How to become a motivational speaker - Thom Singer

I recently celebrated my 10th anniversary as a professional speaker. I am very proud to have made it in the speaking business for this amount of time. A decade ago I dreamed of a speaking career, but did not know where to start. I must have asked the question “how to become a motivational speaker” of everyone I met who worked as a public speaker.

The business is about more than speaking skills or being discovered by speakers bureaus (that most likely will not happen). To create a career in public speaking one has to be committed to the long run and treat speaking like a business.

There are many different types of speaking engagements, and nobody is the right fit for every event.

Get Around Other Speakers

The first question I ask people who want me to coach them on how to become a motivational speaker is “How many speaker friends do you have?” If the answer is zero, they are looking at a long road to learning the business. My advice is to join the National Speakers Association. Had I not gotten involved with this group then years ago, I would have washed out of the business in the first two years.

The National Speakers Association will not get you booked or teach you speaking skills. This is a trade organization. But if you get engaged and make friends with other speakers, they people you meet will show you ways to fast-track your business. Without getting to know so many speakers I could have never figured out the realities of the products and services that different speakers offer.

Find A Mentor or a Coach

There are many programs, courses, and coaches out there who are willing to take big sums of money. In many cases the person selling the program is making more money from coaching than from speaking. My own experiences was overspending not receiving enough value.

Now, I offer coaching services to up and coming speakers, but I crafted the program and fee around what I wanted when I joined the business. I did not want a multiple thousand dollar program that had continued upselling during and after the time frame. I desired access to someone who was working as a speaker who would tell me the truth.

(If you want more information about how I coach people who want to learn how to become a motivational speaker, and the low fee I charge – call me at 512-970-0398).

But before you hire anyone (even before you hire me), join NSA and find friends. This is the best way to learn about how to become a motivational speaker. Success leaves clues, so when you are in contact with successful speakers you will save a lot of time in understanding the realities of the business.

First Steps

Stephen King was once asked about how to become a writer. He said you start writing. “Writers write”. I think the same thing is true for speakers. Do not overthink what to charge, just go give presentations to discover how the audience reacts to your message. The more you speak, the better you will get. And you need to love it, because “Speakers speak”.

After your presentations you will probably hear people tell you “Great Speech”. Do not assume that means you are a good speaker. We live in a polite society, and that is simply what people say to a speaker after a presentation. Think about it – if you witnessed a bad talk would you say to the speaker “that was highly mediocre” (the answer is no, unless you are a jerk). Thus many people think they are better speakers than they really are (most have the title “CEO”).

What you want to hear after an event is some derivative of “What else can you do for me?”. This could be “Do you have a book?”. Or “Can you do that talk for a group of doctors?”. Even “Can I pick your brain?”. Nobody asks a speaker they thought sucked for more.

Sales and Marketing

A speaking career is really about sales and marketing. If you cannot sell yourself as the speaker for events, you will never speak at events. There are no agents or speakers bureaus for new speakers (unless you are famous for something). People outside the industry assume that agents and bureaus are hungry for new speakers. NOPE. It is the opposite, they are hungry for new clients who pay for speakers. Thus they are really your competition. Bureaus only want speakers who are easy to book, and if you are new the odds are you will not yet be in demand.

Your best marketing is speaking. Some will advice you never to speak for free, but some local non-profits that never pay speakers are a good place to work on new material and showcase yourself for business professionals who might be in the audience. My advice is early in your career do not be worried about the money. If nobody is asking you to speak at all, then you will not be able to sell it.

Make sure you have a presence on social media and that you have a good website and a strong video that showcases your abilities on stage. I waited too long before getting a good video and it probably slowed down the growth of my business.

Write a Book

This used to be more important, but having a book is still a great credibility tool. I found ten years ago that I sold a lot of books to those who heard me speak. These days audiences are not buying as many. My perception is that back in the day that was the only way they could take you home (by buying your book). But now they can follow you on social media, listen to your podcast, etc… That said, a book still shows that you are an expert in your field, and meeting planners hire experts.


Early in my career I was an avid blogger. I was often found by meeting planners who were seeking out speakers on the topics I wrote about. Over time I abandoned my blog in favor of my podcast, but in 2019 I began a fresh new blog (where you found this article).

By blogging several days a week I am keeping my website fresh with new content (Google favors websites that change and add new content). The blogging increases my Search Engine Optimization, but it also provides me with a way to get my ideas out into the world. Some posts do well via Google, but some I have to send links out to select people I know will find the ideas useful.

Commit to Being a Speaker

“How to become a motivational speaker?” is never a question with a single answer. If you desire a career in speaking, make a commitment to the business of speaking. Learn how people select speakers for the conferences you want to speak at, and get involved helping groups find great speakers.

One of the smartest things I did was to become a referral source for anyone I meet who is sourcing speakers. I realized early that not everyone will think I am the best fit for their conferences, and all past clients will want new speakers next year. I created a webpage about recommended professional speakers that I share with meeting planners on speakers I know they will love. I get no pay from anyone on this list, but I do get referrals from some of them.

I am committed to being a speaker and to helping others who want to learn more about this weird and wonderful industry. If you have read this blog post and would like to talk about the business or want to learn about how I coach people – give me a call.


Thom Singer is a motivational keynote speaker and a professional master of ceremonies / emcee.