The Journey to Inspiring Others: 5 Steps to Becoming a Motivational Speaker

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Here at The Speaker Lab, our mission is to help you build a solid foundation for a speaking business that gets you booked and paid to speak for years to come. That’s why our founder Grant Baldwin developed the SPEAK Framework™. This framework provides a five-step guide for how to become a motivational speaker who can grow your business and amplify your message. Today we’re walking you through those those five steps and how they can help you launch and sustain a successful career as a motivational speaker. 

1. Select a Problem to Solve

When you speak, you want to inspire. Does repeating vague generalities that people have heard a thousand times inspire? No. If you only have a general idea of what kind of motivational speaking you want to do, it’s time to figure out which specific problem you solve for a particular audience. You should be able to describe your speaking business in terms of who you help, what you talk about, and what solution you help them achieve. Potential clients don’t want to hear about how inspirational you are. They want to what you can do for their clients–your future audience.

A successful motivational speaker taps into the needs of an audience by solving a specific, relevant problem. That problem might be self-doubt. It might be disordered priorities. It might be ignorance about a path to transformation that you can illuminate. The point is, your audience doesn’t want a pat on the back–they want solutions. 

Why you need a niche

So many speakers want to get started on their speaking business without getting clear on the problem that they solve. They want to get their footing in the speaking industry, get in front of a wide range of audiences, and then settle on a niche. This is actually the opposite of how the speaking industry works. Casting a wide net and trying to talk to appeal to everyone with your message will get you ignored. Trust us on this one–we have worked with thousands of speakers to build their businesses. The repeatable process that every successful speaker follows starts with choosing a niche. 

It might seem counter-intuitive, but think about it. If you want great Chinese food, do you go to a hole-in-the-wall restaurant in Chinatown or the grocery store deli?  People don’t want a speaker to give them a one-size-fits-all message. They want a message that addresses their problems and makes them feel special. This is just human nature! For your audience to feel inspired, you have to make every individual feel like you wrote your talk specifically for them. That’s why you need to know your audience and craft your message with their needs in mind.

How to select your niche

Now that you’ve come to terms with narrowing down your niche to solving a problem for a specific audience, what do you do? You start by selecting an industry. It’s perfectly fine if you haven’t really narrowed down your message to a one-line at this stage. Selecting an industry will help you do that! Generally, motivational speakers focus on one of seven industries: 

  1. Corporations
  2. Associations
  3. Faith-based organizations
  4. Nonprofits
  5. Government & Military
  6. Colleges & Universities
  7. K-12 Education

We go over how to find conferences in each of these industries at this blog here

Once you choose an industry, it’s time to identify an interest. This is where you narrow down your topic of choice. Think about what you like to talk about–preferably a topic that already has some demand and that people will still care about in five years. This is a great time to do some market research to really know the people within your industry and what they want. You will get booked and paid to speak where there is an intersection between a) your interest and b) demand for speakers.

What’s the last step to choosing a niche and succeeding there as a motivational speaker? Speaking with integrity. By integrity we mean two things. Number one: speak from your own experience. Number two: don’t pretend to be someone you’re not. Don’t fall for the “expert myth.” You don’t need to be a world-renowned expert to be a great speaker. Speak with honesty and authenticity about what you do know, and don’t worry about what you don’t. 

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2. Prepare and Deliver Your Talk

Now you know who you’re talking to and what you want to do for them. What’s next? It’s time to prepare your talk and get ready to deliver it! Yes, even if you haven’t been booked for a speaking gig! In fact, we recommend writing your signature talk before you even build your website or start marketing yourself! 

Is this the only talk you will ever give? No! Does it help to have a specific talk prepared already when you engage with clients? Yes! 

The best marketing you can ever do for your speaking business is to give a great talk. If you already have that talk prepared and practiced, landing your first speaking gig will only require a few tweaks to tailor it to a specific audience. As a motivational speaker, you will likely be delivering mostly keynotes, so that’s what we’ll focus on. (You can read about the difference between keynotes and workshops here.)

Creating your talk

A keynote speaker motivates, inspires, and entertains an audience. Keynotes usually last no more than an hour, but are expected to keep the audience inspired for days, weeks, or even years! Because all eyes–and often a lot of eyes–are on you, your speech has to be interesting and memorable. You have to mix the core of your message with humor, stories, and audience interaction to really make it stick with the audience. 

It can feel daunting to condense all your great ideas about your chosen topic into one talk. We like to think of it in terms of two questions your audience is asking: “So what?” and “Now what?” Your audience wants one main message to remember (so what?) and guidelines for the next steps  they should take to apply it to their lives (now what?). If you try to make too many points in your talk, your listeners will be confused. If you’re just overflowing with ideas, start by developing one into a full length keynote. Then as you grow your business and expand your “speaker menu,” you can integrate the other ideas into additional motivational speeches. 

