Starting A Public Speaking Career

Q: I am a lawyer in solo practice with a business and commercial litigation focus. I also author a monthly column on law and the Internet. I am interested in developing a new or parallel career in public speaking to business groups. What are the hazards of starting this kind of venture? Is there serious money to be made?

A: Public speaking has become big business in the United States. Good (but not famous) convention speakers earn between $1,500 and $5,000 for a keynote address or workshop. It's a very competitive field, though, as more and more professionals reach the point in their careers where they yearn both for the spotlight and to pass their knowledge on to others.

As a practicing lawyer, you'll face some special challenges in developing a lucrative speaking practice. First, many of your colleagues are willing to offer their speaking services without a fee as a marketing tool or bonus to loyal clients. Second, businesses that do pay for presentations on legal topics generally turn to the law firms that represent them for speakers.

Your law and the Internet expertise, though, combined with a good speaking style, may be your ticket into national conventions as a plenary or breakout speaker. But you'll need to create a track record first by speaking at least a dozen times without compensation and receiving glowing endorsements from your sponsors. For more tips about developing a speaking practice, look at the National Speakers Association website, www.nsaspeaker.org, and their excellent monthly magazine, Professional Speaker.