Breaking in to the keynote speaker industry

Becoming a Keynote Speaker

The first step if you intend to be a motivational speaker will be to initially make a decision. Sounds simple right? The decision may be the easiest part of your journey as you start on a career as an entertainer, trainer or speaker. 

Keynote speakers are not born, they are made. A decision to become a speaker or trainer is very straightforward. In different ways it is liking saying you are contemplating doing the largest cliff jump in to the local lake. However until your feet have left the cliff, you aren’t committed.

The commitment to becoming a keynote speaker is imperative. Canadian speakers work typically in a smaller market than their cousins to the south and it is a competitive market. You must think about why would people pay you to talk to their organization? That answer may become the actual key to your success.

Making the final step count

Surely, if the 1st step is the decision, the final step comes after the decision not to quit the speaking industry. It is not uncommon for speakers to be focusing on the sidelines awaiting the career to take off and it takes many years to arrive at that point. If you knew it would take several years to build your career, might you stick it out? 

Frankly, if we knew the runway to success we may plan for it and stick it out. Usually we expect everything to happen quicker than it does and we quit in year five without knowing that we could have a very successful year if we had hung around for one more year. 

There are so many stories from keynote speakers of people who even had agency representation yet did not create a “career” in speaking for seven or eight years. There are also many stories of speakers making several hundred thousand dollars a years. Are you prepared to wait that long?

The steps to success

One of the first steps is to join your national speaking association which will have regional chapters that can provide a lot of help and support on your way to success. 

The networking you can do at these meetings with other successful keynote speakers is critical for your future direction. You will have the opportunity to hear what is working and of course, what is not. 

The speaking industry is often challenged with organizations who are looking for free speakers. While it may be tempting to drop your fee to court a potential client who really has no budget, you have to remember there is a big difference between a free speaker and a professional speaker. 

Once you have created industry ties and learned the ins and outs of a speaking career, it is time to promote yourself. While the digital side of things is very important and cost effective, nothing beats getting on the road and talking to clients directly. 

At the point where you have a few clients under your belt and have delivered some compelling talks, you can start talking to agents who may be willing to add you to their roster. 

The important point to remember with regard to agency representation is they will typically account for only a small percentage of your overall bookings. Be careful not to rely too much on agency representation and focus on carving out your own success.

In the end, the important take away is that there is no shortcut to success. Stick it out, learn and grow and don’t quit. That will become your story.


What constitutes a successful keynote speaker?

It is very often the case many individuals believe keynote speaking is a lavish and prestigious profession.

There isn’t any doubt as an entertainer or keynote speaker you can earn a great deal of income and become very much popular. However, most successful speakers or entertainers spend a lot of time in airports around the world or hotels in several cities.

In order to have a career in speaking or to become a motivational speaker, you must first be or at least be perceived as being an expert in some subject.

What we most commonly see as a successful keynote speaker is anyone who has achieved a very high standing in their profession or sport. It is not however the only way to be a successful motivational speaker.

The art of speaking or indeed being a trainer is centred around your skill to retain the focus of your audience. It is what most speakers refer to as the power to get your audience to lean in.

So What has Changed?

Perhaps the revolution in the speaking industry has been the evolution of TED talks. While many keynote speakers and entertainers focus on delivering content over a 45 minute to one hour period, TED forces you to deliver an impactful message within 18 minutes.

The lesson for any speaker relates to the capacity for the audience to focus over a longer period of time.

It must be noted that while each TED talk is of a shorter duration, the audience is able to maintain focus over several sessions in the same evening.

The lesson therefore to anybody desiring to be a trainer or speaker is that you must learn to keep the audience engaged over larger spans of time using various tools like humour, audience participation or emotion. Essentially you might want to learn to be many different personalities in the same talk.

Many organizations which include toastmasters target training people to become speakers, however in many examples the training is somewhat old school. While it is valuable to find out the tools of the trade, as with many professions, times have changed and we have never necessarily responded to the change. 

A prime example is within the writing industry. Where books were once a minimum of 80,000 words, the evolution of the eBook industry has produced a demand for 8000 word ebooks. 

The same holds true in speaking where today we worry less with regard to the “umm’s, err’s or “like’s” in a sentence and much more regarding the ability for the speaker to entertain us and hold us captive to their narrative. 

Canada is one country that generates many premium quality entertainers and speakers. To become canadian speaker you can get not only the Canadian Association of Professional Speakers (which has membership requirements in terms of your experience) but in addition several prime quality speaker agencies.

While the need to become a speaker may focus you on a path of writing a keynote and getting yourself ready for the big day, its also wise to be prepared to be multi-talented.

Most motivational speakers derive a significant portion of their income from selling books at their events. In addition, they deliver workshops for the same audience to provide value to their service.

In this circumstance the skills to create a book or host a workshop need to be acquired or purchased to assist you in your career progression.

If you are considering a career in speaking in North America, I would strongly suggest you look to either the National Speakers Association in the USA or the Canadian Association of Professional Speakers in Canada. 

Once you have opened enough doors to start to get bookings, it is an extremely rewarding career and one that can be very profitable also.