So you want to be a Speaker...
By Peter Urs Bender, CSP, HoF

It's the easiest business to get into - and one of the toughest to stay in!
It's a profession in which perception is the reality. What people see and hear is what they get. You need to adjust and adapt to each audience until you are operating at maximum power-and that can take you a long time.

When I entered into it nearly two decades ago it was very different. Not many were in it. Very few had a book of their own. Demo videos had just come out. Websites did not exist. Assistants were seldom heard of. Today it's a totally different game.

Would I do it again today? That's a question to write a book about!

However, there are certain ground rules for becoming a successful speaker. In one way they are pretty simple. But simple things are often difficult to accomplish. It's like running a Marathon. All you have to do is left foot, right foot, left foot…. But try it out…26 miles 385 yards is a long way. In spite of that, I ran and finished 19. Most of them before I went into my own business!

I presume you have already done some work on the platform. You are attracted to the profession, and your speaking experiences to date have encouraged you to take it more seriously.

Shifting gears from the amateur, largely unpaid field of speaking, to the professional area can be very traumatic. Especially in the money area. It's a fact that most small businesses perish from lack of initial capital. It's no different in the business of speaking. As a matter of fact, the reason there is such a great turnover in this industry is not that speaking is a boring business, but because most newcomers are undercapitalized. I recommend you have least enough money to pay all your present expenses for one year, plus a minimum of $25,000 for your office expenses.

Assuming you are employed right now, calculate double what you are earning as your cost to that company. So if you earn $50,000 a year you have to bring in $100,000 to that company (vacation pay, sick pay, office space, coffee breaks, etc.) However, as soon as you become self-employed, you will probably earn only half your old income in your first year, that is, $25,000. But a few years down the road you should be earning your full value. In our example $100,000.

If you feel right now you are overpaid and underworked, then do not go into your own business. Stay in your job. Enjoy it and save your money. It can be very rough and tough out here in the speaker's circle.

Another piece of advice I give to anybody starting out is this. To become successful, all you have to do to for the first few years is to work half a day each day for six days a week. (But remember a day has 24 hours….)

I also highly suggest you organize your mortgage, buy required insurance, and open a line of credit BEFORE you get into your own business! It's a fact that bankers and financial institutions anywhere in the world will lend more money to employees than to people just starting their own business.

All one is worth is $32.75 an hour. (You might be a little more). But if this is what you charge, nobody will hire you! As a matter of fact, in a logical universe, the presenter should be paid the dollar amount of the salary value of the audience. Take 100 executives each earning $100,000 per year. This means they each earn $50 per hour. The presenter therefore, should be paid 100 x $50 = $5,000. Of course there is no set rule on what a presenter should get paid.

Create a price sheet. Be upfront. Be sure you put a "valid to" date on it. If you're too expensive, they won't hire you. If you're too inexpensive, they also won't want you. Do not be wishy-washy and try to get as much as you can from each individual client. Have a look at my rate sheet on my homepage at According to my web analysis feedback, it's one of the more often looked-at pages on my site!

I find new speakers often tell me they are not in the business for the money. They do it to help others, they say. But remember. You do need some money for your old age-or others have to help you! Do not become a burden to our society! Money is not the most evil of all bad things-it's lack of money that's the problem! You also can always give money away. You don't need to keep it! I gave away to a charity more than $30,000 through the sale of the first printing of my first book, Secrets of Power Presentations.

Apart from enough money for a year's operation, there are three more important factors. You must examine them clearly before throwing your hat into the professional speaking ring if you want to survive.
These are:

   Your knowledge of the topic on which you will speak
   Your presenting skills
   Your understanding of the art of the business

Knowledge of the topic
Knowing what you're talking about is right at the core of the speaking experience. You should know ten times as much as you are ever able to present. And if you want to get paid, your topic must be business-related.
Time management, Presentation skills, Teamwork. These and other similar topics are what a company is interested in. They want to train their employees to be more productive. Meet their requirements, or you will have a heck of a time to make your own ends meet.

