Speaking engagements are a gold mine for opportunity and growth.
Whether you’re an author, entrepreneur, or business builder, landing a speaking gig puts you at the forefront of growth.
Not only can speaking engagements get your message in front of hundreds or even thousands of people, but they can also grow your platform, authority, and strategic partnerships.
Related: How to Become an Author
Speaking at events can either be terrifying or exciting, depending who you ask, but one thing is for certain:
Speaking gigs are one of the most powerful mediums for sharing your message and impacting lives.
In this guide, we'll break down just exactly how you can find and book speaking engagements.
Here are the steps to find and book speaking opportunities:
- Identify your target audience
- Craft your perfect hook
- Find speaking opportunities
- Reach out for speaking engagements
- Nail your introduction call
- Decide on the speaking engagement
Free VS Paid Speaking Opportunities
Of course you want to land paid speaking engagements. That’s the dream, right?
But if you’re just starting out as a speaker, you might have to crawl before you walk.
Reality check: It’s very common for the speaker to pay to speak at events when first starting out.
Basically, you become an “event sponsor” which can include the opportunity to speak at the event.
And while, yes, it’s not ideal to have to pay to speak, the benefits of having booked your first few speaking gigs this way will pay off. You’ll still get the speaking experience, and added credibility that will equip you for paid gigs later on.
Don’t get me wrong – it’s definitely possible to land paid speaking opportunities as a first-time speaker. But it’s not very common.
Most people don’t get booked to speak on paid stages until they’ve built up some momentum as a speaker, such as experience, an in-demand message that people will pay to hear, and credibility in the field or industry.
To land paid speaking opportunities, you’ll need these 3 things:
#1 – Experience
The best way to nail your speaking gig is to have experience. Events and conferences want to know that you will deliver, especially if they are paying you. It also gives you social proof to be able to say, “I spoke at X, Y, and Z last year.”
Here’s how to get more experience:
- Volunteer to speak at small events and on podcasts
- Sponsor an event and pay to speak on the stage
- Leverage social media lives to gain experience with your delivery
#2 – Worthy Message
Not only should your message be fully crafted and perfected, but it should be worth paying for. You’ll need to communicate the value in your message, and why event managers should pay you to share it with their audience.
Here’s how to ensure your message is worth paying for:
- Make sure your hook is captivating and unique
- Tackle your subject in a creative or new way that gets people thinking
- Craft your message around solving a specific problem and presenting a mind-blowing solution
#3 – Credibility
Event planners are looking for industry experts that their audience can trust and rely on, so if you’re lacking authority on your subject, you’ll need to position yourself as an expert using the experience you do have.
It boils down to this: Why should they listen to you, and better yet, why should they pay to listen to you?
Being able to answer that question is crucial in landing paid speaking gigs.
Here’s how to get more credibility:
- Write a book. You knew this was coming! But really, what better way to show off your expertise than by saying you’re the author of a book on the subject. By sharing that you wrote a book, people will instantly view you as an authority on the topic. And just think – how many public speakers are authors? A LOT!
- Re-position your experience. Tailor your education, career background, and personal history in a way that positions yourself as an expert. Similar to creating a resume tailored to a specific job, shifting your experience in a way that positions you as an expert is effective. I’m not suggesting you lie about your experience or make anything up, but rather that you highlight specific experiences.
- Get featured. Reach out to publications, social media groups, and even online blog communities to start leveraging new audiences and building industry authority. For example, you can contribute a guest blog within your niche and get featured on different websites that hold authority with your target audience.
Once you have a solid understanding of what it takes to land a speaking gig, it’s time to move on to the first step in finding speaking engagements.
Step #1 – Identify your target audience
First, you need to know your target audience.
Your target audience for speaking engagements is the group of people who need to hear your message. These are the people who you are helping, and the people you want to reach.
For example, if you’re a motivational speaker for educators, you’ll want to identify common characteristics of your target audience. What age groups and subjects do they usually teach? Where do they live? What are their beliefs? What problems do they face? What do they need to hear?
Of course, you should be focusing on the general characteristics of your audience – granular details that don’t apply to the majority of your audience aren’t necessary!
Knowing your audience will be key in crafting an effective talk that resonates, which we’ll cover more on in the next topic.
Once you have a solid understanding of your target audience, you need to start asking yourself the question.
Where can I find my target audience?
Being able to answer this question is crucial, because it’ll help you identify which events, conferences, and networking opportunities to look into as you search for possible speaking engagements.
Related: Best Writers Conferences
Step #2 – Craft your perfect hook
You’ll capture your audience's attention with a compelling hook, so it’s important to come up with an effective one.
The more compelling your hook is, the more you’ll get people to pay attention, which is why it’s crucial that you master this before reaching out for speaking engagements.
The more attention-grabbing your hook is, the easier it will be to book speaking opportunities.
