5 Things I Wish I Knew About Being A Professional Keynote Speaker

Blog, Keynote Speaker

Are you afraid of public speaking? I believe you know you aren’t alone as it’s widely known to be one of the biggest fears people have…

Do you want to be a full-time professional speaker traveling the world delivering your message?? You aren’t alone either, as the lure of the lifestyle and impact that is possible as a professional speaker is without a doubt a dream career for many.

I took my first stage in 2005 working for the Department of Defense and spoke in front of a government audience on the future of cyber security and our need to recruit and train millennial military members to educate and implement this technology.

Between 2005 and 2013, I spoke on 50+ stages, both in that role for the DoD and as a Technology Evangelist, which included keynoting at VMworld, SXSW, and Gartner. But it wasn’t until 2013 that I realized that the job of a “professional speaker” was something people did as a full-time career.

Over the next five years, I would learn the hard way how little I knew about being a professional speaker. It also was evident that the gap between the person afraid of public speaking and those who want to be a full-time speaker seemed large. Still, in reality, it came down to two things—a mindset shift and inside knowledge of the speaking, event planner, and conference industry.

This might come as a shock, but I believe it’s easier to help someone over their fear of public speaking embracing a mindset shift than it is to figure out the nuances and highly protected process to not only becoming a professional speaker but achieving long-term success as a speaker.

In the early days of my speaking career, I began to understand just how lucrative being a speaker can be and how unique each person’s path to becoming a full-time public speaker was. Public speakers take on a skill that no other industry requires, even more so now when we are constantly connected.

The beauty of being a proffesional speaker is that there is no one way to make a living as a speaker. The hard part about breaking through and finding success as a speaker is the fact there are so many paths to this career!

The public speaking industry (as an economic driver) is hard to measure with a lot of fuzzy numbers. Still, the event planning and conference industry certainly are easier to quantify. Event planners bring in anywhere from $15,000- to $50,000+ per event depending on its size and how much back-end work the event planner contracts out. And speaking at these events is a huge revenue source for public speakers.

Since man first stood before a group to spread their word and ideas, the public speaking industry has been around. But the speaker sure has changed over time…

The public speaking industry is a weird bird when you look at the revenue they can generate for clients not to mention this new world of virtual events and being able to speak from anywhere. Corporate conference professionals, event planners, and public speakers are all in the same industry. Still, they have their own little world inside the industry with its own set of rules and cultural norms. Many of the most successful public speakers started speaking to promote their books, agencies, or as the second career. At the same time, there have also been many successful speakers who’ve built great businesses in just public speaking in recent years. 

For those seeking out becoming a public speaker as a full-time profession as I’ve done, here are five things I wish I knew as I started my journey and aspects of my speaker business that I’m still focusing on improving today. 

  1. Being great on stage isn’t enough: The idea of being the greatest presenter or performer on stage isn’t enough to sustain in this business as the business of speaking requires so many other aspects including your ability to sell yourself, ability to understand your audience and even position your program that others believe its worth paying you to speak.
  2. There are multiple ways of making money as a speaker:  Knowing what you’re best at and focusing on the method that’s best for you must be the priority. You can’t get distracted by your peers building their speaking business a different way. 
  3. You can’t do it all on your own: For many, this means working with a speaker bureau or signing with a speaker agent. It’s also essential to surround yourself with people who know the other aspects of this business that you don’t like travel, planning, video editing or online marketing. See post on best speaker websites.
  4. Speakers get Speakers Gigs:  As much focus that’s put on creating a sizzle reel, building a website or designing the perfect keynote program. All of those things combined will get you less gigs than the relationships you build with fellow speakers that are asked on a weekly basis to recommend speakers for gigs they’ve done in the past. 
  5. Adapting, Re-Invent, Pivoting is Part of the Speaker Life: The ability to roll with the punches isn’t a skill set that emerged thanks to covid forcing things to virtual. It’s actually within every aspect of the speaker life from travel issues to technical problems on stage to the audience to being able to continue your talk during the lunch session as the audience is eating and making noise. 

If you want to hear more examples and details and how I coach other speakers to leverage some of these things I’ve learned check out SPEAKER MISFIT MAFIA BOOTCAMP which is a 10 week Bootcamp that I run only once a year.

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