One drawback is that the way industry gets to know you-is the way you will be seen for a long time by meeting planners. Originally, I got a name as "The Presentations Guru." That is nice. But I wrote three other bestsellers: on Leadership, Communications and Marketing. Leadership became my most sought-after presentation. In spite of that a lot of people, even those in our business, still think Bender only does Presentations seminars.

I am also known as a business speaker with lots of humor. That hasn't changed over the years! I can do straight factual presentations as well, but for them I charge 20% more. But just assume Peter Urs Bender wanted to become a "Humor Speaker." I would have a hell of a time to position myself as a humorist.

I am not a Motivational Speaker. I speak on business topics, and motivate my audience to action. (Once in a while I even turn them 360 degrees around!) So be sure you enter this business with the topic you want to be remembered by.

People often ask me who my clients are. My answer is, "It's not the needy it's the greedy, who hire me." I hope you realize I have my tongue in my cheek when I say it. But the fact remains that only those who can afford to pay hire my services. Like most speakers I do a lot of charity work. But my business would soon fail if I did not do it very selectively.

Remember, too, that topics change in popularity and value.

Right now, Integrity is a hot topic. We are seeing the downfall of major businesses due to corporate fraud and executive greed. The public has become alarmed. We are witnessing an increasing interest in the ethics of business. And businesses themselves are reexamining this whole area.

Terrorism is getting a lot of attention, although I don't see many professional speakers jumping on this specialized bandwagon. A couple of years ago, Y2K was the hot-button issue.

As important as knowing what to present is knowing what not to present. Don't try to be all things to all men. I suggest you not try to present on more than three topics. I now have five books and a sixth one on the go…therefore exemptions exist. But my main focus is still on Leadership, Communication, and Inspiration.

As soon as you can, write a book or a manual on your main topic. Either have it published, or self-publish it. Use it as a marketing tool, a business card, and an income-generating product. After my first book I said, "That's it! No more books!" But each additional book seemed to spring from the one before, and expands on aspects of what I first wrote about. Once you start writing you are never finished!

Presenting skills
I've never had a presenter come to me and say, "I'm a lousy presenter".
But man oh man; I've seen a thousand...even at CAPS (Canadian Association or Professional Speakers) and NSA (National Speakers Association)!

I have also heard thousands of useless, time-wasting introductions. Look at my book Secrets of Power Presentations. Page 195 tells how to introduce a speaker properly. Follow the three steps, and you will see your audience is more willing to listen to your message.

Take as much training as you can get. At the very beginning I got myself a speech coach. Bill Vincent was his name. His business is called Voices and Company. He is still available through I also took an impromptu course at Second City to improve my presentation skills. You must learn how to perform with power, and one can always learn some more from the experts.

It wasn't easy for me. I'm not, by nature, an extrovert. I remember my first training with a small business group (similar to today's Toastmasters). We met every second Thursday during the winter months at the aristocratic Albany Club, 44 King Street East in Toronto, and had to give a three-minute speech.

I was literally sick to my stomach every time I had to make a presentation to the group. I couldn't ever enjoy the outstanding, first-class dinner that was served (and I paid for it too...). If I was the 20th speaker that night, I did not hear the 19 before me. I normally go early to bed, but after giving my three-minute presentation my adrenaline was so high that I couldn't sleep for three hours! Gradually I learned, and it became easier and easier. But it took me over three years.

That's also one of the reasons I wrote a book about it-so other beginning speakers could profit from my experience. It's called Secrets of Power Presentations. It was first published in 1991 and has just been republished with much additional information in a Jubilee edition. It has become classic on the subject. I encourage you to buy, beg, steal, or download a copy of it free from my website at You need a password, but I am happy to give you one. Just type in "YesICan" (with no spaces).

If you download it to print out, remember it has 244 pages. It will be cheaper (CN $19.95) and better for you to buy it in a bookstore. Or call Books for Business, at 1-800-669-9372 and they will be glad to send it to you.

