Home > Articles > Business & Management > Personal Development

  • Print
  • + Share This
This chapter is from the book

Identify Speaking Opportunities

You'll start your speaking career by giving basic talks about your niche. They'll be to small audiences, they'll be local, and they'll most likely be free. That's because you're going to talk to local business groups, local fraternal organizations, and even small seminars for your local chamber of commerce and give them a basic overview of what you know.

You need to be greedy about these small, free opportunities. Get as many as you can. Get your name and your face in front of as many people as you can by calling business groups, attending their meetings, asking for speaking opportunities.

As you become involved with the business groups and chambers of commerce, you're bound to catch someone's attention in an area, someone who may serve on the board of a trade group or industry association, nonprofit, or conference organizer.

When you meet this person, pursue your own opportunities, don't wait for them to come to you. Ask the organizers and board members if they have speaking opportunities you could do. You can find a lot of speaking gigs this way.

That's because many of these people have a need, or will have, to find a speaker for their upcoming events. They may need to find someone to talk about your particular topic, or they may just need a speaker to fill a slot in three months. But they know that they are going to need to fill that spot, and that means asking their friends and colleagues for recommendations, putting the word out to group members, and working the phones and their contact list until they find someone.

And here you come, charging in on your white horse, shouting, "I'll save the day! I'll be your speaker for your next event."


What is it with you and shouting today?



By offering to fill the speaking slot, you're helping the organizer with a big problem. Not only will you get the speaking slot, the organizer will remember you. And when the organizer is asked by her contacts if she knows any good speakers, she'll recommend the one who bailed her out of a jam several months ago by approaching her first.

Industry Groups

Industry group events are great places to speak, because you can focus your niche to such laser-like specificity, you would be surprised. We have been to conferences in which the presentations and sessions have been so esoteric, so far out, we were surprised people even came up with the ideas, let alone found a roomful of people interested enough to sit through it for an hour. But, that's the great thing about social media and the Internet: You can find a niche that interests you and then find other people who share your interests.

While some industry groups are national, many others are local. Figure out your chosen specialty area, and then see if there is a group in your area that focuses on it. It could be technical writing, visual artists, corporate travel planners, heating and cooling contractors, or left-handed actuarial scientists.

Your goal for speaking to these local groups is twofold: 1) to find new clients. Remember, if you show people how smart you are, they'll hire you to do a project for them or come work for them; and, 2) to find new, bigger speaking engagements. Small speaking gigs lead to larger ones, so speak to industry groups on a local level, because they can lead to national speaking opportunities down the road.

Once you make your name on the local scene in your specialty, take the leap into the national scene, and try to get a speaking slot at the national conference. Check out the conference's website, find the Call For Speakers section, and submit a proposal.

You don't have to limit yourself to just speaking to industry groups you're involved in. If your topic fits outside a single industry, go for it. Just make sure your chosen subject will somehow fit within what that group is already doing, even if it's a cross-over topic. In fact, a cross-over topic will sometimes be a bigger draw than the traditional topics you usually find at an industry conference. For example, HR professionals are probably sick to death of hearing about the latest EEO hiring requirements but would love to hear a seminar on how to use Facebook for recruiting and hiring.

Table 10.1 has a list of a few cross-over suggestions.

Table 10.1. Possible Cross-Over Groups and Topics

Your Specialty

Cross-Over Industry Group

Cross-Over Topic

Tax law

Chamber of Commerce

Taxes for small businesses

Trade show displays

American Marketing Association

Pre-trade show promotion

Technical writing

Startup companies

Proper software documentation

Web designer

High school teachers

Creating a class website


Visual artists

How to market art

Direct mail


Save money on fund-raising

Financial planning

High school business teachers

Financial planning for teens

Cost reduction analyst

Office managers

Cutting office expenditures

Health insurance

Human resources pros

Saving employee benefit costs

Rather than focusing your specialty on your own industry group, find other "allied" groups that might benefit from your talk.

If there's not a particular industry group in your area, or you live in a smaller area, find one that's within driving distance and make the trip.

Remember, stand-up comics are willing to drive 2 hours just for a 5-minute set, so you should be willing to drive at least 3 hours to deliver a 1-hour talk. And although it's good to get paid, don't expect to make big money when you're starting out. (But it doesn't hurt to ask for travel expenses for those multihour trips.)

Civic Groups

If you think of industry groups as a B2B (business-to-business) audience, think of civic groups as a B2C (business-to-consumer) audience. You're not going to get as in depth with a topic with civic groups as you would with industry groups. For example, instead of talking about tax law for small businesses, you may end up talking to a group of Shriners about the personal tax implications of using those little cars and scooters for parades. Or, instead of talking about financial planning for young professionals, you may end up talking to a fraternity's national conference about how to pay off college debt in five years.

