Becoming a Public Speaker

If you have a fear of speaking in public, join the club!  Several years ago a study was conducted to determine our greatest fear. Public speaking was #1. In a number of studies, the fear of speaking in public even ranked higher than the fear of death.

Perhaps you at one time had a fear of public speaking but discovered the means to overcome that fear.  Many people are eager to learn workable ideas on how to become a confident public speaker.  Please be encouraged to share your success stories, as well as your questions or concerns at the bottom of this page.

Too, you may share some episodes that were not successful.  There are instances when our efforts don’t go as plan but can provide a formative learning tool.  


When initiating plans to dwell into the world of public speaking, it is often best to begin by finding a subject for which you have a passion. Think of how it applies to your life. Plan how would you tell a story about how it has impacted your life. An example might be a struggle you faced and how you overcame it. That is just one of a million subjects.

Offer to speak to area clubs or associations, such as Toastmasters, for FREE. Why for free? There will be people in the audience, who work for businesses that PAY speakers. You must have a website and a demo. Several years ago, demos were not a requirement. They now are.

When you do speak to a group – MOVE! Use a cordless lavaliere microphone and walk around the room. Lightly touch people on the shoulder. If you walk around the room, people’s heads will turn, which means in a small way, they are INVOLVED! A lectern puts a layer between you and the audience. I never use a lectern.

Voice and clarity are important. One way to achieve clarity is to emphasize the last sound of each word. It may sound odd at first but not to the audience. It will sound very polished.

Use a full voice. Many celebrities, such as James Earl Jones and John Wayne, overcame their stuttering by using a full voice. Even if you don’t stutter, realize their voices made them famous….and wealthy.

PAUSE! No more than six (6) words at a time without a pause. Even less…..than six….will work….nicely. REMEMBER: The key to effective speaking is hesitation…..pause!

To be visually pleasing don’t use notes. You might write on index cards some keys words pertaining to each aspect if your presentation. TALK about each word. The main thing professional speakers are doing now is telling stories. If you can tell a story about each word/topic on your cards, your speech will have a better flow.

Too, after you have written all the words on index cards, try to think of an acronym/word and use that to keep your presentation in order. For example, you may have written on an index card, risk, objectivity, pessimistic, neutral, encouragement, and self. Think of the first letter in each word and arrange them to PERSON….or any other word of your choosing.

Use PERSON to keep you on track:

P – pessimistic

E – encouragement

R – risk

S – self

O – objectivity

N – neutral

Practice what you will say about each word. NOTE: you are using this to keep you on track, but the audience has no clue. They will just think you are THAT good! You can keep your index card(s) on you or nearby in the event you get lost. You will leave them wanting more! There is MUCH more involved, but that should give you a start.

If you would like to learn how I overcame the fear of public speaking, read the book, Rise Above: Conquering Adversities – 2nd Edition, which can be obtained online from Amazon.  It’s also available on Amazon Kindle. 

Whether we refer to public speaking skills or social skills, the key to effective communication is listening. One may wonder what listening has to do with a public speaker. We should first recognize that I mentioned listening and not hearing. We hear with our ears. We listen with every fiber of our being. Eye contact, nodding our head, bringing our hand to our mouth. 

When our audience sees that we are listening to them, we are giving them worth. They, in turn, will give worth to us. The same applies to our social skills.

The key to effective speaking is….hesitation. This cannot be stressed enough.  No more than six (6) words at a time without a pause. Even less than six will work nicely. If we pause the audience will cling to every word we say. This applies to social skills. Pausing conveys confidence. Ironically, the key to effective communication and the key to effective speaking, both involve keeping our mouth shut, at least for a little while. It may seem easy, but it takes work.

How Do Public Speakers Get Bookings?

There are several ways professional speakers get hired.  Perhaps the best is word of mouth.  Word of mouth is from someone, who has heard you present.

Okay, the basics.  Develop a website, which includes good clear photos of you presenting, as well as a still photo of yourself.  Include the programs you offer and a description of each program.  A vital part of a website now is a demo of you presenting.  Too, testimonials from people, who’ve heard you present.  Of course, include your contact information.

It’s probably not a good idea to include your fees on your website.  You could state, Fees are negotiable and subject to change.  Or, Discounts are provided for multiple bookings.

Decide which groups and associations your programs would be applicable to.  Search for them online.  Send emails including a cover letter along with your website and demo to ALL of those associations. This should be a nationwide mailing.  Do NOT begin your cover letter with Dear Sir or Madam. 

If your online search of associations does not include the name of the training director, staff development coordinator, or executive director, find out the NAME of the one will be contacting.  Your cover letter might state that your programs are available in a breakout (usually 90 minutes), keynote (up to 50 minutes), half-day (3 hours), or full-day (6 hours) formats. 

Send the emails and wait for associations to contact you.  When they do, they will ask for your fee.  This can initially be a challenge.  Unless you have a firm fee of which you expect, you might say, My normal fee for a keynote is $2000, half-day $3000 or full day $4000 plus expenses.

If you are just starting out, those fees might seem high; however, it’s important to realize that up to 30% of that will go to income tax.

After a verbal agreement is made, unless the booking agency has a contract they use, you will need to develop and send a contract.  Include everything you will do, i.e., length of programs, breaks that will be offered, etc.  Then include all aspects expected of the booking agency, i.e., travel to and from the venue, mileage to and from the airport (if applicable) parking at the airport, airfare, booking the flight, meals, lodging, etc.  

If you allow them to film your program, make sure you get a copy of the tape.  If you have books to sell, included a table for back-of-the-room (BOR) sales.  State that your honorarium of $*** will be provided to you immediately following the program.  You want to leave with a check in hand.

Public speaking can be rush.  All the best to you!

Dr. Greg Little is a nationally known speaker and motivator. He has presented seminars on Laughter, Substance Abuse Treatment & Mental Health Treatment extensively throughout the United States. His book, "Rise Above: Conquering Adversities," has sold in ten (10) countries and helped countless individuals realize they are limited only by their ability to adapt.