How I Booked 12 Speaking Gigs in 10 Weeks
I didn't realize how effective a tool public speaking is until I was asked to speak at a small conference after I built my first school abroad. I accepted the invitation and planned for a few weeks, doing my best to memorize a short presentation about my work. Going into it I thought maybe 20-30 people would be interested enough to listen to what I had to say and then it would all be over.
When I got there about 85 people were waiting for the speaker (me) to begin, which made me pretty nervous. I had never spoken to this many people at once before and the only thing separating us was a microphone. It wasn't until I had finished and experienced the aftermath that I realized what an impact public speaking can have.
When you are able to walk to the front of the room, take the microphone, and grab people's attention it brings instant credibility and shows confidence. When you can connect someone to something they haven't experienced before or present a new idea to others in person the energy is electric. It's because of these things that I believe it's never too early to start trying to find speaking engagements in order to help boost your business, organization, or personal brand.
After that first conference, I decided it was time to get serious about getting myself and my organization out there. Summer is a slow time for nonprofits and I decided that the best use of my time would be to engage with as many people as possible. That meant finding and booking as many speaking engagements, networking meetings, and podcasts as I could. I gave myself 12 weeks to book 12 gigs and on my 10th week, I booked my 12th engagement. Here's how I did it:
Before we get into the nuts and bolts I have to clarify two things. First, although I had just come back from building a school in Africa I didn't have any kind of following. My network was extremely small and basically consisted entirely of family friends and neighbors. Because of this, I couldn't invite a large number of people to attend any of my speaking engagements.
Second, because I wasn't well known and had very few accolades I decided to broaden what I considered a speaking engagement and choose to include networking meetings and podcasts as speaking gigs.
So moving on, how I booked 12 speaking engagements in less than 12 weeks as a small nonprofit founder with basically no accolades.
Step One - Figure out your goals
First thing's first, I had to figure out why I was even doing this mini speaking tour. People were going to ask, and I needed to have a good answer. It didn't take me long to think up the two reasons I had.
Reason 1 - I wanted to share my story with the hopes of inspiring others to give back and feel that they could make a difference in the world
Reason 2 - I wanted to practice my public speaking.
It's important to figure out why you want to do something before you do it. Even a simple exercise of jotting down a few notes can be massively impactful. It doesn't have to be fancy and you don't have to share it with anyone but you should know why you are doing something and what your desired outcomes are. Here are a few prompts to get you started:
- I've decided to do public speaking because I'm hoping it will......
- I want to get in front of an audience and tell my story because.......
- I believe I can offer ___________ to my audience
It's also important to note that your reasons don't have to be super serious or intense. Maybe your reasons are, so you can know for sure that you won't piss yourself speaking in front of a crowd, or you really want to sell a product or service you created and you think getting in front of a crowd will help you close some deals. There are no wrong answers! Although, I would suggest not having a reason be something that might offend people or damage your reputation!
After you have solidified one or more reasons why you want to do some public speaking it's time to move on to step number two.
Step Two - Decide how many speaking gigs you want, how you want to define a speaking gig and the timeframe you've given yourself to book them.
This is totally up to you. In all honesty, when I decided I wanted to do some speaking engagements my goal was 60 speaking engagements in 90 days. Now that is aggressive, and I had way too many other things going on at the time for it to be even close to an achievable goal. Even if I was able to book all those talks I wouldn't have been able to go to them! It was unrealistic and it took a few days for the excitement to wear off before I decided that an average of one talk a week for the summer was the sweet spot for me.
Is it important to have a goal though, so you need to decide if you want to aim for 3, 10, or 50+ gigs. There is no wrong answer, but I would advise keeping your number low if you haven't ever done public speaking before. Test the waters a little before you throw yourself into a 25 stop speaking tour!
After you have your number (which doesn't have to be totally set in stone as my personal example shows) you need to clarify what you are considering a speaking engagement. Are you only saying on stage with a microphone? What about podcasts? Radio interviews? New networking meetings? Features in prominent publications? TV appearances?
The sky is the limit and you can feel free to be as relaxed or strict about your definition of speaking engagement as you like. As I mentioned above I went with three types of engagements, on stage with a microphone, podcasts, and new networking meetings.
The last thing to decide is what timeframe are you giving yourself to book these engagements? Unless you are working very ahead of time I wouldn't try to book things in the very near future. Many places schedule far out and it's important to be accommodating to their schedule.
Using myself as an example, I booked 12 gigs in 10 weeks but the actual dates of the speaking engagements run far beyond the 10 weeks. I booked things four months out.
The timeframe you give yourself should correlate with the number of gigs you want to book. If your goal is three you can give yourself 2-3 weeks to book them but don't give yourself 5 days to book 25 appointments. Many times it takes some time for the people you are working with to get back to you and confirm a date.
