The Ultimate Guide to Landing Your First (Or Next) Paid Speaking Gig: 4 Key Steps

Table of Contents

Public speaking is something that is either incredibly terrifying or incredibly fascinating to most people. Being in front of a group of people presenting is an incredible rush. There’s nothing quite like it. Once most people get a taste of it, they can’t wait to do it again. But most people also don’t know how to get speaking engagements and turn that rush into a full time career.

For over a decade, I made my living as a full-time professional speaker. I’ve given literally hundreds of presentations for thousands and thousands of people. I’ve spoken to classrooms with a handful of people and in an arena with 13,000 people (which was pretty cool I might add :). I also made over $2 million in speaking fees along the way.  It’s been an amazing and unforgettable journey, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

But let me be clear about something: all those numbers are nice; they’re cute and cuddly and make me feel good inside. But I don’t share any of them to pat myself on the back. I share all this to say if I can do it, you can do it. If you have a desire to share your message with the world, if you’ve wondered if this is something you can do, if you’re even just a little curious about being a speaker, this book is for you. If you have a message the world needs to hear, then it’s up to you to find a way to share it.  Building a career out of paid speaking is entirely possible, even if you’re just a regular person without a huge platform or big following on social media.

Speaking is a great way to grow your audience or platform. It’s a powerful medium to share an idea or concept. It’s incredible tool for building relationships. And it’s really freakin’ fun. No wonder so many people are fascinated by this topic. So if we all agree that speaking is a great skill to posses for both personal and professional reasons, then comes the question…

How do I actually get booked (and preferably paid) to speak?

Well I’m glad you asked.

The SPEAK Framework

Here at The Speaker Lab, we’ve created a proven system called the SPEAK Framework that thousands of students have used to build successful speaking businesses and earn millions of dollars in speaking fees. Here’s a quick overview:

Select a Problem to Solve
Prepare Your Talk
Establish Yourself as an Expert
Acquire Paid Speaking Gigs
Know When to Scale

In this post, we’ll talk specifically about the first four steps — the S, P, E and A of SPEAK. Once you’re landing paid gigs regularly, you can check out our other resources on K (Knowing When to Scale).

There are 4 key steps here, along with some foundational questions you’ll need to answer in order to get those elusive paid gigs:

  1. Select a Problem to Solve — Decide who you want to speak to and what you want to speak about
  2. Prepare Your Talk — Create a presentation that delivers value and leaves your audience wanting more
  3. Establish Yourself as an Expert — Showcase your experience and knowledge through key marketing assets
  4. Acquire Paid Speaking Gigs — Build relationships with decision makers that ultimately lead to paid speaking opportunities

Ready to get started? Let’s get you Booked & Paid to Speak®!

Step #1: Select a Problem to Solve

Where do we begin? With a problem, of course. Why is this the first step? Because if you don’t get this part right, nothing else will work. I think of it as the foundation of a house: the part that isn’t flashy and nobody sees, but it is crucial to everything else.

When I meet speakers who are strug-gling, even experienced communicators who aren’t gaining traction, I always come back to the same question: “What problem are you solving?” If you don’t know that, you can’t expect to be booked, because speaking doesn’t start with what you want to say. It starts with the problem you want to solve.

The question people most often ask speakers is, “What do you speak about?” It is, of course, the obvious one to ask, but this is the wrong way to think about what a speaker does. We don’t just speak on a given topic. We solve problems. That problem could be the problem of boredom or of feeling numb inside. It could be the problem of suffering from a chronic illness or just feeling unmotivated at work.

Regardless, your job is to solve someone’s problem, not deliver a speech. The speech is the way you get the job done.

When people ask you what you speak about, they’re really asking, “What problem do you solve? And why should I care?” No matter how great you are, the audience will always be wondering what’s in it for them. Why should they pay atten- tion? What are you helping them with? When we’re starting out in our speaking careers, it’s not a topic we need to select as much as it’s a problem we want to solve.

When someone asks what problem you solve, you should be able to answer with the following: I help [GROUP] do [TOPIC] so they can [SOLUTION].

For example: I help corporate executives maximize their productivity so they can spend more time with their families.

The main goal is to keep your solution short, clear, and simple. Don’t complicate it. My seven-­ year-­ old should be able to understand what you mean. If you’re clear on the problem you solve, it will be clear to clients whether they should book you.  You need to figure out who you’re speaking to, what problem you’re going to solve, and how you can stand out from everyone else.

Free Download: 6 Proven Steps to Book More Paid Speaking Gigs in 2024​

Download our 18-page guide and start booking more paid speaking gigs today!