When it comes to structuring your talk, there are many options available to you. We have many resources to help with this, but there is no “right way” to write your talk! The structure and style that suits your message and gets the point across will be unique to you and your speaking business. As you gain more experience on stage, you will have ample opportunity to find out what works and what doesn’t, so stay flexible!

Preparing for the stage

Before you get onstage, you probably have a few jitters you need to sort out. Even the best motivational speakers who have been doing this for a while experience this! From imposter syndrome, to concerns about the financial viability of speaking, to stage fright, you will doubtless deal with some of the common fears that plague professional speakers. Acknowledge your fears, tune into what they’re telling you, and continue preparing to deliver your talk. 

Once you have confronted your fears, it’s time to get ready for delivering the talk you’ve worked so hard on. As you may have guessed, the key to a confident, successful delivery is practice. We actually don’t recommend motivational speakers memorize their talk verbatim. Rather, focus on internalizing the points you make and the stories that go with them. As long as the same main points come across, you can change up “filler” words, jokes, and side remarks as needed. Practice in front of a few friends to make sure it “flows” and your argument makes logical sense. Most importantly, and we can’t stress this enough, time  yourself. If you’re booked for a 45 minute keynote, you don’t want to accidentally prepare a 25 or 60 minute talk! 

3. Establish Yourself as an Expert

Before you get to use the signature talk you’ve composed and practice, you have to book paid speaking gigs. And before paid speaking gigs comes the next step in our SPEAK Framework™: establishing your expertise. 

As we said above, you do not need to be the world’s foremost expert in your topic of choice. At the same time, building an authoritative personal brand is a key part of how to become a motivational speaker. You want to be the first person event planners think of when they have to hire a speaker in your niche. That requires developing a marketing plan. 

You are the brand

As you learn how to become a motivational speaker, the marketing best practices might take you by surprise. For starters, you are not developing a brand for a product or business, as marketers and entrepreneurs in other industries do. When you’re a motivational speaker, you are the brand. When people think about hiring you, they think of your name, not your business or your speech. 

On the one hand, that makes things easier. You know yourself better than anybody else! On the other hand, selling yourself instead of a product can require a big paradigm shift. Everything you do is marketing. Anything related to you that a client might encounter–your website, your social media, your marketing materials–reflects on your speaking business. This is why it is so important to create a personal brand that is in line with who you are in everyday life.

If you ran into a client or audience member at your local coffee shop, would they see the same person you represent on your speaker website or on stage? You don’t have to overshare your personal life on social media or always speak in a booming keynote speaker voice. It all comes down to integrity. Don’t pretend to be someone you’re not because you think it will book you more speaking gigs. Inauthenticity always gets found out and undermines your credibility as a speaker. 

Developing your Digital Marketing assets

You don’t need to spend a lot of money to develop a great personal brand and digital footprint. Your website and demo video are your most important digital assets, so invest in them accordingly. Always opt for simplicity, clarity, and quality rather than complexity. A one-page website that displays your demo video and an easy way to contact you are really all you need. A speaker bio, testimonials, and professional headshots will add even more credibility to your brand. 

Building your motivational speaking brand on social media might seem like a daunting task. With so many platforms and constantly changing trends, you might not know where to start! We recommend doing some market research and finding out where other speakers in your niche are active on socials. Then, pick one or two platforms to really excel at. It’s easy to overextend yourself on social media. Staying active on one platform will help you really connect with your followers, network with other speakers in the same space, and establish yourself as a household name.

4. Acquire Paid Speaking Gigs

Even if you have an incredible website and demo video, the gigs won’t just show up at your door. To get booked and paid to speak, you have to tell the world you’re a motivational speaker. You can do that by utilizing existing networks and by undertaking lead generation strategies that, while arduous at the beginning, will pay off in the long run.

Utilize your network 

Speaking is an incredibly relational business, and it’s likely your first gigs will come from someone you already know. If your friends and family don’t know your dream of becoming a motivational speaker, it’s time to tell them. Don’t be embarrassed because you haven’t booked any gigs yet! Your aunt’s coworker’s husband might be hiring for speakers but you’ll never know unless you toot your own horn. 

Start your lead generation process by going through your existing network. Invite acquaintances who work in industries in your niche for coffee or lunch. Ask them if they know anybody hiring motivational speakers, or if they have hired one before. Building these relationships and forging a web of connections around your speaking business is an incredibly valuable foundation for your speaking network. 

