The idea of switching careers after a decade or more in one field is by no means a new one. As new industries enter the arena and the economy causes others to wane, you might be thinking about it yourself. If commencing a second career in the near or distant future is on your mind, might we recommend becoming a professional speaker? Sure, speaking might not top the “top ten ideas for a second career” lists. But we’re here to change that–because speaking is an accessible, flexible and financially sustainable second career that you can continue well into retirement. In fact, we think it’s one of the best second careers out there! In this piece we’re digging into why that is and how you can get started on your second career as a speaker.
While starting a speaking business can be an amazing opportunity for people at all stages, it offers some unique advantages to professionals looking to switch careers a little later in life. We’re covering four main reasons why that is–and providing some resources along the way. These reasons revolve around common concerns for starting a second career: experience, finances, flexibility, and retirement. Whether you’ve wanted to become a speaker for a while and need a little kick in the pants or are coming at this as a total skeptic, we just want to help you make the best decision for your professional journey.
A second career in speaking doesn’t require loads of experience.
Many would-be speakers get caught up in what we call the “expert myth.” A sneaky form of imposter syndrome, the “expert myth” says that you are only qualified to speak professionally on a topic once you know absolutely everything about it. If another speaker knows more about your topic than you do, then what you have to say isn’t worth listening to. Here’s the truth: what qualifies you to be a speaker isn’t knowing the most about any given topic. In that case, demand for speakers would far outstrip supply (and any seasoned speaker will tell you that’s rarely the case). I mean, can you imagine if Usain Bolt was the only person allowed to speak about running?
It’s easy to fall into this trap when you hear a particularly impactful speaker. You come away thinking… How can I match that? They know SO MUCH! Don’t fool yourself–you probably didn’t just hear from the world’s foremost authority. (And you don’t have to be that, either.) What resonated with you so much was that speaker’s integrity. Because integrityis what really qualifies you to speak.
Integrity is all about communicating to your audience and clients with honesty. Honesty about who you are, how much you know, and what problem you solve. If you work hard to solve a problem for a specific audience and prove you can produce results, it’s ok if other people know more than you. Your audience will still want to hear from you–the person they know and trust. It’s a fact that people are far more willing to learn from someone they can trust. Integrity and authenticity go a long way toward forming a bond of trust with your audience. If you avoid over-inflating yourself and offer exactly what you say you can, they will love you more than an “expert” who obfuscates his meaning.
Of course, you should talk about something you know something about. The best speakers continue learning and establishing their expertise as they build a speaking business. In fact, doing so is a great way to become a thought leader in your space.. The bottom line: you don’t have to know everything to make a difference as a speaker.
You also don’t have to be a former high school public speaking champion to be an amazing speaker. If there is passion and authenticity behind your message, it will show through in your content and delivery. You can learn skills like stage presence, refining your speech, and storytelling at any stage (pun intended) in your life. It will take practice, but there is never a better time to start than now! Professional speaking organizations like Toastmasters International offer a great deal of opportunities for improving your confidence and performance. The Successful Speaker by our founder Grant Baldwin also has some incredible resources for getting better at speaking and combatting stage fright. And if you’re struggling with nerves before you walk on stage, give this podcast a quick listen.
Now for a reality check. by no means should you interpret “minimal experience” as “minimal work”. Pivoting to a professional speaking career takes a great deal of work–especially for the first one to three years. The biggest investment you have to make into your speaking business is time. You almost certainly cannot become an overnight speaking sensation overnight, but you can build a sensational speaking business from nothing with consistent, systematized efforts over time. (Some people find this discouraging, but we cover why time shouldn’t stop you from starting a speaking business in this blog.)
Speaking is a great second career from a financial perspective.
If something is holding you back from embarking on a second career, money might be the culprit. Financial stability keeps a lot of people stuck in jobs they would otherwise quit–even past retirement age. Especially in the current economy, playing on the safe side when it comes to finances is a reasonable choice. Fortunately, starting a speaking business doesn’t have to be a risky financial choice. Even better, the return on investment for speaking is hard to beat.
All entrepreneurial initiatives require some capital up front. Speaking is no exception. Investing in your speaking business from the start is what gets you great rewards down the line. Here are a few things you might need to invest in:
- An up-to-date and well-maintained website.
- A professional demo video to showcase your speaking skills.
- CRM software to streamline your prospecting.
- An arsenal of speaking technology (extra cables, microphones, and a webcam for virtual gigs).
- Professional speaking organization memberships.
