Paid public speaking often seems like a great second career idea for people who have achieved something worth talking about in their first career.  But if you’ve got the kids through college and you’ve sold your company or launched your clothing line or cured malaria – are you too old, in our youth-obsessed culture – to be successful?  Do you have to be 30-something, in essence, to pull down the big bucks as a professional speaker?

The short answer is NO!  Of course, youth and beauty are assets in just about any field, but you need to fire on 5 cylinders to be successful in professional speaking, and you’ll see that neither youth nor beauty figures in the list.  Here’s what you do need:

1.  A Remarkable Idea.  

Everything begins with an idea.  You’ll notice I didn’t say a “new” idea, because there’s very little that’s truly new.  And some of the best ideas are old wisdom updated.  The point is the idea has to grab our attention, stick in our minds, and not let go.  All of that means you need a good story, because stories are the way to make ideas stick.

2.  A Killer Speech.

Your speech has to be audience-focused.  It has to take your audience on a journey, one that leads to new behavior – a mind-changing journey.  It’s not, in the end, about you, as strange as that may sound.  And it most emphatically is not a data-dump or everything you know on the subject.  Experts who tell all are terribly boring.

3.  A Successful Book.

For many, this is the sticking point.  A book is still the ticket for success in the speaking world, because it provides proof of expertise to the people who will hire you – the meeting planners, speaker bureau salespeople, and so on.  That will undoubtedly change in the next X years, but for now it’s still essential.  The exception is celebrity status – musicians, movie actors, politicians – great fame in any one area can get you past the book requirement in the short run.  But even Bill Clinton wrote books for the long run.

4.  An Engaged Community.

This is key.  It’s not enough to have items 1 – 3 nailed if no one knows or cares about your idea, speech and book.  The good news is that the online world provides the tools – cheap – for creating a community.  How you do it —  blogging, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc — isn’t as important as what it’s about and the strength of the engagement of the community.  You want people chasing after you to give speeches.  You most emphatically don’t want to be going after speeches, one organization at a time.  That’s too heartbreakingly slow.

5.  Passion. 

Passion is the most important item on this list.  With passion, you can hold an audience.  Without it, having everything else going for you won’t help.  Here’s Elaine Morgan (no relation), certainly over 55, holding – delighting – an audience, with passion.  ‘Nuf said.

Elaine Morgan at TED



  1. Hi Nick and the team! Another practical post – particularly for entrepreneurs wanting to develop speaking as part of their career, point 2 is vital. It’s not about you! It’s about how what you have learned can help others and to be focused on the audience. This is fantastic advice for those who speak “this is my life” speeches. I want to hear your story, but I also want to know, so what? What can I learn, apply from the journey of entrepreneurship you have travelled. At 53 then, there is life in this old dog for a little bit longer! As long as they can get a Zimmer frame on stage, I’ll be there!

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