No matter where I go these days I’m constantly running into someone who says they are a speaker. At the grocery store today there was one person in front of me and one behind me who got into a conversation about speaking. In L.A. you expect to run into someone who is an actor, writer, director, or all of the above on every corner. But speaker? Hmm, what’s going on?

This is interesting because, according to studies, glossophobia, or the fear of public speaking is the number one phobia Americans have. You would think more people would shy away from it, but I get calls every day from people who say they’ve just become a speaker or they want to become a speaker.

Since I’ve been working in the entertainment industry in some form or another since I was a teenager, I look at the speaking industry as being very similar to the entertainment industry. For example, you have a handful of actors who are on the A list, who make millions of dollars, a lot of actors who make a living some or most of the time, and a lot of wanna-be actors who never make any money from acting, who eventually give up and do other things, maybe acting from time to time as a hobby.

This is because the entertainment industry is full of supply, but not enough demand for all of that supply. It’s the same in the speaking industry. Most actors want to be on the A list, making the big bucks, waiting for someone to write a check so they can focus on their craft and showcase their talent. Most speakers want the same thing. I admit, I’d love nothing better than to just show up and get a big, fat check to be a rock star. Who wouldn’t? But the speaking industry, like the entertainment industry has far more supply than demand. It’s a seller’s market. Far more sellers than buyers.

So, that’s the bad news. The good news is that there has never been a better time in history to be a speaker or entertainer. But, just like the entertainment industry, it’s an incredibly difficult path if you’re simply standing in line with everyone else. Personally, I don’t have the patience to wait in that line. For the past 20 years I’ve been writing, producing and staring in my own productions, either with angel investors, my own money, or with small business sponsorship.

When you go the self-funded or sponsorship route, supply and demand doesn’t matter. You find the demand first, then supply the talent. That means finding niches that need what you have to offer and then finding a way to get paid for it.

A good example of this is historical keynote speaker Lord Scott, who bears an uncanny resemblance to George Washington. He not only looks like him, but is the right size and age to portray Washington. Scott has used this to his advantage, booking educational presentations at schools, 4th of July celebrations, corporate events, and churches.

He has also started his own non-profit “We Make History”, putting on historical events on both the east and west coasts. His team now includes over 200 actors, and continues to expand. Scott has found his niche as a public speaker and performer by thinking outside the box and creating his own speaking career.

As a professional speaker how can you create your own career and bypass the supply and demand problem of the speaking industry?





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?

The speaking industry has similarities and differences in every country. Here is another great speakers bureau interview with J.J. Jackson of Performing Artistes, located in London:

1. Can you give us some info on your background and how Performing Artistes got started?
We started in 1992, initially putting on sporting dinners (where people buy tables and there are former sportsmen and women giving speeches after dinner). We quickly got asked to supply people for their own events, often non sport, and it went from there. That original experience of having put on events ourselves is incredibly useful when dealing with planners. We can honestly say we’ve been there!
2. How is the speaking industry different in Europe than the U.S.?
Bureaux in the States seems to be much more talent led. They are set up to push talent exclusive to them, while the European model is client/organiser led – most of us have a few exclusives, but the majority of our business is booking people independent of the bureau. We are answerable to the clients.
3. When should a speaker start approaching speakers bureaus and how would you like to be approached?
In theory, as soon as they like, however unless they have a TV profile they really need to have done a good few speeches (20 plus) to be taken seriously. Decent video footage of them speaking is also a must – it doesn’t need to be a full production, but more than a hand held camera at the back of a church hall.
4. What is the one thing you wish speakers knew about working with a speakers bureau?
That our job is to come up with ideas for speakers in the first place. Rarely do clients ring up asking for a specific person, they normally ask for a list of people who would be appropriate and take it from there, so by the time they end up booking the speaker we’ve already done a lot of work getting them to that stage. Same goes for agents, they often say “why did the company not come to us directly” to which the response is of course “because they didn’t know they wanted you until we explained why you/your client was ideal”.
5. Who is your perfect speaker client?
In terms of the talent, someone who engages with the client beforehand on a briefing call, turns up on time and is modest in their demands re staging, transport etc (accepting they want to deliver a good presentation and do require certain things). In terms of bookers/planners, someone you can develop a relationship with and starts to trust you…occasionally taking a leftfield choice because they know you haven’t let them down in the past. I always say I have never knowingly supplied a bad speaker, although that’s not to say we haven’t had to odd issue over the years!
6. Is there one book you would recommend all speakers read?
Now there is a question! It’s been around a while, but one of the original business books, How to Win Friends and Influence People takes some beating!
7. What do you see changing for speakers, meeting planners and speakers bureaus and how would you use innovation to improve the speaking industry?
The level of interactivity of audiences. The days of the passive audience are long gone, now a days the audience will be tweeting about the speech as it is happening, asking questions in real time etc. In terms of improving the industry, transparency is key. If a speaker has had a number of enquiries from rival bureaux for the same job, they should say; similarly meeting planners shouldn’t try and play us off against each other. By all means compare costs, but once you’ve decided which bureau to use, stick with them.

JJ Jackson
Performing Artistes – London
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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.