How to Build a Speaking Business

Many friends who have been following my career ask me how they can transition into speaking full-time or just do it on the side for some extra impact and extra cash. So I decided to write this post to share what I know from my experience.

Since January 2009, I’ve done over 160 speaking engagements. ranging from elementary schools to Fortune 500 companies. Some were paid. Some were self-promoted events. Some were webinars. Some were graduations. Some were panels. Most were college keynotes and high performance trainings for corporations. All were necessary for me to be where I am today as a professional speaker, author, and consultant able to generate six-figure revenues.

I hope it helps you.


Table of Contents

My Story & Message
My Brand, My Word, & Superhero Name
My Audience and Tribe
My Video & Audio
My Website
My Business Model & Approach
My Technology
My Sales Process
My Contract
Other Questions
Other Resources

My Story & Message

Everyone has a story. It took me awhile to find mine. Growing up as the son of two doctors, I had everything I needed to succeed in life. Since I didn’t really have any struggles, I felt I didn’t have a story. The story is what happened and the message is the meaning you derived from what happened.

You can wait for a story to happen to you or you can create a story with your life. Oftentimes, it’s a combination of both that makes a great story.

In June of 2001, a story happened to me. I bought a 1990 Mercedes Benz 190E to show my parents that I was on a path to success just like them. I believed that success meant getting the things they had faster, bigger, and better than they had them. If they had a nice house by the age of 35, then I had to have one by 30. If they had a nice car by the age of 25, then I had to have one by 20.

I was 18 years old and though I was only headed into my second year at UCLA, I was already a junior because of my AP credits and taking extra credits during my first year. I pulled into a parking lot in my new 11-year-old Mercedes to promote an upcoming party I was throwing and as soon as I turned the headlights off, two men jumped out of the car in front of me with gun drawn. One came to my door. The other came to the rear passenger door. My 3 friends in the car ran. I was staring down the barrel of a gun. Without words being exchange, keys were exchanged. My car that I only had for two weeks and invested all of my savings in was gone. I didn’t have insurance. But, I had my life.

That’s what happened. Oftentimes we can’t control what happens like having cancer, growing up poor, losing a parent at an early age, etc. The second half of the story is the story I’m still creating today based on what I’ve chosen to do since that moment.

During the rest of the summer, I engaged in a deep introspective process. I asked myself questions such as “What is my definition of success? What is enough? What is my vision for my life?

This would become the inspiration of my company’s name, The Department of Motivated Vehicles (now New Higher), which is based on the premise that your life is your vehicle to design, drive, and maintain. It would also serve as the roots of my Innerviewing process and practice which I teach to companies and young professionals today as well as other rituals in my life such as my daily gratitude journal where I have documented over 6,000 moments of gratitude since April 6, 2011.

At the core, my story is about paving your own road and not navigating life like a multiple choice test. It’s about making meaning and money in the world and taking why and how we work as seriously as what the work is. It’s about finding one’s purpose and following one’s passions. It’s about always seeking your new higher, whatever that may be for you, and never settling for your false peak so that you can make your highest contribution to the world through work.

In order to discover your story, list all of the things that have happened to you and all of things that you’ve made happen in your personal and professional life. They can be big or small. Identify the ones that inspire you most and develop them further to extract all of the messages within the story.

My Brand, My Word, & Superhero Name

Once you’ve discovered your story, it’s important to brand yourself so that people who need your story and message can find you.

The easiest way I’ve found to brand yourself is with a superhero name.

I’m Jullien Gordon, The PurposeFinder.
My friend Bert Gervais is The Mentor Guy.
Cesar Milan is The Dog Whisperer.
Steve Irwin was the Crocodile Hunter.

In one or two words, you can make it clear what you stand ford.

In order to create your superhero name, I encourage you make a list of words in the dictionary that you would like to have your picture by and then choose one.

If I say innovation, you think Steve Jobs.
If I say housewives, you think Martha Stewart.
If I say headphones, you think Dr. Dre.
If I say movie, you think Steven Spielberg.
If I say __________, you think [YOUR NAME HERE].

Once you have your word, you can add an -er or -or toward the end, or just get creative, to make it your superhero name, for example:

The Innovator
The Movie Maker
The Sound Effect
The Poverty Killer
The Connector
The Deal Closer

My Audience and Tribe

Your audience is anyone who may benefit from hearing your story and  your tribe is anyone who already believes what you believe. Your tribe helps spread the word to your audience.

For me, my audience is primarily a professional, age 20-40, who has gone to college and perhaps even graduate school. They have done everything they were “supposed” to do, yet they aren’t experiencing the success they thought they would by now. They feel behind, yet they want everything their parents had or didn’t have now…right now. Some are making lots of money after completing their MBAs but they lack meaning in their lives. Others are doing meaningful work, but they lack money in their lives. I have been able to make meaning and money at the same time by developing high performance habits and that’s what I teach.

Bob Marley once said, “I’m not trying to reach people. I am who I am. And I believe that there a lot of people out there just like me.” The lesson is that while you are a unique being, when you are being your authentic self and sharing your story, you will find that your truth speak to the truth of many people. People will come up to you and say “I felt like you were talking directly to me,” despite the fact that you have never met. The reason we are able to connect with people we’ve never met is because:

  1. You are either on the same path and you are one step ahead of your audience, or
  2. You are on separate paths, but both paths lead to or come from the same place.

If you are able to find who your story connects with most, then your audience becomes your tribe and they start spreading your message, which is also their message, to a wider audience through email, Facebook, Twitter, and word-of-mouth.

My Video & Audio

If you want to build a speaking career, you have to speak. Period.

The most important video for you to have is your “sizzle reel.” A sizzle reel is a collage of you speaking at different venues, that captures 5-15 second sound-bites from your presentations as well as testimonials from audience members.

My first major speech was in high school in 1999, when I got nominated to be ASB vice president and I had to speak in front of 800 students in our gym. I’m sure Bishop O’Dowd has the video archived somewhere. My next major speech was in 2003, in front of 2,000 at my UCLA graduation. This one was recorded, but it’s on a VHS somewhere at my dad’s house. The speech that opened the door for my speaking career was my 2007 Stanford Graduation speech in front of 2,000 people in Memorial Auditorium. In 2007, my intention wasn’t to become a professional speaker, but having that video in that venue has helped tremendously.

You don’t have to wait for a major event to get your video and audio. Today, you can use a webcam. But I do encourage you to always have a handheld camera and small tripod with you whenever you speak. If you can hire a professional film team to do audio and visual for you, even better.

Audio is underrated. But you are there to speak and deliver a message, not just be seen. So make sure that the audio is clear. You can also use your iPhone recorder or another type or recorder to get a better quality audio.

Finally, you want to edit the video. You can do that via iMovie or pay to get it done professionally.

Here’s an example I created here. I have to get a new one made soon.

My Website

Now you need to develop your online presence. This is a place where people can experience you before they make a call or respond to your email. You can see my website at

My website is designed using a hosted version of WordPress. My host is And I found my theme at ThemeForest.

Here are the steps:

  1. Buy your domain name (ie at or
  2. Buy a hosting plan from or
  3. Install WordPress to your domain and host.
  4. Buy a theme at ThemeForest.
  5. Upload your theme to your domain and host.

I have a friend who can do it for you in 48 hours for a fee. Let me know.

The key ingredients of a successful speakers website are as follows:

Homepage: Your homepage should allow someone who has heard about you to get a quick scan of who you are and what you do. On my homepage, I’ve included:

– a one-sentence tagline that explains what I do
– a slider that has visuals of my bio, products, speaking, and other programs
– videos of my first and second best videos and my sizzle reel
– written testimonials
– client logos
– contact information

Headshots: You should have a professional headshot. By professional, I mean not your personal digital camera. You should have something high quality that captures you in great light. Get head shots, waist-up shots, and full-body shots. If you can, also get shots of you speaking to a sizeable audience. These pictures will also be used in your press kit and in the programs of events that you are speaking at.

