Whether you want to speak for free to sell books at the back of the room or you want to get paid to speak, there are many ways to locate speaking opportunities. It will take some time to do the research and build your contact database, but the effort can be worthwhile if speaking is a primary goal for you.
When you find an opportunity, don’t be afraid to pitch yourself via phone or email. Just make sure you’re prepared with an excellent speaker page on your website, a list of your speaking topics, professional photos, video clips of you in action, and testimonials. If you don’t yet have video clips or testimonials, focus on booking free local gigs in order to gain experience you can build on.
Following are dozens of ways to locate speaking engagement opportunities.
There are thousands of associations that hold monthly meetings and annual conferences. You are more likely to get paid for larger events, but local events need speakers too, especially for chapters that hold monthly meetings. Here are some directories to locate associations:
- Directory of Associations.com
- Marketing Mentor
- National Trade and Professional Associations Directory – This is a huge printed book that starts at around $350 to purchase and $800 for access to an online directory. Tip: Find at your local library or purchase a used copy on Amazon or eBay.
- Weddles Guide – A more affordable option than the NTPA directory above.
- Marketing Mentor – Maintains a smaller list of associations. Categories include business, healthcare, law/legal, and more.
- Wikipedia has an impressive list of trade organizations in the U.S.
- You can locate many association meetings in your own backyard with some simple Google searches. Example: <your city> + “association.” This could be “Sacramento association” or “Orlando association.”
Conferences and Trade Shows
Look for events that reach your target audience and then search for their speaker submission guidelines. You may need to reach out to event organizers or other staff to inquire about opportunities.
- 10 Times Events – Offers a list of international conferences, trade shows and workshops, which you can search by location and category.
- Trade Show Calendar – Search through upcoming events to research opportunities, or note them on your calendar to pitch them for next year.
- Events in America – Includes estimated attendee numbers, city/state, and number of exhibitors.
Big money can be found by speaking at corporate events. Finding these can take some effort, though. Here are some ways to do so:
- Search Google for <industry> + “conference.” Example: “pet care conference” or “technology conference.” Note that you may need to build a list and keep track for the following year since speakers are often planned many months in advance.
- Meeting Professionals International is the top association for meeting planners. They often host showcases for speakers where event planners can see speakers in action with the goal of potentially inviting speakers to their future events.
Nonprofits and Charities
Just as trade associations host monthly and annual meetings, so do nonprofits. And many of the larger nonprofits are well-funded and pay speakers, even for monthly chapter meetings.
- IRS Directory of Nonprofits – Compiled by our friends at the IRS.
- Love to Know – A list of several dozen popular nonprofits.
- Top Nonprofits – Nonprofits listed here are ranked based on their social media activity and overall presence on the internet.
Read trade magazines, newsletters, and blogs for event announcements.
Local Service Organizations
Groups like Rotary and Kiwanis welcome speakers, often on a weekly basis. They also appreciate a wide variety of topics. Contact chapters in your area to inquire about opportunities to speak at their frequently-held meetings.
Chambers of Commerce
Nearly every city has a chamber organization, and these groups love to welcome speakers. You won’t likely get paid, but you’ll have an opportunity to connect with your local community, and that can often lead to subsequent opportunities.
Schools of all sizes welcome speakers, and often pay them.
- For colleges, start with the Campus Activities Coordinator for the school you want to target. You can also contact individual department heads, such as the History department or Women’s studies. Don’t be afraid to get creative. Locating one good contact can help you get connected to another simply by asking.
- The National Association for Campus Activities and the Association for Promotion of Campus Activities both hold showcase events for speakers and entertainers.
Grade, Middle and High Schools
For grade schools, middle schools, and high schools, contact school administrators and send a pitch. Hint: if you can turn your event into a school fundraiser, by offering them a percentage of book sales, you may have better luck getting your foot in the door.
Houses of Worship
Religious institutions of all kinds welcome speakers with something to offer their congregation. For example, The Unity Church is known for being author/speaker-friendly. You can potentially tour their locations across the nation.
