how to get into public speaking – become a public speaker fast
An easy-to-follow guide showing you how to make your way into public speaking
Having trouble getting into public speaking? Not sure where to start, how to speak to, or if it’s even possible to become a public speaker when you have no experience? Don’t worry – every speaker, public or otherwise, has been in the same place at one time or another and this guide will take you through the steps to allow you to move from unknown to a career or even celebrity (even if it’s only a minor celebrity).
Why do you want to be a public speaker?
This is the most important question you need to answer before you move on. What I will say is there is no ‘right’ answer – you might be aiming for money, fame, to advance your existing career, or even speaking for a cause – but understanding what Simon Sinek calls your ‘why’ will unlock many of the questions you haven’t yet answered.
So, the first step is to write down your ‘why’, then find a prominent place to pin that piece of paper. Every time you have doubts or have the feeling you’ll never succeed, you can look at the words and remind yourself of what you’re going to achieve.
It’s time to get into the guide…
In this guide, I’m going to answer some of the most common questions people ask and show you the steps I’ve taken to become a speaker. Some of the steps may not be relevant, whilst there will be others you may have already tried, and the key is to work through each section and attempt it.
Before we move, be aware that you’ll be rejected more times than you’re accepted and that is something you have to accept as a new speaker – public speaking gigs are everywhere and speakers are in big demand, but that doesn’t mean you’ll land on your feet every time. Instead, be prepared to hear the word ‘no’ more than not.
How many speeches do you have to give to be a speaker?
There is no hard and fast rule, but in my opinion, once you’ve given a speech you can call yourself a speaker. This doesn’t mean you can relax and wait for more offers to roll in… you need to keep working to find opportunities as well as deliver a performance that wows each and every audience. Always be improving. Always deliver what the audience wants from a great public speech and keep this phrase in mind – ‘the public gets what the public wants’ (not my words, I found a saying online and swapped out a few words).
How much does a public speaker earn?
I’ve covered this question in-depth in the complete breakdown of public speaking pay. For the sake of brevity, the average salary of a full-time public speaker in 2023 is around $50,000/£40,000 but this figure varies depending on the type of speaking you specialise in (there are four types of public speaking) and can rise to $300,00/£240,000. The key point to note is this: many speakers don’t start with the intention to make money. They get into public speaking because they have a message, or story, they want to share.
Learn to speak first
Skills are important and the primary tool of a speaker is… to be able to speak well in public. Obvious, right? Well, maybe not. You see, there are a huge number of speakers whose speeches are less than inspiring because the message they try to pass to their audience is disjointed, lacks power or is simply awful. Take the use of ‘um’ and ‘err’, two tiny words that can make or break your speech. How many times have you listened to a ‘public speaking guru’ drop these words into their speech? Probably way too many.
We call these filler words because they are used to fill gaps where a speaker hasn’t prepared, can’t remember, or simply doesn’t know the topic he or she is speaking about.
Likewise, the ability to use your hands, encourage audience participation, or leverage the power of pauses are powerful tools that give the impression you’ve mastered the art of public speaking, even if you’re a beginner.
The first rule of getting into public speaking is: to learn to give a speech that is polished and so magnetic your audience can’t help but come on the journey with you.
I’ve written a series of public speaking guides to help improve as a speaker and make every speech you give memorable and engaging:
how to use hand gestures in public speaking
how to stop using filler words when you’re speaking
the power of the pause – how pauses make your public speech a winner
learn to speak words that influence your audience
a quick guide to skills every speaker needs to master
Sign up with a speaking company aka an agency
Not every public speaker uses an agency and the truth is most big agencies won’t even consider your application unless you’re a person of note e.g. a major athlete, politician or public figure, or have achieved something amazing e.g. being fired out of a canon and landing on the moon, skydiving from the edge of space, or single-handedly hauled a beached sperm whale back into the ocean.
Okay, some of the last examples were tongue in cheek, but if you’re not a celebrity you need a powerful story behind you (Brian Rashid is a great example of someone who tells powerful stories). What I’m trying to say is this – don’t even think about applying to a big agency as they’ll reject. Inf fact, as I discovered during my early attempts to get signed to one, they won’t even reply to your application.
So what kind of speaking company should you look for?
Go small. And, if possible, go local. The world over, there are public speaking agencies who are just like you – they are starting out and they have ambitions to make it big. Some will fail, and some will be a huge success.
Your job as a public speaker is to get yourself onto the books of as many small agencies as possible. As you increase the number of speeches you give and build your profile your fame will grow to the point you need never again have to use an agency.
