Some people get paid a lot of money to do it. But it’s always been a mystery to me until I accidentally met a strange man who explained to me how it works. Why strange?
Because he beat cancer 4 times and somehow found a way to be more optimistic than an 18 year old with zero health problems.
Here’s what he taught me about public speaking & making money from it.
Making $40,000 a speech isn’t what it seems
This kind man invited me to come and hear him speak at a real estate conference. I’d never been to one.
When I got there I saw what looked like a typical business event. Nothing special. Before his speech we had lunch. During the chat I told him I worked in banking. He then asked me this question:
“You know maybe you can help me then. I’m trying to process this payment but it’s not working.”
He handed his merchant terminal to me and asked if I could make the credit card payment for an LA speaking event go through. What came up on the screen is something I’ll never forget.
“Are you sure that’s the right amount? Big payments can easily get rejected.”
“Yep, that’s the right amount. First-class flights and accommodation have already been paid, so this is just my speaking fee.”
I couldn’t believe it. That’s a lot of money for a 45 minute speech. I was intrigued. He had no other income source other than speaking.
The most surprising part is he was a pretty average guy. He had worked in a bank and similar role to me. He didn’t drive a fancy car or have celebrity friends. Usually the people I’d seen who made these types of speaking fees had been in Hollywood or run Fortune 500 businesses.
Not this strange guy. His salary in his banking career was probably $200k.
Not bad — but worthy of a later career in public speaking that pays $40k? I didn’t think so. Something seemed off.
You start by being a bum making $0 and smiling
As we ate lunch I grilled him.
I secretly wanted to get paid for public speaking. I’ve spent many years in a local Toastmasters Club learning the art.
My friend Bharat even competed at the world championships. I didn’t get that far, but I made it to the state level.
I’d heard stories of people at Toastmasters making the big bucks after they left. But I’d never met any of them.
So I asked him, “Did you start out making $40k a gig?”
His answer was what I expected: no. He said the start was humbling. He felt like a bum because he’d give free speeches anywhere they’d have him. Sometimes at primary schools and even daycare centers where the babies couldn’t understand his words.
He quickly learned the secret was to get free speaking gigs at Rotary Clubs. It’s how a person build up their speaking resume and credibility.
For several years he went to every Rotary Club and worked on his speeches. He did it so much he told me, “It was impossible not to get good.”
He also reconfirmed that doing Toastmasters is a great way to start and learn the ropes.
Create a hero’s journey
The hero’s journey is the storytelling framework all the best movies like Star Wars use. Here’s the basic outline according to Kindlepreneur:
Part 1 — Departure
– The Ordinary World
– The Call to Adventure
– Refusing the Call to Adventure
– Meeting the Mentor
– Crossing the Threshold
Part 2 — Initiation
– Test, Allies, and Enemies
– Approach to the Inmost Cave
– The Ordeal
– The Reward
Part 3 — Return
– The Road Back
– Return With the Elixir
The $40k a man inserted his cancer battle and average banking career into this framework. Each time he made the journey sharper and more concise.
One of his tricks is he allows the audience to feel a full range of emotions: laughter, tears, smiles, regret, worry, fear, etc. His hero’s journey isn’t fancy or grandiose which makes it relatable.
With this story the #1 thing he does is inspire strangers.
People leave after hearing his speech thinking they can do anything in the world. Inspiration always creates the most value in public speaking.
Target the people and organizations that’ll pay the big dollars
Many people and companies don’t see the value in public speaking.
So there’s no way they’ll pay you $40K to come and speak no matter how much you channel your inner Luke Skywalker hero’s journey.
The man told me to prospect where the big dollars are. He reached out to banks, pharmaceutical companies, large conference organizers, and big real estate agent businesses.
They had money. They were already used to hiring guest speakers for their events and paying them.
It’s a naughty referral-based business
Getting speaking gigs is the hardest part.
If it were easy we’d all be getting $40k a speech to flaunt our average career and tell a few jokes. The Rotary Club gigs got him credibility and helped him refine his speeches.
The early corporate gigs he did, he charged only a few hundred dollars. He wanted the company logo on his public speaking resume more than the money. Once he’d done a few paid speeches his story started to travel.
He told me public speaking is a referral-based business. Do the hard work at the start and deliver solid performance, and you’ll never run out of gigs.
Now he just sits by the phone and waits for the bookings. No manager either. The game for him now is all about charging as much as he can.
The perk he always tries to get is flights and accommodation for him AND his wife and kids. The gigs that offer that get first preference.
Use social media to your hidden advantage
The strange man did well with zero online presence.
He said if you want to get to the biggest events on the world stage you need some social media presence. What happened to him is a Facebook page somehow got a video of one of his speeches.
Without asking his permission and breaching copyright, they shared his video to their page. He got hundreds of millions of views.
Most people would have told the Facebook page to delete it. He didn’t. he used it as free promotion to get more gigs. He even gave the Facebook page more free videos which they shared to many more millions of people.
He also maintains an up to date LinkedIn page. He’s constantly showing pictures of events he’s speaking at, and more importantly, what he’s learning along the way.
Without social media you put an artificial cap on your speaking fee.
Bringing it all together
As you can see, the public speaking space can make you a lot of money.
It’s not as hard as you might think. If you follow this strange man’s steps, it’s entirely possible to replicate some of his success. After meeting this man, I remember getting a call offering me $10,000 to speak at a bank’s event.
One of the best ways to get into paid public speaking is by writing. Clear and concise writing full of stories makes for great speeches that can earn $40,000 per event.
Master public speaking. It’s a superpower.