How to Find High-Paying (and Rewarding) Public-Speaking Gigs


So you’ve built up a really nice résumé for yourself and have gobs of experience in your career. It’s time to maintain your hustle muscle’s tone but also use it for other people’s benefit via public speaking: Just you, a podium, and a rapt audience for about an hour hanging on your every super-wise word.

But how do you get from here to there?

Nobody seems to know for sure, and in my research for this piece I got about a dozen people saying, “Hey, let me know when this goes up, I’d love to know, too.”

These were people I was in touch with to get pointers to pass along to you folks. So, prepare yourselves, folks: There are no shortcuts for what I’m about to explain in the coming paragraphs.

“The biggest challenge for aspiring speakers is first finding a topic they
can speak on knowledgeably but is unique enough that people would want to
pay to hear it,” said Michael Soon Lee, the dean of a non-profit training school for speakers and author of “Cross-Cultural Selling for Dummies.”

And even then, you should prepare — like most things you want to eventually get paid for — to do it for free for the practice at first. Lee suggests if it’s business topics you’re interested in, you can try the Rotary Clubs or the “animal circuit,” a.k.a. the Moose, Lion and Elks Clubs. But you should really make sure your specialty is special: Lee has spoken for 25 years about how salespeople can increase sales to multicultural customers.

Oh, right. Did you notice that? Lee has a book out on the topic he speaks about.

What’s funny is that, of course, I am interested in speaking too, like you, and I’ve been working on a book. When I have told some of my colleagues who might someday be my bosses at future gigs this, they say, “Oh, you should come and speak about (what my book is about) later this year.”

“Of course, being a published author is one of the best calling cards,” said Sheree Franklin, an executive coach at Holistic Health Practice. And that book probably be about the topic you’re most passionate about and can see yourself hitting the public-speaking circuit by extension. But don’t write a book just to do public speaking gigs. Getting a book made is also one of the most mysterious and difficult things to do.

But once you’re there, Franklin says “the key is to constantly cast a wide net of discussing speaking needs with those in your network.”

She also suggests the same outlets as Lee, and says they always always have a need for speakers.

“Also, there is the ongoing need to attend networking where you can very subtly sell yourself,” explained Hill. “Ask for recommendations on LinkedIn and also get testimonials for your website. Having a current bio and a great headshot always helps to sell you.”

Other than that, the best I can do to help you guys out is to give you the following links. They are databases you can poke around on and hopefully have some great luck on. Good luck!

David Wolinsky is a freelance writer and a lifelong Chicagoan. In addition to currently serving as an interviewer-writer for Adult Swim, he's also a comedy-writing instructor for Second City. He was the Chicago city editor for The Onion A.V. Club where he provided in-depth daily coverage of this city's bustling arts/entertainment scene for half a decade. When not playing video games for work he's thinking of dashing out to Chicago Diner, Pizano's, or Yummy Yummy. His first career aspirations were to be a game-show host.

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