Is It Okay to Sell from Stage as a Keynote Speaker?

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Motivational Speaker Kelly Swanson is an award-winning storyteller, author, and comedian who teaches you how to harness the power of your story to connect, engage, and get results. In this blog, Kelly focuses on the business of professional speaking. Kelly’s post day is Friday. If you aren't sure how to comment on this story, click here.

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To sell or not to sell. That is the question.

That’s a hard question for me to answer with a resounding yes or no.  It’s always followed by a “but” and you’re hard pressed to find two speakers who will agree on the subject. It’s something I’ve been thinking about more and more lately, as I see other business models, especially the profit selling model. Profit selling is the type of speaking where you aren’t paid to speak. You’re paid based on how much you sell – making it a sales presentation, not really a “speech”- at least not in the traditional keynote speaking sense. Here you share a cut with the promoter who filled the room (unless you filled it yourself.)

There is no question that people are successful and unsuccessful in both models, and that there are speakers in both camps who take it too far. But it still leaves me wondering.

While I do have products and resources, for years I have chosen NOT to sell from the stage – at least not in a heavy “now I’m going to make an offer” way.  My audiences don’t like it, my clients don’t like it, my bureaus don’t like it, and I really don’t like doing it either. It messes up my speech script (having to add sales language to a carefully scripted show) and it changes the energy in the room. I’ve always had the feeling that as soon as I start “selling” my people lose trust in me and the connection is broken.


If I consider my program valuable, and my presentation to be worth the money they have invested, why wouldn’t I be proud of what else I have to offer?

What if leaving them WITHOUT the resources that will help them apply my truth, is actually a DISSERVICE?


I, personally, HATE it when speakers sell to me during a presentation. That’s when I stop taking notes and head for the restroom.

I do not want to hear what the telemarketer has that will make my life complete.

I hate it when people sell to me on Facebook.


I have bought things that I found out about on Facebook.

I do not feel comfortable with pressuring people to buy based on a strategic sales script that is dependent on them buying fast and now while they’re still excited. It feels manipulative.


I have no problem selling to clients who want to book me to speak. I have no problem scripting language in my marketing that makes my offer appealing.


They contacted me, asking for information.

If I am up there on that stage, encouraging my audience to believe in what they have and to have the courage to ask for what they want, shouldn’t I do it too?

But there must be a reason so many clients want it written in the contract that there will be no selling from the platform.

I haven’t come to any hard and fast conclusions, but I feel that there must be a place somewhere in the middle. Perhaps there is a way to show them what we have without alienating our client and audience, and without having it sound like a pitch. I think I’ll start by putting myself in the place of my audience. How  do they feel? What do they want? After all, we are paid to serve them.

Your thoughts?