How to Snag Speaking Engagements

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That’s me speaking at Ole Miss at an athletic department staff meeting in April 2015 on the current state of intercollegiate athletics

Public speaking can be a great way to establish yourself as an expert in your field, but the opportunities don’t always just fall into your lap. So, how do you find speaking engagements?

Over the last six years, I’ve averaged about a dozen speaking engagements per year. I started out in college classrooms, and now I’m regularly paid to speak to groups that number in the hundreds. I’ve spoken at universities, law firms, corporate events and more.

I often work with clients who want to become visible experts, and I teach them the same system I used to build my profile as a public speaker. I’ve used my public speaking platform to sell my book, establish my personal brand and even to make money. And you can do it too.

Choose a topic

I began public speaking as a way to gain credibility and increase my exposure while I was writing my first book. The publisher suggested it as a way to create a “platform” for myself that I could later use to sell my book. That made topic selection easy – I went with the same subject as my book.

Deciding on your topic can feel daunting, but it shouldn’t. It’s as easy as deciding what you want to be known for and then narrowing it down to a topic you can cover in one hour. Your early speeches may be shorter than this, but I always start by developing a one-hour speech and then trimming it down as needed.

In the beginning, keep it simple. Choose a topic you know well enough you can develop a one-hour speech with very little research. Sticking to something you know like the back of your hand will improve your confidence when you’re standing in front of a room full of strangers.

Identify potential speaking opportunities

This is where most people get stuck. You know what you want to speak about, but you have no idea who would give you the opportunity to speak.

My first instinct was to find a college class nearby that was related to my topic. I did a little research and found a class at a college in my city. A little more digging, and I found the class schedule with the professor listed. I simply emailed her, introduced myself and my topic and asked if she ever had guest lecturers in her class. She almost immediately invited me to come speak in her class. I’ve found that professors are generally happy to give up lesson planning for a day.

Not all topics are ideal for college classrooms, so here are some other ideas for groups that frequently host speakers:

  • Rotary clubs
  • Optimist International clubs
  • Local chapters of trade associations

Clubs like these meet with such regularity that they’re constantly in search of new speakers so they don’t have to fall back on someone they’ve heard several times previously. And I’ve found the best part about speaking to these types of groups is that there’s often someone in the audience who invites you to come speak to another group to which they belong.

Write your pitch email

Once you’ve identified some potential targets, it’s time to write your pitch email. Many of my clients are reluctant to engage in self-promotion, but just think of it as marketing for your personal brand. That’s what visible experts are after all – simply people who have established a personal brand.

What should the email say? Here’s the basic formula:

  • Introduce yourself and your area of expertise (and don’t be afraid to call yourself an expert)
  • Inquire as to whether they host guest speakers (if you weren’t able to deduce that from your research)
  • Express your interest in being a guest speaker at a future meeting
  • Tease your topic in a sentence or two and then list off a few bullets about what the audience will learn or take away from your speech

If you’ve spoken somewhere previously, try to get a recommendation from the organizer and include a quote that speaks to your presence as a speaker. If you’re not speaking to a trade organization or other group focused on a single subject area, you’ll find people are far more interested in bringing in an engaging speaker than they are about your topic. As long as they believe you can make it interesting, they’ll be open to putting you on their schedule.

How to turn one speaking engagement into many

Once you have that first speaking engagement, your work has just begun. Beyond preparing for the speech, you also need to leverage this opportunity so that it brings more opportunities.

How do you do that?

Promote your speaking engagement. If it’s an open event, invite friends, family and colleagues to attend. But more importantly, promote your speaking engagement online. Mention it on all of your social media channels. If it’s open to the public, share it multiple times leading up to the event to invite others to attend.

Even if it’s not an open event, you still want to share publicly that you’re speaking at this meeting or event. Instead of inviting people, you simply share that you’re excited to be speaking at ABC event about XYZ topic.

Why is this important?

Because once people know you’re interested in public speaking, they can invite you to speak at their events. You never know who follows you that might have been tasked with finding a speaker for their corporate event or local chapter meeting.

Conservatively, I’d say 80% of my speaking engagements have come from people who’ve read my blog or followed me on social media. I always post about my speaking engagement in the days leading up to it, share photos from the event or meeting and then post again to say thank you to the group for inviting me. Quite often that leads another group to reach out and ask me how they can book me in the future.

Don’t worry about getting listed in directories of speakers or other online resources. Focus on the steps I set forth here, and you’ll be booking speaking engagements in no time.

Do you need some help becoming a more visible expert in your field? Check out my small group publicity program meant specifically for budding experts like yourself.

Kristi Dosh
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