How to Get Speaking Engagements

How to Get Speaking Engagements

Public speaking is something that is either incredibly terrifying or incredibly fascinating to most people. Being in front of a group of people presenting is an incredible rush. There’s nothing quite like it. Once most people get a taste of it, they can’t wait to do it again.

For nearly a decade now, I’ve made my living as a full-time professional speaker. I’ve given literally hundreds of presentations for thousands and thousands of people. I’ve spoken to classrooms with a handful of people and in an arena with 13,000 people (which was pretty cool I might add :).

Speaking is a great way to grow your audience or platform. It’s a powerful medium to share an idea or concept. It’s incredible tool for building relationships. And it’s really freakin’ fun. No wonder so many people are fascinated by this topic. So if we all agree that speaking is a great skill to posses for both personal and professional reasons, then comes the question…

How do I actually get booked (and preferably paid) to speak?

Well I’m glad you asked. Let’s start with some foundational questions…

1. Who do you want to speak to?

If you could talk to any audience, who would it be? What is the group of people that gets you excited to speak to? Teenagers? Entrepreneurs? Executives? Moms? Model train enthusiasts? Moms of model train enthusiasts? Who is it that makes you say, “YES…those are my people!”?

2. What do you want to speak about?

So let’s assume you could speak to that ideal audience…what would you say? What would you want to share with them that will enrich their lives, businesses, etc?

Now here’s a little bonus tip: just because you know who you want to talk to and what you want to talk about doesn’t mean someone will actually pay you for it. There are topics that the market will generally pay for and others that they generally won’t. How do you know the difference? Keep reading 🙂

3. What makes you qualified to present on this subject?

Of all the other speakers on the planet who could present on this topic, why you? Perhaps you have a fancy degree on the subject. Maybe you have significant experience. Maybe you have produced serious results with what you want to share.

The good news is you don’t have to have some fancy or lengthy pedigree to be able to speak. You don’t need to have been on Survivor (is that even still on?) or have won the Nobel Peace prize (because that’s on par with being on Survivor :).

I remember this was a concern of mine when I got started. I would do mostly motivational speaking, so people would ask me what my story was. What they were really asking was, “What was the tragic life event you had to overcome that makes you qualified to motivate us today?” 🙂

And the fact is I don’t have any fancy life story. Sure I’ve had a few hiccups in my life that I talk about in my speeches but nothing that is news-worthy or life-altering for most people. And that’s ok. There’s value in just being a really good speaker or being able to eloquently talk about a topic.

Now I understand that you may not know the answers to these questions at this moment. That’s okay. I’ve found the more you speak, the better you’ll be able to answer these questions. But in the meantime, at least come up with some broad answers so we have somewhere to start.

Before we start connecting with decision makers, we want to get a few other foundational marketing pieces in place.

1. Website

Do I really have to tell you this?! In this day and age, a website is your business card. If you’re serious about speaking, you must have a website. If someone is considering hiring you to speak, they will want to do their homework on you and your website is where they will do it. It doesn’t need to be complicated or fancy. Just a few pages to tell how you are, what you talk about, any recommendations or testimonials and a contact page. Really that’s about it.

If you already have a website, then you’re a step ahead. Just make sure your site communicates that you’re a speaker. People won’t think to book you as a speaker if they don’t know you are one. If someone you know was looking for a speaker, would they think of you? Not because of how good or not good you may be, but do they even know speaking is something you offer?

2. Demo Video

Think of a demo video like a movie trailer. You take a 90-minute movie and boil it down to 2-3 minutes of the best stuff. You can watch a trailer and have a pretty good idea what the movie is about and whether or not it’s a fit for you. That’s exactly what your demo video needs to be. It’s just a few short minutes showing highlights from your talk. Just like your website, a demo video is a must. You can tell a potential client you’re really good and that you’d be a good fit for their event, but they’ll want to see it themselves.

