If you are a speaker, ask yourself this question. And observe your answers.
If you are confused about both terms, let me tell you, you are not alone. Most often, I see speakers interchangeably using both these terms. Some say they are public speakers, whereas they are professionals. Others mention themselves as professional speakers, whereas they are public speakers.
So, what differentiates a public speaker from a professional speaker?
There are many. Here are the nine prominent differentiators that I have noticed in my career as a professional speaker and an integral part of the Professional Speakers Association, India, as their National Membership Chair in 2020-2021.
Let me elaborate on each one of these for better understanding.
All public speakers may not be professional speakers. All professional speakers are public speakers.
Public speaking is primarily an act of speaking to a live audience. The purpose of public speaking was traditionally set as ‘persuasion’. Therefore, anyone who would want to persuade an audience could be termed as a public speaker. For example, politicians, industry leaders, religious gurus could be public speakers. It may be a need for them to perform public speaking to enhance their primary profession. Speaking may or may not be their primary profession.
Professional speaking is beyond simply speaking in front of a live audience for the sole reason of persuasion. A professional speaker is highly skilled and has deep knowledge in their domain of expertise. Therefore, they choose to adopt speaking as their primary profession. A professional speaker doesn’t have to be a politician, industry leader, or religious guru.
Public Speaking is a need or a hobby. Professional speaking is a profession.
As mentioned above, public speaking is generally an accompaniment for the public speakers’ primary line of work. A public speaker is a speaker because of a need, a hobby, or a side hustle.
However, a professional speaker treats their speaking as a profession. Therefore, they keep upskilling themselves deliberately. These upskilling could be reading, learning, researching, writing, coming up with newer solutions to existing problems and many more.
Public speakers may or may not earn from their performance. Professional speakers do make a living from their performance.
Most public speakers use the art of speaking to gain authority in their primary profession. They use speaking as a tool to increase their influence on the audience. They may or may not directly earn from the ‘act of speaking’.
A professional speaker is treated as an expert in a specific field and generally hired by clients to help send out a particular message to their audiences for a certain fee. Therefore, a professional speaker earns a living from the ‘act of speaking’.
Public speaking is about the art of speaking. Professional speaking is about both the art and business of speaking.
An individual can become a public speaker if s(he) focuses on building speaking skills. I mean that if you happen to be a great orator, you can quickly become a public speaker.
To become a professional speaker, you must focus on both speaking skills and the business of speaking. You need to know how to market yourself as an expert in a respective field, where the clients become eager to hire you and other business skills.
Many speakers miss out on this point. They think if only they master the skill of speaking, they will automatically turn into professional speakers. Alas, that won’t happen. They must put effort into learning the art of marketing and selling their expertise too.
Public speakers mostly speak for a particular cause or some personal gain. Professional speakers mostly talk to solve a specific problem of their clients.
Think of some of the greatest speeches of history. What were they, according to you? Could you share them in the comments? I would love to know your choices of great talks. If your list contains only speeches by great men, here are a few talks by women who made it count too. Michelle Obama at the Democratic National Convention in 2012 speech was high energy, high passion one. Or Meghan Markle’s address on The Magnitude of Individual Action at the UN women in 2015. Or the most recent, the speech by US Vice President Kamala Harris. (well, these may not be precisely historical speeches, however, when was women allowed to speak historically, and who recorded them?).
In most cases, we will remember a speech made by a public speaker more than a professional speaker. Why is that? That’s because public speaking happens on a public platform for a universal cause.
Whereas professional speakers most often speak in a closed setting for their clients, solving a specific problem for them. They have deep expertise in certain areas where the clients need support.
Clients may hesitate to hire public speakers for specific problem-solving. Clients look forward to hiring professional speakers for specific problem-solving.
Most often, public speakers are hired to inspire the audience or persuade them towards a universal cause. They are generally not subject matter experts; hence when it comes to specific problem solving, generally, a professional speaker is preferred.
A professional speaker brings the specific expertise and experience to solve the problem for the client for their audience. Hence, they are not hired for their charisma but more often for their expertise.
Public speakers are primarily generalists. Professional speakers are primarily experts in one or two domains.
Public speakers are most often generalists, or they may choose a cause for their talks. If you see the speech examples above, you will notice that they have a universal issue as a theme. How about your favourite speech? Does it address a specific problem or dwells on a worldly cause?
On the contrary, professional speakers thrive on profound expertise. They focus on studies, research, case studies, personal experiences, and deep learning to build their knowledge on a specific topic. They eventually become the thought leader in their subject of expertise where the whole world looks up to them for their thought leadership.
Most public speakers are 1 mile wide and 1 inch deep in their topics. Professional speakers are mostly 1 inch wide and 1 mile deep in their subjects.
Most public speakers are great orators, and they may be broader than deep when it comes to knowledge about their topics of speeches. They may have an overall understanding of the topic. However, they may lack the ability to deep into the topic.
On the other hand, professional speakers have deep knowledge about a specific topic and can deep dive with the audiences whenever needed because that’s their forte.
Public speakers are asked to speak for free more often than professional speakers. Professional speakers are invited to talk for free less often than public speakers.
Fee happens to be a great differentiator between a public speaker and a professional speaker. Public speakers mostly appear on a platform to speak as an honorary gesture. Most often, their speeches are free of monetary payments. Clients generally expect public speakers to perform for free. Sometimes, public speakers do get an honorarium against their appearance.
Professional speakers are less often asked to appear on a platform for free. Because clients know that it is their profession, they are ready to compensate the professional speakers monetarily. Professional speakers are generally paid a considerable fee for their services.
As you can see, there are quite a few differences between both terms.
Should you wish to be satisfied with your expertise in speaking and how you benefit from this, you must help yourself identify where you stand in your journey. But before that, here are some of the similarities between public speaking and professional speaking.
Both public speaking and professional speaking could be a highly fulfilling choice of work.
Public speaking and professionals speaking both help enhance the authority of the speaker.
Public speakers, as well as professional speakers, are well respected in their circles.
Both public speakers and professional speakers work on making the world a better place.
So, have you found out whether you are a public speaker or a professional speaker? If your answer is a YES, that’s great. I am glad that you are aware of your current situation.
If your answer is a NO, then you may need help in identifying your current situation. Feel free to seek help from someone who is a professional and can help you identify the same. If you would like me to help you with this, here is an opportunity for you to schedule a 30 min one-to-one call with me.
If you know, you are a public speaker and would like to make a move towards becoming a professional speaker, here is a program that can help you do that.
A few books you can read regarding this are How to Become a Global Keynote Speaker by Fredrik Härén, How to Get My First Paid Speaking Gig by Pravin Shekar, Book More Business Make Money Speaking by Lois Creamer.
Go ahead, evaluate yourself and create a growth path for yourself. You deserve it all and more.