Following these examples is a great way to start:
- Three gigs in two and a half weeks
- Twelve gigs in twelve weeks
- Twenty gigs in three and a half months
If you are devoting all your time to this then you can shorten the timeframes but these examples give you time to work fulltime and still juggle life while you schedule your engagements.
Step Three - Time to make a list of all the places you would be okay speaking
Okay, so we are finally getting into the good stuff. Before you can contact people and organizations about arranging a speaking engagement you need to know where you would like to do your talks. This goes back to why you are doing this to begin with.
If you simply want to practice public speaking then you have are going to have more audience options than if you want to sell your new swim goggles. This is because the audience you are engaging with should care about your topic before you even get there.
If you try to engage an audience of bachelors with a talk about balancing work and taking care of a toddler it's going to be pretty hard to hold their attention, but if you went to the same crowd and spoke about how to get girls it just might be easier to get the audience interested. I'm stereotyping but you get the picture.
If you aren't super clear on who you should be your audience then it's time to grab your computer and consult your good friend Google. You can do a simply do a search to figure out what sorts of people your topic attracts. When you type in what your topic, service, or product is, look at what Google auto fills in the search bar and the options they give below. This should give you an idea about what kinds of people are interested in what you are offering.
Let's take an example. If you have decided that you would like to speak about safety measures when traveling but you aren't sure who your audience is, you can type travel safety into the search bar and see all the drop down options.
Based on the options you can tell that individuals traveling in the current calendar year may be interested, especially those traveling to Mexico. You can also conclude that individuals shopping for travel safety gear, such as bags and wallets, may also be a good audience.
To get an even more specific you can take the information you got from the Google search and find a company offering the same thing or something similar to what your service, product, or topic is and see who their audience is. You can tell by their advertising and brand who is their clientele. Pay attention to the gender, age, and apparent interests of the people they are targeting
Going with our same example we would search for a company selling safety travel gear and look at their advertising. Pacsun, the teenage/young adult brand has an entire collection of travel safety wallets and bags. Below is an image from their main safety travel gear page.
Although you can tell from the options that they have both female and male products they chose to feature two male products on their home page indicating that males make up a larger consumer base than females when it comes to safety travel products.
From all this research you can deduct that a good audience for your travel safety talks may be young adult men who are traveling in the coming year to a perceived dangerous place such as Mexico. It's clearly just an example, but I hope it illustrates how you can use Google and other companies to help you pinpoint a potential audience for your speaking gigs.
When you have a general idea of who might be interested in your talk now it's time to do some research and find places that have your audience. Think broad here and don't be scared to stay small. Even very small.
As an example, here are the places I contacted to speak about my organization: The chamber of commerce in my town, old folks homes, local businesses that have lunch presentations, schools in the area, my local library.
As you can see that's not a very impressive list, but I was going for the easy yes and the presentation that wasn't going to freak me out. If you have very little experience and accolades don't expect to get a TED talk right out of the gate! Start small, build your confidence, and grow organically. Trust me, it will work out better than if you reach for the stars, miraculously get a chance, and then fuck it up because you aren't ready for that level yet.
At this point, you are ready to take out a blank piece of paper and start jotting down some ideas about places you would like to speak. Like I said before, no idea is too small! You can use Google again to help you find local places that are well suited or podcasts and radios shows that you may want to feature you.
Keep going until you have a list double the size of the amount of talks of are aiming for. So if you are aiming for 5 talks make sure you have at least 10 places on your list to contact. Once you have that you are ready for step four.
Step Four - Get in contact
This is the scariest part for many people but it's a MUST if you ever want to get in front of an audience. It's important to remember that almost everyone you contact is looking for guest speakers or people to interview. It's rarely just them doing you a favor!
Let's break it down. Take your list of places you would like to contact about speaking and find a contact method. Email is good but a phone number is even better. Many times if someone hears your voice and gets to chat with you for a moment they are more likely to say yes than if they simply skim over an email. It's that extra bit of effort that will turn a no into a yes.
Here is an example of the kind of script I used to call all the places I contacted. (I didn't work off a script but it's pretty close to what I would have said)
If calling someone or even emailing them scares the life out of you I would suggest going through the worst case scenario exercise. What you do is mentally walk through the worst possible outcome of calling someone. What is the worst outcome you can think of? What is the meanest thing they could say to you? Now realize that the worst case scenario happens about 1-3% of the time. Now run through a middle case scenario (probably similar to what I have outlined above), which happens 94-87% of the time, and finally, run through the best possible scenario. There is about a 5-10% chance that the best case scenario will happen. Does the worst case scenario really seem that bad now that you have an idea of exactly what could happen and know that there is only a 1-3% chance it will even happen?
Or you can take my approach of just forcing myself to punch in the numbers and then hold my breath while the phone rings. Whatever works to get it done.
So run down your list and take note of who you spoke with, if you left a message, and what the general feel of the conversation was. You'll want a record when you follow-up.
