I’ve heard this comment from so many meeting planners recently I wanted to dig in a little deeper about it. Some meeting planners are complaining that their audiences aren’t happy with speakers who don’t really understand their industry. They’re not getting the hard skills they need to excel in their fields.

Speakers, especially keynote speakers, also need to convey soft skills, which are also important in the workplace. So, what is a speaker to do?

Speaker hard skills vs. soft skills

The comparison between speaker hard skills vs soft skills is not a matter of one being universally better than the other. Both types of skills play essential roles in personal and professional development. Their value depends on the context and the specific requirements of a situation.

Hard Skills:

  • Hard skills are specific, measurable abilities that are often learned through formal education, training programs, or on-the-job experience.
  • They are typically job-specific and are easy to quantify and test. Examples include technical skills like programming, accounting, data analysis, language proficiency, etc.
  • Hard skills are crucial for tasks that require technical expertise, precision, and specific knowledge.
  • In certain professions, having the right hard skills may be a prerequisite for getting hired or advancing in a career.
  • However, relying solely on hard skills may not be sufficient for long-term career success as industries and technologies evolve rapidly.

Soft Skills:

  • Soft skills, on the other hand, refer to a person’s interpersonal abilities, emotional intelligence, communication, adaptability, problem-solving, leadership, teamwork, etc.
  • They are less tangible and harder to quantify but are vital for effective communication, collaboration, and building strong relationships with others.
  • Soft skills are essential in almost every professional setting, as they contribute to personal growth, teamwork, leadership effectiveness, and overall career advancement.
  • Individuals with strong soft skills often excel in leadership positions, as they can inspire and influence others positively.

Here is some insight from those in the meeting and event industry:

“Event and meeting planners are looking for speakers who are experienced and professional along with some type of alignment with the event’s audience. In some cases, this is that the speaker is an authority in the field, and in others, it is a speaker who can delight, entertain, motivate, or inspire an audience in any field. Choosing which direction to go is truly made on a case-by-case basis depending on the client and their overall goal of the session, but more often than not, meeting planners are always looking for speakers who will resonate, experienced in their field or not.”

Jennifer Best

VP Marketing

All American Speakers

Knowledgable expert

“As the CEO of Event Solutions, with more than 35 years of experience planning meetings and corporate events, I can tell you that choosing the right keynote speaker is a crucial task for us. We aim to find a speaker who excels in both hard skills and soft skills, creating a memorable and impactful experience for our clients and their audiences (see our featured past events here).

Hard skills are vital because we want a speaker who is knowledgeable and an expert in their field. This ensures that the content they deliver is valuable, informative, and aligns with the theme and objectives of the event.

Equally important are the soft skills of the speaker, which include their ability to engage, connect, and inspire the audience. We look for speakers who have charisma, excellent communication skills, and can capture the attention of attendees from the beginning to the end of their presentation.

Relevant experience

In addition to these skills, we also seek speakers with relevant experience that resonates with the audience. When a speaker shares stories and insights that align with the challenges and interests of the attendees, it creates a stronger connection and adds authenticity to the overall presentation.

Throughout my career in event planning, I’ve seen the positive impact that a well-chosen keynote speaker can have on an event. They have the power to elevate the experience and leave a lasting impression on everyone involved.

At Event Solutions, our team works diligently to find speakers who possess the right mix of hard and soft skills, along with relevant experience. We strive to create exceptional events that inspire, educate, and leave a positive mark on our clients and their audiences. Together, we can make your event a success with a keynote speaker who brings knowledge, charm, and inspiration to the stage.

Brad Lipshy

Event Solutions

Entertaining and inspiring

When meeting planners want a speaker who is going to be more engaging with a big personality (like a motivational speaker) then they will focus more on soft skills. They will book these speakers because they want to focus more on entertaining or inspiring their audience. But when we work with organizations who are looking to train their employees on a specific topic (leadership, customers service, DEI, etc.), or event planners who are managing a specific type of conference, then they focus more on hard skills. But at the end of the day, it’s usually a mixture of both with an 80/20 rule (hard/soft or vice versa).

Sergio Diaz


Balanced skill sets

Hard and soft skills are valuable and serve different purposes depending on what an audience is looking for. For certain speaking jobs, hard skills are the primary requirement. This is especially true for breakouts and workshops. While for others, soft skills may be equally or even more critical if the audience is looking to be entertained. The best approach is to aim for a balanced skill set that includes a mix of hard and soft skills. This will make you more adaptable and effective in various situations.

In today’s dynamic speaking market, many meeting planners look for speakers who not only possess the necessary hard skills but also exhibit strong soft skills to entertain an audience. As a speaker focus on developing a well-rounded skill set that encompasses both hard and soft skills to enhance your overall employability. And focus on those industries where you have a background that you can relate to a meeting planner’s audience. This increases your chances of connecting with them and leaving a good impression.


