3 Tips to Jumpstart Yourself as a Paid Public Speaker If you can tell a corporate audience in an engaging way how to make or save money, they'll pay you. But it's more work than it sounds.

By Wendy Keller

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The meetings industry is worth over a billion dollars. Of the money dedicated to hiring speakers, 85 percent is paid to those whose content is valuable and relevant to business audiences. Corporations hire speakers whom they believe will help them make more money. Here are three tips to help you redirect some of that money into your pocket.

1. Pick the right topic.

Often, people want to get paid to speak on their favorite subject, not their smartest topic. Many people pitch me on how they overcame their abusive childhood, what they learned from their divorce or how they almost took their company public…in the 1980s.

Without a lot of work, topics like those are unlikely to generate success. ("Success" = the option to shrug off your job and/or triple your income within two years, like some of my clients and students have done.)

To choose the right topic, put your speech idea through this series of questions:

  • Will a company make more money (have a happier staff, less turnover, sell more widgets, etc.) if they apply what I teach? Can I prove it empirically?
  • Am I really qualified to teach this? There is more competition for that stage time than ever before. A person who says "I was the Salesman of the Month three times at the Lexus dealership in my town" has a longer road to success than someone who says, "I am/was the highest grossing salesperson in the history of Lexus."
  • Are you passionate enough about your topic to succeed? I recommend to my clients and students that they plan to stay focused on the topic of their book and/or speech for two to five years. That means not just giving speeches, but continuously studying all the new, fresh content related to your topic. If you are already bored, it is the wrong topic. Your audience members should never know more than you do. You cannot rest on your laurels.

Related: How to Choose a Profitable Topic for Your Blog

2. Look before you leap.

Most people get starry eyed when they talk to me about their future as speakers. They picture themselves like Tony Robbins, with thousands of cheering fans and limos whisking them to events. The reality even for the highest paid speakers: you will spend way more time alone in hotel rooms; in long security lines at the airport; and in the back of cars than you will on the platform. Your primary task is transporting goods…and you are the goods. You are the product. It is yourself you are selling.

For each engagement, most speakers invest approximately two days in transportation, with about 45-90 minutes on stage. Considering that, how many speaking engagements per year do you really want?

Most mid-level speakers do 20 engagements per year at an average fee of $5,000. That comes out to about $100,000 per year. I train people who are still below that mid-level, and many of them have not thought through what it actually means to do 20 engagements a year. Do that now.

Related: 3 Steps for Getting Paid for Public Speaking

3. Do you have 'platform skills'?

"Platform skills" is industry jargon for how good you are on the platform. Are you authentic, likable and interesting? Can you think on your feet? Are you resourceful?

I've been working with and for speakers since 1995, and I have yet to meet a new speaker who did not regale me with stories of how great he or she is on the platform. I also work with many of the highest paid speakers in the country, and every single one of them has told me about the acting coach they just hired, the movement coach, the voice coach…on and on. It is a business where success comes from constantly honing your craft.

Experienced speakers know that when you do a good job, word gets around. People talk about you behind your back, and say good things! The best speakers are always learning -- how to deliver their content better, how to market themselves better -- because they know continual improvement is the straight path to success.

These three tips will determine your velocity as a speaker. If you are just starting out, still earning less than $5,000 per engagement or doing fewer than 20 engagements per year, sign up for my free webinar "How to Get People to Pay to Listen to You" Feb. 17 or 18.

Related: 7 Public Speaking Habits of Successful Entrepreneurs

Wendy Keller

CEO and Founder of Keller Media, Inc.

Wendy Keller is an award-winning former journalist, a respected literary agent, an author, speaker, acclaimed book marketing consultant, and branding expert. She is the author of Ultimate Guide to Platform Building (Entrepreneur Press®, 2016) and got her first job as a newspaper reporter as a 16-year-old college freshman. Since then, Wendy worked for PR Newswire; the Knight-Ridder newspaper chain; as managing editor of Dateline magazine; and as associate publisher of Los Angeles’ then-second-largest Spanish language weekly, La Gaceta. She works with authors, speakers and business experts to help them build and promote their brands. She founded Keller Media, Inc. in 1989.

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