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How to build a career as a paid, professional speaker

I’ve made hundreds of paid speeches over the years, and people often ask for advice about how to build a career as a speaker.

Most of the advice out there is about how to market yourself. It’s fine, but good marketing will get you the first speech — not long-term success.

The most important advice:

#1. Be a great speaker.  

That should be obvious, but many executives wrongly assume they are great speakers. They aren’t.

It takes years of practice, hours and hours in front of the mirror, weeks working on slides and scripts, hours refining and prepping for each audience. If you haven’t spent 1,000 hours making speeches, you’re not ready.

#2. Be a low-maintenance professional

In the end, meeting planners are the most important people in your speaking career. They choose the speakers, they know that a bad keynote can cost them their jobs, and they all talk to each other. 

Make them happy, and you’ll get great business through referrals. That means no drama, no prima-donna requests, no luxury travel, and no hassles. Word will get out if you’re a pain in the ass.

#3. Make it about the event, not you.  

You are being paid to promote the event, not the other way around. Use your star power to help the event. Blog about them, give them a promo clip, promote your appearance. Meetings planners love stars who help make great meetings (and hate those who try to milk the event for self-promotion.)

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  1. Angus Pryor March 24, 2014 at 4:12 pm #

    thanks Andy, this is something on my bucket list – public speaking that is. I guess I better start now which begs the question, how did you get started?

  2. Andy Sernovitz March 24, 2014 at 4:15 pm #

    Good question! I took every free speaking offer I could get until I got good. Then people started offering me paid gigs, without me asking. The free gigs gave me the experience and the exposure to build demand.

  3. Angus Pryor March 24, 2014 at 4:21 pm #

    Thanks. What kind of free speaking offers were there/are there? I’m really curious to start doing this …

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