How to Become a Successful Speaker – with Grant Baldwin

As a content creator, there is a good chance that you’ve already thought hard about how you can grow your brand in the digital space. But what if you are ready to move beyond the screen to center stage? It might seem overwhelming, but there are specific steps that you can take today to become a successful speaker.

Grant Baldwin, creator of The Speaker Lab podcast and course and co-author of The Successful Speaker, sits down with Joe Saul-Sehy to share everything from landing his first speaking gig years ago to the strategies anyone can use to stand out as a speaker today. If you are ready to explore all the possibilities that await you as a successful speaker, take a listen!

How Grant Got His Start

Grant’s first professional speaking gig was to a 4H group. These students were interested in livestock and farming. That means that Grant had to be an authority on those topics, right? Not so fast, says Grant. He points out that people assume that you have to be deeply entrenched in something to speak on it. That is not entirely the case.

The purpose of Grant’s presentation was not to speak on a topic related to farming. Instead, he was working with a group of young leaders. He knew that his background as a youth pastor and his speaking ability would allow him to connect with students and help them reflect on the challenges they were facing as young adults. Knowing that he could motivate and inspire young people made him a perfect fit for this gig. Understanding his own message and his strengths helped Grant land his first speaking gig.

Don’t Be a Buffet

Whether you want to land your first gig or are simply looking to improve your speaking game, all successful speakers have at least one thing in common: they know their message.

Though it can be tempting to try to be an authority on a wide range of topics, Grant says you want to resist positioning yourself as a buffet. Rather than trying to be someone who speaks on all topics, work to be excellent with one or two topics. It’s true that you can likely find steak at a buffet, but the excellence of a steakhouse is what keeps people talking and coming back. Identify your area of focus, zero in on your message, and work on improving your craft.

Click here to check out what Ramit Sethi has to say on the importance of promoting your message.

The Importance of Branding

One of the first things that Grant says you need to decide is if the person or the company is the product. Most often in the professional speaking world, speaking is part of a personal brand. That means that it is important to reflect who you are in your brand. Companies aren’t interested in learning more about another company; instead, they want to get to know you.

Branding on a Budget

So where do you start? As someone who is starting out on a limited budget, Grant says the key is get branding right from the start. That means investing strategically in the things that really matter. Choose a website with a simple and clean design. Squarespace, Wix, and Word Press all offer professional-quality options that are fairly inexpensive.

The next consideration is the demo video. Know that there are many free and inexpensive tools today that will allow you to create a clean video. Make sure this video is included on your website so that event planners and coordinators can see you in action.

As you build your brand, there is something else you need to keep in mind. No matter what part of the branding process you are in, Grant emphasizes the importance of understanding that this is version 1.0. Too often, a speaker who is just starting out will compare their branding to a more established speaker. That means that you are comparing your first demo video with someone’s video that may have already been remade dozens of times. Instead, commit to working with what you have at the start and focus on making improvements as you go. Reinvesting into your brand as you establish yourself as a speaker can help.

Another consideration is to remember that event planners will compare you to other speakers, but they won’t compare you to every speaker. If a planner has a budget of $1500, they are going to be looking at speakers within that price range. That means that if you compare yourself to anyone, it should be people who are at your level.

Find out how to dodge imposter syndrome with these tips from Pete McPherson here.

Setting Up a Website to Land Speaking Gigs

One of the most important aspects of landing speaking gigs is to set up a website. Typically, you will want your name as the domain. Why? Grant says this is because you people to associate your name as the speaker.

The website itself can be fairly simple and must be easy to navigate. These are the key elements of a site that you must include.

  • A quick bio that lets people know who you are
  • A demo video that spotlights your speaking talents
  • Photos and other social proof that show you in action
  • A focus so people know understand your message
  • Testimonials that speak to past successes
  • Contract form to get in touch with you

Your website does not have to be complicated. By keeping your site streamlined, you make it easier for event planners to find key details about you to determine if you are a good fit for their event.

Take a look at other tips on how to maximize the value of your website here.

Why You Need a Demo Video

Every speaker needs a demo video to help land that first speaking gig. To understand the purpose of a demo video, Grant compares it to a movie trailer. The essence of a two-hour movie is boiled down to a 2 or 3-minute preview. The point is to help audiences understand what the movie is about and who should go see the movie.

A demo video fulfills a similar role. It helps the people who are considering hiring you determine if you are a good fit for their audience. Grant points out that event planners are in the risk mitigation business. Your performance as a speaker is a reflection of their brand and their company. Audience members associate the speakers a company hires with that company’s brand, product, and values. That means that your performance as a speaker is a reflection of who they are. Demo videos help reassure event planners that you will deliver exactly what their audience needs. A strong demo video allows event planners to book you with confidence.

Marketing Yourself as a Speaker

To become a successful speaker, you have to take an active approach. Too often, people create slick sites and professional-quality demo videos only to then sit back and wait for the phone to ring. It is important to understand that speaking is a momentum business, says Grant. Instead of sitting back, do something to start the momentum and make people care.