Founded, in 1984, TED stands for “Technology, Entertainment, and Design”. Anyone can speak at a TED event and anyone can put on one. The licenses are free but you have to apply for them. TED speakers and TEDx speakers are different in that TED speakers are invited. Anyone can be a TEDx speaker and they are everywhere.

You don’t get paid for a TEDx talk. So why would a speaker do them? Giving a TED talk can provide several benefits for individuals. Here are some of the key advantages:

Global Exposure

TED talks have a vast audience worldwide. Learn to give a great TED talk, you have the opportunity to reach millions of viewers who are interested in your ideas, experiences, or expertise. This exposure can lead to increased recognition, visibility, and influence.

Thought Leadership

TED talks are known for showcasing innovative and thought-provoking ideas. Being invited to give a TED talk positions you as a thought leader in your field. It can help establish your credibility and expertise, leading to new opportunities, collaborations, and invitations for further speaking engagements.

Networking Opportunities

TED events attract a diverse range of attendees, including influential individuals, experts, and professionals from various domains. Giving a TED talk allows you to connect and network with like-minded individuals, potentially leading to valuable connections, partnerships, and collaborations.

Personal and Professional Development

Preparing and delivering a TED talk requires careful thought, research, and practice. The process challenges you to distill complex ideas into concise, engaging presentations. Through this preparation, you can enhance your communication skills, storytelling abilities, and overall presentation effectiveness.

Impact and Inspiration

TED talks are known for their ability to inspire and motivate people. By sharing your unique perspective, experiences, or ideas, you can potentially create a positive impact on the lives of others. Your talk may spark discussions, challenge conventional thinking, or empower individuals to take action, making a meaningful difference in their lives.

Content Creation and Distribution

TED talks are typically recorded and shared online, allowing your message to be accessible beyond the live event. This content can be shared on social media platforms, websites, and other channels, extending the reach of your talk and allowing it to have a lasting impact on a global scale.

Personal Fulfillment

Many speakers find giving a TED talk to be a personally rewarding experience. It provides a platform to share their passions, stories, or ideas with a receptive audience. The process of crafting and delivering a compelling talk can be deeply fulfilling and gratifying.

How to give a great TED talk

Giving a great TED talk requires careful preparation and effective delivery. Here are some key steps and tips to help you deliver an impactful and memorable TED talk:

Choose an engaging and compelling topic

Select a topic you are passionate about and that aligns with the TED talk format of “ideas worth spreading.” Ensure your topic is unique, interesting, and relevant to the audience.

Craft a clear and concise message

Distill your main message into a concise and powerful idea. Focus on delivering a clear takeaway that your audience can remember and act upon.

Structure your talk effectively

Organize your talk into a logical structure with a clear introduction, main body, and conclusion. Use storytelling techniques to engage the audience emotionally and make your ideas more relatable.

Develop a compelling opening

Begin your talk with a strong opening that captures the audience’s attention. You can use a surprising fact, a personal anecdote, a provocative question, or a powerful quote to create intrigue and draw the audience in.

Use visuals effectively

TED talks often include visuals to enhance the audience’s understanding and engagement. Utilize slides or other visual aids sparingly, ensuring they are visually appealing, easy to comprehend, and support your main points.

Be authentic and passionate

Connect with your audience by being yourself and sharing your genuine passion for the topic. Show enthusiasm and energy throughout your talk to inspire and engage the listeners.

Use storytelling and personal anecdotes

Weave relevant stories and personal experiences into your talk to make it more relatable and memorable. Stories have the power to connect emotionally with the audience and convey complex ideas in a compelling way.

Keep it simple and accessible

Avoid jargon, complex language, or overly technical details that might alienate your audience. Strive for simplicity and clarity, making your talk accessible to a broad range of listeners.

Practice and refine your delivery

Rehearse your talk multiple times to familiarize yourself with the content, timing, and flow. Pay attention to your body language, voice modulation, and pacing. Practice in front of a mirror, record yourself, or seek feedback from others to improve your delivery.

Respect the time limit

TED talks are typically limited to 18 minutes or less. Ensure that you respect the allocated time and practice delivering your talk within that timeframe. Being concise and focused will help maintain the audience’s attention.

Engage the audience

Incorporate interactive elements or moments of audience participation to create a more engaging experience. This can involve asking thought-provoking questions, using rhetorical devices, or sharing relatable examples that encourage the audience to reflect and participate mentally.

End with a strong conclusion

Wrap up your talk with a powerful and memorable conclusion. Restate your main message and leave the audience with a clear call-to-action or a thought-provoking idea that encourages further reflection or action.