The two best places to find civic groups are the Yellow Pages and the Internet. In fact, unless you're attached to your Yellow Pages, you can head straight for the Internet. Do a Google search for the civic groups you're interested in talking to, or just do a generic search for "civic groups" in your area, and then check their website and see if they have any lunches or special events where you can address the members. Send them an introductory email and see what happens.

Conferences, Trade Shows, and Expos

This is something both of us have spent the past several months doing. We're scouring conference websites in the industries we want to be known in and checking to see if they are looking for speakers. We've also been subscribing to newsletters that have different speaking opportunity lists.

You can find different trade shows and conferences with a little detective work and your favorite search engine. First, check to see if there are any trade associations or groups for your chosen industry or profession. Many trade associations will have a national conference, and you can usually find that information on their website. Some will even have regional conferences or local chapters, and you might find some opportunities there too. Submit speaking proposals when they're being accepted. Next, look for any allied, related, or even competing trade associations, and look for their conferences. Finally, be sure to blog about the hot button issues the association members are dealing with. Then make sure the conference organizers are in your social networks—Twitter and LinkedIn, especially—and that they receive notifications about your blog posts.

When you find a trade show or conference that looks interesting, go to the speaker submission page and see what kinds of speakers they're looking for. There are four main types of presentations you could make:

  • Poster session—You usually find these at educational conferences. A poster session is basically a series of 6-foot folding tables with pop-up displays and pages of your latest research taped to them. You stand around and hope that people ask you questions, but they don't. They're there for the free hors d'oeuvres being offered to bring attendees into the poster session. (Not that we're bitter or anything.) Maybe we're biased, but we don't consider these real speaking sessions. Don't waste your time with them. In many cases, poster presenters won't even get a discounted admission to the conference, which tells you how highly they're regarded. (Hint: they're not.)
  • Round table—Imagine putting 75 people in one room with 7 different tables, and presenters at each talking about 7 different topics. The attendees split up and sit at different tables. Talks may take 15 minutes or an hour. Although you don't get the same benefit as speaking to your own room, at least it's not a poster session. Sometimes this may be your foot in the door for a future speaking slot at the next year's conference. Once you've been a speaker for a while, avoid doing round tables unless you also get to do a breakout session. You don't get enough time to get into the meat of your topic, and the room is often too loud to be heard properly.
  • Breakout speaking session—These are the standard speaking sessions that most speakers get. Most breakout sessions are scheduled as one of several going on during an hour, and the attendees have to choose which on they want to attend. You will speak at your session for an hour, and not have to worry about competing tables, posters, or people showing up for free hors d'oeuvres. Sometimes you may be asked to give your session more than once, because there aren't enough speakers. Other times, there are so many speaker submissions that the conference can only accept a fraction of them. There is a varying degree of skill and energy in these sessions, so this is a great way to stand out from other speakers. If you can do a great job compared to other speakers the attendees have seen, you look like a brilliant orator to their 60 minutes of sucking out loud. Sometimes these are paid slots, but most often they are not. Speakers often get free admission to the conference.
  • Keynote address—This is the granddaddy of all speaking sessions. (Actually, organizing your own seminar is, but we didn't want to discuss it in here.) Although a breakout session only lets a speaker reach a fraction of the conference attendees, the keynote speaker not only gets to address all the attendees at once, he or she often kicks off the entire conference. Some conferences will even have one keynote speaker per day, which means there's more than one opportunity for you. Plus, this is a paid speaking opportunity. At no time should you agree to do a keynote session for free.

Introducing Yourself

Once you've identified the groups you want to speak to, write a cover letter or email that explains what you want to do, what your area of expertise is, how long you've been doing it, and where you've done it in the past. Make sure that your grammar, spelling, and punctuation are perfect, and be sure to write each letter as an individual pitch to that group. Explain why you and your session would be a good fit for them, rather than relying on a form letter. Direct the groups to your blog (you do have a blog, right? Check out Chapter 3, "Blogging: Telling Your Story," if you don't.)

