First off, check your ego at the door because you won’t get well-paid keynote speaking opportunities immediately and if you happen to have stumbled upon a paid speaking gig your first time out the gate, then you got lucky and don’t expect that to be a trend early on. Getting paid good money to speak is rare and most keynote speakers spend years building up to that point. Sorry to burst your bubble, but practice does make perfect, and you don’t want to blow your big shot by not being prepared. Also, many of professional keynote presenters regret their new found employment a few years into it because they start living in hotels 250+ nights a year saying the same thing over and over. Keynoting takes a toll on most people. However, most of my readers aren’t aiming to become an in-demand, international keynote speaker, they just want to build thought leadership and generate some leads through presenting.
How to Get Speaking Engagements
- Tell People You’re Interested in Speaking – No one will ask you to talk to a group if they think you have no interest in it, especially if they consider you a shy person. (Shy people make great speakers by the way.) Tell you boss, your spouse, your good friends and colleagues that you’re interested in speaking and what topics you want to present. You’ll be surprised just how big your network actually is and most associations are always looking for speakers. Speak up. [Pun intended.]
- Look for Calls for Presentations – If you’re too shy to tell friends and colleagues that you want to present or if you want to double your odds, look for calls for presentations in your trade associations and the organizations that focus on your prospective clients. Most conferences and organizations are not just looking for speakers, they’re looking for new blood and new ideas. Submit a few proposals to speak and learn from your wins and losses just like you would a bid presentation. Debrief the conference organizer asking them what you could have done better to be chosen next time or why they chose you this time so that you can refine your future submittals.
- Improve Your Skills – Besides honing your submittal skills, improve your speaking skills too. I suggest joining groups that give you multiple opportunities to speak such as Toastmasters, BNI, your local chamber, or even a church group. Or you can take a course, such as my SpeakU presentation skills training. (What?I’m proud of it and it works!)
My husband vastly improved not only his presentation skills, but also is comfort level in speaking to audiences older than him by being a Boy Scout trainer when he was just 19 years old. He translated his experience teaching adults camping, backpacking, and wilderness survival skills into talking about website development, brand marketing, design, and other aspects of his profession. Don’t under estimate practicing your craft even when speaking about “unprofessional” topics in a non-business setting.
- Start Local – As I mentioned earlier, don’t expect paid speaking engagements immediately. You should also not set your eyes purely on TED Talks either. Start presenting to local organizations, associations, and other groups to improve your skills and to build your speaking resumé. Many conferences don’t want to risk their program on an unknown speaker.
Also, most of my speaking engagements lead to other speaking engagements. Two months ago, I spoke to an AIA Women in Architecture group after speaking to the local American Business Women’s Association (ABWA) last year, which asked me to speak after a board member saw my speak at a Women in Engineering group the year before that.
Don’t be shy to do local, smaller venues because these association presentations will give you great feedback on how to improve your presentation and provide amazing insights on what they’re really looking for in the calls for presentations at the regional and national levels. Also, they will give you references to use to open the door at those bigger levels too.
- Develop Great Topics & Titles – You need to not only improve your skills and speaking resumé, you need to craft great topics that audiences want to see. You usually do that with great titles. Try a few with different calls for presentations or talking with conference organizers and see what works. You want to speak about topics relevant to your target audience and be the solution to their challenges.
I know in blog writing, many experts suggest spending just as much time developing your blog title as the content of the blog. Presentations don’t need such balance, but you get the drift that your titles (aka headlines) are important. Also, it is more than okay to have multiple titles for the same core presentation. In fact, I always suggest tailoring your presentation to your audience, so changing the title to fit them is not deceptive but ideal.
- Promote the Speaking Engagements You Get – Many new speakers forget to promote that they have an upcoming speaking engagement or they just had a presentation. This promotion is important for multiple reasons: 1) It tells people you want speaking engagements, 2) It positions you as a thought leader, even to people that don’t attend your presentation, 3) It gets more people in the audience of your presentations, which conference organizers love. Regardless the reason why you promote it, the mere act of promoting your speaking engagements will help your speaking career to snowball.
- Market Your Speaking Abilities – Besides promoting upcoming speaking engagements, note the presentations you’ve already done. Add your speaking resumé to your actual resumé, LinkedIn, and your bio. As you build up your list, you will build credibility for prospective clients and conference organizers. When you see a business or product cite “As seen on Shark Tank, Today Show, Huffington Post, etc.” it builds credibility. You need to do the same thing with your speaking engagements to get more from them and to get more of them.
- Take the Big Leap – Don’t settle for the minor leagues forever because it can be tiring creating new presentations and continually swimming in small ponds. Look for calls for presentations to larger, national and international conferences, apply for a TEDx Talk, and occasionally dabble with adding a speakers fee. If you’re used to speaking for free, start asking for travel reimbursement, then ask for that plus $500, and continue to increase your fees until you get told “no” three times in a row.
If you’re unsure where to speak next, just spy on your competitors. See where they talk and offer a better presentation the next year because associations and conferences are always looking for new blood and a new take on their audience’s challenges.
Remember, if you’re new to speaking and do not have much presentation experience, that is okay. Start small and hone your skills and continue to grow your presentation resumé. Don’t get discouraged because along the way, you will meet some great people and you should generate leads and referrals even at smaller, local speaking engagements. A wise person once said, the best journeys start with the first step.
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How Speak Simple Can Help You
Win more work, increasing your billing rate, and prospects coming to you are all results of being an excellent presenter. Erica Olson created Speak Simple to help technical professionals to become comfortable presenting and excel at each presentation, whether a bid presentation or an educational, content marketing presentation. Learn more about Speak Simple’s flagship program is SpeakU, a self-guided presentation training program.