Remember, giving a great TED talk is not only about delivering a polished performance but also about sharing a meaningful and impactful idea that resonates with the audience. Be yourself, speak from the heart, and strive to inspire, educate, or entertain your listeners.


In the speaking industry, anything can happen at the last minute. It’s rare for a professional speaker to simply not show up. That tends to happen more when the speaker isn’t getting paid. But even a paid professional may find themselves in a position where flight delays, extreme illness, or family emergencies occur. I had to deliver a keynote the day my mom died. It was incredibly difficult, but the show must go on. It was also to a group of hospice workers so they more than understood. I was able to keep it together without crying until the end.
I’ve gotten a couple of jobs at the last minute because of my location and topic. How do you prepare and set yourself up for those opportunities to step in as a last minute speaker? Here are some speakers who have done it:

Last minute speaker

I’ve been a last minute speaker several times. I start by finding out everything I can about the organization with my standard questionnaire. I try to find several people I can interview about them beyond that. Then I plug the information into my presentation on the subject I’m speaking on, tailoring the presentation for what I’ve found.

We actively promoted me as a last minute speaker for a while, then decided that those gigs were so infrequent, it wasn’t worth the effort. But we did spread the word around and satisfied customers led to other clients.

Speaker and author, Barry Maher has appeared on the Today Show, NBC Nightly News, CBS, CNBC, and he’s frequently featured in publications like the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the London Times, Business Week and USA Today.

His books include Filling the Glass, which has been cited as “[One of] The Seven Essential Popular Business Books,” by Today’s Librarian along with books like The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People and The One Minute Manager.


Tik Tok follower

This has happened to me and I was actually a last-minute speaker this past Wednesday!
I was contacted at 3:15 on Tuesday to talk on zoom about the Spendthrift Trust to a real estate investment group.
I teach 1099 Income Earners and Investors how to save Federal Taxes with a Spendthrift Trust.
The zoom happened 1 pm EST and I told them on Tuesday I had a hard stop at 2 pm.
From that meeting I have had 4 appointments and sold a Trust today!
The investor has a wholesale deal closing May 31, 2023, and with the Trust they will save $15,470 in Capital Gains.
My advice to any speaker is know your talk inside out so you can step in very easily and answer questions on the fly.
I was asked to speak because one of the organizers follows me on TikTok and knew the investors needed to hear my information.
Sally Gimon
623 693 1382


Last minute tech speaker

One morning, I was enjoying my usual routine of coffee and news when my phone rang. It was an old friend, now a high-profile event organizer, and she sounded pretty flustered. The keynote speaker for a major tech conference she was organizing had suddenly fallen ill. She was in quite a predicament with the event just a day away.Despite the unexpectedness and my initial hesitation, I agreed to step in. Over the next 24 hours, I immersed myself in preparation. Having spoken on various tech-related subjects before, I was familiar with the terrain, but the short notice was a challenge. I focused on three key things: understanding the audience, reviewing the topic, and structuring my speech to be informative yet engaging.The day of the event arrived. As I stood on the stage, facing hundreds of expectant faces, I felt nervous but took a deep breath and began. Drawing on my experience and passion for the subject, I delivered a well-received talk. The initial nerves soon gave way to confidence and satisfaction, and I remember feeling immense accomplishment when I finished.

Some quick tips

As for advice to those finding themselves in a similar situation, I’d say preparation is crucial. Try to understand the audience’s needs and expectations. Prepare an outline, even if it’s rough, and structure your speech so that it has a logical flow. Remember to stay flexible as well, as you may need to adapt your speech on the spot based on audience reactions. Most importantly, bring your authenticity to the table. People connect with real stories and genuine emotions.Networking is essential to let people know you’re available for such opportunities. Engage with event organizers, join relevant professional groups, and participate in industry forums and conferences. Regularly update your professional profiles on platforms like LinkedIn and let your connections know you are open to speaking engagements.Remember, being a last-minute speaker can be nerve-wracking but also an opportunity to showcase your expertise and adaptability. Embrace the challenge, prepare well, and deliver your speech with confidence and authenticity.

Garrett Yamasaki, founder of WeLoveDoodles and a tech entrepreneur with many years of experience working for Google, Texas Instruments, and BroadcomThe Accidental Speaker

I’ve had the misfortune of being in a situation where I was asked to step in as a guest speaker at the last minute. Here is how I handled the situation:

I had to step in as a last-minute speaker during an event about utilizing online job marketplaces to earn money online. It was organized by a forum that was interested in helping students find the right direction when it comes to earning money online. Back then, earning money from the comfort of your home was a new concept. People were making money by creating CDs, books and other resources on this topic but very few of them were actually helpful. This eagerness of trying to earn money online led to a lot of people falling for scams. It also didn’t help that people were clueless about where to begin. The event was designed to educate these interested people.Although I was there as a friend of one of the organizers, I also had some decent experience as a freelance writer. My friend was aware of my activities and wanted me to meet the speaker. As the guest speaker didn’t show up, he requested me to take the stage.