Read, reread, and re-reread it. Use a felt pen to highlight it-just be sure it's not a black one... Practice the exercises. Everything is there. I can assure you that if you follow my book you will become an outstanding presenter. Or at least much better than you would be for not reading it!

In the beginning, when you are just new to the profession, use any opportunity you get to present your message. Then practice, practice, practice. Adjust your delivery every time to correspond a bit more closely to the book. Do as many speeches as you can. Remember, whoever presents the most and adjusts the message to different audiences-becomes better in platform skills.

The art of the business
Speaking is a business just like any other business. The main secret to it-is in a system. A system you devise for yourself. Anything you do, you should do in a particular way, not just by feeling. As humans we love to do things by feeling. But for optimum results do them by a system. Once you've got your system down, you can put back in the feeling. Then you should get the optimum results.

Take a golfer, for instance. A good golfer allows his feelings and intuitions full range to maximize his game. But he wields his club to a system. But if you watch the golfer hitting the ball-it's straight feeling. Not logic. Not analytical. It's straight from the Gut! (To learn more about it, read my book Gutfeeling).

In my book Secrets of Power Marketing I describe the relationship between system, talent and results. Even those with considerable talent will produce erratic and unpredictable results if they operate without a system. With a proper system they will experience consistent and improving results-and that is exactly what you should be after.

If you work with others, a system becomes even more important. Using a system on your own is a form of self-discipline. Using a system with others is a pure necessity. Even if you are working with only one other person you should both work on the same system. Anything else will waste a lot of time and energy.

Today, another important aspect of the art of the business is a website. They weren't even known when I began. But they are truly information and marketing gems. I would not have my market share without the web.

You can easily spend big money to create a website. But you don't need to. You can have an effective one for a very modest investment. If you are technically minded, you can even create your own. But you have to ask yourself if doing this is a productive use of your time. After all, you're in the speaking business, not the web-design business!

If you're just beginning to think about building a website, don't have a Webmaster, or aren't sure who to contact, try calling my own Webmaster, Richard Armstrong. I've had an ongoing relationship with Richard since I first hired him as a student in 1997. He is very busy, but he told me he has a lot of student friends who would be happy to work with you. And I know from experience, students are good at this stuff! You can contact through the link on my home page.

Your objective in creating a website is to make sure some basic information about you and your philosophy is presented accurately and well. What you offer has to be of value to your clients and potential clients, the general public, and of course, the press.

So when you're building your site, think big. Make sure the information you put on your home page has some meat to it. Be generous. Give out as many useful ideas as you can. Try to make yourself into what I call a "site of value". Searchers will flock to you.

Here's an example (as of today, November 2002 and for the last few months). Go to the search engine Google, and enter the search words "personality analysis". Click on "Pages from Canada". Out of nearly 70,000 sites you will find that my site holds both the Number 1, and Number 2 spots. On the entire web, where nearly 700,000 sites are listed, mine is in the first 20.

Why? I didn't spend a dime to get these spots. It's because there's so much useful information on my site about personality analysis. (I did a lifetime of research on it myself. Read Leadership from Within to find out more out about it. Or of course go to my website!) Search engines like Google like to list me because they deem me a "site of value" for browsers seeking hard information.

One final word about websites. Once you've created one, keep it up to date. I am continually upgrading my own site because it draws inquiries from clients and the press. Sometimes the updates come thick and fast. Sometimes we add something new only once a month. Whatever the interval, keep checking your site and asking yourself how you can make it more helpful. It's your best salesman outside of yourself.

To understand more about websites, please read: "Website ROI." It's posted on my site under "Articles."

Here are a few final pearls of wisdom: Talent without technique is merely a bad habit. -Pablo Picasso

Peter Urs Bender was one of Canada's most dynamic and entertaining business speakers. He is the author of five business books, four of them best-sellers:
Leadership from Within, Secrets of Power Presentations, Secrets of Power Marketing, Secrets of Face-to-Face Communication, and Gutfeeling.
To read excerpts from his books visit