  • Dear Ms. Havisham:
  • I am interested in speaking to your Wedding Planning Professionals of Orlando organization at an upcoming luncheon. I am a direct mail planner and would like to speak to your members about how using direct mail postcards can help brides and their families save money on invitation costs.
  • I have been in direct mail sales for 10 years and have been speaking to wedding planning professionals and other party planners for 3 years. I recently gave a talk at the National Wedding Planning Professionals Association conference about this same topic, and it was well received, ranking as one of the top five sessions of the entire conference.
  • You can read more about me at my blog, http://BobScrumrunner.blogspot.com, as well as see some videos of my past talks. My usual speaking fee is $500, plus travel expenses. I will follow up with you via phone in five days. Thank you.
  • Sincrely,
  • Philip Pirrip

Follow this up with a phone call a few days later as you promised, to see if the groups received your letter and if they have any opportunities for you to speak.

(And give yourself 10 bonus points if you said, "Hey, that's Great Expectations!" when you read the letter.)

Promoting Your Talk

You've got your first speaking session arranged. Now you need to make sure people actually show up. You can always hope the organizer is going to do a lot of the promotion, but you need to do it, too. You have access to other people that your organizers may not: your blog readers and your Twitter and LinkedIn networks. Not only will you bring people from your network to your own talk, but you may end up introducing those people to the entire event, which is an added bonus for the organizer, and makes you look like a star.

What are the best ways to invite people to your talk? In this section, we're going to help you...

  • ...Learn five ways to attract an audience to your presentation
  • ...Discover three secrets every professional speaker uses to increase audience participation.

Do you see what we did there? Your brain probably fired a few neurons, and your metaphorical ears perked up a little bit. We attracted your attention by promising a finite number of ways to attract attention, and three secrets that the real pros use.

This is a common technique used by professional copywriters to get people to not only read their sales material, but to get them to buy their products. If it works in a sales letter, then you should use the techniques in your promotional efforts as well.

We've discussed this elsewhere in the book, but it's worth mentioning again: There is something about a numbered list in a headline or copy that makes people take notice. It's like brain candy for humans, because our minds see that information and say, "Hey, that's something I can easily understand. I want to read that!" Umberto Eco even told Der Spiegel (a German news magazine) in 1999 that we like lists because they establish order out of chaos.1

So take advantage of that little quirk in all humans and use it when you promote your talks. You can use these techniques whether you're writing a blog post, an article, or even an email.

First, write captivating copy. (Don't write the headline first. The headline is going to come from the copy.) Use the numbered list ideas, and generate Three Big Things the audience is going to learn. But then give each of those items its own list. For example:

  1. Learn five ways to attract an audience to your presentation.
  2. Discover three secrets every professional speaker uses to boost attendance.
  3. Learn the five free social media tools you can use to promote your next talk.

Once you have written all the text, the headline will follow. Use the same techniques we just discussed, and create a headline that covers one of the hot button issues your audience wants to hear about. You can find this out by asking the event organizer what the hot button issues are for their members. Then, design your presentation and write the headline based on that.

For example, if Facebook is a big issue in the human resources field, create a headline like "Five Ways to Use Facebook to Streamline Your Hiring Process."

With this headline, we have hit three hotspots for HR professionals:

  • We have a finite numbered list. It's more than just how they can use Facebook, but an actual number of items they can use.
  • Facebook is a big deal right now to a lot of HR professionals and hiring managers. In a recent survey, 75 percent of hiring managers used the Internet to get a better idea of the job candidates they're screening.2,3 So by tailoring a title to a current issue, we are more likely to catch their attention.
  • We're trying to make their job easier. Everyone has things he doesn't like about his jobs or things he wishes were easier. The hiring process is one of those things for HR professionals, so by "streamlining their hiring process," we're telling them they can learn how to make their job easier.

Email the description of your talk to the show organizer, who will put it in the conference directory. Then post an article on your blog, and then start promoting that blog post via Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and any other social networks you belong to.

Promote your talk frequently, about 2–4 times per week. Don't just send a notice out once and hope people show. It's going to take a number of different messages on your different networks and your blog to people to get them to start noticing that you're going to speak somewhere, and then a few more to get them interested in coming.

When you're at a conference, don't be afraid to invite people to your session. We know, we know, you don't want to feel like you're being needy, but you're speaking in public because you crave the attention, so that ship has already sailed. Swallow the last of your pride, and start inviting people.

Remember, the fuller your rooms are, the more you can spread your personal brand and earn new opportunities or gain new clients. Visit other sessions during the day, and invite people to your session afterward, especially if your two topics are related. You can also invite the other speakers, and as a form of professional courtesy, give them some love during your talk. (That's hipster talk for "Mention them.")

Your goal is to get as many people in your session as you can, which unfortunately means other speakers may have fewer attendees at their session. Don't feel bad; it just means they should have promoted their talk better. Buy them a copy of this book.

  • + Share This
  • 🔖 Save To Your Account