Amateur speaker

Everyone was quite aware of the fact that the actual guest speaker didn’t show up. They didn’t mind seeing an amateur speaker taking the stage. Even though I am more comfortable writing stuff than speaking publicly, it was my knowledge of the topic that gave me confidence. The familiarity with the topic helped me stay calm and assemble my thoughts quickly around the key points. I wove a narrative that included both personal experiences and practical advice. My journey as a freelancer became a backdrop to the insights I was sharing which gave my speech credibility and relatability.It was the response from the audience that gave me the strength to deliver a meaningful and impactful talk. Their nods of understanding and thoughtful questions that followed my statements served as a confirmation that my message was resonating with them. This interaction didn’t just help me navigate this unexpected public speaking venture but also turned the session into a dynamic dialogue. Although it could have turned into a disaster, it was that event that sparked my newfound passion for public speaking. I loved the satisfaction of not only sharing my knowledge but also potentially making a meaningful difference in someone’s life.Every moment of that day remains etched in my memory, each second a vivid testament to a transformative experience.

Tim LeeFounder of Tims CoffeeWebsite: timscoffee.com

Being a last minute speaker can be a great opportunity to help a meeting planner save the day. But being prepared and well-versed in your topic is important to make sure you make the most of that opportunity. Or as one meeting planner told me, “If a speaker doesn’t show up, there’s always Bingo”. Don’t lose out to Bingo!




AAE Speakers Bureau recently took a 2023 survey of around 500 meeting planners and professional speakers and found that almost a quarter of the planners have more money to spend on keynote speakers. That leaves 75% who don’t. And 53.1% of the speakers have said they have had to raise their speaking fee. The report said that the average fee for a keynote is $15,551. And the average total budget for speakers is $26,583.

Meeting planners expect added value from speakers these days, such as a meet and greet with attendees, social media promotion, a book signing, and a meet and greet with executives. This should all factor into what you charge as your speaking fee. But how do you know when you should raise your speaker fee?

When should you raise your speaker fee?

So many factors go into a speaker fee. And the truth is that there are really no rules about what yours should be. But there are some guidelines.

New speakers

If you’re just starting out as a speaker you can’t expect to get paid very much, if at all. Most speakers start out speaking for free. The only reason I never spoke for free was that I had my own sponsors. I taught other speakers how to make a living as a speaker from sponsorships. It cuts out all competition. Especially if you’re a new speaker. You can’t compete against seasoned professionals for regular speaking jobs, but with sponsorship, you have no competition. You get your own sponsors and create your own paid speaking jobs.

A good rule of thumb is that new beginning speakers can expect to charge between $500 and $2500 per speech. Again, if you have sponsors like I did when I first started out, you can charge as much as you think you can get. My very first speaking job was $2500 because I had several local sponsors and I put on my own event. If you can’t get someone to hire you as a speaker you can always become your own boss and hire yourself to speak. When the speaking industry is down this is a great option to still be able to make a living as a speaker. I used this method all through Covid to create my own virtual content for the sponsors I have in my portfolio.

Established speakers

Ok, so now you’ve been speaking for a while and you’ve been charging anywhere from $500 to $2500 and you’re pretty booked at that rate. By now you should also have at least one book on the market in your chosen topic in which you are an expert. If you’re marketing yourself you probably also have a decent following and are becoming well known in the industry. There’s no timeline about when that would happen. I’ve known very established speakers who spoke for free and low fee for a decade before they raised their rates. But it usually doesn’t take that long to get to that point. Go at your own pace. When you get to the established speaker level you will know it.

Established speakers should start to raise their speaker fee when they are too busy at the lower level fee to keep up with it. There are only so many days in the year and speaking every day of the year is not practical and will wear you out quickly. Speaking takes a lot out of you. Travel takes a lot out of you. And there is a sacrifice to be made in your personal life when you’re on the road so many days out of the year. You need the rest in between and you also need to have time to write more books and customize speeches for higher-paying clients.

Established speakers are able to charge between $2500 and $10,000 per speech. You’ve earned the right to boost your fee. Like every level, you don’t want to jump up in fees too quickly or you may find yourself struggling for work.

Influencer speakers

Once you’ve written multiple books and have tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of followers you move up to the influencer level of speakers. You probably also have a strong media presence. These speakers typically are able to charge around $10,000 – $20,000 per speech. Much more is expected of you as you move up to this level. My first big speech in this range was for 1,000 attendees for an engineering summit for Procter and Gamble. I was asked to take a lengthy internal research survey and find solutions for the issues they needed to find answers for. This was my first look at the difference between an established speaker and an influencer. You have to be prepared to up your game a lot at this point if you want to play in the influencer sandbox.

