A professional speaker doesn't just speak once: but rather as often as they can arrange. Whether you're using speaking to promote a service you offer your clients or you're paid directly for your talks, it's important to build a steady stream of speaking gigs.
It's best to avoid running after each gig individually, at least in the long run. When you're just starting out as a speaker, it makes sense to cherry-pick the speaking opportunities you have access to. But to build a speaking career, especially if it's part of a strategy to promote your larger career, you can't afford the time to contact every single organization that you could possibly speak in front of. You need a system that brings speaking opportunities to your attention, quickly and easily. Then you can submit proposals to the appropriate organizations.
The strategies below assume a certain level of ability as a speaker. Before pursuing them, make sure that you've got great examples of your speaking already available, and that you've built a reputation as a great speaker.
1. Create a Speaker's Page
Choose where your page will be located. Whether as a part of your larger site or as a standalone website, a speaker's page will lay out what you offer to event planners. If you choose to incorporate your speaker's page into a larger site, it should typically be part of your personal site, as opposed to a business site. After all, your business isn't going to get up on stage and give a talk on its own. Chris Brogan's speaking page, while violating that last rule, is one of the best examples of a good speaker's page out there.
Testimonials are explicit proof, with quotes by people who are willing to put their name to a statement about your speaking skills.
Incorporate examples of your public speaking into your speaker's page. You should be collecting clips of each talk you give, if not a video of the entire talk. Offer several different examples that visitors to your site can look at, preferably showing a variety of different talks you've given.
Offer social proof of your abilities as a speaker. Social proof is, simply put, other people sharing how awesome they think you are. If you refer back to Brogan's speaker page, you can see two different types of social proof: testimonials and past events he's spoken at. Testimonials are explicit proof, with quotes by people who are willing to put their name to a statement about your speaking skills. A list of where you've spoken in the past is less obvious, but having a list of different events that were happy to have you will make you seem more trustworthy.
List specific talks you're available to give. While some events are more interested in having a speaker give an entirely original speech, the reality is that many professional speakers give similar talks or even identical talks. There's a market for speakers who can be relied on to talk about material that is guaranteed to interest a particular audience. So write up a few of the talks that you give on a regular basis so that event planners know they're available.
Create a contact form for your site. While you can also list other ways for people to reach you, a contact form can help you to gather more information about the speaking gigs you're offered in advance. That can let you decide if they're even worth pursuing early on in the process.
2. Sign Up for the Industry Standard System
Find out how event planners working with your preferred niche usually find speakers, beyond looking at their own address books. There are speakers' bureaus for just about every specialty, as well as some broader organizations. For instance, the American Program Bureau is known for providing keynote speakers — big names or headliners, while NASA has its own speaker bureau for space topics.
Research the application requirements for two or three of the speakers' bureaus most likely to put you in front of the right event planners. Unless you're already a well-known speaker, you'll likely need to do some work to meet their requirements. Some speakers' bureaus expect members to have already written a book — but that's usually the most time-intensive process that you could be expected to go through.
Line up all of your application materials before you apply. You want to look like a no-brainer to any bureau you might apply to. Only when you've got an outstanding application should you apply.
Get on the mailing lists for industry events. Newsletters and blogs are where most events are initially announced these days; if you aren't subscribed, you aren't hearing about them. Many organizations will also send out their initial calls for speakers through their organizational mailing lists.
3. Connect with Event Planners
Create a profile of the organizations you want to speak to. While you may have a very clear idea of what audiences you want to reach, you also need to understand who's really buying your speaking services (whether or not you're paid directly).
The event organizer choosing speakers for a conference or the HR manager arranging for workshops is the key decision maker who you need to win over. You need to identify that person and understand how to reach them: what sites do they read, which shows do they watch and so on.
The event organizer choosing speakers for a conference or the HR manager arranging for workshops is the key decision maker who you need to win over.
Build a list of individuals who fit that profile. Go through LinkedIn, blogs, forums and anywhere else you can think of that your target market would be spending time. As you find them, look for opportunities to connect. You want these people to be your friends.
Stay in touch. Once you've made an initial connection, you have to build on your success. If you just get an introduction to an event planner and she files away your business card, the odds aren't great that she'll remember you next time she has a good fit for you. Make a schedule to help you stay in touch with the people who can regularly bring you speaking opportunities.
Ask about events your contacts are planning. You don't need to be pushy about the process, but just checking in and seeing what's new on a regular basis can be enough. Even if an event planner doesn't have something for you, she might need a favor that you can supply. A few little favors, like an introduction to another speaker, can convince an event planner that she needs to find a way to help you.
4. Hack Your Proposal Strategy
Create reusable information for each speaking proposal you'll submit. Your bio, for instance, is unlikely to change from event to event. You may be able to give similar talks at numerous events. Just by having such information ready to go, you can breeze through the proposal process, submitting several talks in the amount of time it used to take you to do just one.
Create a written list of criteria for events you want to speak at. You should be able to tell at a glance whether an event is going to be a good fit, and so should anyone helping you. Think in terms of topic, but also consider factors like location. How far are you really willing to travel for an event? Since your willingness may vary with the size of an event, consider creating a rubric that will help you to decide between multiple factors.
Bring on help when finding events and submitting speaking proposals starts taking up too much of your time. A virtual assistant, or even a local assistant, can handle repetitive work, like scanning through newsletters for events or filling out proposal forms. You do need to make sure that you're working with someone who will make you look good — communication skills are of the utmost importance in work like this.
Hire a publicist. There are certain publicists who specialize in helping speakers build their careers. If you feel that your speaking career isn't ramping up fast enough, an experienced publicist can help. It isn't a necessary step, of course, but it is an option that many public speakers have made use of.
Your Inbox is About to Fill with Speaking Opportunities
Unless you're devoting yourself full-time to landing speaking opportunities, you're probably not going to immediately have a chance to talk to an audience every day of the week. But by following the strategies above, you'll have started to systematically attract speaking gigs.