Getting started as a professional speaker is easier than you might think. Most people begin by giving free talks to local organizations and work their way up to paid speaking gigs. Local presentations can have many advantages even when you’re not being paid because you gain exposure with the organization’s entire network (not just the people who attend your session) and you can sell books at the back of the room. Speaking can be a great promotional strategy for authors.
Here are the steps to becoming a speaker:
1. Choose Great Speaking Topics
When it comes to choosing a topic for your speaking engagements, remember that it’s not about you; it’s about your audience. Your topic should provide value for your audience. What will they learn? How will their lives improve because of your presentation? These are questions to consider as you develop your topics.
For prescriptive nonfiction authors, the task of developing speaking topics should be relatively easy since they often relate to the content in your book. For memoir authors, you may need to get creative. If you’ve authored a memoir about overcoming an illness, you might create a motivational presentation about how to persevere in tough times—this will make it more relatable to a wide variety of audiences.
Speakers often have multiple presentation topics so it’s fine to start with several. Just be sure they are aligned with each other. It could confuse your audience if you have topics ranging from how to get organized to parenting.
2. Write a Compelling Description
You will need a brief and interesting description for each presentation, including three to five bullet points explaining the benefits for the audience. The description of your presentation is an important tool in helping you get you booked for engagements so be sure it demonstrates that what you offer meets the needs of your intended audience.
Not only is your presentation description used by decision makers, it will often be copied and pasted to put into event programs and marketing materials prior to your event. Therefore, your event hosts also want to see a compelling description that entices their potential attendees to show up.
3. Develop a Speaker One-Sheet
Most professional speakers have a one- or two-page flyer that they can give to potential event hosts to promote their speaking topics. Often times event planners gather in a room with a stack of speaker sheets when they’re deciding who to invite to their conference or event as speakers so this is an important piece of marketing collateral.
Your sheet should include a brief overview of one or more speaking topics, testimonials from past presentations if you have them, a list of past audiences if available, your photo, book cover, and contact information.
4. Add a Speaker Page to Your Website
Take the information from your speaker sheet and add it to a page on your website. This effort alone can attract opportunities to speak.
5. Identify Speaking Opportunities
There are countless opportunities to speak in your own backyard. Spend some time on Google to find local organizations like these:
- Trade associations
- Business networking groups
- Service organizations (Rotary, Kiwanis)
- Elementary, middle and high schools
- Alumni organizations
- Chambers of commerce
- Meetup.com groups
- Retirement communities
- Medical offices and hospitals
- Companies that reach your target audience
There are dozens, if not hundreds, of trade organizations in every major city that need speakers for their weekly or monthly meetings. That’s right, they need speakers. As someone who has been in charge of running numerous groups in my community over the years, it is always difficult to find speakers because not enough people make an effort to reach out. That equals opportunity for you!
Another option is to teach classes at your local adult learning centers, parks and recreation departments, and community education programs. Even if only ten students register for your class, you will still be promoted in their catalog, which is often sent to tens of thousands of people.
When doing your research, try search Google for the nearest major city plus your keyword, for example: “Dallas association.” This should bring you all kinds of results since there are associations for just about anything you can think of, and many are meeting in the cities near you.
6. Start Reaching Out
When researching places to speak, often you will find contact information right on the website. Ideally you’re looking for the event organizer, though that is rarely listed. It’s perfectly fine to reach out to a chapter president, for example. If she isn’t the right contact, she will likely forward your message to the correct person. Remember that some organizations need speakers on a weekly basis for their meetings. Most will be quite glad to hear from you.
Your email pitch should be quick and to the point. Here’s an example:
I’m an author and speaker specializing in healthy lifestyle habits for employees in the workforce and I’m reaching out to inquire about speaking to <group/organization name>.
Here are some potential topics I can cover:
- Topic one
- Topic two
- Topic three
My goal is to inspire audiences to WANT to make small changes that lead to living longer, fuller, happier lives. I know you have a lot of technology professionals in your group, and they typically work long hours. They are an ideal audience for these presentations!
I have attached my speaker sheet and you can also learn more about me on my website:
<link to speaker page on your site>
Can we schedule time for a brief chat?
Ending pitches with a question helps inspire a reply, even if it’s just to say no thank you. And it’s always a great idea to get event organizers on the phone so you can learn about their audience and event and discuss the opportunities rather than going back and forth by email.
7. Spread the Word
Let your clients, peers and friends know that you’re available to speak. Ask if they know of any organizations that could benefit from your presentation. They may surprise you!
8. Build on Your Experience
Every time you give a presentation, ask for testimonials from event coordinators and add them to your speaker sheet and website. Also, look for ways to have some of your presentations recorded so that you have video clips to share on your website and offer to prospects. Sometimes event hosts already have plans to have a videographer in-house, and all you need to do is ask for a copy. Or, you can hire a local videographer or even a student from a local college to come film your event.
9. Expand Your Offerings
As you gain experience, add additional presentation topics to your menu of options. This will allow you to return to past clients and book another engagement, plus it can give you reasons to capture new opportunities.
If you like this blog post, you’ll love our Professional Speaking Course! Learn more about our courses for authors here.