Let’s start with some foundational questions…

1. Who do you want to speak to?

If you could talk to any audience, who would it be? What is the group of people that gets you excited to speak to? Teenagers? Entrepreneurs? Executives? Moms? Model train enthusiasts? Moms of model train enthusiasts? Who is it that makes you say, “YES…those are my people!”?

There are 7 major industries for speakers that you should be aware of:

  1. Corporations
  2. Associations
  3. Faith-Based Organizations
  4. Nonprofits
  5. Government and Military
  6. Colleges and Universities
  7. Education (K-12)

If deciding who your audience is right now feels overwhelming, that’s totally normal. Choosing an industry is one of the most challenging steps to becoming a professional speaker. The worst thing you can do, though, is nothing. Don’t assume you have to absolutely know who you’re speaking to for the rest of your life. Just pick the industry that seems like the best fit for you right now. Worst-­case scenario: you pick the wrong industry, get a few gigs, and have to go back to square one.

2. What problem are you going to solve?

So let’s assume you could speak to that ideal audience…what would you say? What would you want to share with them that will enrich their lives, businesses, etc?

Now here’s a little bonus tip: just because you know who you want to talk to and what you want to talk about doesn’t mean someone will actually pay you for it. There are topics that the market will generally pay for and others that they generally won’t. How do you know the difference? Keep reading 🙂

3. What makes you qualified to present on this subject?

Of all the other speakers on the planet who could present on this topic, why you? Perhaps you have a fancy degree on the subject. Maybe you have significant experience. Maybe you have produced serious results with what you want to share.

The good news is you don’t have to have some fancy or lengthy pedigree to be able to speak. You don’t need to have been on Survivor (is that even still on?) or have won the Nobel Peace prize (because that’s on par with being on Survivor :).

I remember this was a concern of mine when I got started. I would do mostly motivational speaking, so people would ask me what my story was. What they were really asking was, “What was the tragic life event you had to overcome that makes you qualified to motivate us today?” 🙂

And the fact is I don’t have any fancy life story. Sure I’ve had a few hiccups in my life that I talk about in my speeches but nothing that is news-worthy or life-altering for most people. And that’s ok. There’s value in just being a really good speaker or being able to eloquently talk about a topic.

Now I understand that you may not know the answers to these questions at this moment. That’s okay. I’ve found the more you speak, the better you’ll be able to answer these questions. But in the meantime, at least come up with some broad answers so we have somewhere to start.

Step #2: Prepare Your Talk

It may seem out of order to jump right into preparing and delivering your talk before you even have your first speaking gig booked, but this is the next layer in the process. Before you build a website, make a demo video, or even start emailing anyone to inquire about speaking opportunities, you need to first prepare a talk. Why? Because you have to know what you’re about before you can put anything on a website or start talking to clients about what you do.

Don’t rush this step because you’re eager to get out there; this is important.

The best marketing a speaker can do is not making the right connections or having the slickest promotional material, but simply delivering a great talk. Let me say that again: the best marketing you will ever do is to give a great speech.

Before we get too far into creating and delivering a talk, we need to discuss the different types of talks to choose from. This decision will likely have the biggest impact on how you go about creating and delivering a message and how successful you are as a speaker.

There are three main types of talks: keynotes, workshops, and seminars.


What is a keynote presentation? A keynote is any speech that captures the main focus of an event. Larger keynotes are often held in convention centers or even stadiums, but a keynote can include giving a talk at your local Rotary Club, a business meeting, or the chamber of commerce.

Keynotes are often shorter than a seminar or workshop, usually ranging from forty-­ five to sixty minutes long, though they may be shorter or longer depending on the setting. The audience can vary from just a handful of people to several thousand, but the main distinction is that keynotes are one of the primary talks during an event, delivered to the entire audience. For industry events such as conferences, keynote speakers are the ones who typically get paid the most.


Workshops or breakout sessions typically range from forty-five to ninety minutes in length. The audience is typically smaller, though often more engaged, than that of a keynote. Depending on the size of the event, you may expect anywhere from twenty-­ five to a couple hundred people at a workshop. They are usually more intimate and relaxed in nature. Whereas keynotes are more polished and practiced, workshops are a little more loose and interactive.

Workshops appeal to a smaller portion of the audience who really want to go deep with a subject, whereas keynotes stay broad and appeal to a much broader audience. Which is why it’s important to know what problem you’re solving and who your audience is, because the problem may not be able to be solved with a simple, inspiring keynote. You may need a workshop to do that.


Seminars and trainings can last anywhere from a few hours to a few days and allow you to go deeper on a given topic. Typically, speakers who offer these types of in-­depth trainings are hired by companies to help with a specific topic. But you can also do your own trainings if you have built a large enough audience interested in hearing from you.