An influencer speaker is a known expert in their field. They don’t usually have an all you can eat buffet menu of speeches on 20 different topics. When a meeting planner thinks of your topic your name should be at the top of their list. This is also when you should start to differentiate yourself from other experts in your field. What’s in your background of experience that makes you different from all of your competitors? Hone in with laser focus on what makes you special, unique and different. What is your niche within your industry?

Celebrity speakers

Celebrity speakers are usually in the $20,000 range and over. If you are a celebrity in another field, such as a famous athlete or actor, you can skip the other steps. You are mostly being hired for your name draw. That doesn’t mean you haven’t paid your dues. Just the opposite. You’ve paid your dues in another industry and have earned the right to stand on a stage for big bucks.

A celebrity speaker is also a speaker who has been around for many years and paid their dues on the stage as a speaker. By this point you probably have multiple books and at least tens of thousands of followers. You are at least well-known in the speaking industry and probably by the general public as well.

Seth Dechtman of The Keynote Curators has a good guideline for working with celebrity speakers.

No rules

Again, there are no hard and fast rules for when you should raise your speaker fee. Being a professional speaker is a full-time job and there’s no contest for your own personal timeline.






There’s no doubt the meetings industry has been hammered for the past two years. But it is slowly showing signs of life. It’s not as easy as just saying that everything will go virtual forever. Nothing beats face to face meetings! But regardless of whether the meeting is face to face or virtual or a hybrid, the speaking industry has changed.

Meetings industry forecast for 2022

Here are some expectations from Northstar Meetings Group and AmEx Global on the meetings industry forecast for 2022:

When will face to face meetings return to pre-pandemic levels?

Some meeting professionals think we will get back to that level in a year or two and some think it will take until 2025. One thing is for sure, it will still be rocky and uneven. I’ve personally spoken at several in person events in the past year, but have had twice as many cancelled or postponed. The AmEx Global survey anticipates that 81% of all meetings in 2022 will have an in person component to them. 42% in person, 39% hybrid, and 19% virtual only.

Meetings industry forecast for 2022 – costs

Let’s face it, the cost of everything is going up! Meeting planners in North America are expecting at least an 11% increase next year. Unfortunately this doesn’t necessarily mean that speakers are going to be paid more. Budgets are still tight, though most are increasing. Having your own sponsors will help put you in a better position to get paid more. Make that a part of your negotiations.

Meetings industry forecast for 2022 – space

If you’ve been out speaking you have noticed that meeting room space is bigger to accommodate more social distancing. Attendee size is smaller, but the room space is bigger. That is a determining factor in where a meeting will be booked. Also, whether or not they are able to host a hybrid event.

The AmEx Global forecast states:

“The number of attendees at in-person events is expected to increase for every meeting type, by 3.5% to 4.3%. The number of attendees at virtual and hybrid events is also expected to increase across the board, although by a smaller percentage – by 2.8% to 3.4%.”

What do you predict for the meetings industry in 2022?


I haven’t posted a whole lot lately. Because frankly, the speaking industry in 2020 sucked! Sure, there are speakers who are still working, and even some who are making decent money right now. There were people who made a fortune during the Great Depression. But most people were just barely scraping by. Most of the best speakers I know are not working. Obviously, Covid has put a huge damper on the live event industry in general and speakers are having a hard time right now.

Speakers are having a hard time right now

Many people will tell you that everything is simply going virtual for now and in the future. But this is a simple explanation that I’ve found is not true. Many people will tell you that the speaking industry is booming and the best it’s ever been. Also, not true. After interviewing hundreds of planners and others involved in the speaking industry, I’ve discovered that there is no one reason why speakers are having a hard time right now. It’s a deeper issue. Here are some of the things they’ve told me:

Live events up in the air

With Covid still hanging over us and variants popping up, meeting planners are hesitant to book a live event. Where they used to plan 6 months to a year in advance, now committee meetings are being put on hold. That’s just to discuss the dates and locations. Attendees are hesitant to make reservations, and the meeting planners need to have a certain number of attendees just to put on the event. Some are ready to travel and go to a live event and some aren’t.

Can’t you just go virtual?

So, if everything is so tentative, why not just go virtual? Zoom fatigue is real! Maybe in the beginning it was a necessary novelty, but not everyone wants to pay good money to watch speakers on a Zoom call. It doesn’t matter how interesting they are. Sure, conferences can charge less because it’s online, but then they also want to pay speakers less also. And, because watching speakers online is tiring, they tend to spread the conferences out for several days or even longer. I just attended a conference myself that went on every day for 2 weeks. The information was incredible. The speakers were interesting. I still couldn’t handle it for more than 15 minutes at a time. I can’t tell you the number of classes and webinars I have sitting in the que that I haven’t gotten to yet. Many people are simply Zoomed out.

