Call me presumptuous, but I tend to believe few people set out immediately after high school on linear single-minded tracks toward careers as motivational speakers.

Great speakers infuse their messages with an organic passion and urgency that isn’t born within a classroom. You might set your tinder to a timely spark of inspiration that catches your eye amidst the throes of academia, but no audience will catch fire on your words without the lingering natural smolder upon their edges of a trial or two by fire. Professors and self-help gurus and Toastmasters chapter meetings can engage you in the performance art of public speaking, but empty memorization of a script without the barest inkling of genuine understanding or organic empathy has a very particular, noxious odor.

Yes, there are many seasoned professionals who earn comfortable livings from lecture and convention circuits worldwide, but the vast majority transitioned into motivational speaking guided by reflections born of past wellsprings of experience and invaluable, sometimes poignant lessons they’ve treasured. They came about their respective personal reinventions as worldly guest speakers often after some careful meditation on their intended audiences and what value they might absorb from a heartfelt monologue. Add a lively streak of enthusiastic, canny self-promotion for flavor and you have the foundation for a new life rife with engagement among like-minded individuals you may find hanging on your every word.

Of course, you know what they say: if it were easy, everyone would be doing it.

When, Where And How Do I Train To Become A Public Speaker?

That’s a logical starting point, seeing as there’s a strong enough chance a Google search for that exact query brought you here in the first place.

Becoming a “career” motivational speaker can and more often than not will consume years continually honing presentations and earning a commendable reputation on one circuit or another among ideal paying clients. How much of that time will you spend immersed in a structured training program? At most, a minute fraction.

There is no focused post-secondary degree track that qualifies anyone to earn a living as a motivational speaker. Assuming you have taken bettering the lives of others in some way through your message to heart as an impassioned calling as the core that inevitably makes or breaks your teachings, you compose the philosophies you ultimately share one thoughtfully digested experience at a time. Every professional motivational speaker believes in something, but what is it that made globally sought-after past and present gurus of Stephen Covey, Zig Ziglar, Tony Robbins, Robert Kiyosaki, and Jerry and Esther Hicks?

They all shaped distinctly personal perspectives using affinities for candid sharing and respective talents for engaging their audiences in their messages. Motivational speaking differs not one iota from stand-up comedy or any other individual form of performance: every idea goes through states of refinement that begin with raw expertise, memories, and perspectives. Speakers polish and shine these thoughts to share the greatest relatable benefits with their audiences, often sharpening them at the whetstones of independent research and the varied minds of other expert peers in their individual fields of interest.

Yes, a creative writing course or workshop will add a fine edge to your creative skills. Joining Toastmasters can offer invaluable insight into the state of your craft and improve such critical aesthetics as your speaking voice, physical appearance, and gestures. While no state holds motivational speakers to strict licensure standards, membership to the National Speakers Association may one day earn you their prestigious Certified Speaking Professional designation – and a potential windfall of client recommendations – for meeting or exceeding their subjective earnings and experience standards. However, the most compelling notions worthy of filling lengthy presentations and holding audiences at rapt attention are products of time, persistence, and a willingness to embrace feedback. For those elements, there is no substitute.

How Do I Know I Have Something Worth Saying?

The same way anyone gets to Carnegie Hall: practice.

OK, I can give you at least this one concrete line of advice: don’t abuse Powerpoint or Keynote. Seriously. Under no circumstances should you commit your notes to slides. If that’s all the effort you plan to put forth, you can email a virtual presentation or post it to Slideshare and save the audience their time and spare your client your fee. Slides should be an enhancement delivering videos or images that make statements your words just can’t do justice. They should add power to your speaking, not replace it.

Do not build your whole talk around your slides. If you don’t need them, don’t use them.

So, what next? You write. You are going to write until you feel certain you have scoured every corner of the English language. More than thoughts jotted down on a notecard to guide improvisation, the world’s most popular motivational speakers meticulously structure their presentations beforehand, especially the more colorful changeups that keep their audiences good and riveted throughout.

Humor is nothing short of an indispensable element that distinguishes “good” speakers from renowned motivational sages. Nothing else endears a personality to an audience quite like a light heart. If you can weave a memorable joke into a charismatic, inspirational or even sad story, all the better. Relate an identifiable first-person story rich with observations as only someone who was “there” could relay them, and you ease the audience into a bold new world right by your side. All of that being said, remember also that, counterintuitive as it may sound to everything I just relayed in this same paragraph, it is not about “you”; just as any Powerpoint or Keynote slide that doesn’t add impact your speech can’t convey should be considered a distraction from you talk, any personal anecdote that lacks the potential to challenge, inspire, motivate or encourage your audience is expendable fluff. People are not paying in precious time or money to validate your awesomeness.

How Do I Structure My Talk?

For starters, accept that there is absolutely no singular “right” way to craft a speech. Some speakers work from a bulleted outline that lets them thrive on penchants for engaging, electrifying improvisation. Others think through every step in the flow of their presentations by carefully manuscripting them from beginning to end. No matter how many conferences, events, keynotes and TED talks you’ve watched in person or online, there’s no guarantee that what fits like a glove for me or Tony Robbins will suit you as well. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but it’s also a lazy way to construct a talk.

Instead, focus on learning why their approaches work for them. That leaves you free to embrace their sensibilities and methods while making them your own with a personal spin that fits your own message and audience.

For starters, whatever the means by which you might choose to write out your talk, build everything toward one focal endpoint. There is no better way to avoid delivering a speech that leaves your audience wondering if they had missed your point entirely or if you ever had one in the first place. Better still, commit to your ending and work backward. Your planning may take on what journalists call the “reverse pyramid,” an organizational approach in which a story starts with the foundational facts and flows downward toward the most expendable information at the end. In this case, when you ultimately give your talk, your delivery will build to the most important stuff at its climax.

Your speech should maintain an easy-to-follow pace that flows logically and navigates the audience from one waypoint to the next toward your final destination. A captivating rhythm presents a point, expands on it, incorporates some story to illustrate its crux, and brings everything back to applying what you have just suggested. Along the way, make to manuscript stories for a balance between pacing and intriguing details and imagery that fully fleshes out a synopsis of what you want to resonate. Make a practice of “opening a loop” by posing a question to the audience that will keep them in your thrall while you lay out the answer. It keeps everyone intently involved by, as an old saying goes, “telling them what you’re going to tell them.”

In the end, every motivational speaker has one question to answer for the audience: “Now what?” That’s the action you want your audience to take after processing your talk. You will build to that by way of answering, “So what?” You first have to let them know explicitly what everything you have to say has to do with them. Once you establish that, you can espouse every action item that will put your teachings into action. Follow a well-laid path from “So what?” through your proposed actions toward the end, and “Now what?” practically answers itself.

How Do I Know I Have A Great Idea For A Presentation?

You don’t need as many speeches in your pocket as Bob Dylan has songs. There’s this ongoing misunderstanding among both new speakers and audiences alike that seasoned motivational speakers have dozens of talks in an arsenal for any given occasion. Please. For as much work as put into each talk, if we all had that many planned at any given time, we would have no time left to actually deliver them. Everyone would be too busy writing to actually face an audience.

Rather, the world’s premiere speakers are more like a lot of acclaimed recording artists or filmmakers of a certain type: after years or even decades spent in front of audiences, they have a handful or so of incredible talks they have fine-tuned to perfection so they can adapt swiftly to any crowd in any setting, even when the routine goes sideways. They can constantly revise them because those veteran presenters never stop paying attention to the beats of everyday life. Things that make them laugh, and compel them to question and change their own lives often make their way into what they pass on to audiences. An instinct lights up when they stumble upon something they can process into a long-practiced talk in order to either deepen its impact or just freshen it up a little.

By all means, stick to what you know. Even if you know beforehand that you are just barely above clueless about a subject, devote yourself to researching it and being mindful of whether you develop an uninhibited passion for sharing what you know. Just make sure that you stick to something timely. Unless you happen to be a dedicated historical lecturer, audiences relate best to a motivational speaker with something vital to contribute to the betterment of the future or at least the present. Leave them with something they can embrace now.

