How I First Got Paid to Speak | Allan Kehler

People often ask me how I became a motivational keynote speaker.

Well, please sit back, relax and I will tell you.

My most challenging addiction to recover from was not alcohol, but rather gambling.


Society has identified alcohol as a legitimate addiction for decades, and resources can be found with ease. Gambling on the other hand is constantly glamourized, is not widely recognized as an addiction, and the resources for problem gamblers are sparse in comparison.

After attending my first Gamblers Anonymous meeting in Edmonton it became clear that my fellow problem gamblers had also suffered in silence from their shame.

Shame keeps people quiet, and I became motivated to put a voice to this addiction.

To explore speaking opportunities I turned to google, and searched for organizations that provided resources for problem gamblers in Edmonton. I only found one: Problem Gamblers Resource Network.

The following day I drove to this small non-profit organization. I entered their front door, approached a desk, and asked to speak with the executive director.

Fortunately, he was there, and I found myself shaking hands with an incredible man named Ray.

I briefly shared my story, and told Ray that at the age of 27 I wanted to put both a voice and face to problem gambling. I asked him if he would be willing to hire me so that I could carry my message to society.

To my complete surprise, their organization actually had three speakers who were already entering schools, jails, and treatment centers to raise awareness around problem gambling. A date was set for me to shadow one of these presenters, and then it was my time to shine.

My first presentation was for a small classroom full of energetic teenagers. Despite fighting bronchitis and pneumonia I was determined to deliver the best presentation on gambling those students had ever seen. After a memorable experience with a great group I was rewarded with my first cheque.

I remember staring at that $75 cheque, and being absolutely blown away over the fact that someone would actually pay me to speak about something that I was passionate about. I took a picture of that first cheque, and cherish that image to this day.

That year I delivered close to 70 presentations in a wide variety of venues across Alberta, and felt more alive than I ever had before.

After moving to Saskatchewan, I decided to venture out with my own speaking business.

It was an absolute grind.

At one point, I remember mailing (not e-mailing) 65 personalized letters to various organizations seeing if they were interested in my speaking services.

You know how many I heard from?


I spent every single day searching online for different events where I could deliver my message. Eventually, I received a paid gig for an event in Northern Saskatchewan. And you know how many people were in that audience?


They were in their 70’s, and the kicker was that they both spoke Cree, not English. I stood on that stage for an entire morning while they politely nodded and smiled. It was challenging, but my mind-set was simple. They took the time to listen to me, and I wanted to deliver the best presentation that I was capable of.

Over the next few years I continued to grind away at speaking. To pay the bills I worked as an addictions counselor and college instructor. I travelled the backroads of our great province and got myself onto any stage I could.

By the way, I should mention that I was terrified each and every time that I was about to speak. I would get physically sick before each event, and cannot count how many times I almost turned my car around. However, my passion trumped the fear every time.

Words from an elder also provided comfort. He told me, “The day you get up there and are not nervous is the day you need to turn around and go back home.” I understood exactly what that man meant.

Slowly, my persistence paid off and the speaking business grew over the next few years. Following one event I was driving home, and a phrase from Dr. Wayne Dyer’s audio CD changed my life. 

“Whatever your passion is, I promise you, you can make a living doing it.

I returned home, spoke with my wife, and together we decided that it was time to part ways from my position as an addiction counselor. This would allow more time and energy for marketing my speaking business. With four kids and my wife at home, this was a risk, but the words of Dr. Wayne Dyer were comforting.

I surrounded myself with other professional speakers, learned from the best, and continuously worked on my craft. In time, speaking really took off and I found myself being the featured speaker at various events across the country.

I know where I was.

I know where I am.

And I know where I want to go.

In my travels I meet too many people that work at a place that fails to provide them with passion, meaning, or happiness. I am blessed to do something I am passionate about. Having said that, it required risk, persistence, and faith to get to this point.

Simply put, my career as a professional speaker began my opening my mouth about a topic that I was passionate about.

What is your passion?

What makes you feel alive?

In the words of Dr. Wayne Dyer, I promise you, you can make a living doing it.



“What’s stronger than a broken man who has the courage to rebuild himself? It’s time to redefine what it means to be strong.”

- Allan Kehler