Becoming a Motivational Speaker: An All-Inclusive Checklist

Becoming a Motivational Speaker in South Africa: Article 3 of 3 Part Series, Estienne de Beer
Before we launch into this final section “Becoming a Motivational Speaker” of the three-part series, lets quickly recap: In Part 1 The Ultimate Resource Guide to Become a Motivational Speaker we put these points under the magnifying glass: Considering your speech topics, experience and type of audience, supplementary income options and writing a book. It was followed by public speaking pointers and beneficial platforms like Toastmasters.

Then came Part 2: How to Become a Professional Speaker dealing with points 3, 4 and 5 and more specifically: vibrant marketing ingredients for building your brand e.g. a promo video. Various factors are highlighted that can influence your professional fee and lastly the support of a Professional Speaker Association.

South Africa: Becoming a Motivational Speaker speaking resources within a detailled checklist guide, Estienne de Beer

6. Becoming a Motivational Speaker: Partnering with Agents, Event Professionals and Speaker Bureaus

Speaker bureaus are booking agencies who exclusively represent professional communicators of their choice. Event professionals and meeting planners put together all kinds of conferences.

Event coordinators and speaker bureaus are inundated with the question of becoming a motivational speaker, so let’s set the stage – they won’t fall over their feet to meet you in the beginning. For this article, we can refer to all role players who book speakers as “agents”.

Astonishingly many new speakers seem to think that agents owe them something. Let’s say it as it is. No one owes any new speaker anything. You have to climb the ladder on your own.

Agents run distinctively different businesses with a variety of preferences and factors at play. A speaker just out of the starting blocks shouldn’t approach these businesses with all kinds of demands. 

Pause for a moment. Analyse the ancient wisdom from Sun Tzu [15] the Chinese warrior-philosopher over 2000 years ago.

He explained that a superior soldier chooses a position that cannot be overrun. A triumphant army “first wins and then seeks battle”. An inexperienced army “first battles and then seeks victory”.

This strategy has a bearing on those who desire a speaking career.  Preparation, competency building and experience come way before launching one’s career as a speaker.

Many inexperienced individuals naively believe that you first become a speaker and then by default success will follow. 

Industry experience dictates that it is more realistic to develop your own speaking momentum first.

Agents might eventually join you along the way out of their own accord. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t approach those who book speakers.

Be realistic in becoming a motivational speaker and don’t put your hopes too high too soon. 

6.1 Becoming a Motivational Speaker: Agents Don’t Create the Demand for Your Services

The famous adage applies that preparation will ultimately meet with opportunity.

Agents will start approaching you based on the demand out there for your services. You have to create the demand first. Like any business relationship, professional chemistry and shared values will influence the way forward.

Ensure that you have “agent friendly” material available.

This means your promotional material should not contain any contact info for clients to contact you directly. Why would an agent put you forward and enable clients to skip them and deal with you in person?

Take into account that agents ask commission and depending on a variety of factors, the range will probably fall somewhere between 10 – 25%. When an agent books you for a gig and follow-up business sprouts from it, it is still considered to be generated by the agent and further commission is owed to them.

When clients approach you directly in such a case, declare it to the agent and let them take over the booking process.

This cliché is still applicable – start volunteering and speak for free. It brings us to the fundamental, but true paradox in becoming a motivational speaker and the speaking industry.

It is eloquently expressed in Dottie Walters’s “Speak and Grow Rich[16], a book that can be the definitive kick-off.

She explains that agents and bureaus will only start looking at representing an individual, when he or she does not really need their services anymore.

In other words, it means that the communicator has to be successful in his or her own right first.

This book also has an excellent chapter on “The Advantages of Working with Speakers’ Bureaus and Agents” and it includes detailed sample contracts. Their rationale for sourcing the best motivational speakers repeatedly is solid.

7. Becoming a Motivational Speaker: Setting Up an Office and Travelling

Working from home is a blessing to most. The list of advantages is long…

7.1 Establishing Your Own Place of Work

  • You have ultimate flexibility and can determine your own schedule.
  • It offers a convenient counter balance to the rigours of business travel. You return to a place where you can rest when you want to.
  • Every now and then you can visit a coffee shop for a change of scenery – catching up on emails over a Latte.
  • Huge chunks of time are saved in not travelling to and back from work. Peak traffic is side-stepped and stress is reduced.
  • You don’t have to dress up in business attire. Maybe wearing pyjamas the whole day is pushing it.
  • Technology enables you to stay pretty much where you want to.

There are also challenges though. As convenient as it might be, it can be very lonely. If your temperament is outgoing and expressive (and chances are that it is), then you have to make plans to counter the isolation. The distinction can get blurred very easily.

If you won’t exercise discipline and maintain boundaries between work and personal life, you will never be leaving the office.

7.2 The Excitement (or Dread) of Business Travel

You already know about Uber and adapters…

If airports fill you with a sense of excitement, prepare yourself because those feelings might change becoming a motivational speaker.

A love for business trips is not something that tops the list for most seasoned speakers. It rather becomes a cumbersome task to get done, as quick and painless as possible.

Start out by watching the weather and news. Rainstorms can disrupt flights and labour strikes can block roads. Think ahead and have a Plan A, B and C. If things can go wrong, they will.

A best practise is to fly in the day before your speech, if possible.

It provides ample time to implement contingency plans in the case of disruptions.

The same principle applies in testing equipment, the quality of the data projector etc. before you speak. Don’t wait to the last minute. Getting on stage, totally stressed-out is not good for business.

Arrive early at all the stopping points along the way. An early cappuccino at the airport is preferable to biting your nails in the traffic, hoping not to miss your flight.

Persistent travelling is severely tiring. Pace yourself.

A multitude of speaking engagements might lure you into an illusion of self-importance. Before long, you assume it’s OK to do a keynote speech when you are not on top of your game. You have to be rested and in tip-top shape.

After an international flight, a red-eyed corporate executive can still walk into a business meeting and wing it. Not a professional speaker that has 250 audience members waiting in anticipation at a global conference.

Clients don’t pay to listen to tired speakers.

Talking about interruptions, here’s how to kill time at the airport. Decide in advance to use unexpected delays as opportunities for personal development.

Albeit forced free time, embrace the words of Samuel Johnson: “All intellectual improvement arises from leisure.” Pack your next self-improvement book into the carry-on luggage before the next flight.

7.2.1 Gadgets to Make Your Life a Little Easier

Easy travel itineraryTripIt marvellously convert your stacks of travel emails and confirmations into one master itinerary for every business trip. It is as easy as forwarding your confirmation emails e.g. flights, car rental, hotels etc. to their email address and voila … your travel plan is available online or offline in one place on any of your chosen devices.

Language barriers – The awesome tool Google Translate will assist with language hurdles that you might come across. You enter the text from a foreign language and it instantly translates into your own language. You can do it the other way around as well and over 100 languages are available.

Noise pollution – Noise-cancelling headphones are quite pricey, but what the heck? The great thing about these headphones is that you get three birds with one stone: a noise-cancelling function, the ability to listen to your own music and replacing the aircraft’s pair (usually not great quality).

Luggage weight – No one wants to be horrified by an unplanned overweight suitcase and the accompanying penalty fees. A small suitcase scale is also known as a “mini luggage scale” is a digital gadget that one can use to avoid nasty surprises.

Whether on holiday or business, I used to find the airport and luggage weight experience agonizing. It is a nightmare to hear that your luggage is overweight and that you are facing a hefty fine. As a travelling speaker, this has happened to me twice. The mini digital scale now travels with me and it takes up virtually no space. I love its capacity of 110lb / 50kg. Waiting in line at the airport is not a nail-biting exercise for me anymore.

Water purification drops – Technically speaking not a gadget, I travel everywhere with my water purification drops. The potential of contaminated bottled water is not far-fetched. Past research has confirmed the presence of bacteria in some brands. Tasteless and odourless, a discreet three drops per liter of water gives me peace of mind. Purification drops are one of my favourite travel companions. 

Oh yes, and remember your battery-charging power bank or even two of them.

8. Before You Get Behind the Podium

OK, this is just proverbially speaking – try not to speak behind a podium. That is for politicians. Walk into the crowd when you speak, it’s much more personal.

A “technical rider” or more simply your technical needs is something to be sent off to the client way before your talk. Usually, they pass it on again to whoever will be in charge of audio, visual and other tech matters at the event.

Have your speaker intro ready in printed form, but ideally, get it to the client in advance.

If the audience knows more or less who you are, it provides a flying start. It should be interesting and short. When you don’t have a speaker introduction ready, the MC will usually attempt to read your long CV that they got off the internet.

It really wastes precious time and ask yourself whether the audience really want to listen to a lengthy introduction.

Get permission beforehand to sell your products (if you have already) at the conference. Typically, the answer is “yes, you can”.

One wouldn’t like to get into the embarrassing situation to display your books on a table, just to be asked to remove it.

9. Embracing Life-Long Learning and Reading

Learn the ropes of the speaking industry.

