask them who else they know who needs to hear your message and ask for their help to make that happen.

4. Rock those referrals

Once I come down from my stage buzz and re-enter earth’s stratosphere, the real work begins. Leads are just that – a potential for potential business. Those leads take serious nurturing and further networking to actually turn into business. But over the past year especially, I’ve actually really come to love that process.

100% of my speaking business comes in from referrals. Good old fashioned word of mouth: people who’ve seen me speak or seen my stuff online and want to see if I might be a good fit for their team of their upcoming event. I also get business from picking up the phone and just catching up with my friends in the industry or past clients who’ve brought me in before. What are they up to this year? How is gender playing a role in their workplace these days? Is there any way I can support them or their colleagues this year? I find that when I’m genuinely interest in staying friends and keeping up with people, more business comes my way from spending lots of time simply reconnecting with people and seeing what’s up.

Plus, even when those phones calls don’t necessarily lead to paid gigs, they’re still a great opportunity to hear more about what’s happening in their industry and keep up with workplace trends.

5. Hone Your Craft

I view public speaking as something of an art form: a performative practice all about inspiring and informing others with your message. To that end, every artist needs years of practice to go from good to great.

That’s how I view my public speaking practice these days especially: as a craft I want to hone to really take it to that next professional level. As such, last year I joined the National Speakers Association to rub elbows with other folks who can make me better. I joined at the strong recommendation of a terrific speaker, Linda Swindling, with whom I shared the stage at a recent conference. Linda completely blew me away with her delivery, style, humor, and content and was kind enough to mentor me a bit over the past year as she shared some secrets with me about how to build a career in public speaking.

I’m all about lifting as I climb

And that’s why I’m thrilled to share everything I’ve learned about making a career out of public speaking. For folks who want to go deeper with me on this topic, I just re-opened applications to join the Bossed Up Trainer Team, a cohort of business-owners, public speakers, and coaches who join me for an intensive, 8-hour Certification Program all about developing your public speaking and then afterwards join me for ongoing quarterly mastermind calls. These are the trainers I then feature on Bossed Up webinars, guest blog posts, and even Bossed Up Bootcamp, too.

Learn more and apply now to join me at upcoming Certification Programs I’m hosting in Denver and DC in February and March.

And if you have any questions or recommendations about pursuing public speaking – leave them in the comments below so we can keep the conversation going!

LIKE THIS POST?

Then you’ll love our FREE job search checklist!

Download yours now: