How to Become a High Paid Keynote Speaker

keynote speaking low fee to high fee paid speaking speaker bureaus

Many speakers are attracted to the idea of becoming a high paid international keynote speaker travelling the world and getting well compensated.  But it is rarely an overnight success, it takes time and hard work to become a conference headliner, the draw for the event, the highest earner on the conference programme. The hardest part is knowing where to start.


If you're ready to do the work, let me share 4 actions to get you started.


  1. Understand the Market


It’s important to understand the business that we are really in.  We are in the business of meetings and events, or to be more specific Business Meetings and Events.  Your clients are people who organise conferences and need a speaker.   As a keynote speaker they are expecting you to share information, set the tone and deliver a message that resonates with the entire event.


There are four types of speaking engagement; the free circuit, the cheap circuit, the pay to play circuit (where the speaker pays to participate, yes it really is a thing) and the one we are interested in, the pro circuit.   The pro circuit is where Keynote speakers are paid for their expertise and their contribution.


  1. The more you speak, the more you speak


Any experienced and successful speaker will tell you that getting out there and speaking is vital.  Performance psychologist and one of the most booked speakers on the circuit, Jamil Qureshi’s advice to anyone starting out is to speak, he says, “the more you speak, the more you speak”.  If you are good.  If you’re rubbish - it’s the quickest way to destroy your career but I know you are great and if you aren’t get some coaching first (Mary Tillson-Wharton can help).   When you are good you will get asked to speak again.  So, get out there and speak as often as you can.  If people don’t see you in action how do they know how fantastic you are?  And of course, the more you speak, the better you become. Start with the free circuit in your local community to hone your message and delivery.


Start with unpaid engagements, gradually move to paid ones on the cheap circuit, and eventually reach the pro circuit. This takes time. The majority of your time will be spent in finding and booking the gigs, so be prepared to put that time in.  There are exceptions of course who can leap from free to high paid gigs but these speakers are in the minority.


  1. Getting those first gigs


“OK Maria you make it sound so easy but how do I get the first gigs even if they are free?”


Good question, thank you for asking. 


You are going to have to do some outreach and let people know you are available to speak and what you speak about.  Try the following as a starting point;


  • Your local chamber of commerce,
  • Your bank (many banks run events for local small businesses and bring in external unpaid speakers)
  • Rotary Clubs
  • Professional Speaking Association meetings (you’ll need to join but it’s worth it)
  • Other Professional Associations
  • Industry events
  • Conferences and exhibitions aimed at Professional Meeting Planners/Conference organisers
  • Google/LinkedIn/Facebook, there are always plenty of conferences doing call outs for speakers, set up some alerts.


When contacting them they will want to know who you are, so they will need a bio.  They will need to know the title and description of your speech and what the audience will gain from hearing you. 


  1. Going from free, to low fee, to highly paid


The easiest way to go from free to paid speaking is to tell people that you charge. By this point you will have delivered lots of free speeches so that your speech is insightful and impactful.  Audience members are thanking you for your contribution and you are already being asked to return. But referrals from unpaid events are likely to be unpaid again so you need to now educate the bookers coming to you and start to charge.  Modestly at first and increase your fee gradually as you go.  By quoting a fee you will be seen differently and treated differently.  The more speakers charge the better they are treated.  You’ll experience this for yourself as you raise your fee.


Be strategic about accepting free or low-fee engagements. Use them to fill gaps in your calendar, to reach potential (paying) bookers or to test out new material.


  1. Speaker Bureaus


Many new speakers want to go straight to finding an agent or bureau to get them gigs.  This is a big mistake.  Bureaus are interested in speakers who already have a track record of charging at least 4 figures and getting booked regularly.  Please don’t go to a bureau too early, that first impression, if bad, will kill any future potential collaboration.


If you want to know what you need to be Speaker Bureau Ready, grab my checklist, if you can tick them all, you are ready, if not keep working at it.  Although sometimes a bureau will see something in you and come after you before you are totally ready, that is wonderful.


Final thought


Every speech you deliver will take you one step closer to being that successful highly paid speaker.  Each speech allows you to improve.  Each event expands your network, you will meet new people and make new connections.  One day one of those audience members may find themselves in need of a keynote speaker for their next company conference and will think of you.


In the meantime if you want any help going from unpaid to paid more quickly, you know where I am.


PS Need some help to be more bookable and charge higher fees?.

  1. Download one of our free how to guides here.
  2. Book a free consultation with me here.
  3. Binge read previous missives here.
  4. Join our free Speaking Business community herewhere you'll get inspiration, support, advice, and more.
  5. Grab our online training programme to be more bookable and make more money here.



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