A Speaker Sponsor member recently asked why we send out opportunities for free speaking jobs. There are several reasons for that:

Should you speak for free?

You’re a beginner

When you’re just starting out as a speaker you may want to speak for free to get the practice. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give it the same amount of time and professionalism you would give a paid job. But if you’re brand new you simply won’t have the same polish that speakers have who have been doing it for years have. Like a comedian who has to work out the bugs in a routine. It takes time to figure out what gets a laugh and what makes the audience cringe. Sometimes you stumble on something that gets a laugh that you didn’t expect. Each time you get in front of a new audience you learn something that you can add to your speech.

Speaking isn’t something you can learn by reading a book. You have to learn through experience. Students pay huge tuition fees to go to college. Think of this as your college education. Speak anywhere and everywhere you can. Try new things. Experiment. Be bold. When you’re speaking for free you can do more of that. Get in front of as many people as possible and as many different audiences as possible. Get feedback and keep improving.

A free speaking job can turn into a paid speaking job

Recently I’ve booked 2 paid speaking jobs because I filled out the online forms for free speaking jobs. Speaker Sponsor sends out free speaking leads, along with paid ones. It may seem like a waste of time when you want to get paid. But you never know when someone will be looking for speakers for a different conference. Or they secretly have the budget for speaker topics they really, really need. This is how I ended up with 2 paid speaking jobs.

Also, meeting planners will keep things on file for years. And when they need your topic they will search through them. I’ve booked jobs for things I filled out as long as 8 years ago. It was a free speaking job that I didn’t get at the time. I ended up getting my full speaking fee. So, I would say that it was definitely worth my time to fill out the free form.

If you have a book or other things to sell, speaking for free can often be a good deal. If you do speak for free ask for as many things in return as possible. Opportunity to sell books, etc. A free booth at their trade show. A list of attendees. All expenses paid. Mentions in their newsletter and social media. Opportunity to sell your coaching and consultant services. Your own sponsor, who they will help you promote.

You have your own sponsors 

I’ve taken several free jobs as a speaker, especially in the beginning. But I have never, ever spoken for free. I’ve always had a sponsor who paid me to get them in front of their target audience. I learned about sponsorship completely by accident. I was living in NYC and working on a TV pilot. It was a variety show with writers from Saturday Night Live, Broadway dancers, and celebrity guest stars. In addition to raising half of the money for the show, I was also one of the reporters. Behind the scenes my boss asked me one day to go out and get sponsors. I had no idea how to do it, but I put together a proposal and went door to door looking for sponsors for the show. This was my trial by fire into the world of sponsorship.

Once I learned out to do it I started using sponsorship to produce plays. When I became a speaker I realized about half of all speaking jobs are free ones. So I saw a huge opportunity to fill those free jobs with sponsorship to get paid. I practice what I preach and am constantly finding new ways to supplement speaking with sponsorship. Having a portfolio of sponsors helped me earn a living as a speaker during the shutdowns of Covid when events were being cancelled. Sponsorship means never having to hold your hand out for a paid speaking job. You have a much better chance of getting a free speaking job and getting paid for it.

Many Speaker Sponsor members have their own sponsors and welcome the chance to find any speaking opportunities. Paid or free speaking. They know they can monetize them and get paid for the free speaking jobs.

You need to be seen

The very best way to get booked as a paid speaker is for someone to see you speak live. I have a saying. “If you want to be in the right place at the right time you have to be everywhere all the time”. That means you have to speak every single chance you get. If you only wait for paid speaking jobs you miss out on opportunities to get in front of people who can hire you. Have a portfolio of sponsors and things to sell and you have a guarantee of being paid.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten full fee speaking jobs because someone saw me speak live at an event. And I’ve also lost jobs because I was in the running with someone who was seen live by a decision maker. Speakers who are constantly working will get more work. And be seen by more people who can hire them. If you’re booked solid all year long with paid speaking work, this probably doesn’t apply to you. But if you’re new or not solidly booked, think about all the ways you can get in front of more decision makers. Even if you speak for free.

If you want more speaking jobs you need to do everything you can. This includes adding free speaking to your strategy. But always make sure you monetize everything to get the most out of those opportunities.








As a speaker bureau, one of the hardest kinds of speakers to book is a generalist. Being exactly like every other speaker and speaking on exactly the same topics means you blend into the woodwork. When a meeting planner asks what’s different about them, it’s usually met with a silence that means “not interested”.

How to be a paid speaker

I’m not saying generalist speakers don’t work. They certainly do. But there is a way to guarantee you’ll get more work.

In my course, “Create Your Own Job“, I talk about the 3 ways you can guarantee you’ll get more work than you can handle in any economy. One of those ways is by doing something no one else knows how to do.

Lessons from casting to be a paid speaker

I remember when I was working in casting we were looking for a good actor who could also play the piano. Good actors are a dime a dozen. And we could also find plenty of good piano players. But finding both in one person was extremely difficult. We put out a call to everyone we could think of and were willing to see absolutely any actor from anywhere who could possibly fit the part.

Have a story no one else has

There are a lot of inspirational speakers who are in the category of having a story that no one else has. Nick Vujicic is one of those speakers. According to Wikipedia he was “born with tetra-ameila syndrome, a rare disorder characterized by the absence of arms and legs. He is one of the seven known surviving individuals planet-wide who live with the syndrome.”

Inspirational speaker Michael Hingson has a story no one else has. He was working in the Twin Towers on 9-11 when the planes hit. Since he is blind he had actually read the building manual in braille. When it was time to escape, he was able to lead others to safety because he knew the layout of the building. No other speaker has that same exact experience and no one ever will.

As a speaker you can set yourself apart and be booked constantly by doing something no one else knows how to do or by having a topic no one else has that you know better than anyone else.

Have a topic no one else has

The best example of an in demand paid speaker who does this is Brene Brown. This info on her website tells it all: “Brene’s reputation as a speaker is built on her ability to explore difficult topics”. Brene says” I’ve spent the past 16 years studying courage, vulnerability, empathy and shame”. She knows the value of speaking on a topic no one else speaks on and knowing it better than anyone else.

Another way to do this is through primary and secondary research. Secondary research is by studying what experts have written about a topic and drawing your own conclusions about it. Primary research is by conducting your own experiments and publishing information you can’t find anywhere else. This is the best way to guarantee you will be the only speaker who has that topic. You truly would have no competition at all by doing it yourself.  

Stay on top of your industry’s regulations

Many organizations have to deal with changing regulations on a constant basis. There is always a need for speakers who are on top of what’s going on in their industry as far as regulations are concerned. If you’re a good speaker and can address new and current regulations, you will probably get a lot of work in that industry, especially in the medical and financial industries where regulations are changing constantly.

If you think all of this sounds like a lot of work… it is! But the speaking industry isn’t easy, and the competition is enormous. If you really want to work as a paid speaker you have to be willing to work harder than the next person who wants that job.