Want to Land Speaking Engagements? HereÕs How

Whether you’re just getting started as a speaker, or are looking to take your speaking career to the next level—whether you’re a paid speaker or an unpaid speaker (or both)—you need to understand the tricks of the speaking trade, and what you need to do to get off your chair and out onto the stage more frequently.

Many people are unaware that the vast majority of speaking engagements are not paid engagements. How can this by, you ask? Why would anyone give up their time and provide an audience useful knowledge and not get paid for it? Let’s first look at the two primary types of speakers:


  • Keynote or Featured Speakers—Keynoters and featured speakers are usually paid for a solo, highlighted presentation, often to kick off an event. They might land these gigs because they have experience speaking, have a topic of great interest to many people, or have a “name brand.” Typically, keynote speakers have published a book that connects and augments their brand. These speakers consider themselves “professional speakers.” Keynoters are heavily promoted by the event to draw in attendees.
  • Subject/Expert Speakers—Subject matter expert speakers are often consultants or other experts in a wide variety of subjects, such as IT, human resources, leadership, law, etc., who can speak to associations or companies. Organizers are sometimes willing to pay for a longer format than a 45-60 minutes presentation, like a workshop. These solo speakers and panelists are not interested in speaking as an income sources. Rather, these subject matter experts are usually trying to grow a non-speaking business, such as consulting or similar professional service. They look to speaking as a great way to build awareness for their business and personal brand, so doing free gigs can be a good business strategy.

A third type of speaker might be called a “hybrid.” These speakers usually get paid to speak, but are occasionally willing to speak for free if the audience is comprised of people who could hire the speaker for their own event or for their consulting services.

It’s important to keep in mind that most events have a policy of not paying speakers other than the keynote speaker, and possibly one or two featured speakers. It would be unaffordable for them to do otherwise.

Now let’s focus primarily on the unpaid engagements, and how to get them. Speaking is a great way to expose your expertise to prospective customers and clients. Conferences, seminars and forums held by event organizations, associations, professional and industry trade groups and academic institutions all offer the opportunity to reach people you might not be able to through traditional advertising and promotion.

Speaking often results in the attainment of business by providing increased awareness of you and your company to an audience of potential customers or clients. Presentations about industry trends or “how-to” talks can make a large impact on the audience.

Speaking opportunities represent a strong marketing, public relations and business development tool because:

  • Attendees get to learn about your expertise firsthand and can interact directly with you immediately before or after your presentation. An attendee asking for a business card can be the first step to obtaining a customer. The media in attendance also present opportunities for added exposure.
  • Speaking can increase your visibility in vertical/industry sectors or broad-based areas that you have targeted for greater exposure.
  • You gain “advertising” by having your name and your company’s name published in the agenda seen by hundreds or even thousands of people online.

What should you be doing to get out on the speaking circuit? Follow these six steps:

  • Create high-impact presentations. Audiences want to acquire actionable information they can take back to their organizations. They don’t want to hear that your firm is a leader in this or that subject area. A solid, informative presentation that is purely educational and does not promote a product, service or your business will create instant credibility and obviate the need for a “sales pitch.” A presentation that turns out to be a sales pitch will ensure low evaluations by the audience and one-way ticket home from the meeting organizer.
  • Target the right audience. Thoroughly research the events for which you can propose yourself as a speaker, as a solo presenter or as a panelist. Identify speaking engagements whose audiences represent the customers and industries your organization wants to reach. While you’re talking to the organizer, you can find out if they pay for any presentations and, if so, what format (ex: perhaps they pay the keynote speaker but not the speakers delivering workshops).
  • Develop a proactive speaker placement program. Getting speaking gigs takes a lot of effort. It’s fine to evaluate unsolicited speaking opportunities if you’re lucky enough to receive them. However, having someone—yourself included—dedicated to the task who will aggressively identify opportunities, develop relationships with event organizers and write and submit speaker proposals, should lead to an increase in the frequency of speaking engagements.
  • Decide on he geographic area to target for speaking engagements. Whether it’s locally, regionally, nationally or even internationally.
  • Learn the process for submitting a speaker proposal to the event organizer. Take care to follow the process for submitting a proposal, which usually includes writing a presentation abstract, submitting your bio and speaking expertise and, of course, meeting the proposal deadline date. Make sure you tailor the abstract and bio to each speaking opportunity so that they fit the objectives of the audience.
  • Follow up continuously and persistently with the event organizer. This will help you stay above the noise, since you’ll often be competing with many, many others for the same speaking slots.

By developing an effective speaker placement program for yourself, you’ve taken a big step in the right direction… and maybe start on the road to becoming a paid speaker.

© 2018, Steve Markman

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Steve Markman

Steve Markman

Steve Markman is founder and president of Markman Speaker Management, LLC, a speakers bureau established in 1994. Markman Speaker is used by both speakers and users of speakers—companies, associations, conference organizations and nonprofits. Mr. Markman also coaches speakers on how to attain speaking engagements. Contact him at smarkman@markmanspeaker.com or (781) 444-7500. Learn more at www.markmanspeaker.com.

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