If you have a dream to inspire others with your message, you’ve probably considered taking your passion to the stage. Becoming a motivational speaker sounds like a charmed life in many ways. You get to travel all over the country or even world! You make an impact among all sorts of different audiences! You get to see your message amplified into something bigger than you ever imagined! That sounds pretty darn rewarding. And while it does take hard work, it totally is.
Unfortunately, there isn’t exactly a wealth of common knowledge about how to become a motivational speaker. In fact, you will probably run into a lot of opposition from people who suffer from terrible misconceptions about what being a professional speaker actually means. Common perception sees speaking as either a cute side project or an aspirational but financially hopeless path. They will express well-meaning concern about how you’ll pay for insurance or feed your kids. And you’ll start having doubts.
Fortunately, at The Speaker Lab we are all about demystifying those misconceptions. Consider us your resource for getting started on your motivational speaking career! We have broken down becoming a motivational speaker into this short guide to get you started. Stick around till the end for some FAQ on the basics of motivational speaking and get ready to get on stage!
What is a motivational speaker?
Having the right mindset is absolutely key to understanding what exactly a motivational speaker does. Motivational speaking is a legitimate, scalable business opportunity.
It doesn’t have to be a hobby, side gig, or something you do purely out of the goodness of your heart. Here’s some fuel to keep you positive when you’re struggling with naysayers!
What a motivational speaker is NOT.
While most people have heard of the really great speakers like Tony Robbins and John Maxwell, they don’t personally know any successful speakers. Speaking, to them, is just as useful a career goal as the proverbial “underwater basket-weaving” degree.
Many of these popular notions about speaking come from Chris Farley’s iconic SNL portrayal of fictional motivational speaker Matt Foley. We love his performance, but regret that it put a few mistaken ideas into place! Today’s piece aims to disprove these misconceptions, but it’s important to be aware of them.
What sets apart Chris Farley’s motivational speaker? He:
- Lives in a van down by the river.
- Is thrice divorced and very lonely.
- Dresses poorly.
- Talks to high school students about why they shouldn’t do drugs.
Pretty unglamorous huh? Yet these are some of the assumptions you might encounter, especially if you take a slow, thoughtful start to becoming a motivational speaker.
What a motivational speaker IS.
We’ve worked with thousands of speakers over the years, so we’d hazard a guess that we can define one! Here are a few traits that DO describe the best motivational speakers.
On the business side, they:
- Treat speaking like a business and invest in it accordingly.
- Never stop marketing their personal brand, whether online or in everyday activity.
- Know their worth and don’t feel bad about charging fees.
On the stage, they:
- Know how to involve and engage their audience on and off the stage.
- Tell relatable, well-crafted stories informed by their everyday lives.
- Don’t try to be like anyone else. Their authenticity shines through their speaking Performance.
- Respond with the same humility and gratitude to any speaking opportunity, big or small, whether they take it or not.
- Give back to the speaking community.
- Amplify their message and multiply their impact as a result of wise business decisions.
Now, that might sound like a bunch of vague ideas and not a job description. You can read more career-oriented descriptions of the different categories of motivational speakers here and here.
For the rest of this piece, we will walk you through the steps to becoming a motivational speaker who embodies all these attributes AND give you the roadmap for getting your first paid gigs. Hopefully, you will start to see these pieces fall into place and realize how good motivational speakers are capable of accomplishing them all.
You can hear more about how to overcome speaker misconceptions on a podcast we did with speaker Kyle Scheele here.
How to become a motivational speaker
You need a few things in place before anyone will want to have you speak in front of a crowd, not to speak of paying you to do so.
Get clear on your audience.
No matter how universal you think your message is, you can’t start out speaking to everyone. The best motivational speakers can speak to so many people now because they started out by making their mark in a well-defined niche. If you’re just getting started and think you can speak to anyone, you really can speak to no one. It doesn’t mean that you can’t speak in different markets, and you can certainly pivot your marketing as you develop your business, but focus on one specific audience to start with.
The best way to do this is to find a group of people whose needs converge with your passions. Think about what problems you like to solve and what topics you want to talk about and look out into the world. Who is asking for solutions to those problems? Become the expert on that audience and commit yourself to meeting their needs.
Prepare a fantastic talk.
The best motivational speakers on the planet only have one or two talks they do and those talks are insanely good. Start by developing just one, really amazing talk that resonates deeply with your intended audience. The best marketing for your motivational speaking business is a great talk, so it is worth it to put in the hours for this part. Yes, even if your first speaking gig is a free talk at a community center.
One of the best ways to create a memorable, relatable talk is by integrating first-person stories. You don’t have to have lost a limb or scaled Mount Everest. Keep an eye out in your everyday life for little moments that can contribute to your message. Write them down and integrate them into your talk. As you get more speaking gigs, you will very quickly learn which stories are a hit and which are total flops…which is all part of the process!
