Are there two different sides of the speaking industry? If you ask two different people to give you the definition of a professional speaker you may get two different answers. I always assumed it was someone who gets paid to speak. But the answer is a little more complicated than that. So I asked two professionals in different areas of the speaking industry for their thoughts on it.

Cathleen Fillmore runs the speaker bureau Speakers Gold and has been in the speaking industry for many years. Here is her answer to that question:

“As a bureau owner, I’ve had great experience with all aspects of the speaking industry.  One of my speakers, new to Canada, was often asked to speak free of charge until he said ‘No!’.  He had young children to support and he knew if he kept accepting unpaid engagements, he would never get paid. So he said ‘No thanks’ and held his breath and soon he was getting full fee.  Once he established his boundaries and insisted on the respect he was due, he got it.  Full fee. There are times to accept unpaid engagements – for your favorite charity or to get in front of decision makers – but mainly it’s a trap that can damage your branding.  After all, if you speak for one organization free of charge, others won’t want to pay you. Or they won’t want to pay your full fee. The decision is yours – don’t make it until you’ve explored the implications and the possible cost to you for accepting a free speaking engagement.”
Cathleen Fillmore, Bureau Owner and Marketing Consultant to Speakers


Bryan Caplovitz is the founder of Speaker Match, an online speaker directory that connects speakers with paid and free speaking engagements. Here’s what Bryan had to say:

“The National Speakers Association, which is known for having professional speakers, has many speakers from an older generation who adhere to the notion that pros don’t pitch from the stage. There shouldn’t be any selling. You should deliver great, commercial-free content and a message that affects the audience. A lot of newer speakers do feel the need to sell from the stage, and encourage the audience to buy products or services. They like passing out evaluation forms with their contact info and lean heavily on their books and coaching.

There’s a third category that doesn’t care if they get paid or not. They deliver great content and the audience isn’t pitched to. Many Toastmasters and cause speakers fall into that category. They simply want to touch an audience with their words.

Then there is the big pitch speaker. The audience knows they’re being pitched to and it’s transparent upfront. These are the free presentations that are meant to sell very high ticket programs. They are great pitch people who get the audience members into a non-defensive mindset. They show the value of all of the many different pieces you need and build it up.”

And then of course there are speakers who focus on great content, but have sponsors footing the bill. I’ve come to realize that the speaking industry is very inclusive and isn’t just about one type of speaking. The speaking industry has changed a lot over the past few years and may still be changing. Who knows what the next business model will be? What do you think?

It’s the word that sends chills down the spines of professional speakers…exposure. Well, apparently it’s not just speakers who are being asked to pay for play, but now the NFL is asking their half-time artists to pay for exposure too. The multi-million dollar entity hasn’t paid half-time performers up to this point, but now they are actually even asking them to pay for the opportunity to perform, stating that the exposure the artists get is worth cold hard cash, and they want a piece of it.

It’s known that the NFL doesn’t pay performers, but now they say that they want to profit from the post Super Bowl tours the artists go on after appearing on the most watched sporting event in America. This is drawing a chilly response from Katy Perry, Coldplay, and Rihanna, the three artists who have been contacted. It isn’t known whether the NFL will go outside of those picks and find an artist willing to agree to the terms.

Professional speakers have been going through a similar situation in the past few years. I recently spoke to a meeting planner who said, not only did they not pay speakers, but the speakers had to come up with brand new material just for the conference, then they had to spend time working to customize it, pay all of their own expenses, pay for the registration for the conference, no selling from the stage, no book selling, no sponsorship, and no networking. I thought it was a joke.

Not only was I told that it wasn’t a joke, but that they have professional speakers lined up to agree to whatever terms they lay out, including sweeping the floor after their speech. Okay, so it didn’t go that far. But where does it end? It looks like as long as speakers and artists are willing to pay to play that the trend will continue.

Have you been asked to pay to speak, and what are your thoughts on the topic?



From time to time Speaker Sponsor will be featuring a Speaker Spotlight profile from professional speakers. If you’re new to speaking you will benefit from their inside knowledge of how the speaking industry works. And even if you’ve been around a while there is always something you can learn from the learning curve of other speakers.

Networking expert Diane Darling didn’t plan her career as a public speaker. She tells Speaker Sponsor how she became an “accidental” speaker who learned from trial and error how to constantly improve her skills as a speaker.

Why did you decide to become a speaker?

It was a total accident …. I was asked by a women’s group to explain how I got meetings with key decision makers. I innocently didn’t think I did anything unique or special. So I gave a talk and people in the audience told their friends/colleagues and it went from there.

Do you remember your first speaking engagement?

Do I ever! I was TERRIFIED. I prepared a grid with 3 boxes to help my nerves.

  • Copy of the slide
  • Bullet points of my remarks
  • Words that would help me relax – e.g SMILE, WHEW, It’s almost over (I usually had that first to help my nerves)

I had JUST started, I put the papers on a clipboard because my hands were shaking. A few minutes into my talk a woman spoke up and said, “I’m sorry to interrupt. I’m concerned you’ve eaten something you’re allergic to. You’re neck has red blotches.”

I was mortified. I continued and everyone empathized with my nerves. I went and bought a bunch of red turtlenecks and wore them for a long time.

How have you changed as a speaker?

I’m much more relaxed for sure. I also realize that I can’t possibly share EVERYTHING I know – no matter how long the talk. Editing what I’m not going to say is difficult, but I’m getting better.

How have you seen the speaking industry change?

It seems that everyone wants to be a speaker but maybe that’s just because it’s the business I’m in. People glamorize it. Others seem attracted to it as a way to vent or get attention.

What’s the best advice you would give someone who is just entering the speaking business?

Start with top content. Just being funny or good in front of an audience doesn’t mean you have something people will want to hear. Then work on your delivery. I closely watch comedians. The best have something to say – they write, practice, rewrite, practice again. It’s hard work.

What methods do you use to get speaking engagements? Cold calling, inbound marketing, speaker’s bureaus, direct mail, all of the above, or something else?

I’m not enough of a celebrity to be of interest to speaker’s bureaus. Or at least that’s what they’ve told me – directly or indirectly. Most of my work comes from referrals from people who have seen me speak before. Rarely, but on occasions, someone will find me on the web.

Where do you expect to be as a speaker in 5 years?

I’d like to find someone who gets the clients and I can focus on writing more talks. In due time, I’d like to have time mentoring others but that’s a ways off. I have a variety of talks I’d like to give outside of my current topics and I’d like to be delivering more of them. I guess I’d like to be known as a good speaker – no matter the topic. Not just an expert on networking.