From Author to Professional Speaker: 8 Tips for Making the Leap Without Falling into the Abyss

Contributed by Jane Atkinson

How do you turn your success as an author into a speaking career? Here are 8 simple tips to make the transition painless and profitable.

1. Find Out Who Will Pay

First, you need to consider whether someone will pay for the information or expertise you have to offer. People offering kudos on your book is great for confidence and book sales, but when they offer to pay you to speak to their organizations, you know you’re onto something.

Whether your topic is motivational, inspirational, or based on a business expertise, you need to do your homework to make sure your topic is one that the marketplace values—and, more important, will pay to hear. But while content is immensely important, style is usually what differentiates you from the crowd and will increase your fee quickly. Consider your style. Are your technique and presentation strong enough to make you a pro?

Once you’ve done your research and know you are ready to enter the speaking industry, follow the tips in the rest of this article to get started.

2. Make Freebies Count

Get out and speak to anyone who will listen—for free—but only for a set period of time. The best way to turn a free speech into paid engagements is to ask the audience for help from the platform. I call it the “help me speech.” It’s two simple sentences that you can include right before the closing of your speech: “As you can see I am passionate about this topic. If you know of any company or association that could benefit from this material, please hand me your business card before you leave.” That’s it. Then use those business cards to follow up and build a database for future marketing.

I remember my first job as an agent in the speaking industry. My speaker handed me a stack of cards she had acquired through her help me speech. I spent three months working through that pile, and it filled her schedule for the next three years.

3. Develop a Killer Speech

A killer speech is the best form of marketing. No flashy brochure, no innovative postcard, no cutesy giveaway can top it. Audiences will remember a great speech that motivated or moved them. Focus more time and energy on having a great speech in the first three years of your professional career. You will increase your odds of success dramatically.

4. Broadcast Your Credibility

Put together a bio that will establish you as an expert in your field. (Being an author is definitely a plus.) It needs to establish why clients should hire you over all the other speakers they might consider. You’ll want to position yourself as an expert first and a speaker second. Brian Palmer of National Speakers Bureau in Chicago says, “Clients don’t want to hire speakers; they want to hire smart people who happen to speak.”

5. Develop Professional Marketing Materials

In order to get booked, you’ll need to develop materials to promote your services. A website is your first priority. Print materials may not be necessary, depending on your market. Many speakers start with basic websites that allow visitors to see exactly what they do, whom they do it for, and how they do it. Always test your marketing materials with prospective clients before launching them. Ask this question: “Would this piece make you want to hire me?”

6. Establish an Appropriate Fee

Establish a speaking fee and post it on the wall of your office. You don’t want to be pulling a number out of the air every time you have a conversation with a prospective client. In order to set a fee, do some market research. Ask other speakers for advice—and ask clients, too. Remember, the client is paying for the twenty years of experience that goes into your speech, not the sixty minutes that you actually speak.

Fees are truly a state of mind. I once worked for a very successful motivational speaker. When I started working with him, he was earning $2,500 per speech. We set some goals and decided we wanted to aim for $10,000 per speech. While he agreed at the time, I found out five years later that he thought I was dreaming. But he set his mind on the goal and there was no stopping him. Today, that speaker earns more than $1,000,000 per year in speaking fees.

7. Strategize

Just like books, speaking requires a sales and marketing strategy. Define your target market, start making the calls, and send your website link or marketing materials to people who could hire you. The key to your success is going to be consistency and clarity. Touching the same group of people four times a year could pay off handsomely down the road.

8. Match Client Needs, Don’t Sell

When talking to prospective clients, your goal is to see if your service matches their needs. It helps to have some sales skills, but knowing that you won’t always be right for every client can alleviate some jitters you might have about cold calling. Be clear on the value you offer before picking up the phone.

A good technique to keep you focused is to post a list of the values you bring to organizations. For example:

  • I provide a strategy for increasing sales.
  • My strategy covers three areas that are integral to selling success: authenticity, integrity, and value.
  • My average client’s ROI (return on investment) is a 25 percent increase in customer loyalty.

Starting any new business is a tricky venture, and small business skills, such as strategic planning and cash flow management, are required. But knowing that you have a killer speech and a valuable message to offer the world, and marketing that message correctly, will help you move down the path of becoming a handsomely paid professional speaker.

Jane Atkinson has been helping speakers catapult their businesses for more than 15 years. She has worked as a business manager for several high-profile speakers/authors, such as Vince Poscente, Joe Calloway, and boxing legend Sugar Ray Leonard. Jane was also the vice president of International Speakers Bureau in Dallas. Her new book, The Wealthy Speaker: The Proven Formula for Building Your Successful Speaking Business, is available at

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