With these types of talks, you are often working with larger, corporate audiences, where companies hire speakers to come do a training for a certain department or sometimes a company-wide team-­building day.

Which Type Is Right for You?

How do you know which type of talk is right for you? The best way to know is through trial and error. Try doing one of each and see which you enjoy the most. Before you do that, however, it would help to do your research to see what these types of talks look like in the real world. Learn from the examples of others, and you’ll get a clear idea of what type of talk resonates with your style of communication. And of course, you always have the option to offer all three types of talks to speaking clients. You just need to have a clear strategy for why you’re doing this and the purpose of each type of talk.

Creating Your Talk

Now that we’ve explored the three different types of talks, it’s time to create one. Before you start scripting your message, though, you need to know what you’re trying to do. What’s the goal? What do you want to accomplish with your message? As a speaker, you should always have a clear objective, and until you are clear on that, everything else is going to feel like a waste of time.

The goal in preparing a speech is to become clear on your destination so that everything in your talk points to that one insight, principle, or application. You never want to leave the audience wondering, “What was the point of that talk?”

A good talk should always answer two questions:

Question 1: “So what?” What is the one thing you want your audience to know by the end of your speech? You never want them to feel confused about the mes- sage you were trying to get across.

Question 2: “Now what?” What do you want them to do about it? What’s the next step? Where do they go from here?

Answering “So what?” and “Now what?” is your first job as a communicator. That’s your objective. Before you begin practicing your speech, you must be clear on the answers to those two questions. As you develop your speech, consider these questions with each step of the journey. They will help you stay focused and clear.

Step #3: Establish Yourself as an Expert

Once you’ve prepared a great talk, the next step in your journey is establishing yourself as an expert. As a speaker, you want to be the go-­ to authority event planners consult to solve a specific problem for their audience. This is the problem you defined in step 1 and why we started there.

Before you can start booking gigs, you have to define who you are, what you do, and who you do it for. But just because you know something, that doesn’t make you an expert in the eyes of others. What do you need, then? A brand.

In this step, we’re going to discuss branding and marketing, because it’s not enough to know how to solve people’s problems; they have to know you can do this for them. A brand is how other people tell your story. And marketing is the work you do to get that story out there.

Before we start connecting with decision makers, we want to get a few other foundational marketing pieces in place.

1. Website

Do I really have to tell you this?! In this day and age, a website is your business card. If you’re serious about speaking, you must have a website. If someone is considering hiring you to speak, they will want to do their homework on you and your website is where they will do it. It doesn’t need to be complicated or fancy. Just a few pages to tell how you are, what you talk about, any recommendations or testimonials and a contact page. Really that’s about it.

If you already have a website, then you’re a step ahead. Just make sure your site communicates that you’re a speaker. People won’t think to book you as a speaker if they don’t know you are one. If someone you know was looking for a speaker, would they think of you? Not because of how good or not good you may be, but do they even know speaking is something you offer?

2. Demo Video

Think of a demo video like a movie trailer. You take a 90-minute movie and boil it down to 2-3 minutes of the best stuff. You can watch a trailer and have a pretty good idea what the movie is about and whether or not it’s a fit for you. That’s exactly what your demo video needs to be. It’s just a few short minutes showing highlights from your talk. Just like your website, a demo video is a must. You can tell a potential client you’re really good and that you’d be a good fit for their event, but they’ll want to see it themselves.

But how do you make a demo video if you don’t have any footage of you speaking? Like with anything, you start with what you’ve got. Do you have any speaking engagements coming up? Even just a small workshop, Sunday school class, or boardroom presentation will work. If not, can you find a small environment where you could speak (for free) just so you could film it? Worst case scenario, I’ve seen some demo videos of speakers just talking to an empty room. Now of course you can’t tell that it’s empty. You just need footage of you speaking.

My first demo video was horrible. The footage was grainy and the lighting was bad. You couldn’t hear the audio real well, and I wasn’t even that great of a speaker. I even edited it together on Windows Movie Maker! Why? Because that’s what I had to work with at the time! My demo videos have evolved over time and now my current one was shot and edited by a guy who does video work for Richard Branson, Tony Robbins, and Tim Ferriss. But in the beginning, work with what you’ve got!

3. Testimonials

Testimonials provide social proof that you know what you’re doing. Now I know what you’re thinking…”Grant, how do I get testimonials if I’ve never spoke before?!” Glad you asked! You have to start with what you’ve got. Have you given a presentation at a work meeting? Pitched a proposal before? Spoke at a PTA meeting at your kid’s school? Any public speaking experience will work.

