5 biggest challenges to starting a public speaking career

Table of Contents

Introduction

A public speaking career can give you a significant new income stream from speaking fees. It can give you visibility in front of audiences that are open to your message. And it can grant you massive credibility and authority (people always trust the person onstage). But it is not without challenges. Read on for the 5 biggest challenges to starting a public speaking career.

If you are a coach, consultant, author or businessperson, you might have thought about starting a side business to supplement your income. You might be looking for a way to leverage your expertise. One of the most effective ways to protect and grow your coaching or consulting business, during a recession or any other time, is to establish yourself as a professional speaker. 

But you might still have questions or reservations about starting a public speaking career. You might be wondering how to start, what to focus your signature talk on, and what success as a public speaker looks like. Or you might not be sure how to find leads, event planners, or market yourself. You might not be sure how to start preparing your talk. And you might struggle to find time to do speaking gigs if you have a day job. Are you wondering about the answers to these things? Read on for a list of the top 5 pain points people face when starting a public speaking career. Along the way, we’ll address each of those pain points with actionable steps to addressing each challenge!

With that, here are the 5 biggest challenges to starting a public speaking career.

How to start and make a plan

One of the biggest challenges to starting a public speaking career is knowing where to start. As per The Speaker Lab’s SPEAK Framework, you can start by evaluating your experience and skills. The first thing you will need to do is to identify a problem worth solving that you in particular have the ability and credibility to show your audience how to solve. Once you know what problem you’re going to solve, it can help immensely to plan out how you’re going to solve it.  You have to be clear on how the solution is going to be provided. And actually, that’s going to be your best marketing asset in your arsenal.

Have prior public speaking? That’s great. If not, you might consider joining a Toastmasters club or taking a public speaking class. Once you have some experience, you will be able to start creating a portfolio of your work, including videos, audio recordings, and written transcripts of your speeches.

There are two key marketing tools every professional speaker needs to grow a business. The first is paid speaking. For some of you out there with some experience under your belt, you may have booked some gigs through word of mouth or referrals. That’s nice when it happens like that, but it’s hard to build a business that way. What you want to do is to find a repeatable, predictable process so that you can book gigs and stop waiting for gigs to come to you. Then the last part of the process is knowing when to scale.

How to select an audience

You must pick an area of expertise to find your audience. You must also find an audience that you want to speak to, and this may change over time, but it’s a good idea to start by picking one. If you want to get noticed online and build an audience, then you have to have a specialty of some sort. Something about your background, your experience, or maybe even your interests should set you apart from everyone else out there who is trying to do the same thing. When searching for your niche, be sure to go narrower than you think. Remember that you still need to find something that enough people are interested in.

How to select a problem to solve

The next part of the process is establishing yourself as an expert for your audience. Some experts say it takes about 10,000 hours of deliberate practice – or about 5 years’ worth of full-time work – to master a particular skill (like playing a sport or learning a language). Other experts disagree, saying that genetics and good teaching matter as much if not more than practice. It’s safe to say that time and deliberate effort are essential to many realms of expertise; similar to sports or chess, understanding the finer points of medical practice and financial markets takes time.

How to start finding leads

By far one of the biggest challenges to starting a public speaking career is finding leads. How do you start to find paid speaking opportunities? When you’re ready to search for speaking opportunities, use Google. The #1 search engine in the world. As a new or seasoned speaker, you’ll want to search realistic places and events you’d like to speak at before you go shooting for the stars.

The first thing you should do when searching for a conference to attend is to think local, state and regionally. There are two ways you can search: by people and events.

For people, if you follow speakers and events on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, your newsfeed should be flooded with events or people to Google. If you’re not following industry leaders and influencers, it’s time to get on the social media bandwagon for business.

For events, if you live in Tennessee and you’re a dentist—you could search: “Tennessee Dentist Conference.” Check out the big, national conferences at the top. Then scroll down a bit and look for the smaller, local conferences that would love to have someone from their own backyard give a great talk.

Want to know the secret to Google? Scroll all the way down and you’ll see “Searches related to dentist conference in Tennessee,” which is gold! You’ll find all the related keywords to continue your search for dentists in Tennessee. Then you can expand your search to state and region.

Now, you might be wondering, what if you’re in healthcare? Knitting? Youth athletics? Parks and recreation? The same rules apply. Search for conferences in any industry. Google knows everything!

You can start by writing down 20, 40 or even 100 events that sound interesting to you—even if they don’t hire many speakers or have a lot of attendees. Just focus on getting your foot in the door, one event at a time!

How to connect with event planners

Now that you have your list of specific event and contact information, it’s time to reach out. “But what do I say?” Easy. Be honest and tell them why you reached out! Tell them how their event or conference has impacted your life and how it’s made a difference.

PRO TIP: When you’re reaching out to someone, personalize it as much as possible. And yes, this takes more time and effort—but it’s worth it.

Don’t copy and paste a generic template to every one of the conferences you listed. That’s just plain lazy and shows that you don’t care enough to do an original pitch.

When you pitch to speakers, you’re building a relationship. It’s not about how you got into speaking; it’s about how you can help them reach their goals. Keep it short and ask specific questions that can be answered quickly.

