How to Make a Fortune Speaking for a Living


I went to college at Texas Tech University and Doug Staneart Keynote Speechstudied business. Three years into my degree, my dad invited me to a business conference where I got to hear a dozen professional speakers teach about how to be better business people. I remember asking my dad at the end of the first day, "That guy, Bob Burg who spoke about networking, what does he actually do for a living?"

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My dad looked at me and said, "Well, I guess he just speaks, now."

"No, I mean, how does he make money? How does he live?"

My dad laughed, and he said, "I'm sure that he makes pretty good money off of his books and recorded seminars, but I'd bet he makes most of his income from the speaking."

Boy were we wrong. That conversation started me down a road that has allowed me to help hundreds of thousands of people eliminate public speaking fear and increase their income at the same time. Yes, most of those professional speakers made a small fortune just speaking. However, they also made an additional fortune by selling their knowledge to audiences in different formats. After a couple of decades in the speaking business, I've figured out a few ways to make a pretty good living as a professional speaker. Below are a few of these things that can help you too.

The Person Who Stands Up to Speak is Always Considered to Be the Expert

“Every expert began as an amateur.” ― Jeffrey Fry

Who is the Obvious Expert in this Picture?About two years after I started The Leader's Institute ®, I was speaking at a Chamber of Commerce meeting when an area manager for a big financial planning company offered me a job on the spot. I was a little surprised at the offer, because I didn't recognize the man. However, he told me that he had been in my audience on three separate occasions over the last year, and he was impressed by how well I spoke on the differing topics. This was still pretty early in my speaking career, so the offer was a great temptation. He basically wanted me to be the main speaker for his sales team. He wanted to hold big financial planning seminars and have me as the main speaker. His thought was that once I was able to captivate the audience and build the rapport with his potential clients, he could have his sales people close the deal with each audience member.

I had to explain to him that, although I was honored by the offer, I didn't think that his plan would actually work. First, the topics that I speak on are those topics that I am an expert on. The reason why people have me speak on public speaking fear, leadership development, and building team culture is because I have both studied those topics in depth and have years of first-hand, real-world experience in these areas. I knew nothing about financial planning.

Second, and more important, though, if I were able to become an expert at financial planning and present those ideas effectively, the moment that this manager sent his sales people o follow up with the audience members, there would be a dramatic disconnect. If he didn't feel comfortable enough to have any of his salespeople conduct the seminar, why on Earth would he be comfortable with them speaking to the potential clients?

I suggested that he have me train his salespeople. That way, any one of them could lead the seminar.

“To speak and to speak well are two things. A fool may talk, but a wise man speaks.” – Ben Jonson

The key to be seen as the expert when you speak is to be clear and to be confident. If you have trouble with either of these, make sure to register for one of our public speaking classes.

(By the way... If you are looking for How to Start a Public Speaking Career, make sure to view to click this link for a list of ways to get started as a professional speaker!)

Most Professional Speakers are Teachers and/or Trainers.

Everyone wants to be a motivational speaker, but in all reality, very few professional speakers ever get paid just to stand up on stage and motivate people. (Some do, however.) In fact, most professional speakers are teachers. They get paid to impart knowledge or a skill to another person or group of people. This group includes elementary school teachers, middle school and high school teachers, professors, lecturers, trainers, and in many cases, consultants.

If You are a Teacher or Want to Train Others, These Tips Can Help.

Get Your Audience Involved in Your Presentation

When I say the word "lecture", what immediately comes to mind. If thoughts like "boring" or "dry" were a few of the first ideas, you are not alone. A lecture is a one-way communication that is content heavy and practical value light.

“Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.” – Benjamin Franklin

Ask the audience for opinions. One of the techniques that we teach in class is to design a great bullet point that is audience focused, and then to ask the audience the bullet point versus telling them. For instance, if wanted to turn the statement above, "Get Your Audience Involved in Your Presentation, into a question, I could just ask my audience, "What are some ways that you have seen good speakers do to get their audience more involved in their presentations?" Questions work well as long as they lead to discussion. So, opinion asking questions work best.

Get the Audience InvolvedIf you are teaching, a demonstration or an activity can also wake up the audience and get them to learn faster. One of the techniques that we often use in our classes is to teach something to the audience, give them an example, and then have them create an example of their own. For instance, when we teach the audience how to insert stories into their presentations, we have the class members develop stories of their own that could be used in their presentations. Then, we will have them practice the technique with a partner in class. This technique gives the audience members a chance to develop the speaking skill, but will a lot less pressure than someone would have if they were put on the spot and had to stand up in front of the group to practice.

My goal as a speaker is to never speak for more than five minutes without doing something that gets the audience involved in some way.

Develop Your Content Based on What Your Audience Needs

A lot of teachers and trainers develop their sessions by just focusing on what the "lesson plan" says to cover. I remember taking Business Accounting in college. Well, I actually don't remember much about the class, but I do remember that it was incredibly boring. I wish that my professor had made the content more in tune with what I need today to run my business. The professor was so interested in teaching us everything that a full-time accountant would need to know, that he forgot to show us how the calculations translated in the real-world. As a business owner, now, I understand more about why many of those items were covered in the class, but back then no one ever explained to me why I needed to know each of those calculations.