How Do I Make A Living As A Motivational Speaker?

You might have the marketing acumen and persuasive salesmanship to retire as Saudi Arabia’s most wealthy bulk sand retailer. If your plan to kickstart a career as a motivational speaker prioritizes wheeling and dealing for gigs over delivering unforgettable speeches, I hope you have the sort of independent wealth at your disposal that makes working for a living optional. Just the same, nobody is simply going to walk up to you in line at the supermarket and offer you a chance to make a mind-blowing impression on potentially thousands of people at once. You do have to persuade others toward a certain expectation of you in order to earn the privilege of showing up and validating it.

After all, you and your message are a product. The most profoundly impactful goods both talk a big game beforehand and so convincingly live up to their hype that people can’t stop talking about them.

Commit to a single audience and a clear, focused message. A motivational speaker who seeks to appeal to anyone and everyone ultimately wins over nobody. Choosing one crowd conveys that you adore and understand them in particular, making it just a little bit easier for them to embrace you as a kindred spirit. You might also think you can orchestrate a thrilling talk about anything under the sun. That might be the case, but if you want motivational speaking to provide you with a livelihood, you need to understand that narrowly focused presentations get gigs. Event organizers have a far easier time drumming up buzz around a fascinating specialist with a defined angle than a scattershot speaker who covers a little bit of everything. All the while, no matter how much fun you may honestly be having onstage, you need to convey a clear picture of why you chose to do this. Personally, it’s a matter of having some fuel reserves to propel you through the hard work without which you cannot get to the thrill of addressing a crowd. Professionally, it provides a sense of cohesion to the bigger picture of your business plan.

A Word About Marketing

Networking with other speakers is a must, both for the necessary camaraderie to survive what can be a strange, isolating and lonely career path and an outstanding source of referrals and recommendations that can get you booked for events your colleagues can’t fit into their schedule. Despite the numerous speakers who retain an agent to scour for gigs and build contacts with decision-makers, I don’t recommend it. To be perfectly honest, I find it more rewarding and entirely feasible to sniff out more dates than I can handle in any given year on my own. I’ll take the legwork over overtures to agents that only want to work with the utmost cream of the crop among motivational speakers – and charge them some utterly absurd fees – any day.

I feel very similarly about the way most speaker bureaus manage demand instead of creating it. To be blunt, if you can’t generate bookings on your own steam, a bureau cannot and will not be of much help when the issues likely rest squarely on your end. What’s worse, like many agents, bureaus first and foremost prize the hefty commissions they make partnering with with upper-tier speakers.

As for your own enterprising efforts, nothing gathers clients quite like a personal, professionally maintained website on a domain you own and which includes your name. Keep everything on-brand and looking sharp. No matter what platitudes your elders drilled into your skull growing up, a book’s cover makes an irrevocable impression. More than any LinkedIn profile or Facebook page, it can speak volumes for how much pride you take in what you do and everything you have to say. I cannot urge you enough to include a prominently placed short demo video to offer an overview of your presentation that leaves a potential client wanting to see more as soon as possible. Pare it down to between 2-4 minutes of highlights and save leftover footage to personally critique your own performance.

Finally, know that your marketing work will never be entirely done. Even once you have an established name within a speaking circuit, finding and booking gigs will always tax some degree of effort. The work might get easier, but it never entirely stops – not if business is booming, anyway. Staying relevant along the way will mean constantly keeping your case studies and examples used onstage as current as the topics you address within your chosen niche. That also includes keeping pace with the ideal platforms for keeping in touch with your audience and potential clients between talks. Last, but never least, never neglect your testimonials. Nothing has ever surpassed word-of-mouth hype for building momentum behind what you have to offer. Always be grateful for any thanks and kind words that event planners and audience members have to offer and pass them along in your marketing materials.

After all, as our business proves, there’s nothing more powerful in all the world than positive words.

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