For example, you could ask, “When will you be taking speaker applications for the upcoming XYZ event?”

People have busy lives and their time is valuable. Even if you have the best story in the world, don’t go into it unless you’re asked. And don’t pitch your services until you know what the person needs and is looking for.

Provide 3-4 sentences on who you are, what you speak about and how you can help their audience with your message.

Follow up a few days later.

If no reply, wait another week and follow up again.

If no answer, wait until the event is a little closer and try again.

Ultimately, you should reach out to event organizers 3-6 months in advance. Some events book out longer — some shorter — so it’s important to be prepared.

Want to dive deeper? Check out our podcast episode on what event planners look for in a speaker.

How to start marketing

Another one of the biggest challenges to starting a public speaking career is marketing. If you want to speak on your area of expertise, have a solid personal website. If you don’t have a website, you don’t exist. And no, we’re not talking about a Facebook page or a LinkedIn profile. An actual website on a domain you own. (for more on doing speaker websites, check out this episode of The Speaker Lab podcast)

Make sure you’re website looks sharp. Your audience will judge your presentation by its cover—so if your site looks like it was designed by a 2nd grader, they’ll assume you suck as a speaker!

Having a second site for more niche material may be a good idea; you can use this site to host your blog, so you can share material from a Youtube channel or podcast.

One marketing case study

Jeff Rose, a certified financial planner and Forbes contributor, has said that his blog was the best place to start his online presence. He posted client case studies and showcases of different projects he had worked on over the years. He also used Youtube videos, podcast episodes, and a social media presence to bolster his blog posts.

Even after you’ve built a website, don’t expect to get a lot of publicity out of it. It can take years of working consistently on the site before you see any substantial returns. But networking can help bring the returns sooner.

One way to get your message out there is by connecting with reporters and media that are in your area of expertise. For example, you can check out the HARO (Help A Reporter Out) website to connect with reporters in your space. Up to three times a day, they email you a list of journalists and bloggers who are looking for quotes for different categories.

After you’ve identified the writers in your space, look them up on Twitter and LinkedIn. Then follow them and share their content. By the time they ask for an interview, you’ll be fresh in their mind—and far more likely to land that interview!

Attending conferences in your niche can be a good move. But don’t go into them with the mindset of “what can they do for me?” Instead, go in with the mindset of “how can I help others?”

If you’re looking for a way to network with people in your field, try using your site to create a warm introduction with someone you’d like to connect with. For example, you could create a list of the top 10 influencers in your area of expertise and list one or two people you’d like to reach out to. If you’re able to name them on a major site such as Forbes, CNN, or The Washington Post, you build their brand and increase their credibility as well as your own. This can help make a cold email much warmer.

How to start preparing your talk

Another one of the biggest challenges to starting a public speaking career is knowning how to prepare your talk. Your talk is your best marketing. Now, in creating a talk, understand that there’s no one way to create a presentation. There’s lots of different kinds of choose-your-own-adventure ways to create that. But here is a really, really simple speech structure. So you give an introduction—you introduce the problem that your talk is going to solve and ultimately capture the audience’s attention. One thing that’s important to remember is there’s a difference between an audience that wants to be there and an audience that has to be there.

Now, you may have been introduced, but what are you going to do when you get up on stage and your audience is looking at you with blank faces? How can you make them pay attention? And how are they supposed to know what to do with the information you’re about to share with them? How can they trust that whatever it is that you’re saying is true? And so, it’s important to give your introduction just a little spark. You want a surprising statistic or an eye-catching picture or an interesting story or something that makes people pay attention and want to know more.

Next, you’re going to the main body. This is where you provide a solution to the problem and action items that will help your audience follow through. When you’re presenting a takeaway, keep it specific, tangible, actionable, and realistic. Give your audience something they can leave with—something that lets them know exactly what they need to do next. Don’t make your takeaway vague or squishy; give them something they can understand and apply right away.

How to find time for speaking gigs with a day job

If you want to find time for speaking gigs, you’ll need to be organized and efficient with your time. Try to find blocks of time in your schedule that you can devote to preparing for and giving speeches. If you have a full-time job, this may mean getting up early in the morning or working on weekends. You can also look for opportunities to speak during your lunch break or after work. In addition, try to create a network of support by enlisting family and friends to help.

Here are some tips to help you get started:

1. Find time in your schedule: Look for blocks of time in your schedule that you can devote to preparing for and giving speeches.

2. Get up early: If you have a full-time job, try getting up early in the morning or working on weekends.

3. Use your lunch break: Try to find opportunities to speak during your lunch break or after work.

4. Enlist support: Ask family and friends to help you with your speaking engagements.

5. Join a group: There are many groups that offer support for public speakers. Joining one of these groups can help you find speaking opportunities and get feedback on your speeches.

Conclusion

So you’ve learned more about the top 5 challenges to starting a public speaking career. You’ve also learned what it takes to begin building a speaking business. If you’d like to learn more about common mistakes people make when selling themselves, we have a very useful podcast with Grant Baldwin and Phil Jones that unpacks each of these.

Want to read more about speaking tips? Check out our 100 tips for motivational speaking! Happy speaking!

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