The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Side Gigging as a Speaker

The sun rises on a new day — you emerge from your bed, shower, have your breakfast, and set out to face the challenges that await you at work.

But today, you’ve adopted a new identity as you step out into the world. You’ve assumed a new, powerful alter ego as a public speaker!

Everybody around you can sense that there’s something different about you, but they can’t quite put their finger on it.

Being a public speaker can be one of the most rewarding (both financially and personally) pathways to take. And the great news is, you can dip your toes into it as a side gig without the need to dunk your head all the way under the water.

Today, I want to talk to you about how transformative public speaking can be and how you can make it part of your professional repertoire!

microphone for speaker

How Much Do Speakers Get Paid?

This is typically the first question that people ask, so let’s set some reasonable expectations around how much speakers of varying skill levels can expect to make.

As you can see, even a beginning speaker can reap great financial rewards by stepping onto the speaking scene.

Who Should Be a Public Speaker?

Anybody CAN be a public speaker; it’s important to keep that in mind.

But who should be a public speaker? Typically the best public speakers will be those that have a professional background or specialized area of knowledge and are highly comfortable with public speaking in general.

If you do have fear around public speaking, there are many different ways to overcome that fear. But for the sake of this guide, we’ll speak to those that have already conquered this fear and are looking to get on stage.

How Do You Find Speaking Gigs?​

Believe it or not, speaking gigs are hiding in plain sight. One of the simplest ways to get started speaking is to apply to be a speaker on

Vistage is composed of small to medium business executive groups that meet up once a month. They function similarly to a “mastermind group,” discussing both business and personal challenges that they need to solve.

There’s minimal pressure, as none of the members are in competing organizations, and the event takes place in strict confidence.

When you apply, you’ll be booked and paid by a Chairperson who has identified you as an expert in a given area. Vistage is always in need of individuals skilled in leadership, sales & marketing, customer retention, business development, health and wellbeing, financial discipline, and much more. You’re all but certain to find an area where they can use your perspective. 

Part of the job will involve speaking and interacting with C-level individuals, so do keep that in mind. Vistage sessions function somewhat like workshops; they are highly interactive, and attendees expect to come away with next steps and action items.

You can prove your track record and cut your teeth as a speaker here. To sign up, visit their application page here.

You can expect anywhere between $500 – $2,500 for a speaking session. Keep it on the down-low — this is one of the best-kept secrets for finding speaking gigs.

How Do You Show Experience as a Speaker?

Gaining notoriety as a speaker will take some time, but it doesn’t have to be difficult. One of the first things that should be in your arsenal is a demo reel.

This is a bit of a case of the cart before the horse… how does one compile a demo reel without having done any public speaking?

Well, for starters, Vistage won’t require one from you. They’ll be satisfied with a résumé and bio, coupled with your work history. There will be other chairpersons that are comfortable with you recording your talk, giving you some highlight snippets for a two to three-minute demo reel.

This makes Vistage not only advantageous for building your experience as a speaker but also for getting a track record going.

Vistage isn’t the only avenue for you to get in front of audiences.

Both SXSW (South by Southwest) and TEDx are two additional opportunities; but it’s important to note that these don’t offer financial compensation.

The benefit to doing these is that they reach a significantly large audience of professionals. And, of course, it looks great to show that you were part of TEDx in your demo reel.

After you’ve got an event or two that you can showcase your experience with, you’ll want to put together a speaker demo reel that contains the following:

  • Who you are and what makes you different
  • Proof of your experience and expertise
  • Samples from the talks that you’ve given
  • Positive audience reaction
  • Quality editing
  • Non-obtrusive music
  • B-roll, graphics, and testimonials

If you need a blueprint to reverse-engineer, this demo reel example should serve you well.

Opportunities Within Speaker Bureaus

Speakers do well from their affiliation with various organizations and bureaus of similar speakers.

When you feel ready, there are 37 total speaker bureaus that you can look to become part of.

For Newcomers: The First Three Bureaus

These first three speaker bureaus specifically look for new speakers. This is the best place to start:

  1. SpeakInc
    1. Email: 
    2. Phone: 1 (858) 228-3771
  2. Keppler Speakers
    1. Email: 
    2. Phone: 1 (703) 516-4000
  3. SpeakerMatch 
    1. Email: 
    2. Phone: 1 (866) 372-8768

The Remaining 34 Bureaus

These are the other 34 bureaus (From A-Z) that you can become affiliated with, once you feel ready and have sufficient experience:

How Do You Know What to Charge?

The easiest litmus for your fee is your experience level.

Here are a couple of formulas, courtesy of the Harvard Business Review and author Dorie Clark, to help you figure out what your speaking services should be worth. These are also matched up against a formula from Foundr’s Alaura Weaver that factors in your speaker experience.


$500 - $2,500 per talk


first-time author, or proven expert​

$5,000 - $10,000 / talk

8-12 TALKS

small-time influencer with 5K – 100K followers or multiple books

$10,000 - $20,000 / talk


with excellent references

$20,000 - $35,000 / talk

Before throwing numbers out, consider a few questions that will help you position yourself within these ranges.

  1. Are you going to be a keynote or a panelist? Leading an event makes you much more valuable than simply being a panelist.
  2. Will there be travel involved? This will put you on the higher end of the range. If it’s local, you’ll likely want to stick to the lower end of the range. International speaking engagements earn a premium, as you’ll spend as many as five days traveling for some.
  3. What is the length of the presentation? Obviously, longer = higher end of the range.

You’ll also want to take some time to think about whether you plan to seek follow-up consulting, whether or not they plan to give out copies of your book, and whether or not you’ll gain cross-promotion from this.

If you’re heavily benefitting from just having their audience, it can influence what you choose to charge for your fee.

Calculating Expected Earnings as a Speaker

This article references statistics from Dorie Clark at the Harvard Business Review. She is a paid keynote speaker who does anywhere between 30 to 50 talks per year.

This table shows a reverse-engineered chart using the expected fees above. You can see how even taking part in a few speaking events can quickly add up.

Considering that you may have a day of travel on either side of your speaking engagements, this chart puts you anywhere from 36 to 144 days to deliver your speeches.

Also, this chart is being conservative, assuming that each gig will only payout $5,000. At the higher end, your earnings will go wild.

Not too bad for a “side gig,” eh?

Write a Book, Moonlight as a Speaker

Bestselling authors have a far easier time getting started as speakers. If I’ve successfully piqued your interest here in this article, then it might be time to consider putting pen to paper with the Draft a Book Experience.

If you already have a best seller (or even just a book that you’ve published), we can help get you the speaking gigs that you’re looking for, just like we’ve done for countless authors. And it’ll be fun, I promise.

And if you would like to hone your ability to become a better speaker, there are plenty of resources out there to sharpen your skills. Send us a note, and we are happy to send links to our top three speaking resources on the web.  

Good luck!