So, the idea that we are only going to be speaking virtually from now on is not true. What could be true is that conferences will have other options besides just live events. They’ve been doing a combination of live and streaming for a while now. I remember several years ago speaking to a group of scientists in New York, but they wanted to have their employees in Denmark see it. So it was also live-streamed to them.

But make no doubt about it, there is a lot of pent-up demand for travel. Speakers and others who work in the live event industry do it for a reason. They are social people who like to travel and meet new people. Otherwise they would have a desk job. The speaking industry is not going to remain virtual forever.

Discontinued conference

A number of conferences are folding completely. Not all of this is due to Covid. Some have mentioned that their attendance was dwindling even before. Since this is a sponsorship site, I’ll mention that sponsorship is dependent on ears and eyeballs in the audience. The fewer people you have in the audience, the less you will be able to attract a sponsor. Or the less that sponsor will be willing to pay. At some point conferences have just decided to cancel for now. That means no jobs for speakers.


Some conferences have decided, even before Covid, that they need to partner with their competition in order to have enough attendees to make it worthwhile. I spoke at one of those a few years ago. Several competitors just got together and had one big conference. They split the expenses and marketing. With 3 of them it was a pretty decent crowd. But, this also means they need fewer speakers. One more reason speakers are having a hard time right now.

Using industry speakers only

Part of this has to do with budget cuts, but this trend has been going on for a while now. Some conferences simply don’t hire outside speakers. And even ones that have in the past are turning to industry speakers this time around. I’ve even heard from sponsors that they want their own people to speak. Nothing you can do about that. But that doesn’t mean they are good speakers. It means they are footing the bill. And money talks. That’s why you need to find sponsors who are not looking to speak and would love to sponsor you to do that for them.

Carried over speakers from 2020

Since so many conferences were cancelled in 2020, most who had hired speakers simply rolled them over to 2021. Now if they don’t have the conference in 2021, that rolls them over to 2022. This means that fewer speakers have opportunities right now. That’s not going to last forever, and things will go back to some normalcy fairly soon.

Budget cuts

It sucks that we were finally at a point where meeting planner budgets were increasing. But, that has taken a nosedive. If you’ve been a speaker for any length of time you know that economies wax and wane all the time. I’m being told that even the budgets for big sponsors has gone down. But I’ve always made sure to line up more than one sponsor anyway. About half of all speaking jobs out there, even before Covid, are free ones. If you are able to come in with a sponsor for a free job you have a much, much better chance of getting that job and getting paid. Meeting planners need good speakers. But if they can’t pay for them, the next best thing is getting a free speaker with their own sponsor. This is how I’ve managed to make money for years as a speaker, even when the economy was bad. There are always ways to work around the free speaking thing by using sponsorship and multiple streams of speaker income. When times are tough you can prosper when everyone else is running around clucking like a chicken. This is how clever entrepreneurs became successful during the Depression. I hate to use the hack terminology of pivot, but that’s what you have to do.

Speaking industry goes in cycles

But it’s not all bad news. Everything in the speaking industry goes in cycles. Yes, speakers are having a hard time right now. But that will change.

This is a time for you to step back and figure out where you fit in in the speaking industry. Figure out other ways to make a living at it. Figure out if you are still really committed to it. And if you are, commit to learning, growing, and being the best speaker you can be. So that when things turn around (and they will), you will be ready.


Aristotle once said “Man is, by nature, a social animal”. Humans are most comfortable when we’re connected and sharing our emotions. When we’re face to face we’re able to match each others emotions instantly, without even realizing we’re doing it. That is something you can’t completely get on a Zoom call.

Digital Meetings

In a survey from the Professional Convention Management Association, 62% of meeting planners said they did not feel that digital meetings would cannibalize live meetings and events, but would exist with them side by side.

I was just reading over a post I published in January regarding the insight of live meetings and events in 2020. It said that 70% of meeting planners had a very positive feeling about the state of meetings in 2020. What a difference 3 months makes!

That goes to show that you simply can’t predict the future based on statistics and surveys. Because the future will always change, and life is very unpredictable.

Popular Speech Topics

There were a few things that still are relevant in the post. Health and wellness were predicted to be a big topic. That is even more important today than it was 3 months ago. Another thing that was listed is that most planners believed that technology would play a bigger role. That has literally been forced on meeting planners as many events have had to go online.

Just 3 months ago I was being hired by corporations to help companies recruit and retain employees. Unemployment was the lowest it had been in 50 years and even companies that were paying great salaries and had wonderful benefits were having a very hard time finding employees. Management was complaining that applicants would come in and demand everything for the highest salary possible. That literally changed overnight as 26 million people lost their jobs.

