In the second episode of Business Banter by SkillsLab’s Jack Kosakowski, we speak with Tim Sanders where he shares his wisdom and story of how he became a world-renowned keynote speaker.

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With tough competition at large, most top performers find it difficult to have more than one career at the same time.

That’s precisely why Tim Sanders is in a different league altogether.

Tim is a proven all-rounder who’s effortlessly excelling in a variety of top leadership roles.

He’s the former Chief Solutions Officer at Yahoo, a New York Times bestselling author, a successful CEO, and a top keynote speaker on the circuit.

Tim is also a go-to expert on topics like modern leadership, financial services, technology services, HCM, and innovation.

A hardcore technology guy at heart, he started in the mobile phone industry during the mid-80s. Tim also worked with Mark Cuban at the beginning of the Internet movement.

… and today, Tim is planning to give away some precious wisdom around his remarkable success as a global keynote speaker.

He is going to talk about the right moves that catapulted him to the speaker circuit, and how he manages his time with a thriving speaking business and a successful consulting company. Here is a quick synopsis packed with game-changing takeaways.

Is it possible to be a renowned keynote speaker while running a successful company?

With 800 keynotes in 17 years, Tim has proven that it can be done. In fact, most renowned speakers hold respectful professional positions, and this is why they’re highly paid.

Most keynote speakers are not brought in because they can put butts in seats. They’re brought in because of their background and expertise. So if you’re aspiring to be a renowned speaker, you need to focus on the presentation. The research you carry out should reflect in your words, and it should have a business impact on the audience.

For instance, Tim speaks about the subject of innovation which is relevant for organizations that are slow to respond to disruption. The senior execs in those firms see the value of listening to him and apply the key action points.

For a budding speaker, it all comes down to building a story about why you’re worth a certain amount. You need to have a market that you serve, and you have to go for that market very aggressively.

The speaking fee always depends on multiple factors, but mostly on the perceived value of your time. So it’s a definite advantage if the speaker holds a key position in a company. They can bring real-world experience to their speeches.

Let’s take Gary Vaynerchuk as an example. He has the ability to put butts in seats. Since he brings in unique star power to the entire event, Gary is an influencer, celebrity, and an entrepreneur, all rolled into one – a perfect example of a complete package.

Speaking at TED Talks will help

TED talks are an important launching point. If you do the right TEDx and then TED talks pick it up, you get an instant boost in reputation. TEDx is an excellent platform for everybody who aspires to be an influential keynote speaker.

Having said that, most committees behind these TEDs are super picky about your backstory. Usually, the narrative should be based on something you would know, and only you can prove. Embrace your uniqueness (because that’s the secret sauce!)

Credibility matters

When Tim wrote, “Love is the killer app,” he never really thought it is going to bring him so much credibility. Fact is, anything that invokes credibility, be it a TED talk went viral, a book that everybody talked about, or being on a known reality show is good for your speaking career.

All these boosters create a perception that you have a certain degree of a real-world footprint. This perception leads to an incoming demand at the speaker level and acts as a catalyst for launching your speaking career.

Should you speak for free?

At times it’s suitable for exposure and even networking. You can also test your ideas in front of an audience. However, at the end of the day, it all comes down to choice and integrity. It depends upon your goals.

A professional speaker spends an enormous amount of time on each event. It can take up to one week to prepare for a speech or presentation of 45 minutes. So it would be best if you manage your free gigs, and make sure they’re taking you in a forward direction.

People don’t want to pay for you to gain the momentum; they want to pay for you after you’ve gained the momentum. However, these free gigs offer you a variety of experiences. That’s precisely the reason why Tim decided early on to do a lot of free gigs as a PR move, and that gave him the chops.

Is there a downside of being a keynote speaker?

There is much travel involved, and you might develop a few health issues. Also, if you happen to own a company along with multiple speaking engagements, it becomes quite challenging to manage the hectic life. Your mind and body start taking a toll.

Second, if you have a sick day and you don’t appear, the agents will find somebody else. There is no scope for laziness. Since there is a new TED talker born every week, you can be out of business in minutes. If you bomb at a gig, and it goes viral, nobody would want to book a gig with you. So there is a lot of pressure.

Third, there is always a speaker who is better paid, better liked, more appreciated than you. You have to live with that. There’s always somebody bigger. There is still going to be somebody else you wish you had what they had.

All that being said, it’s extremely gratifying to know that you can share your life’s work, and make a measurable difference. If you look at it from that point of view, the sacrifice is worth it. But, you’d have to earn the respect of the audience each time.

On personal branding

In the speaking business, your promotional material, content marketing assets, and videos need to be high-quality. You simply can’t produce shady videos that you’ve probably shot in your home, and then expect to get significant speaking engagements from those.

The art of self-promotion is always about quality. Clean, clutter-free, and resourceful videos should be your lifeblood. The audience should feel the need to share and comment on every video. You might have to work with an expert to develop a style that works for you.

To become sustainable for a long time, you have to make the investments in good self-promotion. Widen your audience base with educational and insightful messaging that leads the audience back to your value proposition.


If you feel that you were born to share your ideas with people, and you want to make it a livelihood, being a world-class keynote speaker is the right field for you. However, you should be prepared to work at your craft, every single day.

When organizers or companies are trying to select a good speaker for the event, they are almost always comparing between two (or more) outstanding candidates. It’s almost like a shootout. It would help if you were mentally prepared for the battle.

That’s why for long term success, you’d have to keep improving your content and finding new ways to gauge the audience reaction so you can become better at every event. What you need is the willingness to do the hard yards yourself – to create a profile that will skyrocket your speaking career now, and for years to come.

Okay. It’s your turn.

What do you think of the tips above?

Or, maybe you have a question.

Let us know by leaving a comment below.


Jack is known for leading the charge in sales innovation. He has a proven track record of working with top organizations to help them integrate social into their traditional sales process.

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