Opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of Rolling Stone editors or publishers.
As more people get vaccinated, cities relax restrictions and businesses reopen, in-person events will likely be making a comeback in the not-so-distant future — and that means more future speaking opportunities for you.
But because we’ve all been staying home and attending virtual events for more than a year, demand has built up too, which means more competition for those speaking opportunities. Fear not, though. If you start planning now, you can build out your speaking calendar for 2021 and beyond.
So let’s explore five effective strategies for filling your speaking calendar.
1. Do your research.
Research is obviously the place to start, but where do you start, and what exactly do you research? You can start by searching for events and people. If you follow speakers and events on LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, it shouldn’t be tough to find events or people to Google.
Whether you’re a new or seasoned speaker, you will want to keep your expectations reasonable. Jumping at national events right off the bat is a recipe for rejection. Sure, sharing the stage with Michelle Obama is a great goal, but you’ll probably want to start with local, state and regional events.
I used this strategy to land my first invitation to a TEDx event. Sharing my story was an exhilarating experience, and it has already opened doors for me (e.g., my talk will be published in a book along with other TED speakers). TEDx organizations host speaking events around the world, and they are a great place for new speakers to share their stories.
2. Build a relationship with coordinators.
Once you have a list of events, it’s time to start building relationships with event coordinators. It’s important not to pitch in the first email (especially not with a generic template). Instead, make your first email short and sweet. If you’ve attended their event in the past or know someone at the organization, mention these things. Also, ask targeted questions like, “When will you be taking speaker applications for this upcoming event?”
Then, I recommend providing three to four sentences about who you are, what you would speak about and how your message will help their audience. Resist the temptation to include long explanations or irrelevant details about your story. Then, follow up a few days later. If you hear nothing, follow up a week later. If you still receive no response, wait until the event is a bit closer.
A warning: This process is time-consuming (you’re basically operating as your own PR firm here). But do it well and you’ll stand out from the crowd. Ideally, you’re connecting with coordinators three to six months in advance, which gives you time to establish a relationship.
3. Tell people you’re a speaker.
Besides doing your research and working to build rapport with conference organizers, another great way to land paid speaking opportunities is to simply tell people you’re a speaker. While looking for speaking engagements may be consuming your every waking hour, it’s likely that few people in your immediate circle realize you’re looking. You have to tell them, and you can either do this directly or indirectly.
To do this directly:
• Add “speaker” to your social media profiles and email signature.
• Add a speaking page to your website listing speaking topics and types of presentations you’ve given.
• Share your speaker one-sheeter with those who host events and say, “If you’re interested in having me speak at your next event, please contact me.”
For an indirect approach:
• When networking, offer examples or case studies from past speaking experiences.
• Casually work it into conversations by saying something like, “When I was speaking at…”
4. Ask for referrals.
An even more direct approach than telling people you’re a speaker is to ask for referrals. Don’t hold back or keep your dream a secret. Who knows? You may be sitting on a gold mine of speaking opportunities in your own network. There are many Facebook groups for speakers, too, where people post their events and share conference information.
Also, if you know someone who is a paid speaker, offer to buy them a cup of coffee in exchange for giving you some pointers about how they got started.
5. Do a phenomenal job.
Finally, the absolute best way to find speaking opportunities is to do a phenomenal job when you land an opportunity of your own. Event coordinators often attend conferences and there’s no better advertisement than watching you in action.
So whether you’re on a panel of speakers or you land that coveted keynote address, make sure you nail it.
A lot has changed about speaking events in the past year. While I predict remote presentations — with their convenience and ability to reach global audiences — are here to stay, in-person events are making a comeback. To stay ahead of the curve, start building out your speaking calendar today.