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What’s The Secret To Building A Successful Speaking Career?

Are you dreaming of getting onstage and sharing your knowledge as a professional speaker?

Many dream of being a speaker, but starting out can feel incredibly daunting. 

We met with Karen Harris, the founder and CEO of CMI Speaker Management. She represents an international roster of carefully selected speakers who positively impact millions of people through their keynote speeches, books, and thought leadership.

Are you dreaming of getting onstage and sharing your knowledge as a professional speaker?

She also represents EWTS founder Phil M. Jones, and together, they share their experience and advice for becoming a professional speaker.

Many dream of being a speaker, but starting out can feel incredibly daunting.

What To Expect From A Career As A Speaker

Why go pro as a speaker?

Being a professional speaker might feel like a natural career progression for you, and for good reason. Going pro allows you to be your own boss and share expert insights that you’ve gathered over the years.

Professional speakers demonstrate creativity, leadership skills, and elite professionalism, which are incredibly valuable in the job market and to anyone looking to improve their own professional desirability. 

Being a public speaker is a solid way to build your professional credibility, which will, in turn, generate more success for your business, whatever that might be.

The speaking arena is constantly evolving, especially in a post-covid world. But even though the types of events have changed, for example, frequently presenting online, the demand is still incredibly high. 

The biggest topics tend to be leadership, communication, and employee engagement, and if you specialize in any of these areas, you should know that there is a huge market for your expertise.

Karen has found that speaker fees have increased post-COVID, and organizers are usually happy to pay more. The fact is, if they want you, they’ll pay for the privilege. 

However, with higher fees, the expectation is going to be higher. 

There will always be way more of a demand for someone who’s going to pull people into the seats, so you should be looking to make yourself as desirable as possible. 

What can you offer that is different? What makes you stand out?

This doesn’t just mean interesting content. Event organizers want more diversity from their speakers, which opens up the floor to a wider range of personalities. 

There really hasn’t been a better time to break out as a speaker.

What Are The Events That You Should Be Offering

As already mentioned, the most in-demand themes tend to be leadership, communication, and employee engagement.

Sales is another hot topic and is always popular.

But today’s speakers must offer a hybrid style of service in addition to a good range of content. 

What that means is to be confident and capable on the stage in front of thousands of people, but also to bring that level of charisma to a digital format.

Speakers and trainers are booked to help organizations through online workshops and seminars, so having that as part of your repertoire will ensure you stand out in a crowded market. 

What Should You Be Charging?

One thing to remember is that while the big hitters can charge huge amounts of money per keynote, you’re not likely to come near to that without putting some serious work in to get there.

An entry-level could be $1,000 if you’re lucky. Plenty of speakers have given up their time and resources for nothing during their early careers just to build a presence whilst practising and polishing their skills.  

Fees are variable and subject to your experience, reputation and presence in the speaking world. 

If you look at a typical event, the average amount set aside for a speaker is $20,000. But this doesn’t mean that’s what you’ll be getting straight off the bat, nor does it mean that every event has that kind of budget.

A speaking career can be incredibly lucrative, but this will not happen overnight. You’ve got to pay your dues and work your way up.

According to Karen, the sweet spot today is between $15,000 and $25,000. Speakers booked at this rate tend to be more experienced, and the person booking will also have more experience planning events. 

If you go under $15,000, there’s still plenty of opportunity, but you should find out what else the organizers have worked on because it might mean that they are inexperienced or new to the events world. 

If this is the case, you might end up doing their work for them. Both Karen and Phil have seen it happen before, where the speaker also takes on the role of event consultant as well as speaker!

How Can You Become More Noticeable?

If you want to get booked for those big events with the associated big ticket fees, you’ve got to be good. 

But how can you ensure that you are progressing forward?

As a speaker who wants to go pro, your biggest job is to speak. Get out there and get better. Experienced speakers are still improving with every event they do, and that passion is what helps them stand out.

Alongside this, you’ve got to be able to influence. 

The most successful speakers generate a big following digitally. Your digital aim should be that when someone Googles you, they can see what you do on stage. 

You’ve got to have a strong digital footprint. People should be able to find you easily and see what you do clearly. And for this to happen, you’ve got to look like an influencer.

A good following can lead to more bookings and demand, and you can expect to receive higher fees. 

Content is king, and if you get that right, your following will increase. 

Speakers with a good digital footprint tend to have a successful following on either Instagram, LinkedIn, or TikTok. Or all three.

Karen has found that the speakers she represents received more leads and inquiries once they became more noticeable on social channels.

But you have to remember that it’s not just about making content; you have to be authentic. You need people to see what you do, and videos on social media are a great way to present that to your audience. 

Some customers read, some listen, and some watch, so to capture the right attention, you should strive to hit all the senses.

What could you share about yourself with your audience? 

What Mistakes Do Speakers Make?

There won’t be a professional speaker anywhere who hasn’t experienced moments that they wish they’d done differently, however, there are some mistakes that speakers can make that could potentially derail a career and stop progression in its tracks.

The most common one is failing to stay in their lane. 

Once you’ve picked a lane, if you decide to go in another direction, no matter how slight a diversion, you’ll need a very good marketing machine behind you.

It’s not impossible, but you will make things significantly harder for your longevity.

So, assuming you’ve picked a direction that is working and you’re generating a little traction, make sure you stay with it and keep building from there. 

The marketplace wants you in a box, and they are the people that will be booking you. 

Another common mistake is pushing fees too fast without justification for those fees. Don’t move your feet too fast when you’re in the developing mode. 

You can gauge this by how many gigs you’re getting and how often you’re getting spin-off bookings. 

And by the way, if you’re not getting a spin-off, that means your speech isn’t there yet.

A speaker’s life is hard. You’ve got to be on all the time – you are the business, and everything is on you.

If you get it right, a speaking career can be fantastic, but it’s not always fun, and it’s definitely not easy.

The overriding message to anyone thinking about a professional speaking career is to go for it. 

There’s never been a better time to enter this arena. Taking this step will give you complete control over your identity and the direction you wish to take – first and foremost, this is your business; it’s nobody else’s. You are the driver. 

But you don’t have to be completely alone. The EWTS community is full of dynamic speakers and they are all super supportive to one another.

If this interests you, you can join the movement to get help and advice on building your personal brand.

With a whole host of Certification events, conferences, and online webinars, you’ll be inspired and supported throughout your exciting journey. Find out more by signing up to the mailing list so that you can hear about all of the exciting events that the EWTS family have coming up. 


Karen Harris

Karen Harris started her career in the speaking industry as manager for Everest Climber icons, Jamie Clarke and Alan Hobson, two of the corporate speaking industry’s best and brightest. Their incredible story and on-stage energy, paired with Karen’s vitality, professionalism and integrity, catapulted them to the ‘summit’ of the world of professional speaking. With 25+ years of sales, marketing and management experience in a broad range of industries – from real estate to radio to corporate protection services – she founded cmi in 2001.

Karen has guided the company to exponential growth and expanded our impressive roster to include A-list keynoters, business speakers, New York Times best-selling authors, leadership and communications experts, corporate consultants and inspirational presenters.

Through the highs and lows in the history of corporate events, Karen has partnered with 100s of meeting professionals and speakers bureaus worldwide to provide quality world-class speakers and thought leaders. Karen lives by her belief that relationships full of integrity and fun are what good business is all about!

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