But how do you make a demo video if you don’t have any footage of you speaking? Like with anything, you start with what you’ve got. Do you have any speaking engagements coming up? Even just a small workshop, Sunday school class, or boardroom presentation will work. If not, can you find a small environment where you could speak (for free) just so you could film it? Worst case scenario, I’ve seen some demo videos of speakers just talking to an empty room. Now of course you can’t tell that it’s empty. You just need footage of you speaking.

My first demo video was horrible. The footage was grainy and the lighting was bad. You couldn’t hear the audio real well, and I wasn’t even that great of a speaker. I even edited it together on Windows Movie Maker! Why? Because that’s what I had to work with at the time! My demo videos have evolved over time and now my current one was shot and edited by a guy who does video work for Richard Branson, Tony Robbins, and Tim Ferriss. But in the beginning, work with what you’ve got!

3. Testimonials (optional but preferred)

Testimonials provide social proof that you know what you’re doing. Now I know what you’re thinking…”Grant, how do I get testimonials if I’ve never spoke before?!” Glad you asked! You have to start with what you’ve got. Have you given a presentation at a work meeting? Pitched a proposal before? Spoke at a PTA meeting at your kid’s school? Any public speaking experience will work.

Now, think back to who was in the audience that could provide some form of testimonial (side note: the fancier their title, the better). You don’t need them to lie or make up something that didn’t happen. But if you spoke for 10 minutes in a boardroom and someone has a testimony that you were “very well prepared and inspiring in your presentation. The audience was engaged with the talk and hanging on every word.” If that happened and someone will give you a testimonial for it, then use it!

Alright, so at this point, we’ve got our site, demo video and a few testimonials cobbled together. Now it’s time to get after it and start booking some gigs! After you’ve identified who you want to speak to and what you want to speak about, here’s the next big question to ask…

What are the events/conferences my people go to?

When I started my speaking career, I focused primarily on marketing to existing conferences. Why? Because I knew they already booked speakers. I didn’t have to convince an organization who had never hired a speaker that they needed to spend money on me. It’s much easier to get someone to use your service if they’re already used to paying for that service in the first place.

So where do your people gather? Spend some time on Google using related keywords to find conferences, associations, conventions or other gatherings of that audience. Pro Tip: Search by state as well. So for example, instead of just searching for “financial planners conference,” search for “California financial planners conference” or “Tennessee financial planners conference.”

Here’s why that is so important…not only will you discover a whole plethora of other options that exist, but often times, it’s much easier to get booked with state, regional or local conferences than it is with bigger national conferences. So start small in your search.

Once you’ve identified some possible events, then it’s time to find the meeting planner or conference organizer. This is usually on the “about page” or “contact page”. Depending on the size of the conference, there may be a bunch of people to choose from or it may be pretty clear who the decision maker is. That’s the key…we need to find the decision maker.

Here’s where a lot of speakers make a big mistake. We’ve discovered a conference we would LOVE to speak at. We did some searching and identified the decision maker. So what do most speakers do?

Send a ridiculously long email (that will never get read) about how great you are and why they should book you to speak.Please don’t do this! Think of this whole process like dating in the best hookup dating sites. You’ve identified someone that you’re interested in and think there might be potential for a relationship. You don’t send them a cold email proposing marriage. That’s a horrible life decision.

But that’s exactly what we do when we send those ridiculously long email pitches to someone who has no idea who we are.

Instead, here’s what I try to do…

Start A Conversation.

Send them a SHORT email asking about the conference. Preferably something they can answer with a short reply. Here’s an example…

Hey John!

I noticed your “Association of Beautiful Brewing Baristas” conference is coming up in a few months in Seattle. I have a presentation about helping your baristas go from Tall to Venti that I think would be a great fit for your conference!

I was curious if you have started taking proposals for workshop presenters yet?

Thanks John!


