How to Start a Public Speaking Career

Doug Staneart  |  07/06/22
last updated

Public Speaking Career Being a professional speaker is a very lucrative and rewarding profession. But, if you have never actually made money from speaking before, you may be looking into how to start a public speaking career. Just as an FYI, the way that I did it is not the ideal way to become a professional speaker. In fact, when I give advice to new speakers, I tell them to do the opposite of what I did. I’ve now trained over 100 professional speakers over the past 20 years. Many of these presenters are at the top of their industries. Below are a few ideas that may help.

Warning: It is Almost Impossible to Make Public Speaking Your FIRST Career

The seminar and speaking industry is chock full of motivational speaker “wannabees” who want to build their successful careers by helping other people become more successful. Presenters and presentations like this really harm the industry… and these presenters. Good speakers have success because they have the experience elsewhere to speak from.

When I first started The Leader’s Institute ®, I met a young lady who had purchased a personnel assessment franchise. At that time, I was delivering a number of presentations to local associations, Chambers of Commerce, and professional organizations as a way to market my company (more on this later). This young lady was in the audience at each of my presentations. Every time I’d finish a presentation, she made a trek to me with all kinds of ideas about how we could partner. I was always nice and cordial, but she didn’t have a lot to offer a potential partner. She had no personal stories to back up her claims or business desires. Speaking as First Career

When I asked her what experience she had in the personnel business, her only response was that she had purchased the assessment company franchise. She had no customers, so she had no success stories to use to generate new customers. Her idea was to start doing presentations about how entrepreneurs could have more success hiring employees. However, she, herself, had never hired anyone… ever. Her company had generated total revenue in three years of, well, $0.

This young lady was getting into a speaking career in a very backward kind of way. She was trying to make her first career her speaking career. It is not impossible to do this, but it is really, really, really hard.

This would be like opening up a ski slope in Houston. It wouldn’t be impossible, but it would be a whole lot easier to open a resort in Colorado. Likewise, it is much easier to build a speaking career after you have been successful in a different field. That doesn’t mean you need relevant skills from a long list of jobs.

A Speaking Career is, However, a Great “Add On” to Any Other Career.

A fantastic example of this is Marcus Sheridan with River Pools in Maryland. I first heard about Marcus through the Social Media Marketing podcast, but he has had articles written about him in Forbes and a ton of business publications. Marcus uses educational videos to promote his pool company. He realized that instead of answering the same questions over and over with each customer that he and his team could create videos for frequently asked questions and post them on their website. It worked beautifully. He now has a second career, a speaking career, teaching other people how he did it.

Going back to the ski resort example, this would be like offering ski lessons once your ski resort is successful. The speaking (or teaching) is a way to generate a new revenue stream from an already successful business.

Three Ways to Start a Public Speaking Career

Speak within Your Current Industry

One of the easiest ways to begin a public speaking career is to start by teaching within your current industry. This is even easier if your industry requires continuing education. One of the first Fearless Presentations ® instructors that I trained was a CPA by trade. In fact, he was the CFO of a local company here in Ft Worth when I met him. Because of his position, the American Institute of CPA’s asked him to teach a series of continuing education classes for them. After doing this for a few years and absolutely loving it, he asked me to train him to be an instructor for us. At the same time, he began to create new continuing education content for the association. Eventually, he was making more money from his consulting than he was as a CFO.

speak within your industry

Another great way to earn income from speaking within your current industry is to use your speaking as marketing. One of my clients is a company who helps people control self-directed IRAs. Every Tuesday, they conduct seminars at their office where they teach people how to manage their own Individual Retirement Accounts. The seminars are free, but they get most of their new clients from these seminars.

Finally, you can also create income by selling your expertise to others who want to do what you have done. The House-Flipping industry is a fantastic case study of how this works. When the economy is booming and housing prices are increasing at an exponential rate, any idiot can make money flipping houses. However, when the housing market collapsed in 2008, a bunch of these TV pseudo-celebrities began making money a totally different way… They began doing seminars showing people how to make money flipping houses. When the market recovered, they all began flipping houses again. They became professional communicators by sharing related topics in their field.

