What It Takes to be a Paid Professional Speaker


Being a successful, paid professional speaker sounds fantastic! Who wouldn’t want to manage their schedule, have no income ceiling, travel to incredible places, stay in excellent hotels, meet interesting people, have control over their careers, and as a bonus, get applause after you complete your work? Sounds great, but the truth is being a professional speaker isn’t for everyone. You have to be a self-starter and continually develop the skills necessary to be a paid professional speaker.

How long does it take to become a professional speaker?

The question that I get asked the most is how long it takes to become a paid professional speaker? My answer is that it depends on how quickly you can master skills.

In the earliest stages of launching your speaking career, you are responsible for performing various duties that come with the territory. You are an entrepreneur, and before you have an assistant, an accounting department, a graphics designer, or a marketing guy, you must be the go-to person. 

In addition to the basic business skills, you must take time developing the following additional skills that will drastically improve your chances of speaking success. Here’s a list of some of the most critical skills all professional speakers should have.

Professional speakers must be good communicators.

Oral communication is the most common form of communicating. An excellent Communicator can change and inspire lives. In a presentation, the speaker takes the audience on a journey, staying connected throughout.

A seasoned speaker watches the audience’s gestures and movements and can feel their energy. The more you present, the better you communicate.

Professional speakers must be a writer.

You have the idea for your keynote; now it’s time to get it out of your head and onto paper. A successful speaker must be able to write and develop a speech/presentation. Before you start writing:

  • Think about your message and what you want the audience to do when your speech is over.
  • Keep that message alive throughout your writing.
  • Think of your audience, and make sure that your content is relevant. 
  • Remember to write it the way you speak, not like an article or written book report.

Professional speakers are life-long learners.

If you want to get booked for your knowledge, experience, and perspective, you have to be a lifelong learner. Today more than ever, content is king. You must read journals, books, articles, blogs, listen to podcasts, and the list goes on and on.

If you want to be relevant, your presentations must be organic and continue to grow and evolve. In addition to researching your topic, you should get to know and understand every audience you address.

I have found that one-on-one interviews with key people in the organization I will presenting to has not only given me great insights into the audience but also their industry

Professional speakers must exude confidence. 

They say that speaking in public is one of the top fears of most people. And yes, most speakers have the jitters before giving a speech. Speakers have learned to spin the jitters into excitement.

When you deliver an excellent presentation and feel like you knocked it out of the park, you feel a great sense of accomplishment, and yes, you feel a bit of relief when it is over. It’s time to celebrate! You did it, and the confidence grows.

The more you practice and the more you speak, the more your communication skills grow along with your confidence.

Professional speakers must be adaptable.

A professional speaker interacts with different people in different circumstances regularly. Meeting planners, audiences, audiovisual teams, travel flights, rental cars, time slots, rehearsals, and even content and titles of presentations all involve dealing with differences and change.

A professional speaker’s adaptability is a huge component of their success. Leave the drama behind.

Professional speakers need energy.  

A great speaker must have the ability to turn on their energy switch when they enter the stage or turn on the camera. Low energy is deadly when it comes to giving a presentation.  

I have noticed that the audience follows the speaker’s cue. You are in charge of spreading the enthusiasm so be passionate and energetic and empowering. If you don’t feel empowered by what you’re saying, you can’t expect your audience to be excited.

In my early speaking days, I was unaware that my energy affected the audience. One evening at a small venue, I realized that I was not connecting. I made a conscious effort to get excited about my content. I became a bit more animated, expressive, and found myself and the audience getting pumped up!

That night, I realized that inside of me was my energy switch that must be turned on before addressing an audience. I make sure that the switch is on for every event, video, and even conference phone calls.

Your energy is a powerful thing, and a great memorable speaker knows how to turn it on and off.

Professional speakers must have an engaging presence. 

It’s time to use your body! You can reinforce your points and connect with the audience with your posture and body language. Hand gestures, facial expressions, movement, looking directly at the audience, laughter, smiles, and showing your personality are components in creating your engaging speaker presence.

The best way to grow your presence is to get on stages or behind your computer camera and practice,

Successful speakers are disciplined.

I remember my speaker mentor Tom Brittan telling me this joke: A pedestrian on 57th Street sees a musician getting out of a cab and asks, “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” Without pause, the artist replies wearily, “Practice.”

Practice is the best way to get good. When practice becomes part of your process, no matter if you are a veteran or a beginner, you are on your way to a long-lasting speaking career.

Practice in your home, office, or at a free speaking event such as the Rotary, Kiwanis, Lions Club. Never practice in front of a paid audience.

In addition to the above skills, you will need passion, patience, and persistence during your journey. Your passion for your topic and the love of the work will get you through the tough times.

You need patience because success always takes longer than you think! And it would help if you had a healthy dose of persistence to stay the course.

Many new speakers quit too soon. Hang in there! Consistently work on your skills and become dedicated to practicing. You will make it!

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