Speak for Free

Everything in life shifts back and forth from buyer to seller, then back again with each having the stronger position. Speakers, who were finally getting past the whole “speak for free” thing, are now thrown into a tailspin as meeting planners have their own issues to deal with in regards to cancellations and safety issues. As much as speakers may be stressed about the situation, meeting planners are also dealing with uncertainty and a never-ending process of putting out fires.

Virtual for Now

Zoom calls and live streaming are perfect for where we are now. That does not mean all meetings and events will be online forever.

Live meetings and events have been shut down before in history and they may be again. But human beings are social animals who crave the closeness of others. And that will never change.

The speaking industry is in a bit of upheaval right now. Conferences are being canceled and there is so much uncertainty about the future. As a speaker you should always have backup plans. Most people just think in one direction. But there is a lot of money to be made as a speaker who has an expertise that executives and others need. I mean, you are an expert in your topic, right? If not, you need to take this time to start honing in on what you have that is of value to your audience.

Speaker Consultant

I’ve been hearing about speakers doing their speeches through online videos, which is great. But a faster and easier way to make money right now is with consulting. Companies may be hunkered down with their employees working from home, but they still need outside help, maybe even more right now.

I remember my mother worked as a consultant for a tech company when I was a kid. She would find a quiet spot in the house with a “Do Not Disturb” sign on the door and schedule a couple of consulting calls. Since she was also a writer, sometimes she would even write booklets for them on her topic, which she sold in volume.

Speaker consultant contracts

One advantage of being a consultant over being a live speaker is that you usually get more work out of it. With a live event, you do a speech and then it’s over. Consulting contracts are usually longer and more intensive. Once things settle down and events are booming again, you will have a great add-on service to complement your speech. You’ll get paid extra and you will be ready and primed to do it. Just like speaking, consulting takes some practice to do it well.

Here are some ways to get started as a consultant and speaker:

Hone in on your niche

Now is the time to really start thinking about your expertise and become even more knowledgable and up to date with your info. Study the trades in your specific topic. What knowledge do you have that companies need?

Who needs your expertise?

Don’t randomly throw everything against the wall to see what sticks. Spend some time thinking about who needs your knowledge the most.

Research your audience

Before you think of contacting anyone, find out what they are looking for and what they need that you could supply.

Get certified

If you need certification to add credibility as a consultant, do that first. Find out what licenses and certification would be valuable to your target audience. Having these credentials should also help you as a speaker.

Add hard skills to your resume

A backup plan should include some hard skills along with soft skills. What hard skills can you add to your resume?

Everything goes in cycles, but right now consulting is a good skill to have on your resume regardless of which direction the speaking industry is going in. The speaking industry is in a constant sea of change, so be prepared to cover all angles.





Some of your best speaker leads can come from referrals. Most of mine have. But all referrals may not be the same. I grew up in the entertainment industry, where about 80% of all jobs come from referrals. There is a good reason for that.


Hollywood is a transient place that’s full of con artists, beginners, flakes, bad actors, and people who are looking for a quick buck. I’ve been in it my whole life and it never changes. I’ve also been on all sides. From being an actor who has to beg for a job, to a casting director, who does the hiring, to the distributor, who puts up the money to distribute a final product.

There are WAY more people at the bottom that are looking for jobs than there are the ones at the top who do the hiring and buying. I must say it was such a difference to go from holding my hand out to beg for a job, to pulling out a checkbook with a huge bank account attached. And I must say that I was more likely to use weak ties myself, or someone a friend recommended.

Speaker leads

But one thing always seemed to be true. You will usually get your best speaker leads, acting leads, etc. from your weak links. I was much more likely to get a job from someone my hairdresser knew or my doctor knew, than from the person themselves. It always seemed to be from someone who wasn’t in the industry but had a close connection to the decision maker.

Weak ties

Sociologist Mark Granovetter wrote a paper in the 1970’s called “The Strength of Weak Ties”. Basically it talked about how your most valuable information will come from outside your usual network of contacts. People are far more likely to get a job from a weak contact than through a friend or relative.

He refers to strong ties as friends and weak ties as acquaintances. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have both, because you should. They compliment each other.

In my conversations with meeting planners lately I’ve found that many times they get referrals for speakers from people in their audience. That would be a weak speaker lead contact.

So, instead of always trying to go in through the front door, you might try using your weak contacts. As much as Hollywood hates taking chances on newbies, they also love the idea of finding a great, new talent that no one has ever heard of. Same with the speaking industry.







Years ago I hired one of the best publicists in town to promote my product. I paid $5,000 month, which is a lot now, but a fortune back then. After 4 months I was out of money and they had only booked me one magazine. Since I had no money left, I was forced to do it myself. So I learned on my own how to be a publicist.