In addition to your own network, don’t be shy about reaching out to other motivational speakers. We recommend seeking out professional speakers who are a few years further along a similar career path to yours. Referrals from other speakers are one of the biggest ways that speakers get new clients. It’s tempting to think of other speakers as your competition, but try to avoid that mentality! Every successful motivational speaker has to turn down gigs for one reason or another. You could be the speaker they recommend in their stead!

Finding new leads 

You can’t master how to become a motivational speaker without some grunt work. Don’t let that scare you! What we mean is this: building a sustainable speaking business starts with researching prospective clients with Google or other tools at your disposal and sending them cold emails until you get a response. Prospecting for speaking leads can feel a lot like prospecting for gold in the 1850s. You google events in your area and speaking niche, you find the contact information for the decision maker, you fire off a friendly email, and you wait. You don’t want to make a sales pitch right away–just get on their radar. If they don’t respond, you follow up at respectful intervals. 

Finally, you’ll get that coveted answer. When you get a reply, you want to get on the phone with that client as soon as possible. A prompt phone call to an interested client is always the best strategy for getting booked! Then maybe they’ll be interested in hiring you–and then you negotiate your fee and send your contract. And if not, on to the next email!

If it sounds tedious, it is! But if you exhaustively pursue this strategy with events that match your industry, interest, and expertise, you will start getting booked and paid to speak. Ten minutes or half an hour each day of this kind of prospecting will start to pay off as you get your name out there and improve your methods with trial and error. A reputation of being easy to work with is a huge asset in the motivational speaking industry, so always express gratitude and act graciously even when you don’t get hired. And remember–the clients who don’t write back to your initial outreach might be interested in hiring you next year…or even the year after that! 

Because this process involves so many contacts and repetition, we highly recommend systematizing your lead pipeline with a well-organized spreadsheet or CRM from the very beginning. We have several podcasts on systematizing your speaking business; here and here are two good ones! And if you join our program cohort, we offer AMAZING resources to help connect you with the best leads for your speaking business. 

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5. Know When to Scale

The initial relationships you build through networking and cold outreach will be the foundation of your speaking business for years to come. You will find it easier and easier to book speaking gigs and eventually you will hardly need to market yourself! But you’re still human–you still have the same 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year (or 366 this year). And preparing talks, traveling, negotiating contracts, spending time with your family, pursuing hobbies…all of those things take a lot of time. You might even be juggling this on top of your old 9-5 because you aren’t sure that speaking will ever make you a living wage. So how do you expand your business when you’re maxed out? 

With time and experience, you will reach milestones at which you can naturally raise your prices. But this isn’t the only way to scale! You can also diversify your income streams so your motivational speaking business is earning you money while you’re on vacation in the Bahamas. 

Adding streams of revenue

Whether you’re trying to make enough money to quit your day job and speak full time, feel bored with the state of your business, or just want a longer break between each speaking gig, your business is probably ripe for pivoting to an income stream you haven’t thought of yet. We’ll cover just a few of them here, but this is the time to get creative and think about what you really enjoy doing (and what your market really wants). 

Many motivational speakers start to offer coaching services as they gain more and more expertise in their niche. Audience members who feel inspired by your talk will jump at the chance to work with you individually. Coaching requires little travel, allows you to dig deeper into your message, and earns you income whether or not you’re booked and paid to speak each weekend. 

Alternatively, you can turn your message into a product like a course, book, resource, or even merch! This is an easy strategy if you have an established online fanbase who doesn’t necessarily get the chance to hear you speak often. You can even offer your clients a lower speaking fee if they allow you to set up a table to sell your products after your talk. 

Finally, let’s be real, it’s 2024. Become an influencer! Many motivational speakers are influencers and many influencers become motivational speakers within their niche. The same charisma and credibility that draw listeners to your stage also draw brand partnerships, advertising affiliates, and sponsors to your online activity. Going the influencer route is a great way to earn passive income and it’s also easily scalable as you gain followers. If you enjoy creating content, go ahead and monetize your instagram profile, podcast, YouTube channel, or blog! 

Conclusion

As you figure out how to become a motivational speaker, we hope our SPEAK Framework™ has helped point you toward a practical five-step process toward reaching your goals. Before we leave you, here’s a final reminder. All of the steps we covered today are flexible. If something isn’t working for you, you can pivot to doing something else. Every great motivational speaker does this as their interests and the needs of the market shift. Once you have a firm business foundation, you can pivot to a different industry, or switch to coaching more than speaking, or completely redo your speaker menu. However, you have to start somewhere to get to that point. You don’t become a great motivational speaker without getting really good at doing one thing for one audience. Once you’ve got that down, the world is your oyster!

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