One starting point is to let everyone in your sphere of influence know that you are a speaker. It’s true that you may not know anyone with immediate needs to hire a speaker. However, that doesn’t mean that they don’t know someone who does.

In addition to being able to connect you with others in their networks, the people you reach out to now might develop a need later. Grant gives the example of his first FinCon closing speech as an example. Prior to landing that speaking gig, he connected with Philip Taylor, FinCon’s founder, long before there was a need for speakers at a conference for money nerds. Once FinCon got underway, Grant was already on PT’s radar.

That’s why Grant says it is important for you to lay the groundwork right away. You are building mind share within your network so that people know you exist.

Becoming a Successful Speaker

Once you start to land gigs, the next thing to focus on is growing your brand as a speaker. When people think of expanding their sphere of influence, many of them automatically think of social media. Grant says that social media absolutely is a factor. Depending on your brand, your message, and your personality, you may choose to be active on one or many social media platforms.

In addition to social media, Grant says there are two other factors that you can’t ignore when it comes to landing more speaking gigs.

Make Yourself Easy to Find

Being discovered online is so much more than crafting the perfect Twitter bio. One of the first things to explore is to see if your website is optimized for keywords. To do this, you have to think strategically. If someone is looking for a speaker who is knowledgeable about personal finance, what are they going to type into Google? Test out different keywords like “finance speaker” to see how your site ranks.

Speaking Up and Reaching Out

Relationships in the digital world aren’t the only ones that matter. In fact, if you want to grow your sphere of influence as a speaker, it is important that you build relationships and foster connections with other speakers. When Grant first started to reflect on some of his first gigs, he realized that many of them were referrals from other successful speakers.

Finally, if you want to grow as a speaker, you have to speak up. It seems obvious, but it is actually surprisingly easy to overlook this. Reach out directly to event coordinators and share why you are a good fit for their next event. Be willing to start small. Grant gives an example of how he landed a big gig after a smaller one. Initially, he spoke at a conference, facilitated a free workshop, and then asked to speak again at a future conference. By showing up, doing well, and even helping promote the event, event coordinators are more likely to ask you to return to their stage in the future.

If you are unsure of who to reach out to, turn to Google. Search for conferences and events that you would be a good fit for. To plan your search strategically, ask yourself these three questions:

  1. Who do you speak to?
  2. What problem do you solve for them?
  3. Where do those people gather?

Now, you are ready to explore various events. Start local but know that you can explore all levels of conferences, even national ones. The opportunities are there. You have to be willing to dig for them.

Training and Education

Professional development and networking are two important parts of growing your skill set and building connections in any profession, including public speaking. There are two different speaking associations you might consider to help with this.

Many people are familiar with the name Toastmasters but might not know exactly how Toastmasters can benefit you.  Grant acknowledges that the best way to improve as a speaker is to do more speaking. He equates it with fitness and says that it is essential to get your reps in. Joining Toastmasters can be a fun and effective way to fine-tune your speaking skills with more practice.

Additionally, you might also want to look into the National Speakers Association (NSA). The NSA is helpful for connecting with other speakers. By joining, you can learn more about the ins and outs of the speaking business. You can also network with other speakers, discuss best practices, and share tips and strategies on how to become a successful speaker.

To see if Toastmasters or the NSA is right for you, Grant says there’s only one way to know for sure. Stop by your local chapter and try them out.

The Power of Partnerships

As an entrepreneur, it can often seem like you need to figure it all out yourself. Grant encourages people to see the value of partnerships. Citing his book as an example, he says that one question every entrepreneur should ask is, “How can I pair up with someone?”

In Grant’s situation, he partnered with friend and experienced author Jeff Goins to write The Successful Speaker: Five Steps for Booking Gigs, Getting Paid, and Building Your Platform. Jeff knows the publishing world well, and Grant realized that they could collaborate to synthesize and distill the essence of his speaking experience and the information on his site into book form.

Partnerships don’t have to mean book writing. You can form partnerships to tackle any number of content creation goals. Regardless of where the partnership takes you, Grant says it is key to ensure that both parties are playing to their skill sets. Decide who is responsible for what and how you envision the collaboration unfolding.

Final Thoughts on How to Become a Successful Speaker

Like anything, the first step to landing speaking gigs is simply to start. Focus on building your brand with a site and a demo video. After you build your brand, remember the value of practice and of expanding your network. All of these things will help you build your brand and develop a reputation as a successful speaker.

Want to get started with your speaking career? Submit to speak at #FinCon2020 starting February 26, 2020, at


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Andy Hill

Andy Hill is the award-winning podcaster and blogger behind Marriage, Kids and Money which is dedicated to helping young families build wealth and thrive. Andy's personal finance experience has been featured in major media outlets like CNBC, Business Insider, MarketWatch and NBC News. Trusted as a personal finance influencer by national financial brands, Andy’s message of family financial empowerment has resonated with listeners, readers and viewers across the US. When he's not "talking money", Andy enjoys wrestling with his two kids, singing karaoke with his wife and watching Marvel movies.