Notice what all happened in this email…

  • I did some basic homework to see when and where the conference is. Don’t email them asking when the conference is when it’s plastered all over their site.
  • I didn’t pitch why I would be the perfect speaker…I just offered an idea of what I might be able to speak about. I know what you’re thinking…”But Grant…I don’t have a talk about helping baristas go from Tall to Venti?” Well, they haven’t booked you yet, so you don’t need it. One of the best ways to sell a talk is to presell it. If they reply that they want you to present on that topic, then you can get to work. Now of course, if you throw out a one line topic of a possible presentation, it should be something you can actually present on 🙂
  • It was short and easy to reply to. No long rambling email with an unclear reason for why the email was sent in the first place.
  • I concluded with a clear question that could be answered with a simple yes or no. Easy for the recipient.
  • I included my speaking website at the bottom. I didn’t tell them to go to the site. If they’re interested, they’ll go anyway. When someone new follows you on Twitter, what do you do? You read their short bio and if what they do sounds interesting, you’ll go to their link! You don’t need the bio to tell you to go to the link.

So at this point, all you’re trying to do is build a rapport with the decision maker. Another idea is to research last year’s conference. Who did they have speak? What did those presenters talk about? Do you know any of those speakers? If you’re already in that industry, then hopefully you’ll know a few speakers who have been there before.

If so, it’s a good idea to reach out to them and get some more context on the event. Is the person you emailed about the conference the actual decision maker? Depending on the relationship with your friend, could they give you an intro to the decision maker?

Again, let’s go back to the dating analogy. You see someone you’re kind of interested in, so what do you do? You’re start stalking researching them online! You want to discover who they’re connected to and if you have any mutual friends. I also love this web site for sex toys as they have so many to choose from so can always find something new and hot there.

All of this is about building a relationship and establishing rapport with the decision maker.

Here are a few more tips as you get started with this…

Speaking Engagements

You’ll often speak for free before you speak for a fee

If you’ve never really spoke much and you don’t have a massive platform already, there’s a good chance you won’t get paid the first few times you speak. That’s not to say you’ll never get paid, but to get your foot in the door, you’ll often be speaking for free. Remember, you’re trying to build a relationship with the decision maker, so if you can present an insanely good workshop at their conference for free one year, there’s a better shot at getting paid the next year.

Know what speakers get paid for

Just because you’re an expert on a topic doesn’t mean people will pay for it. There are lots of topics that work well as a free workshop but the event planner wouldn’t pay you to talk about. If you notice, most keynote speakers talk about broad topics that most all the audience can connect with. But the workshops or breakout sessions are generally on more niche subjects that appeal to narrower groups of people. As a general rule, keynote speakers are paid and workshop presenters are not (unless that presenter is a “name” in that space, then maybe).

In the corporation/association world, speakers generally get paid for things that tangibly affect the bottom line. If you can help improve sales, customer service or company morale, you can get paid. If you want to talk about how Quickbooks can make accounting more fun…good luck.

Your best marketing is a great presentation

Marketing for a speaker is telling someone what to think about you until you show up and open your mouth. Someone who is a good marketer but a poor speaker can get booked initially but that won’t last. With any service, you still have to be able to deliver. If you’re good, word travels.

One of the best ways to get booked is to get other people to see you live – Any time I go speak somewhere, I always ask myself who is in the area (or at the conference) that has the potential to book me for something else? I know that if I can get them in the room and deliver a great presentation, there’s a good chance they’ll book me in the future. Why? Look back at the previous point…your best marketing is a great presentation. So make sure you pack the room with potential decision makers!

Here’s one final thing to remember….relationships take time. Getting to speak (and preferably paid) is not an overnight process. It’s a slow growth process that takes time. Don’t rush that process.

But if you’re committed to not only the craft of speaking but also the marketing and hustle it takes to get started, you can become a great (and frequently booked) speaker!

Share this post!

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on pinterest
Share on reddit

Join the Conversation


Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *