There are several ways to start getting paid to speak. Typically, you should begin by pitching to local companies, organizations that hold regional conferences, or via continuing education courses in your area, like those held by Learning Annex, colleges, or professional associations. This relieves you of the risks of investing time and money in trying to attract attendees to your own seminars right off the bat and gives you the experience you need to move up to being booked into national venues by speakers' bureaus.
Be sure to put a copyright notice on your handouts, to remind everyone that this is not material that they should expect to be allowed to photocopy and mass-distribute to their associates, customers, and friends.
You can also become involved in multiple chambers of commerce to network for leads. Or join a chapter of Toastmasters, which can provide not only help in perfecting your presentation, but connections that may lead to paid speaking engagements.
If you have a topic of interest to a particular industry, you may want to start out by talking at a luncheon for no fee, while giving attendees a handout with information about in-depth training or your consulting services. You can then expand this two-step process to industries with similar business issues and to their suppliers.
You may be able to convince a company to sponsor a seminar that will appeal to its customers. For example, a do-it-yourself store may believe your speech about color compatibility and home design will stimulate sales and will certainly be appreciated by customers as a free service from the store.
During questions and answers, pass around a form to get feedback about your speech. Did you cover everything they wanted addressed? How would they rate your presentation in terms of new information? From the standpoint of applying your recommendations? Would they be interested in knowing more about the subject?
Offer to customize material for a group for an additional amount. Study the organization's documents and Web site and interview leaders to understand its history, special interests, and problems, which can be incorporated into your standard presentation, workbook, and handout. You can also collect anecdotes of experiences that provide cases to illustrate your themes. It should take surprisingly little time to tweak the basic presentation and make it much more valuable to a specific audience.
Find out from the nearest convention center and key hotels what organizations are booking meetings there, as far in advance as possible. Then approach those groups and offer to speak, especially if you can give the topic a local twist (an overview of the local industry and business opportunities; a review of unusual museums they may want to visit while in town; the history of the women's movement in your state).
Offer an incentive at every speech for people to give you their business cards or to sign up on your mailing list that is being passed around. Be sure to include a space for e-mail address. You might offer a drawing for a free night at a local hotel or an article about the ten most important tips for a related topic you did not cover in detail (at a basic real estate seminar, you might offer further information on buying foreclosures).