How to Land Your First Paid
Public Speaking Gig

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A few years back, I went to watch Jo Malone get interviewed for Secret Leaders Live. She told a story about how in the early days of her second perfume business, Jo Loves, the money she was getting paid to deliver keynotes ended up being used to keep her new brand afloat.

Perhaps not quite how you envisaged spending your speaker fees. But if you run a start-up, there is a good chance that you do not pay yourself vast sums of money, so the idea of getting paid to speak to supplement your income might be rather appealing.

How much money could you make from getting paid to speak?

There are some obscene figures being thrown around in the world of professional speaking. Some corporations (financial institutions et al.) don't blink at spending £100k+ for a one hour keynote; a fee normally reserved for former global leaders and business gurus who likely gained international fame during the TED talk boom. But let's be honest, fees like this are reserved for the 0.01 percenters. If you were a fly on the wall at a speaker agency (more on them in a bit), most of their time is spent placing comedians, athletes and motivational speakers for fees ranging from £10-£30k.

But what if you haven't 'made it' yet. How much could you realistically charge to deliver a speech?

Honest answer?

For most of you reading this - nothing (yet). For some of you - £500-£1500, and for ~1% of my network, £1500-£5k.

But before you sack this article off, there is some hope!

In my opinion, low fee speaking opportunities have never been easier to come by. In this new world of flexible working, employee engagement has never been more important and companies are investing in things that perhaps they wouldn't have previously saved budget for... events, lunch and learns, company off-sites and one-off workshops.

As a result, two things have happened.

  • Online event programmes are becoming a regular part of the working week. If you can bring an hour of value to a team, fees of £500-£1500 are very achievable, and you needn't leave your living room.
  • As a result, the perceived value of a speaker coming to deliver a talk in person has risen. They are harder to come by but it has created an opportunity for those who wouldn't have dreamed of being able to charge £1500-£5000 in the past.

Before we move on, I should note that getting paid to speak fundamentally changes the public speaking experience. When you speak for free, the expectations are lower because you're giving up your time. Expectations intensity the second money is involved. Expectations from your audience, from the decision makers who put their reputation on the line to back you and perhaps most significantly of all, the expectations you have of yourself. Performing under pressure is a learned skill, but better to be pro-active rather than reactive about this side effect.

For those of you who are founders/coaches/thought-leaders who are interested in developing a secondary income stream through public speaking, here are a few things to keep in mind.

Step 1 - Position Yourself as a Thought Leader

Right, enough about the money. It's a by-product that comes from offering clear value to an audience. You need to spend some time thinking about what it is that you can bring to the table.

Here are a few questions you will want to start reflecting on...

What specific problems could your talk solve?
Do you feel comfortable giving away the IP required to solve that problem? (If not, stop here)
Can you communicate it in a way that is as entertaining as it is useful?
Who needs to hear your message?
Why is your message relevant and important?
How are you uniquely placed to deliver it?

To the founders reading this article, some of these questions will sound rather familiar - they are questions you've no doubt asked yourself countless times about your business. In a similar vein, you need to think of about your talk as a product. In my Thought Leadership Accelerator, we spend 4 of the 10 weeks coming up with the answers to these questions, so don't expect to be able to answer these straight away.

Step 2 - Become a Content Creator

Start creating and releasing regular content that positions you as a thought leader in the space you've found. Not only will it help you learn how to articulate the message that you want to be sharing, but also, you never know who might see it. I can recall countless occasions where a founder has published an article or written that has resulted in either a paid speaking engagement or a high profile one (TEDx, Fast Company, SXSW, WebSummit to name a few).

If this seems like a time consuming task, that's because it is. You don't become a world class presenter by rocking up and delivering a first draft. This is an important part of your product development.

Step 3 - Don't Approach Speaker Agencies

Time to find an agent right? Nope!

There's a big misconception that being on an agent's books will result in a satisfying trickle of paid speaking engagements landing on your plate. The truth is, unless you've become famous 'overnight' or you're already generating a good income stream through speaking, it's unlikely they're going to be interested. Their business model is centred around placing £20k+ engagements rather than your £3k one.

Step 4 - Speak for Free

One of the most effective ways of establishing a reputation as a keynote speaker is to get yourself out there and speak for free. These gigs are where you will refine your message, learn about your audience and develop the stage presence required to own any room. We all aspire to be one of those people who has the audience hanging off their every word. Well, it doesn't come without this step. Every world class presenter starts by speaking for free. Where there might be an opportunity to work smart (depending on your message and your positioning) is by landing speaking slots at high profile conferences. The majority of public conferences, especially in the UK do not pay speakers for their time. Unless of course, they believe your name will generate a significant proportion of ticket sales.

Speaking for free will be the most effective use of your time in the short to medium term and if you can land the right engagements, in return you will get some much needed media to help sell your services as a keynote speaker. Images of you delivering on stage, video snippets of your content, testimonials from people and brands that can raise your perceived value.

Step 5 - Do NOT get sidetracked

Remember, you are only as good as the things that you do. A significant part of your allure will come from the fact that you aren't just talking the talk, you're walking the walk as an entrepreneur. In other words, getting as many paid engagements as possible is not the aim of the game. If speaking as a side hustle starts to take up too much of your time, you will lose the very essence of what makes you special as a speaker in the first place. A couple of engagements a month is a good balance and gives you the time to be doing something far more important than speaking... running your business!

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