To make it, will take strenuous commitment. If you are willing to go the extra mile, you can succeed. Be bold and put the word out there that you are becoming a motivational speaker and are eager to learn from the top dogs.

You might be pleasantly surprised how many seasoned speakers are willing to assist.

It is rare to find an established communicator who has not been in some form of a mentor relationship in the past or present.

Peter Senge [17] coined the phrase “Superior performance depends on superior learning”.

Embracing ongoing learning will be one of the pillars in becoming a motivational speaker and of your future success.

Learn how they plan and create motivational speakers events. You will then understand the “big picture” better and it will enable you to ask appropriate questions during the booking process.

Articles and especially books are like trusted advisors.

They are always on standby for a consultation, especially when it gets to how to become a motivational speaker. Bear in mind that a speaking professional needs to convey a message that is not deemed to be from “la-la-land”.

Be sound in your subject material. Build and treasure your library whether in hard copy or in electronic format.

Look at online feedback and recommendations from those who have already read specific books. Use your own discernment.

Some literature on building a speaking career will guarantee the moon and stars. Rather trust those resources which don’t hide the difficult path to success. If you come across books or learning material that promise outright accomplishment and seem to be designed only to get hold of your cash, steer away.

9.1 Books are Your Most Trusted Advisors

10. Decide if You Have What It Takes in Becoming a Motivational Speaker

As the saying goes: “Many aspire, few attain”. Unfortunately, this section might puncture a balloon or two…

10.1 What Makes You Different?

Here is a fundamental question to be answered.

Why would audiences want to listen to you? Most hopeful candidates are at a loss for words when trying to answer this. Obviously, there has to be a differentiating reason like a ground-breaking solution to a problem, an incredible life story, success in business or sport, a new discovery, awesome theme-weaving etc. etc. etc.

Decide in advance not to constantly move in the shadow of other speakers. Dropping names and “fake it until you make it” is taking shortcuts that will come back to bite you in future.

Stand on your own legs without superficially attaching yourself to the brands of others.

10.2 Puncturing Unrealistic Expectations

The majority of career speakers are not multi-millionaires sipping sundowners in their mansions overlooking the ocean.

Don’t let anyone else tell you different. The wind is knocked out of the sails of unrealistic expectations when upcoming motivational speakers discover that it is not such a lucrative career as it was carved out to be.

Discussions swirl around controversial assumptions on how to become a motivational speaker. Some insist on beliefs like “the sky is the limit” and “you can do anything you set your mind to”.

Others challenge such viewpoints to closer scrutiny. Are we really surrounded by a boundless universe of limitless possibilities? Can anyone become an astronaut (or a professional speaker) by applying their minds to it?

Isn’t it prudent to know yourself better and to grow your strengths which might not be motivational speaking? Will brutal hard work and superior intent without talent get you to the moon?

The debate continues and always will.

No one but yourself can eventually make a call whether this journey is yours to take. The supposed glamour and glitz should rather not be determining factors in your decision-making process.

Responsible choices are made on responsible advice and hence the wisdom of doing your factfinding early on.

Can you communicate well in front of an audience? The opinions of friends and family might be subjective.

Are there objective people who confirm your talent for public speaking? Positive and honest feedback is a starting point for the long journey.

Not everyone has the aptitude or endurance to make a career out of professional speaking.

10.3  Becoming a Motivational Speaker:

Taking the Plunge

Most speakers will tell you of a moment or slot in time when they knew that they wanted to speak for a living.

It was not necessarily the point when they actually became speakers.

“Long term” is the magic phrase in becoming a motivational speaker.

You might have heard the saying that it takes years to be an overnight success. I knew that I wanted to be a professional motivational speaker at age 25 and innocently thought that things would happen fast. I only took the plunge in my forties.

There is no clandestine formula or blueprint and it will unfold differently for everyone. It is safe to say that your patience will be severely tested in the process.

The timing of one’s entry onto the speaking circuit is critical. Jump in too soon and you will sink together with your dream. Patience is painful, but it is a force multiplier. It will reward you handsomely in the long term.

Take it slow at first.

Mark McCormack in “What They Don’t Teach You at Harvard Business School[21] refers to the principal frequently.

Patience, he says, was 90% of the time part of their business success. The reverse was also true. 90% of their failures included doses of impatience

10.4 Quitting Has Never Fuelled a Successful Speaking Career

Perseverance is the only golden key that you will ever have.

A bed of roses is what you find in romantic novels, not on the speaking circuit. All kinds of unrealistic expectations plague aspiring orators and that is why a clear-headed reality check is of great magnitude.

Most aspiring speakers throw in the towel due to the biggest challenge: enduring the pain of not quitting.