Establish a digital footprint.
While your talk is your best marketing asset, a good website, stellar video, and social media presence are essentials.
If you don’t have a website, you don’t exist (at least in the speaking world). Your website should be under a domain you own, preferably your name. It should be sharp, simple, and promote your demo video front and center.
Think of a demo video like a movie trailer. It should be short enough to give people an overview but make them want to see more. Good demo videos are usually between 2–4 minutes and just show the highlights of you speaking. Note another reason to bring your best to every speaking opportunity, even the early unpaid ones–you can use those to collect great footage for your demo video!
Finally, a strong, authoritative presence on one or two social media platforms helps you build credibility with both event planners and audience members. Try to post with the goal of establishing a) thought leadership and b) relatability rather than pitching yourself. Regularly engaging with both followers and other speakers is also essential. The really good motivational speakers foster thriving online communities around their speaking platform from which they can glean ideas, motivation, and future business opportunities.
These steps lay the foundation for how to become a motivational speaker…but getting your first paid speaking gig requires a whole new set of tactics!
While these are the essentials, we have barely scratched the surface in this section. Check out our podcast with 100 Tips On How To Become A Motivational Speaker here.
Getting speaking gigs
So you have tailored your audience, refined your talk, and set up your online presence…uhm, when do the checks start rolling in?
Unfortunately, probably not until after you’ve paid for a few people’s lunches, talked to a couple dozen event planners, and sent a few hundred cold emails.
Focus on relationships, not gigs.
It might feel like the hard work has only just begun. But you have something working in your favor: speaking is an incredibly relational business. Along the path to becoming a motivational speaker, you will encounter speakers, clients, and audience members with whom you can forge incredibly meaningful connections.
The vast majority of speakers are really good people who want to help. Everyone remembers when they were in the same place you are…and a huge part of what got the best motivational speakers to where they are today is investing into the speaking community at large. Asking for help at the start of your career and then giving back as you become successful yourself becomes a positive cycle.
You don’t need to be a superhuman to speak for a living. In fact, the more you humanize other speakers, the more likely you will be able to make those valuable connections and see where your opportunities lie. (You can learn more about this idea on our podcast with Kyle Scheele). These relationships are at the core of what being a motivational speaker is all about.
There are no shortcuts to success in the speaking business. Becoming a motivational speaker is a long road–but there are ways you can cut down on wasted time. Having systems in place removes a great deal of the guesswork from the start. It creates a logical flow and pattern to how you do things. Implementing systems will make your life simpler because you don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time you reach out to a client.
Another plus: systems make your client’s life simpler because you’re easier to work with and have it together. Event planners have to filter through all sorts of emails and deal with all sorts of “diva” speakers. Small habits that systems help with, like punctuality and attention to detail, show you take your business seriously. Like we said above, everybody in the speaking world talks to each other. If you communicate in a systematized, professional way from the very beginning, your reputation as an excellent speaker to work with will spread far and wide!
Invest in yourself.
Ok I know we just said there are no shortcuts, but investing in coaches, training, conferences, mentorship, membership in associations etc. is the closest thing there is to a “fast pass” to the front of the line. It is worth it to strategically budget your early earnings to set aside money toward these things rather than flashy ads or an unnecessarily complex website.
Investing in yourself and getting quality advice from an expert will cut your learning curve significantly and save you from making rookie mistakes. However, we are all about making wise and frugal investment decisions. Don’t blindly drop thousands on the first program you get an ad for. Tap into your network of relationships for recommendations (and you might pick up a mentor in the process)!
Be especially wary of the siren song of working with a speaking bureau or agent. It’s absolutely true that many of the best motivational speakers do so! But agents and bureaus manage demand that already exists. If you don’t already have a fantastic marketing platform and steady requests for gigs, hold off on the bureau until there is demand for them to manage.
Hopefully this guide gave you a solid idea of what a motivational speaker is. Of course, you probably won’t start out making six figures. And (especially if you have a family) it’s likely unwise to quit your job before you have a regular income stream from speaking. But if you’re considering whether you have what it takes to be a motivational speaker, let us assure you: you do!
We can’t guarantee you’ll be the next Tony Robbins. But we think we can guarantee you won’t be Chris Farley living in a van down by the river.
If you want a refresher on the basics or an arsenal of responses to friends and family bombarding you with questions, we leave you with some common FAQs. Remember, you can also find 100 more tips for how to become a motivational speaker at our podcast here.
How much money can you make as a motivational speaker?
While the runway to a successful business is often slow, many speakers make 6+ figures a year within a couple years of starting their speaking business!
What degree you need to become a motivational speaker?
It does not matter! You can have no degree or a phd in whatever field you like, and still be a great motivational speaker.
Can anyone become a motivational speaker?
How long does it take to become a motivational speaker?
This will vary a lot based on your state in life.