Life as a Professional Speaker

Tod has recently been writing a series of posts about his work as a professional public speaker, possibly in preparation for writing an ebook on the subject. First, let me encourage him to write that book–I’d buy it.

His posts thus far have been on research, working with a speakers’ agency and air travel. Tod hates research, and recommends that you outsource it to a service like UClue. I, on the other hand, quite doing the research and forming a talk’s thesis. That is, of course, when I’ve got enough time.

I do some professional speaking. With our (slowly) forthcoming book and a little effort, I could probably do more. Besides the page on this site, I don’t market my speaking–all the work I get comes unsolicited, via word of mouth. I couldn’t achieve Maffinesque success, but I’d imagine that, in time and with some luck, I could become a full time professional speaker.

But do I really want to? Maybe it’s the six talks in four days I just completed talking, but I don’t think I could hack the lifestyle. I find air travel pretty wearing. If I’m doing the speaking correctly, then I’m usually exhausted after a talk. On the other hand, if all I was doing was writing and giving speeches, the energy output would be more manageable.

It’s fun to jet off to Toronto on a Tuesday and come back a Wednesday, but it takes a lot out of me. And all that less travel gets less fun with repetition. It feels a lot less exotic when you also have to fly to, I don’t know, Medicine Hat or Baltimore and sustain yourself on hotel food. Plus, there’s the whole environmental impact of that much travel. I do eight to 10 of those trips a year, and that feels like enough.

I’m really just kicking this around and thinking out loud. I’d be curious to hear from others who are or aspire to be professional speakers. I’m going to harass Tod to come by and comment on the lifestyle.


  1. Hi Darren, thanks for the mention.

    Actually, for some reason I prefer the little towns. More friendly people, better audience (people in small towns laugh more freely), and since there’s not much to do, I end up getting some solid time away from the phone and email to research (I do do SOME of it! ) and slide prep.

    Glad you’re liking the series so far!

    Now then. How much exactly would you be willing to pay for the ebook? 😉


  2. Thanks for that. At the Surrey Writer’s Conference this weekend I was chatting with a couple of people about pricing ebooks. It’s vexing, as they can cost $4.99 or $199. We priced our ebook at $29 because we wanted it to be a negligible expense for a small-business owner, individual consultant or marketing agency.

    Personally, I’d happily pay up to, say, $40 for your ebook without a second thought.

  3. I’ve been kicking around the goal of being a professional speaker. Having not done much of the travel, I can’t presently gage how draining that would be (same for back-to-back engagements). That said, I do love traveling, and having people forced to listen to me 🙂

  4. Well I’ve never really given much thought to being a professional speaker until I read Tod’s posts, I do a lot of speaking on behalf of my company.
    Like you, I don’t mind doing the research because it is generally on a topic that I enjoy speaking about (if I didn’t like the topic, I imagine this would come across in my presentations).
    Some of the talks I give can be quite energizing and leave me excited to do another, others are draining. I think that if I did a lot more, they’d reach some sort of medium level of blah.

  5. Interesting thoughts Darren. Just over a year ago, as our videos looked more and more like a way for us to make a living, I made a choice to refocus away from speaking. After hiring a coach and developing a couple of talks, I started to think in terms of opportunity costs.

    For me and our goals of making videos, I had to think about time. What would be a more productive use of my limited time (assuming I was an in-demand speaker) preparing and delivering speeches or making videos?

    In the end, I decided that I could get much more for my time if I focused on videos. I’m not sure how many “Stacies” that equals, but I’m confident that it’s been a good trade off for the time being – and a lot less stressful.

    Just my 2 cents.

  6. Hi, Darren,

    I’ve been speaking at 2 or 3 conferences a year for about 15 years now, and really enjoy it. Recently, I’ve been expanding into additional venues, and started speaking more often. The speaking engagements work as promotion for the books I’ve written, and the books help me get more speaking engagements. It still isn’t exactly a media empire (and I’m not sure that’s what I really want, anyway), but I can see it becoming a steady revenue stream. I suppose it is possible that eventually the travel would wear me down – I have colleagues who are on the road 3 or 4 weeks at a time – but so far, I am still having fun.

  7. Like Darren and Tod and others here, and very much unlike most people, I love public speaking. (I’ve always been a bit of a ham — it’s probably the same reason I’ve long made part of my living as a professional musician too.)

    However, doing it well does require a lot of preparation and can be remarkably tiring, and as I made decisions about what was and wasn’t important in my life recently, I’ve scaled back on public talks and teaching courses, which I used to do a fair bit as a sideline. When I do talk now, it’s locally, and usually for free. Less stress and less pressure.

    I suppose that being a professional speaker could have come up as a career path for me a few years ago, but it didn’t. I might have pursued it if the money had been good. On the other hand, I prefer to be home with my family most of the time, so for the same reason I quit touring as a musician back in the ’90s, I’d probably eschew the necessary travel of public speaking too.

  8. In the past 10 years, I have given about 10-12 talks a year, easily (except 2007 and 2008 when I’ve only given 2-4 per year). For those talks, I traveled both domestically (Canada) and internationally (a lot of them, in Europe). I actually LOVE public speaking, but I can also see how the life style can be taxing.

    In my case, I had a wonderful research assistant who did all my travel arrangements in such a way that I would have at least one day to rest in between stops. If this wasn’t the case, I would take at least two days off after a particularly stressful period of travel and talks.

    In academia, you are EXPECTED to give a lot of talks, so for me, the prospect of becoming a professional public speaker is actually tantalizing. I’ve done it before, I still have the energy to do it, and I love doing the research for each talk.

    I’ve noticed that the degree to which I feel comfortable speaking is directly correlated to my expertise. This year marked the first time I gave a talk about blogging, and while I’d say it went well, I was totally scared.

    However, I also gave two talks about my research on wastewater governance and urban/industrial transformation, and those talks just flowed, even though I had not prepared them really really well. I guess it comes with the territory. The more you know your subject the more comfortable you feel.

    And… sorry for the super long comment.

  9. I think jetting around the world at someone else’s expense would be fun, but that was before I had kids. Any trip, and I imagine you and Tod do plenty of ’em, takes so much more preparation when you’re a parent. Well, maybe just when you’re the mom.

    One of my other favourite bloggers, Penelope Trunk, often writes about how hard it is to travel and leave the kids behind (

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