How to Get Speaking Engagements (10 Tips) 

I spoke at Alt Summit in early March. Alt (short for Altitude) Summit is a conference and community for female entrepreneurs in creative fields. I spent my birthday month in sunny Palm Springs sharing book marketing strategies and teaching attendees how to be their own publicists.

Speaking is a great way to build credibility, position yourself as an authority in your industry, and a way to get more eyes on your business. By having some gigs under my belt, I’m excited to contribute my voice to the speaking world. 

Due to the global pandemic that’s going on right now, convening in large groups has come to a complete halt and many of the highly anticipated conferences have been cancelled this year. But that doesn’t mean you can’t use this time to prepare for your first (or next) speaking gig until the dust settles. So, if you’ve ever felt stuck, or wondered how to get booked, I’m breaking down what I’ve learned in these 10 tips.

First things first: Start with what you want to be known for in your industry.

Your personal brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room. What 3 things do you want people to associate you with when they hear your name? What do you have knowledge or expertise in that you wouldn’t mind sharing on a larger platform? Once you have the answers to those questions, look at your field(s) of interest and see where the gaps are. Make sure you’re tailoring your pitch/proposal to fulfill the need.

Make a Wish List of places where you want to speak. Look at people in your industry. Where are they speaking? This will help you get a sense of what kind of opportunities are available in your market (if there are limited options, think about creating your own event!). Where do YOU want to speak? Look up those conferences, companies, organizations, etc. and find out who the event organizer is. They might list it on their site. If not, email the general email, let them know that you are a speaker who is interested in being a part of their programming, and you’d like to be directed to the event organizer. 

PRO TIP #1: If the conference/company/organization has a mailing list you can sign up for, sign up. If they’re on social media, follow them. A lot of conferences will do a call for speakers, so subscribe and follow to be the first to know when they make the announcement. 

PRO TIP #2: Most event organizers start planning their programming at least 6 months to a year prior to the event date, so make sure you factor in that timeframe when you start pitching. It‘s helpful to use a spreadsheet (or some other organizational tool) to keep track of your outreach.

Craft your talk and pitch. You should have 2-3 signature topics on deck. Your signature topics should include:

  • Name of your talk
  • Duration of the talk
  • A description of the talk and who it’s meant for (e.g., colleges/universities, organizations, a specific group of professionals, etc.)
  • 3-5 key takeaways attendees will learn after your talk

Link to previous talks you’ve done, if applicable. If you don’t have footage yet, don’t worry about it. Keep in mind that you want to start collecting visual collateral as you go.

This probably goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway: make sure your talks are in alignment with the objectives and subject matter of the conference/organization/etc. It has to be the right fit. Make sure you do your homework before you reach out.

PRO TIP: Have your hi-res photos, bio (short and long form), and relevant links ready. Make it easy for people to download your media by including a Dropbox link (or your file sharing tool of choice).

  1. Don’t run away from free opportunities. Speaking for free isn’t always bad. Especially when you’re just starting out, you want to practice and build momentum. Some free opportunities can turn into paid ones - you never know who’s in the room. You could always bring items to sell if you’re a product or service-based business. But use your discernment when event organizers do not have the budget and they want you to speak for free. You could limit your free gigs to once a month, quarter, year, etc. To get your feet wet, you can go to your alma mater, a local nonprofit, libraries, and leverage those opportunities (think about getting pictures, videos, and testimonials) for paid ones.
  1. Hire a photographer and/or videographer. It’s always good to have content and visual proof that you are a speaker. In this digital era, how will people know you’re available for speaking or that you are a speaker if they don’t ever SEE you doing it? You don’t have to hire both every time you have a gig, but I would consider having at least one with you. If it’s not in your budget to hire out, smartphones can be just as effective. The key here is to collect the content, and show proof that you’re doing what you claim to be, and you’re good at it. When you’re first starting out, you want to build your portfolio, and if you’re already seasoned, it’s always good for your audience to see what you’re up to and be able to follow your journey. Having a videographer at your talks is great so you can start accumulating content for your speaker reel and collecting testimonials. We’ll talk about testimonials a little later.
  1. Have a way to stay in contact with attendees. You should be thinking about building your mailing list and staying in contact with attendees after the event is over. There are solutions out there that make it easy for you to do this right on stage, like Textiful*, a text marketing tool where you can ask people to text a certain code to a designated number, collect their contact info, and then deliver something of value (e.g., worksheets, PDFs, checklists, your slides, or whatever you think your audience would find useful). There are also free email marketing solutions like Mailchimp that easily integrate with Textiful when people sign up (not sponsored - I just use both of these tools and love them).

*I use Textiful whenever I have speaking engagements. You can use this referral link and get a 300 credit when you create an account! It’s so helpful.

  1. Ask for testimonials. It’s one thing to toot your own horn, but it’s more effective when others do the raving for you. It gives event organizers confidence that you will wow their audience. At the end of your talk, ask for people to share their experience with hearing you speak, they’re key takeaways, and why more people should hear from you. If you can get video testimonials (as opposed to written ones) - GET THEM. Video is shared 20xs more than any other content and it builds trust quicker than any other form of content. When people trust you, they’ll be more willing to pay you. 

And when you get those testimonials - post them! Show people those who have endorsed your brilliance. Here are two examples of video testimonials that I’ve used to pitch myself for other opportunities. 

This one is from a workshop I hosted at the University of Southern California last year (shot and edited by Kawai Matthews):

And here’s one from Alt Summit 2020 (shot by Alahna Lark, edited by Preston Ayers):

  1. Use social media. This one goes with #7. Social media is a powerful tool. Repurpose the content you gathered from your talk and post it! You never know who is watching. Oh, and don’t forget to dust off your LinkedIn profile and start using it - especially if you’re looking for corporate gigs.
  1. Leave room for engagement after your talk. This is the time to connect with attendees on a human level. Incorporate some time for Q&A - either during your talk, after your talk, or both. See where it fits best and interact with your audience. Ask open-ended questions. Be sure to include them in the conversation - it shouldn’t feel like a boring lecture. Some attendees may not feel comfortable asking their questions in front of the group and might want to talk to you 1:1 after. Be present and answer their questions thoughtfully.
  1. Trust your voice and just start. It has got to be the most agonizing feeling to just sit on the sidelines and watch people doing the things you want to do. You were placed on this Earth to serve a specific group of people who were meant to hear the message from you, in a way that only you can deliver it. It’s time you get out of your own way and just START.