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?

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