Now that you have contacted everyone on your list what do you do? There are many other ways to get gigs so it's important that you look for opportunities down multiple avenues. Here are some other examples:
1. Keep your ears out for possibilities. This becomes effective when you make it known that you are looking for speaking opportunities. Sometimes people who you would never expect can give you a valuable connection. It's important to always be on the lookout.
2. Hit up your network and ask for contacts/connections. This can get some great results especially if you know some well-connected individuals. I made sure to reach out to people in my network who I thought might be willing to make introductions and were in circles where I thought there might be some great connections.
Make sure that you do this the right way though! Don't pester people or go in with the expectation that they will help you out. If they are able to help you its because they are taking time out of their day to do so. Always be grateful and appreciative!
I would also suggest that you contact everyone individually when you are trying to widen your reach. An email blast to 12 people isn't going to be nearly as effective as a phone call or individualized email to one person explaining what you are hoping to find and how they can help you. It's work on your part but you are asking for a favor, so make sure you are making it as easy as possible for them.
3. Use your online networks. I booked 3 of my 12 gigs online. They happen to all be podcasts that were really fun to do, so I think that if you aren't using online networks to find gigs you are missing out on opportunities!
One way to do this is to be a part of a few highly active facebook groups. I keep it to just a few groups because it can be tough to actively be a part of a large number of groups. You can throw up a post that says you are trying to connect with some people who have podcasts or interview shows and are looking for people to interview. It might get some bites or it might not. If you go this way I think it would be good to maybe offer some incentive for people to take you up on your offer.
Or you can try the opposite method of simply paying attention to the group and waiting for someone to post to the group looking for people to interview. Then you can contact them and set something up. I booked one really great podcast this way! Obviously, it took a little more time but it worked out really well and I was happy I didn't have to beg anyone for a feature on their show.
The other great option is to just reach out and ask people in your online circles if they know of any opportunities. If you are in entrepreneurial circles this can be very effective! I was able to land a few gigs through online friends which were awesome!
4. Contact podcasts and radio shows directly. Podcasts are huge these days and many podcasters do interviews, making them a great option if you are looking for more exposure. You can also find people that will find you podcast interviews but they are paid, and personally, I didn't want to spend any money.
You can also send in proposals and requests straight into radio shows. This is a tough sell if the purpose of your talk is to sell something but if its story based this option could get you somewhere. It's important to know what each radio show is about and to make sure you would be a good fit before reaching out.
There's really a million ways you can find speaking engagements so don't be afraid to try something that's not on this list. It's all about getting out there and finding opportunities that seem exciting to you. I would also advise you take any opportunity you can get. Don't think that something is too small and you should pass on it. You never know what could come from even a small gig.
Also, don't expect to find all your gigs right away. It can take some time to find opportunities. Don't get discouraged! Patience pays off and eventually, you will find what you are looking for.
Step Five - Keep contacting people and following up
Have you ever heard the fortune is in the follow-up? Well, it's 100% true. No doubt about it.
If you spoke with someone but then you didn't hear back for a few days it's time to reach out and politely say you are checking-in after your previous conversation. Likewise, if you left a message and they never returned your call you can call again after a few days or a week and simply ask if they got your message.
It's important to remember that people are busy these days and 99% of the time they aren't trying to ignore you. You are simply trying to get on their radar. Don't feel like you can't follow up because you think you are bothering them. If you haven't reached out at all you definitely aren't bothering them!
Here is an example of a follow-up email I might write after having a short conversation with someone over the phone. I would wait 3 days to a week before sending it.
Following up can be the most painful part but you have to do it! Trust me, you will book the majority of your gigs in the follow up.
Step Six - Start booking up your calendar!
Now we are into the good stuff! When you are able to start scheduling events in your calendar then it starts to get exciting. Make sure you don't overbook yourself!
Step Seven - Get your presentation in order
You don't want to do all this work booking the gigs and then fall on your face in the presentation! It's important to take a least a few days to prepare and practice your presentation. If you are a very nervous presenter or haven't ever done it before then I would suggest writing everything down on flashcards and having them handy during your event. Ain't no shame in looking at some flashcards!
My boyfriend always says, "prior proper planning prevents piss poor performance" and although it's an annoying saying he is totally right. Put in the time and be prepared. It will make a world of difference!
Also, having material with you is part of the presentation. Don't forget your business cards, pamphlets, and any other written material guests can bring home after the event. It's so easy to overlook but it's an important part of the overall presentation!
We have tackled the seven steps to booking speaking engagements. It's a lot of work, but I think you will agree that public speaking is a great tool to have and a great way to spread awareness about your organization, product, or service.
If you are working on booking some speaking gigs I hope this is what you have been looking for and if you are looking for added support make sure to join the kdb facebook group. We would love to have you!
If you have made it down this far and are ready to start booking speaking engagements you don't want to miss the five often overlooked keys to a killer presentation. It's packed with tips and tricks I've learned over the years that keep your audience engaged and you cool, calm, and collected from start to finish. You can download it here!
Can't wait to see you under the lights!