How to go from panelist to paid speaker

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If you’ve ever been a panelist before, you might have wondered, how do I become a paid public speaker? You might have thought about what it might take to go from being a member of a group of experts on stage to being the solo speaker. You might have imagined charging $20K to speak in front of thousands of people. But how do you do it? How do some speakers get paid $20,000 or more for a speech? And how can you be one of them? How do you go from speaking on a panel, maybe for free, to getting paid to speak?

For answers to these questions and more, read on.

How to go from panelist to paid speaker

For many people, it can be hard to know how to get started when you want to become a speaker. You might think that you need years of experience to speak on stage at conferences or other events, but the truth is that anyone with an interesting story to tell can become a speaker.

But here’s the good news: Most full-time public speakers don’t start out as speakers. Most speakers start out as ordinary people with day jobs who slowly find themselves taking on more and more speaking engagements. Maybe your panelist gig started out as a way to get your name out there, but now you’re looking forward to that time on stage more and more each time. But how can you get from here to there?

Being a panelist is one of the best ways for you to start to hone your skills in public speaking. It can also give you a chance to try out different material and see what works best with your audience. These skills will be crucial to building your public speaking career! Additionally, being a panelist can help you build a network of other speakers who can help you get booked for more speaking engagements. This network can help you find gigs as a professional public speaker down the road. Finally, being a panelist can serve as a bridge to help you get paid to do something you love: share your knowledge and passion with others!

That said, here are some concrete steps to go from panelist to paid speaker.

Find your niche to deliver maximum value

The first step to becoming a paid speaker is to make sure you’re delivering value. Your audience should walk away from your talk feeling like they’ve learned something new, been entertained, or both. If you’re not sure whether your talk is valuable, ask a friend or colleague to give you honest feedback.

Finding a niche is a great way to become a paid speaker. When you have a specialty, you’re more likely to be booked for speaking engagements. For example, if you’re a financial planner, you could speak on the topic of financial planning for retirement. If you’re a software engineer, you could speak on the topic of software engineering best practices. Finding a niche will make you more bookable and in demand as a speaker. (If you’re still not sure what your niche is, or you’d like to learn more about how to find your niche, you may be interested in our podcast with Jill Christensen on finding it here.)

Keep in mind: Event planners often want specialists and not generalists who think they can speak about anything. Whether it takes you 10,000 hours, hundreds of blog posts and Youtube videos, scores of quotes to reporters, a podcast, or a book, defining your niche of expertise is core to becoming an expert in it.

Network by telling people you’re a speaker

As weird as it seems, there’s a lot of people in the audience that may not realize you’re a professional speaker. They think you’re just some random dude/dudette that they decided to have speak.

They don’t even realize you’re a speaker. You have to make that connection for them.


Directly and Indirectly

  • Indirectly — when I was speaking recently at XYZ company. Using stories/case studies/examples of clients or speaking engagements you’ve had.
  • Directly — at the end of your panel, telling the event organizer, “if you’re interested in having me come speak to your company or at your next event, let me know…”
    • Pro tip: Before the event, you can print out some business cards that say you’re a professional speaker in the subject you’re an expert in. This is an easy way to make connections for people. Include a “Call to Action” on your business card. For example, you could say something like, “To book me for your next event, call…”

Determine your speaker fee

You may now be wondering this question: “How much should I charge to speak?” Well, it depends on lots of things. For starters, where are you speaking? What’s the size of the audience? How long is your talk? And what experience do you have?

We get a lot of questions from members of The Speaker Lab community about how to set their speaker fees.  So, we created this FREE Speaker Fee Calculator just for them. It includes all kinds of variables that go into choosing the right fee for different events, plus it comes with my personal recommendations! You can use it too:

Want to go deeper in learning where to find paid gigs? Check out this article on finding paid speaking opportunities.

Pro tip: Decide whether to pursue being a keynote speaker or a guest speaker

A keynote speaker and a guest speaker have different roles at an event. While a guest speaker offers specialized knowledge on a subject and typically speaks for a shorter period of time, a keynote speaker’s message is often more broad-reaching, is scheduled at the beginning or end of an event, and is usually known by attendees before the event. The keynote speakers typically make more, but are also more experienced.

Consider speaker trainings

The Speaker Lab’s founder, Grant Baldwin, spent years investing in himself and his speaking business. He invested tens of thousands of dollars in coaches, training, conferences, mentorship and more. This helped him get to the front of the line when it came to public speaking.

Instead of wasting your time and energy trying to learn a topic by yourself and risking getting distracted by free resources that aren’t as good as a professional’s advice, why not save yourself time and money by investing in the advice of an expert?

Empowering professional full-time public speakers is exactly what we specialize in at The Speaker Lab. Ready to go from panelist to paid speaker? Speaking on the side of your day job will make sense for a while. But eventually, if you’re consistently bringing value to audiences with your message, you’ll come to a crossroads and be able to go even further. Want to learn more about the Speaker Lab’s offerings? Check out our speaking resources here.

Practice your solo talk

When you’re speaking professionally, it’s always a good idea to write out your material. Just as you wouldn’t give a speech without having prepared it ahead of time, you shouldn’t speak without having written out your thoughts first. Professional speakers use a lot of preparation to make sure they are ready to deliver their material. They know what they are going to say and do not just shoot from the hip.

Practice your talk like you would perform it. Do not merely go through the motions. Think about how your hand gestures will match the words you are saying, how your voice inflection will emphasize what you are saying, and how your stage movement will complement the meaning of the words. If you plan to use a handheld mic, practice holding something similar so that you can get used to handling it. For example, you could try holding a toothbrush and walking around the room as if you were on a stage. When you practice with a real mic, be sure to wear clothes that aren’t too loose: they can get caught in the mic stand.

Remember: You’re not spending 10 minutes on this part. It will take hours to complete, depending on the length of your talk. That’s a big commitment. But each time you speak, you’re going to get better, and the talk is going to get easier.


So you’ve learned more about how to go from panelist to paid speaker. You’ve also learned what it takes to begin building a speaking business. If you’d like to learn more about going from panelist to keynote speaker, we have an inspiring podcast with Grant Baldwin and Marcus Sheridan. In it, Marcus talks about how he made the leap from workshop speaker to keynote speaker at Content Marketing World in one year.

Interested in diving deeper into the panel world? Take a look at our article on how to prepare for a panel discussion. In it, you can find some tips for being on a panel and how to speak on a panel for the first time. Want to read more about speaking tips? Check out our 100 tips for motivational speaking!

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