People wonder how getting paid to give lectures works. It’s not complicated. If you’re interested, here’s the simple truth:

(note: this is heavily modified excerpt of my previous post, how to become a motivational speaker)

1. Create demand. The world has a surplus of people who think they can do a good job speaking to crowds.  This means the market is a demand market, not a supply market. Unless your particular story has great appeal, say perhaps because you won five gold medals at a recent Olympics , or you’ve been on a spate of talk shows lately, there is no general demand for you. This has little to do with your ability. You might be the best speaker in this galaxy, but it will require many people seeing you speak many times for word of your talents to spread. This can take years. It did for me. Plan to put in the time.

2. To grow interest in your work start in your profession, your neighborhood, or anywhere you have credibility. You don’t instantly generate demand. You grow demand, starting with a niche where you are known and respected, and grow from there. This also means you won’t be paid for awhile. Pay comes with demand. If no one is asking you to speak anywhere, why would you expect to be paid? You have to do some selling before you can do any earning.

3. Seek out 3 events you are qualified to speak at and introduce yourself. Organizers need good speakers. If you pick events in your community, you may even know some of the organizers. Study their event. Look at the topics, styles and speakers they tend to have. Then pitch them on a specific talk that would fit their event, with a specific title and description. Briefly (one short paragraph) list why you are qualified to speak and include a short video of you speaking at a similar event. Make it easy for them to give you a chance (don’t skip the ‘study their event’ part). If you get turned down, ask what experience you’d need to be accepted next time. Look for Ignite or Pecha Kucha events, where many speakers are needed for a single event, as first chances may be easier to find.

If you can’t find events you think you could speak at, you have two choices: give up or start your own. The latter is much more interesting. Create a better event where talented people like you who don’t fit well elsewhere can shine.

4. Do whatever necessary to be an active speaker. The more often you speak, the more speakers and organizers you will meet. If you’re active, and good,  they’ll start reaching out to you. If all else fails, post a ten minute lecture of yours on Youtube every week. There is no excuse for not being active and gaining more experience.  Ask friends and speakers you admire for feedback and work to improve. The truth may be you are not as talented as you think. That’s ok. The sooner you sort this out the better.

5. In your field, how is your work known? If your work is well known, requests to speak will follow and be easier to ask for. I’ve written popular books, which has led to demand for me to appear and speak.

6. People are interested in speakers for reasons other than their speaking ability. Speakers  are often hired because of their story, not because of their speaking talents. When someone wins the Nobel Prize, they’re asked to speak everywhere, even though the Nobel Prize is awarded for reasons that have nothing to do with eloquence. This is counterintuitive, as it means people are paid to speak not for their speaking skills, but for people’s interest in their knowledge or personality. It’s unfair, but we are not a rational species. More people will come to hear Lady-Ga-Ga give a talk about the life story of Scott Berkun, than will ever come to hear Scott Berkun talk about Scott Berkun. It’s how the world works.

7. Building an audience is easier than ever in history. Between a blog (free), a youtube account (free),  facebook and twitter feeds (free) and cell phone with a video camera (free-ish as you already have one), you can start right now showing your abilities and building interest in your ideas and talents. How much are you investing in spreading word of your work? If its near zero, the world isn’t the problem –  your lack of investment in your own talent is the problem.  People can’t find you if you aren’t trying hard to be found. If you’re good, the time invested will pay off. Your best advantage is your community and network who, if properly motivated, can help spread word of your talents.

8. Your fees are based on the market. If no one is asking you to speak, don’t worry about rates. It’s irrelevant. If you are getting asked to speak, the pay range is anywhere from $0 to $100,000 for a single lecture. There are too many variables to give a simple number. Some events only pay travel costs or a free ticket to the event. For a select few truly famous people some events pay a years salary for the average American  for a 60 minute lecture. Speakers, like many forms of talent, are paid for their value, not their time.

Others events pay all speakers the same fee, no matter how famous they are (TED does not pay its speakers, only covers travel). In the end, how much demand there is for you determines what fees you will feel ok walking away from. If you are thinking long term, the opportunity to speak to any big crowd, even if it’s for less than you want, is still a win.

For more on the business of public speaking:

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11 Responses to “How to get paid to speak”

  1. Phil Simon |

    Good stuff, Scott. #2 really resonated with me:

    To grow interest in your work start in your profession, your neighborhood, or anywhere you have credibility. You don’t instantly generate demand. You grow demand, starting with a niche where you are known and respected, and grow from there. This also means you won’t be paid for awhile. Pay comes with demand. If no one is asking you to speak anywhere, why would you expect to be paid? You have to do some selling before you can do any earning.

    It took me a while to get to the paid level but I’ve finally made it. I took your niche approach in different directions and it’s finally paying off. You’re completely right: no demand = no fees. That simple.

    Reply
  2. jaspal |

    scot, you are simply brilliant.
    your approach is very simple but highly penetrating.
    you are a master of your field.
    you are an inspiration.

    Reply
  3. kirkistan |

    Scott, great advice as always. I’ve just had my first ever Ignite talk accepted so I’ll be going back to your ignite advice posts as I prepare. Thank you for writing about speaking.

    Reply
  4. Anna |

    Hello Scott,

    I found your steps here so helpful. Thank you, I’ll be having better results soon.

    Best Regards,

    Anna

    Reply
  5. Julie |

    As usual, your advice is easy to understand and it’s never sugar-coated.

    Please let me know when Lady Ga-Ga speaks on the life story of Scott Berkun. I’m not even a Lady Ga-Ga fan, but would pay to see that.

    Reply
    • Caroline Wee |

      Well said Scott! I would write more, but clearly I have a lot of work to do.

      Reply
  6. Sydney Gordon |

    Scott,
    I am only 14, but I would love to be a public speaker. Your words of advice should be very helpful in my years to come. I believe I could become a powerful public speaker because I have been told I am a phenomenal writer. I want to turn my essays into actual speeches one day and hopefully help people with my words. I always help my friends and I always give them a speech or lecture on what to do, and they always love what I have to say. They all say I should become a public speaker. I believe that it sounds to be a wonderful and grand idea. If there’s anything, anything at all that you could think of that may or may not help me with my future career, please contact me on my email address. Thank you.
    -Sydney Gordon

    Reply
  7. Brian Sharp |

    Great post Scott! Helpful tips for business and pro speakers alike. Love the simple but true approach to getting started, is well, getting started. Good stuff!

    Reply
  8. Fergus McClelland |

    Very wise words – and very well-written. What does that make me think? It makes me think that Scott is a gifted speaker with lots of experience and worth watching as a speaker. My speaking started out free – and I learned.I still do some free speeches – which often lead to paid speaking and training work. You have to love speaking and know your topic backwards – and put in the homework time. Feedback from friends is good – one short speech I wrote I tested out – and created with – my 6 year old daughter! Always share with someone you trust before you get up to do it on a stage. Other people see benefit and flaws you may miss. Great article, thanks Scott!

    Reply

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