It’s not possible for me to give you an exhaustive list of companies as I don’t know where you live and compiling a database of the world’s agencies, large or small, would take years! Instead, here are a few ways you can find public speaking agencies:
Use search engines. Type in some of the following into Google, Bing, DuckDuckGo (yes, that is a real search engine – and it’s rather good)
public speaking agency “place you live”
public speakers database “place you live”
“our public speakers” “place you live”
“local speakers for small groups”
Ask! Get on LinkedIn and Twitter, find local public speakers using the search box and ask them of any local, or small agencies, looking for a new speaker to add to their database.
How to boost your public speaker’s profile
Your speaker profile is an important consideration and you really do need to put some effort into working out the message you want to pass to your listeners and audiences. The key components are:
the type of public speaker you want to be;
your target audience (do you have a specific group of people you want to give speeches to? An example might be motivational speakers who give talks to school kids, or doctors);
a list of credentials (if you’ve climbed the ten most remote mountains in the world, list them. If you’re an experienced rower whose job it is to introduce disabled children to water sports, list it. Do you have skills people find hard to learn, then list them. You get the idea).
How to find speaking gigs
Speaking gigs are the lifeblood of every speaker and without some effort on your part, your career as a speaker will never take off. So it’s down to you to make it happen. Remember what I said about most agencies having no interest in you unless you have a sizeable, or unique, achievement under your belt? Well, keep that in mind when you start looking for the first venue where you’ll speak.
As a newcomer to public speaking, you should focus on the low hanging fruit. But not too low. What do I mean by that?
This: don’t offer your public speaking services for free as you devalue your worth. Over the years, I’ve found many potential clients have been wary of accepting a free public speaking offer as, for some reason, free has come to be associated with low quality.
Now I’m sure your talks will smash the ball out of the park, but your potential client has no idea of how effective you are at getting a message across to the audience. Always charge, even if the fee only covers the cost of your travel and a small amount of profit.
The elephant has now been pushed out of the room and it’s time to find speaking gigs. Where do you start?
Cold emailing companies. This is scary, but it has brought some amazing results for me. Get on LinkedIn or better yet, grab your local business directory and write an email pitch to each and every prospective company;
Leverage LinkedIn. But at the start of your journey, don’t contact companies direct. Instead, follow active public speakers and start a conversation with them. Ask if they can help you get some public speaking work (you’ll be surprised how helpful many people are). One tip: follow speakers who DON’T talk on the same topic, or type, as you;
Facebook Events. No matter where you live (oh, unless it’s in a cave at the end of the world) there will be events near you. Be bold, get in touch with the organisers and give them your pitch. There is a high likelihood they will say they have, or don’t need, a speaker and if this is the case ask to be on a reserve list, or considered for the next event they run;
Local events. The approach is identical to the FB suggestion, but you should look at events happening locally;
Ask friends. Your friends have jobs, interests and connections that will be of benefit to you. Go all-in and ask them to help you get onto your new career path;
Business groups networking groups are always looking for a speaker to add some zing to their events. Call, email, or better yet visit their offices and tell them what you do (this is how I got my first paid job as a speaker).
I’m going to expand this list as I delve more into ways to find gigs. There are so many opportunities open to you and the most important action you need to take is… to take action. Get out, speak to people and turn those opportunities into wins.
The steps above will take time, but if you really want to become an in-demand speaker you need to put in the effort.
Make every speech a GREAT public speech
When you talk in front of an audience they need to be wowed. I’ve written a series of guides to help make you a better talker, and entertainer, but here is a slimmed-down version:
ask yourself what it is your listeners want to gain from hearing you speak;
understand how pitch, pace, hand movements, etc can engage people;
tell a story they can relate to in some way or another;
give your talk a conclusion, good or bad. A tale left hanging doesn’t provide satisfaction and your career as a speaker will soon be over.
Speaking of any kind, public or private, is a rewarding experience I’ve come to love, but as you can see there’s no easy route for you to get your name up in lights… unless you have a degree of fame already. You’re going to get rejected, often. Some of your talks will fall flat. There will be days when you simply want to throw your speech in the bin and curl up in a ball.
And that’s fine. Every speaker you talk to will tell of the frustrations they’ve experienced and you’ll soon come to learn you’re not alone. As your skills grow and your determination increases, doors will open to you. And, assuming your talk is good, job offers will soon follow. It’s all a matter of effort, time and using your skills to carve out a space in your niche.