- Events for networking & getting to know other speakers
- Coaching to help get your speaking business off the ground.
Investments like this are worthwhile so in the long run you’re not living from gig to gig wondering if you’ll make rent. In fact, most students who enroll in our coaching programs at The Speaker Lab earn back their investment with their first 2-3 speaking engagements.
Here’s a caveat though. We never recommend quitting your day job and diving into speaking without a safety net apropos to your state in life. For someone with no debt or dependents, that could just mean having a couch to crash on. But if you support a family, have a mortgage, or any other ongoing financial responsibilities? You understandably don’t want to just leap into a second career that doesn’t promise consistent income right away. When you’re sending out emails to prospects, researching events, you might not be making very much money.
It’s essential to have enough savings or other income sources to support yourself and your dependents during the “grind” part of starting a speaking business. In fact, your friends and family probably won’t support your speaking business if you don’t take reasonable financial precautions. You can either get the “grind” out of the way while you’re still chugging away at your 9-5 or save up a significant financial cushion to get you through the lean years. If you need inspiration, one of our podcast guests shared his story of saving up a year’s worth of living expenses for his family before he switched to a full-time speaking career here.
Speaking is an amazingly flexible second career.
This is a huge reason people are attracted to speaking in the first place. Speaking is essentially a solo-preneur business until you scale so much you hire a team to do the “boring” stuff. Compared to popular choices for second careers, it’s incredibly flexible. Many career shifts require going back to school (e.g. law) or obtaining certifications (e.g. real estate). With just a few hours of consistent work every week, you can start, maintain, and grow a speaking business on your own time from the comfort of your own home. If you want to speak virtually–yes, virtual events are still huge–you might never even have to leave your own home!
That’s not to say there’s no hustle involved. If you aren’t trying to be an all-virtual speaker, you will probably have to take some low-paying gigs at inconvenient times and places to gain experience and get your name out there. The constant cycle of travel does get exhausting, even for veteran speakers. But here’s the cool thing: you’re always in control. Whether you take any given speaking engagement you’re offered is entirely up to you. You alone get to make that risk–reward assessment of whether extra time with your family is worth the loss of business. Are you switching careers so you can see more of the world? Take on a time-consuming hobby? Spend more time with kids or grandkids? Speaking allows you to do that.
Even when it comes to finding your speaking niche, the opportunities are more flexible than ever before. Many industries are shifting away from degree-based credentials toward emphasis on skills – regardless of formal education. As a result, the people hiring speakers, especially corporate clients, will need people who can focus on a particular area of skills acquisition. In your first career, you have doubtless acquired many skills applicable to that industry–and perhaps to others as well. Regardless of what problem you solve, you can probably find a team, organization, or industry who needs help solving it. Whether you want to run small workshops every now and then or travel from keynote to keynote, the skills-based economy offers speakers more flexibility for how you build your business than ever before.
Speaking is a great retirement gig.
However much you love your 9-5, you have to retire at some point. If you’re looking to retire but still stay active and serve your field, speaking is a great way to continue contributing. But why wait until retirement to get started? Starting your speaking business as a side hustle now gives you more time to scale such that you can spend your retirement taking only the gigs you really want.
Let’s talk about another scenario, though. Maybe you lost the spark for your 9-5 long ago but don’t feel ready to quit working altogether. Perhaps your first career was a choice made out of necessity, and you’re worried you’ve gotten too old to follow your real dreams. Maybe you never traveled the world, but feel like you can’t justify the cost and vacation time at this point.
Speaking could be just the ticket. Want proof? Some of our most recent podcast guests started seriously speaking after decades of experience in a different industry. Jeffrey Shaw was a portrait photographer for 35 years before he applied storytelling and creativity to the business world, becoming a highly acclaimed keynote speaker and consultant. And TSL student Dr. David Palmiter built a successful career as a therapist and academic before he decided to help audiences learn to be truly happy from the stage. Our own founder Grant Baldwin started out as a youth pastor! Our Podcast is full of testimonies like this–if you feel like your first career has put you in a box, a second career as a speaker can liberate you.
Second careers are a big deal. In light of the so-called “great resignation,” considering a second career has been on many minds–including yours. We’ll readily admit–when you started thinking about embarking on a second career, speaking probably wasn’t first on your mind. Law, teaching, and tech are much more likely to top the lists when you google “best second career ideas.” That’s why we’ve tried to sketch just a few of the reasons why speaking should be up there too. We’re here to help if you decide that speaking is the best second career for you. Learn more about The Speaker Lab programs here and access our free resources here.