A good teacher adds the "Why" into the lesson. For instance, when we teach about adding analogies into presentations, we usually start with a statement like, "Sooner or later, you are going to be delivering a presentation that is complex or technical, and you are going to look out at your audience and see a bunch of blank and confused faces. That is the perfect time to pull out an analogy."

Many Professional Speakers are Professionals Who also Speak (On Occasion)

The absolute best way for professionals and entrepreneurs to develop a larger customer base is to speak more often. The financial planner above had the right idea, but he was trying to implement the idea the wrong way. Between you and I, I've never been a big fan of free seminars. People are always skeptical of a free seminar. However, when I first started teaching leadership classes, and no one had ever heard of me, I used to do a free introductory session of my class. The session was by invitation only, and the people coming knew that if they chose to come to future sessions of the class what the tuition was, etc. Today, we often do introductory webinars where people who want to see if the class actually works came attend a sample session.

My dentist goes to speak at elementary schools about oral hygiene, and he always brings a sample kit that has his card, a travel size toothpaste, a toothbrush, and floss. A friend of mine owns a Cross-Fit franchise, and he speaks to civic clubs about staying healthy and fit as we get busier and busier. One of my first trainers was the CFO of a local brewery here in Ft. Worth. He began teaching classes for continuing education at the CPA Association. Eventually, he began to get organizations to have him come out and consult with them for gobs of money for just a few hours of his time.

Catalog Your Knowledge into Different Delivery Forms

The most important lesson that I learned too late was that you only have so much time in the day. When you trade your time for dollars, you will eventually reach a point where your income will top out. For me, I hit this wall first when I was a contract trainer for a big training company. I was a good salesperson, and I was also a good instructor. However, I had to split my time between finding new customers and teaching class for those customers. If I had an intense teaching schedule, no one was back at the office working on developing new clients, so I'd have these huge peaks and troughs of income. So, I hired a sales assistant. She was able to do a lot of the selling process while I was teaching. My income doubled. Then it topped out again.

It happened again when I started The Leader's Institute ®. There were only so many hours that I could teach each week. So, I started bring on instructors and training them to do what I do. The company grew like gang-busters. And then, we hit another peak. What I had done was just added additional people on staff who could trade time for dollars. Of course, then they ran out of hours in the week as well.

One of my speaker friends and I were chatting one day, and I let him know that I had hit another plateau. The first thing that he asked me was, "Well, how much of your income is from product sales?" I squirmed a little, because, up until that point, almost 100% of my company's income was from me and my speakers teaching in-person classes. My friend's jaw just hung in the air as his mouth gaped open. "Your making that kind of money just speaking?" What was funny, was, at that time, I just assumed every speaker did.

My friend said, "How many people come to your website, really want to attend one of your classes, but live in a city where you don't have one scheduled?"

"Well, I'd guess 10's of thousands... every month."

He said, "Get a videographer to record one of your classes and offer an online version of the class to those people."

Re-Purpose Your Knowledge

That discussion about five years ago changed my outlook entirely. My friend was teaching me how to re-purpose my content. Some people don't like to go to seminars, so give them an online version of the class. Some people don't like to set at a computer and learn so create a podcast with the audio of the class. When we write blogs, now, we also look for ways to create YouTube videos of the content, and then take the audio from that video and create a podcast. Instead of just putting text in the blog, we now use the content to create infographics.

The point is that the knowledge that you have in your head is valuable. Find ways to share that content with people who need it, and then find ways to re-purpose the content to reach a bigger audience.

But Doug, I Want to Be a Motivational Speaker Because My Industry is Boring.

I did a session with Bates Container here in Ft Worth years ago. They wanted to revise their mission statement, because of all of the changes in their marketplace. Their original mission statement had something to do with being absolute best corrugated box company in the world. The problem, though, was that their market was shrinking considerably. The more that they thought of themselves as a corrugated box company, the less growth they were going to have.

I asked them what they really did. They answered with, make boxes. I asked again, "No, what do you really help your customers do?" They answered with "Use boxes." I think I asked the question about seven times before it dawned on one of the executives what I was really asking. The breakthrough didn't come until we started thinking about a specific client. Their main customer was Levis. So I asked, "Why does Levis buy boxes from you? What do your boxes (any boxes) allow Levis to do more easily?" The penny dropped. They realized for the first time that they were in the transportation and logistics business. The corrugated boxes were just one way for them to provide these services to their customers.

Once we came to this conclusion, the mission statement changed significantly. The salespeople began to change their questions to clients and potential clients. Instead of "Do you want to buy any corrugated boxes? We can help you save money... Maybe." they began to ask questions like, "When you ship your products, what are some of the most important challenges that you are dealing with?" These salespeople moved from being peddlers to consultants.

The question is, once these people made that change and increased income significantly for the company, how many other organizations out there are in the same boat? How valuable is that knowledge that this team developed? There have been many speaking careers launched over less success than that.