Cathleen Fillmore was terrified the first time she was invited to speak at a conference. While she is no longer terrified, she admits that she is nervous virtually every time she speaks, and she has given hundreds of speeches. Being nervous is natural; she doesn’t let that stop her, as invariably once she gets started, the nervousness goes away. In this month’s SkillBites Show, Cathleen shared her insights into overcoming the fear of speaking as well as how to get speaking engagements.

Cathleen is the owner of Speakers Gold and a top marketing consultant to professional speakers. Her clients include owners of global businesses, NY Times best-selling authors, speakers in the Hall of Fame and a couple of reformed rascals. Cathleen is also the founder and past President of the Atlantic branch of the Canadian Association for Professional Speakers, and she has written five books.

Authors have an advantage when they speak, explained Cathleen, since authors have honed their message in their book, and have something valuable to say. If they have persevered with getting their book done, they undoubtedly are passionate about their message, which will captivate the audience.

One tip she had for getting over the fear of speaking is to keep in mind that the speech is not about the speaker but about the message, and the value to the members of the audience. Another is to practice, practice, practice. The more one can practice the speech, the more comfortable one will be during the speech. Particularly helpful is video’ing one’s practice session, to observe how well you come across. It is also beneficial to practice in front of others, to get their feedback and to gain confidence in speaking. Cathleen took some speaking lessons which helped her overcome her speaking anxiety, gave her confidence and taught her some tips that make her a more effective speaker.

The first step in the journey to becoming a speaker is to develop your value proposition: why would an audience want to hear your speech? Then you need to work on developing a good title, and create your marketing materials, such as a website and a video. The video should be 2 minutes or less and show that you are articulate and can engage an audience. While you don’t have to hire a professional videographer to help you with this, the more professional your video is, the more likely it is that you will get hired and can command a larger fee.

Regarding a speaker’s fee, it’s fine to start off not charging, so you can get some opportunities to speak and some feedback. When you have several good testimonials about your speaking, it’s time to start charging. Interestingly, if you charge too little, you may not get hired; so don’t be insecure about starting out asking for $3500 or higher.

Some of the best places to seek speaking engagements are trade associations. Select some associations that have members who are in your target audience and whose members would benefit from hearing your presentation. Go to their monthly meetings. Find out who the program developer is, and call them to find out about speaking at one of their meetings.

Other entities that look for speakers are government agencies and corporations. Again, find out who selects speakers, when their next event is, when they make decisions, what the theme of the event is, what information they would like you to provide and other pertinent information. It may take 20 or more calls to land a speaking gig, but it will happen if you have patience, you are persistent and you follow-up.

As the former chair of a speakers bureau, Cathleen counsels not to join a speakers bureau until you have spoken several times and are getting speaking engagements at the $5,000 level or higher. Speakers bureaus won’t recommend you until you reach that level.

Cathleen shows people how to market themselves and helps them develop a strategy for getting more paid speaking opportunities. To see if she can help you, she is offering a complimentary consultation. Email her at, and put Judy in the subject line.