steve gilliland speakingGrammy-Award-winning pop vocal artist Bonnie Raitt sings about people talking, “talkin’ ’bout people,” but Steve Gilliland talks for a living. Not necessarily about people but about himself and his story. And because of that, he is one of the most in-demand and top-rated speakers in the world. Using humor, personal experiences, and his ability to adapt to any audience, this Hall-of-Fame speaker has delivered his inspirational messages to over 250,000 people a year, speaking in 50 states and 15 countries to date. The Pittsburgh native, who didn’t begin speaking professionally until age 39, is the author of four books and the owner of a multimillion-dollar speaking company.

Steve Gilliland will grace the stage in his hometown on April 7 and 8 for our third annual Speaker U Master Series. Although he speaks over 120 times a year, this is the only time that he speaks in person about what he does best . . . speaking. In this exclusive interview, we got a sneak peek of what he plans to teach at Speaker U Master Series this spring.

Advantage: What originally made you want to go into speaking professionally full time?

Steve Gilliland: After attending a Get Motivated Seminar that featured Steve Forbes, Zig Ziglar, and Rick Pitino in the late ’90s, I was unwavering in my desire to be a motivational speaker and travel the world.

A: What do you think is the most common mistake people looking to start a career as a professional speaker make?

SG: I can think of three. First, they believe that their expertise automatically makes them a professional speaker. Second, they are under subsidized and attempt to build a speaking business with no money. Thirdly, they begin without a well-defined starting point and process. Everything is by trial and error, and in some instances, by the guidance of a speaker who gives advice that they have never used to build their own SPEAKING business. Their business model is literally telling other people how to build a SPEAKING business. They have never demonstrated, sustained, or even established a flourishing speaking business.

A: You’ve spoken more than two thousand times so far in your speaking career. What is the most memorable event that you’ve ever spoken at?

SG: Million Dollar Round Table in Atlanta, Georgia, on June 8, 2011. I was the closing keynote speaker on the main stage in front of six thousand people representing twenty-seven countries. I received a five-minute standing ovation.

A: How do you go about balancing being funny with getting your motivational, inspiring message across?

SG: I always use humor to set a tone early and connect with the audience in an authentic and non-instructive manner. Once I have earned their attention, I proceed with a “real-life” message that they can resonate with in their personal and professional life. If a person is laughing, they are listening. If they are listening, they are learning.

A: With over 120 paid speaking engagements a year, you must be a pro at traveling. Can you give us your top three traveling tips?


  •   Apply for TSA Pre-Check.
  •   Pack light, and never check your luggage.
  •   Carry extra copies of your book, and give them out on the plane.

A: How have your books influenced your speaking business?

SG: My books are my…

  •   business card
  •   core-marketing item
  •   credibility
  •   surplus revenue stream that has paid for my marketing and promotion to build my speaking business

A: What is your process? Once someone books you to speak at their event, what steps do you go through to deliver your best content?

SG: I learn everything I can about the client, audience, event, and how my message will best meet their needs. I want my content to matter to them and hit their mark.

A: You’ve won many awards for speaking. Which award were you most surprised to receive? Why?

SG: Being named one of the Top 10 Motivational Speakers in 2015 by eSpeakers. They had nine thousand candidates to choose from, and they honored me by putting me on that exclusive list.

A: What is your #1 secret to successfully marketing yourself as a speaker?

SG: I remind myself that quality is the entry fee required to play in the sandbox. A successful speaking business requires strong, consistent sales and marketing. Earning a livelihood as a speaker requires hard work and hustle. Professional speaking is not a passion. It is not a calling. It is a business, and the most successful among us treat it like one.

A: You are the keynote speaker at our third annual Speaker U Masters Series. What session are you most excited to present to the attendees? Why?

SG: End of Target PracticeI am eager to share the steps necessary to being the source a meeting planner needs a speaker to be, not the source the speaker wants to be. It isn’t about the speaker or their self-proclaimed “this-will-change-your-life” message. When speakers finally understand who to target and how to target them, they will begin to get booked more often.

A: If you could transfer one ideal that you speak about into the head and heart of every person in the world, what would it be?

SG: Decide what’s important and never take it for granted.

To learn more from Steve Gilliland, register for the 2016 Speaker U Master Series in Pittsburgh from Wednesday, April 6 to Friday, April 8. If you register before February 29, you can attend the Pittsburgh Pirates game on Wednesday, April 6 at PNC Park with the Speaker U group at no cost!  

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