“Absolutely” and “it depends” are the two answers that come to mind when I’m asked whether someone should launch their speaking career by speaking for free.  

Is it smart to start out speaking for free? Absolutely!  

Unless you’re a celebrity or already have credibility and visibility in your niche or profession, you will likely start your career speaking for free. It’s extremely rare when somebody can get hired to take the stage without first building up their reputation through experience.  

How long will you speak for free before getting paid? It depends…

How long you speak for free is going to depend on you – your niche, your topic, your confidence, and how often you are getting out there to build momentum.  

Each person’s path is different but speaking for free is the best way to get your career started. 

If you’re saying, “What? I want to get paid for this!” The best way for that to happen is by starting out speaking for free. 

When I was getting started in 2009, I spoke everywhere I could with very little strategy. I simply spoke to any group that would have me – from dog walkers to financial advisors and everything in between. I accepted the gig and shared my message.  

And here’s what I discovered during the 18 months of speaking for free.  

I could practice my content. I could practice my skills. My name started to get recognized in Minneapolis, and I got to experience what I call the “velocity of visibility.” What that means is you’re out there so much that people you’ve never met will come up to you to say, “Oh, I know you. I saw you speak.” It’s amazing when it happens, and it can happen to you. 

The best part of speaking for free is that it can lead to getting paid to speak. What happens at a certain point is that people in the audience don’t know you’re speaking for free. They will come up to you afterward and say, “I have a group who would love to hire you. How much do you charge?” 

That was my journey, and it’s been that way for the majority of clients I coach to be professional speakers too. I love it when they tell me, “I was speaking, and somebody asked me what I charge!” 

To eventually get that question, you have to be good. If you aren’t, you will continue speaking for free.  

How can you improve? Find a coach, join a program and learn the ins and outs of putting together your message in meaningful ways. And then deliver that message in a way that will inspire people to pay you to hear it. Read 7 Steps to Catapult Your Speaking Career. 

And if you’re in the market for a coach, I’d love to audition for the job! 

Our Crazy Good Talks® Blueprint is a coaching program that will help you differentiate yourself and start earning fees. Just like top athletes need a coach to achieve the next level of their game, you need a coach to help you get where you want to go as a speaker. Learn more about Crazy Good Talks® Blueprint.