I was only doing it for myself, but I soon had other people calling me to do their publicity. Before long I was working for large corporations, and kept raising my prices to keep up with the demand.  I never advertised my services or went on a single job interview. It all came from word of mouth referrals.

It’s ironic because I never really wanted to be a publicist. I didn’t have a college degree, so I wouldn’t have even thought to send in my resume. But, here I was making a great living and working for big companies who would probably never hire me based on my resume. They hired me because of one thing – results! I worked hard for my clients and got them results, which is an issue with many publicists who take your money and do nothing, like what happened to me.

Easiest way to book a speaking job

To get referrals you’d better be damned good at what you do and work hard for your clients. It’s pretty simple.

So, how does this relate to the speaking industry? The easiest way to book a speaking job is through referrals. It’s also the easiest way to get your full fee as a keynote speaker.

The words every speaker wants to hear

I remember getting a call from a meeting planner who said “what is your fee and where do I send the contract”? Just like that. She said “Someone on the committee saw you speak, you came highly recommended, and we took a vote. So, are you available?” Ah, the words every speaker wants to hear “Are you available”?

But this didn’t happen overnight. It took years of hard work and proving myself in the market. I can’t tell you how many speakers and actors complain that they’ve been trying to get work for several months and haven’t gotten anything. The entertainment industry in general, whether you’re a speaker, actor, writer, musician, etc. is not about being an overnight success. If it does happen it’s very rare. Most people who make it have put in the hard work and established themselves before that happens. Nobody owes you anything as an artist. It has to be earned, over and over again.

When I worked in casting for films, I would rarely take a chance on a beginner for any leading roles. It wasn’t worth me being wrong, no matter how talented someone was. I wanted to see lots of proof that they were professionals and that they could handle a leading role. I would hire them for a smaller role if they were a beginner, but would not take the chance on a bigger role. There is too much on the line.

Prove yourself as a speaker

This is the same way it is in the speaking industry. You have to prove yourself and keep looking for the open door where someone will take that chance on you. In the meantime, keep working on your craft. Keep improving. Keep learning. No matter how long you’ve been in the business.

If I thought an artist just needed some help to push them over the edge I would work with them, on my own time and my own dime, because I thought they really had potential.

I remember reading a script that was so unique and had such a different voice with characters that jumped off the page, but the grammar and spelling were horrible. I couldn’t pass that script on to my boss, but I knew the writer and the script had potential. So I went through and edited it myself.

I had numerous conversations with the writer to make sure I was on the right track with him. He was more than willing to listen to critique and improve. He had no training as a writer, which really kind of worked in his favor because he didn’t allow his writing to be guided by some template from a university or writing school. That’s what made it so unique. It was a script written about great characters who had unique voices and a lot of heart. It was like no other script I had ever read. That happened only a handful of times where I found those kinds of artists.

Be the complete package as a speaker

But not everyone is going to take the time to help shape you. It’s a business, and they simply don’t have the time to do it. You need to be the complete package right off the bat. If you’re not, then start cutting your teeth in places where people will take a chance on you. About half of all the speaking jobs out there are free ones. Meeting planners need good speakers even if they can’t pay them. I know plenty of established speakers who will still book free speaking jobs to test out new material. I think this is smart. But if you’re doing it for free, you might as well make money by getting a sponsor for your speech. This is how I’ve never spoken for free. I would test new material in a free job, but get a sponsor. That way I got paid while shaping a speech, getting audience reaction, and improving my craft.

The actors and writers I would hire for smaller roles still had to prove themselves. The ones that showed up early, never complained, prepared for their parts, didn’t act like divas, and were willing to go above and beyond were the ones that I would keep in the file.

Keep working as a speaker

To get referrals as a speaker you have to be working. Someone, somewhere has to see you. That’s what happened when I got the call asking where to send the contract. Someone had seen me speak. Someone who had enough clout and enough passion in me to convince the committee to use me. This is the easiest way to book a speaking job.

This is the place you want to get to in your career. If you ever wonder why the same handful of people seem to book all the speaking jobs, this is why. They have reached a point where they’ve proven themselves in the industry. The easiest way to book a speaking job is to be a speaker everyone wants to work with and get referrals because of it.

It’s really simple. Be the best speaker, actor, writer, musician, entertainer you can possibly be. Be easy to work with and go above and beyond for every single job. Keep working and keep improving. Then one day you will get that call about sending the contract. The more you move up the ladder, the more of those calls you will get. And one more thing… resist ever becoming a diva. I could tell you many behind the scenes stories about actors who did this. Most of them aren’t working today. Be nice, be good, prove yourself, and love what you do enough to stay in it for the long haul.