Now, think back to who was in the audience that could provide some form of testimonial (side note: the fancier their title, the better). You don’t need them to lie or make up something that didn’t happen. But if you spoke for 10 minutes in a boardroom and someone has a testimony that you were “very well prepared and inspiring in your presentation. The audience was engaged with the talk and hanging on every word.” If that happened and someone will give you a testimonial for it, then use it!

#Step 4: Acquire Paid Speaking Gigs

Now the fun begins. Everything we’ve done thus far has been laying the foundation for your speaking career, including figuring out your industry and interest, honing your message, and even getting your website and video up. Now it’s time to start putting the finishing touches on this new career you’re creating. In other words, it’s time to get some speaking gigs.

This is where a lot of speakers make a crucial mistake, thinking, “Well, I’ve got my website online and my speaker video up, so I’m done.” But your phone isn’t going to start ringing just because you have a website; your inbox isn’t going to be flooded with speaking requests now that you’ve finished your speaker video.

In many ways, the work is just beginning. Now your job is to identify potential clients and reach out to them to find out if they need a speaker for their upcoming event. If you’re lucky, some people may find you through your website; certainly, that happens on occasion—­ in fact, the longer you speak, the more it may happen—­ but the quickest way to start booking gigs is to ask for them.

After you’ve identified who you want to speak to and what you want to speak about, here’s the next big question to ask…

What are the events/conferences my people go to?

When I started my speaking career, I focused primarily on marketing to existing conferences. Why? Because I knew they already booked speakers. I didn’t have to convince an organization who had never hired a speaker that they needed to spend money on me. It’s much easier to get someone to use your service if they’re already used to paying for that service in the first place.

So where do your people gather? Spend some time on Google using related keywords to find conferences, associations, conventions or other gatherings of that audience. Pro Tip: Search by state as well. So for example, instead of just searching for “financial planners conference,” search for “California financial planners conference” or “Tennessee financial planners conference.”

Here’s why that is so important…not only will you discover a whole plethora of other options that exist, but often times, it’s much easier to get booked with state, regional or local conferences than it is with bigger national conferences. So start small in your search.

Once you’ve identified some possible events, then it’s time to find the meeting planner or conference organizer. This is usually on the “about page” or “contact page”. Depending on the size of the conference, there may be a bunch of people to choose from or it may be pretty clear who the decision maker is. That’s the key…we need to find the decision maker.

Here’s where a lot of speakers make a big mistake. We’ve discovered a conference we would LOVE to speak at. We did some searching and identified the decision maker. So what do most speakers do?

Send a ridiculously long email (that will never get read) about how great you are and why they should book you to speak.Please don’t do this!

Think of this whole process like dating. You’ve identified someone that you’re interested in and think there might be potential for a relationship. You don’t send them a cold email proposing marriage. That’s a horrible life decision.

But that’s exactly what we do when we send those ridiculously long email pitches to someone who has no idea who we are.

Instead, here’s what I try to do…

Start A Conversation.

Send them a SHORT email asking about the conference. Preferably something they can answer with a short reply. Here’s an example…

Hey John!

I noticed your “Association of Beautiful Brewing Baristas” conference is coming up in a few months in Seattle. And I have a presentation about helping your baristas go from Tall to Venti that I think would be a great fit for your conference!

I was curious if you have started taking proposals for workshop presenters yet?

Thanks John!


Notice what all happened in this email…

  • I did some basic homework to see when and where the conference is. Don’t email them asking when the conference is when it’s plastered all over their site.
  • I didn’t pitch why I would be the perfect speaker…I just offered an idea of what I might be able to speak about. I know what you’re thinking…”But Grant…I don’t have a talk about helping baristas go from Tall to Venti?” Well, they haven’t booked you yet, so you don’t need it. One of the best ways to sell a talk is to presell it. If they reply that they want you to present on that topic, then you can get to work. Now of course, if you throw out a one line topic of a possible presentation, it should be something you can actually present on 🙂
  • It was short and easy to reply to. No long rambling email with an unclear reason for why the email was sent in the first place.
  • I concluded with a clear question that could be answered with a simple yes or no. Easy for the recipient.
  • I included my speaking website at the bottom. I didn’t tell them to go to the site. If they’re interested, they’ll go anyway. When someone new follows you on Twitter, what do you do? You read their short bio and if what they do sounds interesting, you’ll go to their link! You don’t need the bio to tell you to go to the link.

So at this point, all you’re trying to do is build a rapport with the decision maker. Another idea is to research last year’s conference. Who did they have speak? What did those presenters talk about? Do you know any of those speakers? If you’re already in that industry, then hopefully you’ll know a few speakers who have been there before.