Topics: It essential to have your speaking topics listed on your website. Each topic should address a specific need that your audience has. Your topic can have a title such as “Achieve Anything in 30 Days” and then the subtitle can address the need such as “How To End Procrastination & Perfectionism Forever.” I also advise that you give a 3-sentence summary of the presentation that outlines the problem and its costs and learning outcomes.

See my topics here.

Videos: As stated before, you have to show results in advance. Video (with audio) is your most important selling tool. It gives people a chance to try you on before they buy you as well as something they can easily share with other decision makers to move the conversation forward.

See my videos page here.

Testimonials:You want to get testimonials from the customer and the consumer. The customer is the person who is buying your services. The consumer is the person who experiences your services. If you are speaking at a high school, the customer is likely an administrator and the consumers are the students.

Video testimonials are best, especially because you can always extract written testimonials from them as well. Given the way presentations end, you will likely need someone else to get those testimonials for you as people leave while you answer questions 1-on-1 after the presentation. You can also stipulate that a representative must give you a video testimonial in your contract.

See my written testimonies here.

See my testimonials video here.

About me:A bio is necessary to tell your story. It is likely that whatever bio is on your website will also be the bio they use to introduce you.

Check out Michael Margolis’ The New About Me ecourse to improve your bio.

Free or Paid Products:It’s great to be able to give a gift right away that allows the customer to access you and your work on a deeper level. A gift could include an exclusive video that isn’t public, an audio download, or a worksheet with instructions.

At the top of my page, you can see an email opt-in form where people can sign up to get four free recordings from my weekly Sunday 9pm EST Higher Call. This becomes lead generation for you because someone has expressed interest in your work.

I also have paid products in my e-courses and books. Real products are an indicator that you really know a lot about what you’re talking about.

When I’m meeting people in person, my books serve as a better business card because they show my value and expertise right away. Anyone can print a business card on

Press Kit: I have a corporate and college press kit which you can download here and here. They are almost the same as my website. None of the content is different. The reason I have them is because:

  1. It focuses primarily on my speaking. They don’t get lost in all of the other content on my site.
  2. Sometimes it is easier for the customer to print this out and show it to their team in a meeting.

You can design this is Microsoft Word or Pages on Mac. If you can, I recommend getting it professionally designed.

My way isn’t necessarily the best way. Check out the websites of the top professional speakers in the world and see if you notice any patterns.

My Business Model & Approach

There are a variety of ways to try to build your speaking business. It’s hard to execute multiple models at once, so you have to find which one or two are best for you and perfect them.

Conference Model: This model involves going to as many conferences as possible and doing keynotes, showcases, ed sessions, panels, or having a booth. The costs of conferences can be high. You have to pay for membership, conference fee, travel, hotel, food, and shipping just to get there. Keynoting and showcasing are best because that usually means being able to address all conference attendees. This is great because all of the attendees may be from different companies and or colleges and landing two deals may make your trip profitable. From there, you have to work hard to connect with and follow up with everyone who expressed interest after your talk. Ed sessions are like keynotes except your audience may be only 10-30 people. Your ed session will be one of many that participants can choose from. Panels are similar to ed sessions except you will likely only get 3-4 chances to speak. And finally, you can have a booth. People will stop by, say hi, and even give you their contact information, but if they don’t see you speak live, your conversion will be extremely low.

E-Product Model: This model involves creating an e-product (i.e. videos, audio program, tools) that goes deeper than your blog content. People have to give you their email address to get access to the content and then you follow up with autoresponders and direct emails to see if you can convert them into a client.

Freemium Model: This model involves doing your first speaking engagement with an organization for free with the understanding that you have a fee and they will explore paying you next time if they find it valuable. Money isn’t the only valuable thing you can get in return for speaking. You may get great video, great testimonials, or a great brand and logo you can use.

Social Media Model: This model involves being super-present online via YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter. Tweets won’t get you speaking engagements, but tweets that lead people back to videos of you speaking will. When you engage social media, always remember the goal—to get people to see you speak in hopes that they are part of an organization that needs your message or method.