Start thinking of potential hooks to use, and focus on what makes your story interesting. Why should people care?
Your hook should be no longer than a headline. It’s the first statement that really hooks your target audience, leading them into your talk.
Some common angles for effective hooks are:
- Feel-good Story. Think of an experience or moment that makes people feel warm and fuzzy.
- Timely. Think of what’s relevant in the world today, and how your topic fits in.
- Groundbreaking. Think of fresh, never-heard-before angles.
- Shock, Awe, or Controversy. Think of something that’s taboo or that many people disagree with.
- Hero’s Journey. Think of the little person who rises up and defeats all odds.
Remember: Constantly ask yourself, “Why should they care?” This will help you craft an amazing hook that elicits emotional response and really speaks to your target audience.
Step #3 – Find potential speaking opportunities
Alright, now that you have some captivating hook ideas created, it’s time to narrow in and find potential speaking opportunities.
First, you’re going to compile a list of potential speaking gigs, then later we’ll narrow it down and select which engagements to pursue.
The bigger your list is, the more opportunities you can choose from.
For the purpose of this step, let’s go through each potential area of opportunity.
#1 – Network to find speaking gigs
Tap into your networking circle. Think of past or current clients, colleagues, or strategic partners that can fit here. Dive into your email list and see who you can add to this list.
Have you been on any previous stages? Add those to this list, too.
Think of anyone you know in your circle that either has connections, or might have connections, for you to consider. You’ll be surprised who knows who!
Really deep dive and think about any customers, donors, subscribers, raving fans, mastermind groups, past stages, social networks, board members, associations you’re a part of, professional clubs, online groups or forums, bloggers, podcasters, authors, and other experts you know.
Here’s how to find potential speaking gigs in your network:
- Brainstorm any possible connections you have in your network.
- Add anyone you can think of that might have an opportunity to your list.
#2 – Cold speaking engagements
Hopefully, you have a sizable list to start with from the previous step. Now it’s time to supercharge those opportunities and do some cold research to build on your list even more.
Cold research is done when you do not have any prior relationship with the event organizer and haven’t spoken on the stage before.
The main way to find a cold stage is through online search, and in today’s day and age, this step is easier than ever.
Here are the top resources to find cold speaking engagements:
- National Organizations. Do a Google search of “national organizations” + your industry/niche to quickly find organizations related to your topic.
- Narrow Google Search. Determine your search criteria with:
- Types and Names of Stages
- Niches & Industries
- Example: |Chiropractic| conferences| in San Diego|
- Social Media. LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are good sources to research potential stages. Try using hashtags like #conference, #speaker #eventplanner #motivationalspeaker #organizations #keynotes.
- Online Conference Directories. Websites such as www.allconferences.com and/or www.eventsinamerica.com are extremely helpful in locating upcoming events.
- Local Groups. Leverage in-person networking groups to take advantage of potential speaking engagement opportunities. Groups like www.meetup.com and www.eventbrite.com are useful.
Now that you’ve compiled a list of potential opportunities both in your own network, and outside of your network, it’s time to start the outreach process!
Step #4 – Reach out and follow up
It’s time to put your list to use and start your outreach process. Are you ready?
First, it’s important to note that you will be tailoring your outreach and follow-up process depending on WHO you are reaching out to.
Is it someone in your inner circle that you’ve already met? Or is it an event manager of a conference you cold researched?
Your outreach process will depend on your answer, so we’ll cover each!
#1 – Reach out to your network
Stage leads from your network, either directly or through references, are great because you can make an instant connection with the meeting planner or decision maker.
Consider who you are reaching out to, and decide which medium to use for your reach out. The common options to reach out are via text, Facebook, LinkedIn, or email.
Regardless of what you use, make sure your message has the following information below.
How to reach out for speaking engagements referred by your network:
- Use a direct subject line that talks about the opportunity of you and them working together. Ex: Self-Publishing School at Chirofest
- In the first line two lines, explain who you are and why they should care (if you were referred through your network)
- In the next line, explain why you believe you should speak at or sponsor their stage
- Add a call-to-action to hop on a short 15 minute call
- Ask for a time that works for them. Try to coordinate a time that works within the next 48 hours.
- Add a P.S. with a punch of credibility. Example: “Here’s a link to my recent TedX Talk…”
- Hit send!
- Once they respond, confirm the time and send over any instructions/details about the call (like Zoom meeting ID, phone number, etc.)
Once you reach out to everyone on your networking list, move on to your cold outreaches.
#2 – Reach out to cold-researched stages
Cold-researched events are also great options and can be a win-win for the event planner or stage manager of the speaking opportunity, and yourself as the speaker.
When reaching out to cold researched events, it is important to remember that event planners have 3 main problems:
- They need to fill their event (aka sell tickets)
- They need provide amazing content that solves a problem for their audience
- They need to cover their overhead / make revenue from the event through means other than ticket sales (sponsorship revenue, back-end sales revenue, etc)
With that said, first, you NEED to make sure that you cover at least one of those pains in your initial outreach.