If so, it’s a good idea to reach out to them and get some more context on the event. Is the person you emailed about the conference the actual decision maker? Depending on the relationship with your friend, could they give you an intro to the decision maker?

Again, let’s go back to the dating analogy. You see someone you’re kind of interested in, so what do you do? You’re start stalking researching them online! You want to discover who they’re connected to and if you have any mutual friends.

All of this is about building a relationship and establishing rapport with the decision maker.

Other Ways to Find Paid Speaking Gigs

If you want to dive in further to specific methods and strategies to find more paid speaking gigs, check out this post on 11 ways to find paid speaking opportunities.

A few final tips

Here are a few more tips as you get started with this…

You’ll often speak for free before you speak for a fee.

If you’ve never really spoke much and you don’t have a massive platform already, there’s a good chance you won’t get paid the first few times you speak. That’s not to say you’ll never get paid, but to get your foot in the door, you’ll often be speaking for free. Remember, you’re trying to build a relationship with the decision maker, so if you can present an insanely good workshop at their conference for free one year, there’s a better shot at getting paid the next year.

Know what speakers get paid for

Just because you’re an expert on a topic doesn’t mean people will pay for it. There are lots of topics that work well as a free workshop but the event planner wouldn’t pay you to talk about. If you notice, most keynote speakers talk about broad topics that most all the audience can connect with. But the workshops or breakout sessions are generally on more niche subjects that appeal to narrower groups of people. As a general rule, keynote speakers are paid and workshop presenters are not (unless that presenter is a “name” in that space, then maybe).

In the corporation/association world, speakers generally get paid for things that tangibly affect the bottom line. If you can help improve sales, customer service or company morale, you can get paid. If you want to talk about how Quickbooks can make accounting more fun…good luck.

Your best marketing is a great presentation

Marketing for a speaker is telling someone what to think about you until you show up and open your mouth. Someone who is a good marketer but a poor speaker can get booked initially but that won’t last. With any service, you still have to be able to deliver. If you’re good, word travels.

One of the best ways to get booked is to get other people to see you live – Any time I go speak somewhere, I always ask myself who is in the area (or at the conference) that has the potential to book me for something else? I know that if I can get them in the room and deliver a great presentation, there’s a good chance they’ll book me in the future. Why? Look back at the previous point…your best marketing is a great presentation. So make sure you pack the room with potential decision makers!

Here’s one final thing to remember….relationships take time. Getting to speak (and preferably paid) is not an overnight process. It’s a slow growth process that takes time. Don’t rush that process.

But if you’re committed to not only the craft of speaking but also the marketing and hustle it takes to get started, you can become a great (and frequently booked) speaker!

What Type Of Speaker Are You?

Click below to discover your Speaker Archetype and how to start getting booked and paid to speak!


Becoming a successful speaker can change a person’s life, whether your goal is to travel the world, make more money, or reach a wider audience with your message. For me, it was all of the above and more. I wanted to know my life had a purpose, to share my gift with the world, and to make a living doing it. And I knew I couldn’t do that if I didn’t understand the actual process to achieve success as a speaker.

I want that for you too. Whatever success means to you, and you are free to define it however you’d like, I hope this article and all of our resources here at The Speaker Lab helps you find your way. Keep doing the work, keep getting your message out there, and I’m confident you’ll discover a life of deeper meaning and purpose. You’ll become the communicator you were meant to be—a truly successful speaker—­ and the world will thank you for it.

Now go make your message matter.


Explore Related Resources

Crafting a Message That Inspires: 7 Tips for Giving a Motivational Speech
Here are seven tips for how to give a motivational speech that you can start applying right now.
The Journey to Inspiring Others: 5 Steps to Becoming a Motivational Speaker
Today we're walking you through our five-step framework to launch and sustain a successful career as a motivational speaker. 
How to Land on a Fee You Feel Confident With from Angie Besignano
This week, Maryalice Goldsmith and Angie Besignano are digging into how to charge your worth as a new speaker. If you need a few tips to feel more confident with your pricing, this episode is for you! 

Learn How You Could Get Your First (Or Next) Paid Speaking Gig In 90 Days or Less

We receive thousands of applications every day, but we only work with the top 5% of speakers.

Book a call with our team to get started — you’ll learn why the vast majority of our students get a paid speaking gig within 90 days of finishing our program.

If you’re ready to control your schedule, grow your income, and make an impact in the world – it’s time to take the first step. Book a FREE consulting call and let’s get you Booked and Paid to Speak®.