Almost all libraries welcome speakers, especially authors who are speakers. You won’t get paid, but make sure you’re allowed to sell books. Start with your local library and collect testimonials as you go.
While many stores host authors for book signing events, you can sell far more books when you show up as a speaker and give the audience valuable information.
Local Event Directories
Find contacts for events by attending trade shows, conferences, and trade association meetings. While you may not meet the event planner directly, all you need is one good contact within an organization. Then you can ask, “Hey, would you mind connecting me with the person who books speakers for your events?”
Think about trade associations where your potential contacts spend their time. For example, if you offer presentations and programs for human resource professionals, get involved in the Society for Human Resource Management. If you offer programs for attorneys, check out the National Association of Legal Professionals. Go find your tribe and get involved!
Also, join the National Speakers Association. You’ll not only develop your craft, you’ll get to know other speakers and you can refer business to each other. Really—this happens all the time with NSA members.
Speakers bureaus connect top keynote speakers with large events, and they take a percentage of the speaking fee (typically 25% to 30%). Celebrities get the most action from bureaus because they earn top dollar and are easiest to place at events. However, if you have a niche topic and a lot of experience, plus some great video of you presenting, it may be worthwhile to pursue some bureaus. A quick Google search will show you many options. Follow each bureaus’ guidelines to submit your materials for consideration. See also the International Association of Speakers Bureaus, which offers a searchable directory to locate bureaus by state.
Consider pitching yourself as a speaker to any of the following:
- First responders’ departments (police, fire)
- Retirement communities
- Real estate offices
- Financial planning firms
- Corporations for “lunch and learn” sessions
- Shopping malls (they NEED events to bring in people)
- Car dealerships
- Media offices (like your local newspaper)
- Adult learning centers
- Parks and recreation departments
- Military organizations
- Hospitals and healthcare centers
Host Your Own Events
You can conduct seminars and workshops of any size. Hotels offer meeting space for larger events. For smaller events, consider hosting in a restaurant, office conference room, or rent out a classroom at a local college or trade school. You can locate meeting space for rent by the hour through Liquid Space.
LinkedIn is a great resource for locating key contacts. For example, if you know that XYZ company hosts an annual event, you can try searching LinkedIn for XYZ company + “meeting planner” or “event planner.” Oftentimes the event planner details their role in their LinkedIn profile.
Many organizations put out a “call for speakers” when planning events. You can often locate these on Twitter or via Google searches. Set up alerts on talkwalker.com/alerts, a free service that monitors search terms that you choose. You can also create industry-specific searches such as “call for speakers business” or “call for speakers healthcare.” These alerts monitor Google and social media so you receive immediate notification when opportunities become available.
Sign Up for Emails
When you locate an event, association, or other potential opportunity, get on the mailing list so you can keep track of upcoming events.
Don’t be afraid to mail out a speaker packet to meeting planners, CEOs and potential contacts you’ve identified. You can include a speaker one-sheet with a description of your topics, pro photos of you in action, and your contact information—including a link to your site where you have video clips of you speaking (these are essential for booking paid speaking gigs). Or, you can mail out an impressive postcard introducing yourself. You can purchase mailing lists through sources like InfoUSA.
Tribe of Influence
Who do you know that could connect you to an opportunity or introduce you to someone influential? You might be surprised when you stop to consider your personal tribe of influence. See this chart for ideas:
Build Your Contacts List
Want to stand out as a speaker on niche topics? Consider investing in Google Ads to promote yourself to meeting planners searching for speakers.
Promote your speaking topics and events via social media, and especially on LinkedIn. Share your speaking topics, clips of you speaking, reviews of your presentations, announcements about upcoming events where you’ll be appearing, etc.
Hire a Virtual Assistant
If all this research sounds daunting, considering hiring the research out to a qualified virtual assistant. We maintain a list of virtual assistants here. Also check Upwork and the International Virtual Assistants Association.
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