Become a Certified Speaker for an Established Presentation Company

Desk Work This is the way that my company has attracted a lot of very skilled speakers. Since The Leader’s Institute ® has contracts to work with hundreds and hundreds of Fortune 500 companies, we hire and train speakers to conduct our programs for our customers. This is a good way for people who have a talent for speaking to cut their teeth and gain real-world experience.

This is actually the way that I got into the speaking business. My first speaking job was with the Dale Carnegie organization. I took one of their classes, and it helped me so much, that I went back to the instructor who taught it and asked for a job. I worked for them for about seven years and became one of their top instructors. Much of my valuable experience comes from my years there.

By the way, we are currently looking for an instructor in Washington DC. If you are in the area and want to apply to be a coach for us, you can fill out a form at “Careers with The Leader’s Institute ®”

The downside of this route, though, is that if you want to create your own content, it is much more difficult. When I was with Carnegie, I had to stick to approved company content. I couldn’t create my own stuff. In addition, when I did go out on my own, I had no customers. So, the first couple of years in business were very, very lean. It is incredibly difficult to start a speaking career from scratch.

Create Your Own Content to Start Your Own Public Speaking Career from Scratch

It is much easier to do this today than it was when I started. Just like when I started, though, the biggest challenge is always the very first customer. Many people who dream of being a professional public speaker see themselves as being the next Zig Ziglar or Anthony Robbins. However, motivational speakers are not nearly as popular as speakers who can help their audience develop a skill. The presentation style matters.

If you can sell the necessary skills in front of an audience and provide some life experience to back it up, good chances are that you’ll succeed. The art of public speaking is all about finding and meeting the needs of your audience. Potential clients are similar whether you’re in the corporate world or not. They want you to help them solve a problem.

If I use my career path as an example, I didn’t set out to be a motivational speaker. My hope was to help people reduce public speaking fear. I had a challenge with public speaking anxiety, and I conquered it. I figured that if I just shared with others what I did, they would get a similar result. Since I am one of the top speakers in this industry, now, though, I do have a number of companies hire me as a motivational speaker each year.


Getting that First Bite

So, how do you get that first client? The absolute best way is to start off as I suggested earlier, by making your speaking career an add-on to your existing career. I mentioned earlier, that I was an idiot and didn’t do this, though. When I quit my very lucrative job at Carnegie, I had no customers, no income, and only about $10,000 in the bank.

One of my big clients at Carnegie, though, was a commercial construction company. I had been working with this company for years, but I couldn’t go to my friends at that company and try to pilfer business from them. (That would have been unethical and, most likely, illegal.) But, because of my experience with that single company, I knew that industry very well. So, I went to the local Associated General Contractors trade association. Next, I wrote articles for their newsletter. I gave a bunch of free speeches at their meetings. I also bought their mailing list, and I promoted a class that I had specifically designed to help these organizations solve challenges that I knew they were experiencing. My skill set was aimed at their needs and problems.

The first year, I made $27,000 in gross revenue. (It sucked.) However, I was building a brand. Those initial customers led me to bigger customers and into additional industries. Networking is just as important while beginning a speaking career as it is when climbing the corporate ladder. Within five years, my company was teaching over 300 classes every year.

Creating Success is Easier

The key to success when starting from scratch is to create content that helps your clients solve problems. That alone is easier through blog posts and various social media platforms. Then give away your secrets. (What? How in the world can I make a living if I give my content away?) If I had never written those articles or given those free speeches, no one in that industry would even know that I was in business. Gain some attention from the general public by sharing your knowledge and important skills within your field. Be a tour guide.

In the modern world, it is so much easier to get started. With a website, a podcast, and a YouTube channel, you can start publishing your content in a matter of hours. If your content is helpful to people, they will pay you for it. It’s why the industry for media professionals continues growing.

For instance, if someone wants to eliminate the fear of public speaking do they have to pay us to come to one of our classes? No, of course not. In fact, everything that we teach in our classes is on our website, podcast, and YouTube channel. However, if they come to one of our classes, they will save a BUNCH of time and effort. The easiest way for them to become an effective public speaker is to attend one of our classes.

Want to save a bunch of time and effort? Here is a link to our upcoming classes: Fearless Presentations ® Public Speaking Classes.

author Doug Staneart
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Doug Staneart is the CEO of The Leader's Institute. LLC and founder of the Fearless Presentations class. He is author of Fearless Presentations, Mastering Presentations, and 28 Ways to Influence People.

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