Event Model: This model involves you creating and promoting your own events. Tony Robbins and Landmark Education do this. I started out this way in 2009 by leading my Driving School for Life courses in 5 cities. And now, 4-times a year I lead The Innerview training in New York. There are upfront costs of the venue, venue design, and promotion. Promotion or “getting butts in seats” is usually time intensive. Early on, it can be hard to convince people to pay $100+ to learn from you, but if your network and repuation are big enough, it’s worth a try.

My Technology

Below are all of the tools I use to run my business.

Email =
Email Marketing = Aweber
CRM = Google Spreadsheets or Pipedrive or Salesforce
Calendar = Google Calendar
Accounting = Quickbooks
Hosting =
Domain Name =
Website =
Conference Line =
Project Management =

My Sales Process

Here is an example of my sales process.

  1. I speak at a conference.
  2. During my speech, I pass around a sign-up sheet asking for email addresses.
  3. I email them all next week to follow-up with additional tools and resources related to the presentation and ask to chat for 10 minutes.
  4. Some respond. Some don’t.
  5. I take calls and find out what departments or organizations they are connected to that may value my work and the name and contact of a decision maker they know.
  6. I send them my press kit and links to relevant videos they can share with a decision maker at their company or college and requests that they introduce me via email.
  7. I connect with the decision maker via email and then phone.
  8. I tailor one of my presentations and draft a proposal based on the needs I heard on the call and send it as a PDF requesting their feedback (not a decision). I want to set them up for success.
  9. I follow-up every other week until they are in a position to make a decision.

My Contract

Once they agree to your proposal and budget, you should have a standard contract drafted by a lawyer that is fair and protects you. Keep in mind that the engagement is not set until the contract is signed by both parties.

Other Questions

How much should I charge?

You should have a standard fee that accounts for your design time, prep time, travel time, and delivery time as well as the cost of travel, hotel, and food.

If I have a speaking engagement in Atlanta in the evening, I can take a late morning flight from New York, arrive in the afternoon, get to the venue, eat, speak, sleep, and catch the earliest flight back to New York and be home in 24 hours.

So I have to ask myself, how much is a day of time worth? And how much is this trip going to cost me? You can negotiate to have the event promoter cover travel and hotel costs, but then you have to deal with reimbursements, so it may be easier to bake it into your fee and just take care of it yourself.

Whether you’re dealing with corporations, colleges, or non-profits, always know what you “No Number” is. This is a fee that you won’t accept regardless of their story about why they can’t pay you what you want.

Do I need a speaker’s bureau?

There are exclusive and non-exclusive agreements. Non-exclusive means that the bureau only takes credit for what they bring in and you can sign other non-exclusive deals with other bureaus. An exclusive deal means that all of your business comes through a certain bureau, even business that you initiate and they take credit for all of the business.

Most speaker’s bureaus will take 20% of your revenues regardless if they brought in the business or not. They handle all sales, negotiations, and your promotion, but remember that you’re not their only speaker.

Let’s say that you made $40,000 last year on your own. If you did the same work and your bureau brought in nothing, you would have to pay them 20% of $8,000.

If you believed that the speaker’s bureau could help you get from $40,000 to $50,000 meaning that they would take $10,000 and you would be left with $40,000, you would be doing more work for the same amount you could have done on your own.

If you believe that they can help you achieve more than $50,000 in revenues. then it may make sense.

At the end of the day, nobody is going to promote you more or better than you will.

Other Resources

Public Speaking Books
Millionaire Messenger: Make a Difference and a Fortune Sharing Your Advice by Brendon Burchard
Paid to Speak: Best Practices for Building a Successful Speaking Business by National Speakers Association
The Quick and Easy Way to Effective Speaking by Dale Carnegie
Book Yourself Solid: The Fastest, Easiest, and Most Reliable System for Getting More Clients Than You Can Handle Even if You Hate Marketing and Selling by Michael Port
Slide: ology: The Art and Science of Creating Great Presentations by Nancy Duarte
Presentation Zen by Garr Reynolds

Public Speaking Articles

Membership Organizations

College Speaking Showcases

Public Speaking Classes I’ve Taken (on personal storytelling)
See my 7-minute story which was the graduation requirement for the Master Class here (on comedy)
See my 7 minute comdedy set which was our graduation requirement here