Second, remember that with an initial outreach, you are not selling the event planner on having you speak on their stage – you are selling them on getting on the phone with you for a 15-minute call.
How to reach out for speaking engagements that you cold researched:
- Direct subject line that talks about the opportunity of you and them working together. Ex: Partnership Opportunity
- In the first line two lines, explain who you are and why they should care (hit on one of the 3 pain points above)
- In the next line, explain why you believe that would be a good fit for their stage, and what your ideal scenario would look like.
- End with a CTA to book a short 15 minute call or an opened ended question asking if they have completely filled their speaking slots (this really works)
- Add a P.S. with Chandler Bolt’s TedX talk to add credibility
#3 – Master the follow up
People get busy. Event planners, stage managers, and conference coordinators are usually juggling several moving parts, which means you may not get a response the first time you reach out.
Or, maybe they aren’t that busy, and just chose not to respond.
Relax – there’s a reason we say, “The money is in the follow-up.”
You should follow-up until you get a response.
Most event planners will eventually respond, even if they are not interested.
These are common reasons why you did not get a response:
- Your message is not relevant for them right now
- You are not talking to the right person
- You are not using the right medium (Facebook vs. email vs. text)
Once you understand these common reasons, it’s time to address each of them in your follow-up.
This means that your follow-up response should:
- Reach out to different people in the organization and ask to be directed to the correct person. Maybe the person you thought was in charge of the event’s speakers actually has nothing to do with that responsibility.
- Switch up the copy. Maybe your subject line didn’t catch their eyes. Maybe your message didn’t make it clear enough what you wanted from them.
- Try multiple mediums. Maybe that Facebook message you sent wasn’t read because the event’s social media coordinator didn’t relay the message. Or maybe the person you reached out to doesn’t sign in to LinkedIn.
Step #5 – Nail your intro call
You’ve done your research, followed up with all the right people, and now you’re scheduled for an introduction call. What now?
Before you hop on the call, you need to be clear on your goals first. What do you want to accomplish with this call?
Hint: The goal is NOT to just pitch your hook to land a speaking engagement.
The goals of this intro call are to…
- Familiarize yourself with the meeting planner, and get a better understanding of their goals and challenges,
- Gather logistical information around the stage, and
- Offer a solution that involves you speaking and/ or sponsoring at their event
So, how do you accomplish those goals in the span of a short 15-20 minute call? Through this tightly structured phone call script, which should happen in three stages.
Here is the format to follow during your speaking engagement call:
- Introductions and rapport building. Ask questions to get to know them, such as where they are from. Then, introduce yourself and everyone on the call. Give them context to understand what your company does and what your role in the company is.
- Discover their goals. Thank them for their time. Then, briefly give some context around the call and why you are reaching out to them. Then, ask for a quick overview of the top projects/goals they are working towards over the next few months.
- Give an overview and propose partnerships. Provide a quick summary of specific projects you’re working on that lend themselves to partnership opportunities. Briefly state your top goals, and what value you provide. Then, provide your content sponsorship pitch.
If it’s a fit, hash out the initial details and required next steps, then send a recap email with a summary of the call.
Tips for your recap email:
- Send it immediately after the phone call, less than 3 hours after the call takes place.
- Include all clear next steps and agreed-upon criteria, along with the names of people that are responsible for those items.
- Recap everything that was discussed, specifically note dates, numbers, and the names of all people involved.
- CC all relevant parties.
- If there are any other details to hash out, reference them here.
Step #6 – Decide on the speaking engagement
Once you’ve done all of your outreaches and follow-ups, you will hopefully have a good sense of which speaking gigs are the best fit for both parties.
You should know that not every stage is going to be a yes – and that’s okay!
When in doubt, make data-driven decisions.
Don’t worry – this is a good problem to have! It means you can be selective, and choose only the speaking engagements that get you the most return on your investment.
Tip: Make a list of non-negotiables to help you sift through your decisions.
For example, maybe you want to talk at conferences that have at least 200 people in the audience, or that give you a time slot to speak for at least 45 minutes.
Once you’re set on your non-negotiables, you can quickly go through and decline any stages that don’t fit your requirements.
Speaking Engagement Success
Congratulations! By this stage, you should have some solid speaking opportunities penciled in.
Now it’s time to nail that talk!
Research the audience of the event, and tailor your talk to fit their specific needs.
If done right, more speaking engagement opportunities will be lining up at the door, and event planners will be begging you to keynote their next conference.
Just remember, to nail your talk, you must be always willing to evaluate your message, and whether or not it’s resonating with the audience you are trying to reach.
Go back to the drawing board, keep a learner’s mindset, and always opt to over-deliver on value.
Do those things, and you’ll be well on your way to knock any speaking engagement out of the park!