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How to Land Your First Speaking Gig

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This post is part of a series called Leveraging Public Speaking for Your Business.
How to Keep a Steady Stream of Speaking Gigs Coming In
Using Speaking to Market the Products and Services You Sell

In this tutorial, you'll learn how to land your very first speaking gig, before you have any experience speaking in public. It's an approach that can get you more than just one speaking gig, so that you can get on your way to establishing a speaking career.

Come up with the perfect idea for your presentation, target your audience with your message, pitch your ideas to event organizers, utilize time-saving techniques, track responses, and get speeding towards touching down your first speaking gig.


1. Brainstorm a Topic Idea

Step 1

Come up with as many ideas as you would feel comfortable talking about as possible. Keep a list of your ideas — you may want to refer back to them later. I choose to create a document or note, containing the ideas that I come up with, so they're easy to reference. Even if you choose to brainstorm on paper or on a white board, digitize your ideas after you come up with them.

You may have a lot of ideas, but the talks you give, especially when you’re first starting out, should match up with your goals outside of public speaking.

Step 2

Narrow down your topics to those that make sense inside what you're trying to sell or any other impact that you hope to have. You may have a lot of ideas, but the talks you give, especially when you're first starting out, should match up with your goals outside of public speaking.

Step 3

Choose a specific idea to focus on. If you're having trouble narrowing down the field, look at which topics you're going to have a unique perspective on — what you can talk about that no one else can effectively cover. It can also make sense to choose a topic that is easy to present on; nothing too emotional or research-intensive. But you want to have something concrete to pitch to event organizers: something that will get them interested.

Step 4

Finalize your idea. While you may wind up shifting your actual topic depending on where you wind up speaking, it's important to know what you're pitching before you start contacting people. Even if you have to write out the details, make sure that you can discuss what you're offering with the organizer of any event you hope to speak at.

2. List Audiences You Want to Reach

Step 1

Just giving talks to anyone who will listen won't let you reach people who can take action on what you're saying. You're likely trying to promote a specific product or service, so write out who will be likely to buy what you're selling and what types of organizations they might belong to. Creates a list of audiences you want to reach.

Step 2

Research events and organizations that cater to the audiences you want to reach. Rather than trying to turn on an audience that may only be a little interested in your work, focus on groups that are going to get things right off the bat. If you're not closely connected to your audience and don't know how they choose talks to attend, do some research.

You can look into the following:

  • What links are promoted on forums or social media groups catering to that audience?
  • What conferences do other professionals in your line of work speak at?
  • What blogs do members of your audience read? And what events do those blogs promote and review?
  • What professional organizations cater to your audience? Do those organizations have meetings or other events?

Step 3

Narrow down your list to less than five events that you think you would be a good fit for. Double-check if those events accept outside speakers. Depending on the type of event you're looking at, it may be worthwhile to attend another event organized by the same people. When you're first starting out, smaller groups are likely to be your best bet, especially those that tend to have a local speaker address each individual group meeting they hold.

Step 4

Write out why you appeal to those audiences you are trying to reach. You're almost certainly going to be asked why you're a good fit for the audience — what you can do for them, rather than what they can do for you. So, get ahead of the game and put together an explanation.

3. Find a Point of Contact for Each Event or Organization

Step 1

For some organizations, it's immediately clear who is in charge of lining up speakers for their events — the organizational website may say so explicitly. If not, however, you may need to do some research into who is in a leadership position. Sites like LinkedIn are invaluable for this purpose. Search for names associated with specific organizations.

Step 2

Find a useful contact method for reaching each contact you find. I prefer using email, especially if I can't find a mutual acquaintance who can connect us. You may have to build on a social media connection to get a more direct contact method.

4. Compose a Cold Email Template

Step 1

Write out your pitch to speak to a given audience. Since it can take several tries to land your first speaking opportunity, write a general email that you can easily customize for each organization you approach. Alternately, if you have phone numbers for each contact who you want to pitch your talk to, consider a phone script. Refer to the explanation you've already written about why your topic is relevant.

Get feedback on your pitch before you send it out. While you may not have access to an event organizer who chooses speakers, you likely have access to someone in your core audience.

Step 2

Get feedback on your pitch before you send it out. While you may not have access to an event organizer who chooses speakers, you likely have access to someone in your core audience. Run your pitch past that person to make sure that you're offering something interesting.

Step 3

Customize your template for each of the five or fewer organizations that you wish to contact in your first go. Double-check that you've got each name right, along with any other relevant details. You don't want your email to actually look like a template — you want anyone who receives it to know that you've researched them and their organization thoroughly.

5. Contact Organizers and Track Responses

Step 1

Send out your emails. As you send each email, make a note of the date you sent it. I use a spreadsheet for all of my pitches, so that I can see their status at a glance.

Step 2

As each response comes in, positive or negative, make a note of it in your spreadsheet. If there's any additional feedback beyond a 'no,' it's worth tracking that information and acting on it, as well.

Step 3

Follow up with any positive responses to schedule your talk. Make the process as easy as possible on the organizer you're working with, so they have a good reason to recommend you as a speaker.

Step 4

If you don't get a 'yes', go back to your list of organizations and events. Choose a few more to contact. Rejection can be frustrating, but you have to keep at it. Eventually you'll get a positive response.

6. Tweak Your Talk to the Event

Step 1

In most cases, you'll find that you need to tweak your talk a little for the audience you end up speaking to — at least until you have more extensive public speaking experience. Adjust your topic idea so that it fits.

Practice your presentation to the point you could give it in your sleep.

Step 2

Prepare your presentation. You'll likely need to put together both what your audience is going to look at and what you're going to say to them. Practice your presentation to the point you could give it in your sleep.

Step 3

Ask for feedback. One of the best options you may have access to is the organizer of the event you're speaking at — but such people tend to be busy. If you can't get feedback on your presentation from an event organizer, consider finding a few people who might fall into your target market: ask them to listen to you practice your presentation.


Leveraging Your Speaking Gig

By following the tutorial above, you'll land your first speaking gig — the start to a career that integrates speaking with the other creative work you do. You'll be able to use speaking to amp up your marketing,

Once you've given your first talk, you'll be able to follow the same cycle repeatedly to land more speaking gigs. Eventually, if you give great speeches and you market yourself as a speaker, event organizers may start coming to you, letting you slow down on finding your own opportunities. Until then, though, keep chasing speaking opportunities.

Graphic credit: Some rights reserved by talrevivo.

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