The “warts and all” of making it in this industry is curiously absent from most literature on the “becoming a motivational speaker” subject matter.

The speaking journey is no different from any other endeavour in life. One cannot idealistically presume to start at the top.

The bottom beckons with free talks first, then building up career momentum and after years, rather than months, reach critical mass, when clients contact you directly.

Last Words (not literally) 🙂

Making a career of the spoken word is fulfilling and emotionally rewarding.

Get hold of the resources in this guide and work unhurriedly through it over the next year. Take it slow.

As with any type of endeavor, there are a number of things to take into account when deciding to become a motivational speaker.

All too often, speakers, and/or those who feel they are a good fit for the speaking circuit, or who are toeing the waters to dip their toes in, only see the final presentation before an audience. This is a mistake.

If you plan on pursuing a speaking career, you must realize that there is much more than just standing up in front of a group of people and presenting.

You must have the drive to be a motivational speaker from within your innermost being. There are various obstacles to overcome before rising to the point of becoming a professionally paid speaker.

You will need to find an audience that is interested in what you have to say and willing to pay for a speech. All things considered, though, there are plenty of rewards that come with achieving success as a motivational or inspirational speaker.

It’s a dream that a lot of would-be motivational speakers have to stand in front of strangers and deliver an engaging and moving speech. And who wouldn’t?

Most people who hear motivational speeches find them inspiring. It is something that shakes us out of our regular routine and helps us realize how things can be done better. But did you know that delivering a successful motivational speech wasn’t as easy as it looked?

If it were easy, everyone would be doing it.

You need both passion and determination to earn a living as a motivational speaker. The good news is that you do not necessarily have to be born with these qualities. You can develop them over time through practice and preparation. The motivational speaker training is a tough occupation that takes many years to perfect.

Few professions are as exhilarating or meaningful as being a motivational speaker. Few people have the ability to motivate and touch lives in a way that a motivational speaker does. Becoming a motivational speaker is a dream that many have.

There are countless self-help and personal development speakers who are battling for the same gigs.

There are thousands of speakers who travel the globe, sharing their knowledge and often, their life tales to large audiences. 

You will need to build a platform, develop a niche market and do the legwork on tours. If it is your dream to share your message and influence people, becoming a motivational speaker may be your dream job!  

Getting a speaking career off the launching pad is tough. There’s hard work, rejection, and doubt to overcome.

Frankly, no one is going to hand you a motivational speaker career. It all starts with having the right mindset and attitude.

To help you learn how to become a motivational speaker, I’ve put together these three articles with information and tips to help get you started on your speaking journey. And to be clear, you don’t just have to speak about motivation most of the time.

In reality, when you are doing public speaking as a career, it isn’t all that uncommon for your topics to change. You can begin by speaking on a specific branch of motivational speaking like success in business… and then you can branch out into other related topics.

The road to becoming a motivational speaker is paved with heartache, dedication, and perseverance.

But you will not only be fulfilling a dream by becoming a speaker; you will also be making your audience’s lives better. 

It won’t be an effortless journey becoming a motivational speaker, but remember the words of Og Mandino:

“Each rebuff is an opportunity to move forward; turn away from them, avoid them, and you throw away your future.”  [22]


  1. The Art of War [Book] / auth. Sun Tsu / trans. Cleary Thomas. – Boston : Shambhala Publications, Inc, 1991. – p. 29.
  2. Speak and Grow Rich [Book] / auth. Walters Dottie and Walters Lilly. – New Jersey : Prentice Hall, Inc, 1997.
  3. The Leader’s New Work: Building Learning Organizations [Journal] / auth. Senge Peter // MIT Sloan Management Review. – Cambridge : Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1990. – Issue # 1 : Vol. Volume 32.
  4. Paid To Speak: Best Practices For Building A Successful Speaking Business [Book] / auth. National Speakers Association. – Austin : Greenleaf Book Group Press, 2011.
  5. Speak More!: Marketing Strategies to Get More Speaking Business [Book] / auth. National Speakers Association. – Austin : River Grove Books, 2012.
  6. The Management Bible [Book] / auth. Flanagan Neil and Finger Jarvis. – Cape Town : Zebra Press, 2004. – p. V.
  7. What They Don’t Teach You At Harvard Business School [Book] / auth. McCormack Mark H. – Glasgow : Fontana / Collins / John Boswell Associates, 1984. – p. 69.

22. The Greatest Salesman in the World [Book] / auth. Mandino Og. – New York : Bantam Books, Inc, 1980. – Frederick Fell : p. 23.