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What It Takes to Drive Home a Paid Speaking Gig

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This post is part of a series called Leveraging Public Speaking for Your Business.
What Should You Be Speaking About?
What You Need to Know to Improve Your Public Speaking

It's easy enough to land a speaking gig: every organization in your city wants a speaker to come in every once in a while. But that's not the same as driving home a paid speaking gig.

To actually receive payment, beyond travel expenses or an event ticket, requires a different approach. You need to be more targeted, at the very least, in order to get paid for your talks.

There Has to Be a Budget

The biggest mistake new speakers make when trying to land a paid speaking gig is to approach organizations or events that just don't have a budget for paid speakers. If there isn't money, it's rare that they can magically come up with some just to bring on a new speaker.

Before you even think of approaching an organization with a proposal, you need to do some digging. Have they paid speakers in the past? Is there a budget available for upcoming events? Like any other business, success lies in knowing who has the money and what they're prepared to spend it on.

If you're having a hard time finding out if there's a budget, take a look at the level of event being put on: a small, organizational meeting is far less likely to have a budget than a large corporation putting on an annual event. There aren't any strict rules; some events (like conferences) will include a mix of paid and unpaid speakers). But making an educated guess can at least reduce the time you might otherwise waste on pitching event planners who can't afford you.

Knowing who has the money, however, isn't enough to guarantee you a gig. It's just the start.

You Have to Be Worth Paying For

If an event planner visits your website, can she immediately tell that you're an excellent speaker and that everyone who hears you talk loves you? Can she tell that you have something new and interesting to say? Can she tell you're available for speaking gigs, at a price, and willing to travel? The answer to all of these questions has to be yes. Furthermore, your website is just the starting point of your marketing efforts.

The people who hire paid speakers for conferences and other events base their decisions on past performance.

Until the right people can clearly tell that you're available, it's a lot harder to land a paid speaking gig, or even an unpaid opportunity. If you're relying on your professional site for another career to get you speaking opportunities, make sure that you at least have a page devoted to speaking. List your availability for paid work, as well — otherwise, an event planner may contact you assuming that they can get you to speak for free.

You also need to make your niche clear. There is likely a specific type of audiences who you best connect with and who you have something crucial to tell. It's practically impossible to land a speaking gig if you're trying to be an expert in a wide variety of fields at once, so narrow things down. Be obvious about telling event planners your niche, so there can't be any mistakes.

The people who hire paid speakers for conferences and other events base their decisions on past performance. That's why you may see the same speakers over and over again in certain circles. You need to be able to show these people a professional speaker's reel, with examples of past talks you've given. That can require investing time in some unpaid speaking gigs and some money in developing a professional reel.

It can take some time to build a reputation as a great speaker. It's like every other profession in that regard. If you need to sink some resources into building up your appeal as a speaker, do so before spending any resources on trying to land paid speaking gigs.

It's All About the Network

Like landing any other type of work, having the right network is crucial to a speaker. You need to invest time in networking with the right people: event planners, conference organizers and the like are usually the decision makers when it comes to lining up speakers. However, if you're looking to offer a very specialized type of public speaking, like motivational talks at colleges, you might be looking at a different group of people to network with. Either way, you need to identify the people who can offer you speaking opportunities.

You’ll want to build as much of a relationship as possible before you send in a proposal for a particular event.

On a broad level, you need to have a long list of connections in the industry who will actively recommend you, as well as call you up with a paid gig every so often. That means attending their meetings and events, as well as plugging into their communities online. Treat event planners and other decision makers like clients — that's what they really are. You need to reach out to them to build the right connections to land work.

If you take that logic down to a narrower view, you'll need to make a point to connect with the right individuals. You'll want to build as much of a relationship as possible before you send in a proposal for a particular event. Provided you can focus your energies on the right people (the ones with budgets, remember?), there's no reason not to reach out to them directly. Attend the same events, read their blogs, connect on social media: you can often build a solid relationship without ever sending a cold call or email.

You can even prove to an event planner that you're an amazing speaker before ever asking her about a specific opportunity. Since you should only be approaching those people who are likely to want speakers in your specific niche, you're in a position to offer anyone local a taste of your work ahead of time. Since you'll likely wind up taking some unpaid speaking gigs in order to establish yourself, why not invite an event planner or two to each talk you give? They'll be able to see you in action and you may have done them a favor if it's an event they wouldn't have gone to otherwise.

Play the Speaker's Game

There are directories of speakers, as well as bureaus that help line up speakers for particular types of events. There's a fair amount of debate about how effective these platforms are for actually landing paid speaking opportunities. But even if someone hiring speakers doesn't actually find you through such platforms, they may use such tools to gather more information. Essentially, making use of such tools can help establish you as a professional. Since it's possible that someone can find you online and won't have a clear idea of your reliability, your inclusion in the proper directories or organizations can make you more trustworthy.

While you don't need to be a member of every website out there that promises to help you land speaking gigs, it's worth picking a few to help cement your status as a top-notch speaker. Do the research to find out what sources are considered reliable in your niche and sign up with those sites.

Make a point of asking anyone who hires you about what convinced them to do so, as well as for any other feedback you can. That information can be invaluable at the end of the year when you're deciding whether to renew your listing in a particular directory or your membership in an organization.

Never Stop Marketing

Speaking is one of those professions that requires you to regularly fill the marketing tank; otherwise, people can forget about you. Appearing as a speaker isn't enough to guarantee that you can keep landing more paying gigs. Event planners want to make sure that every event they organize is unique. That doesn't mean they can't have the same speakers over and over again, but those speakers need to be saying new things.

It's common for speakers to pair their work with writing: articles, books and anything else that can get your name out there will do double-duty. It can convince the people you've worked with in the past that you have something new to share, as well as get your name in front of people. To be an effective speaker, you have to be an expert, so make use of that fact.

Keep a close eye on the rest of your marketing, as well. Keep updating your website and your speaking reel on a fairly regular basis. Maintain your relationships with your network and build new ones. Keep pushing to make sure that you know who needs a speaker and how much they can pay. The time that you can invest in your speaking career will pay off.

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