A nonfiction book is one of your greatest tools.
It can help you build more credibility in your field. It can help you spread your ideas and make an impact on people who need your help. And it can open the door to speaking engagements.
Many Authors write books because they want to book speaking engagements. They want to expand their platform and establish themselves as leaders in their fields—and public speaking is one of the fastest ways to accomplish those goals.
Speaking opportunities can be a valuable way to push your career to the next level. But becoming a public speaker isn’t mandatory. Many Authors accomplish their goals without setting foot on a public stage.
In this article, I’ll discuss how to determine whether speaking engagements are right for you and offer 9 tips for finding speaking opportunities that will help you achieve your overall goals.
Are Speaking Engagements Right for You?
There’s no right or wrong answer to this question. Whether speaking engagements are right for you depends entirely on your goals.
Before you wrote your book, you should have figured out your book positioning. That process included determining your overall objectives. For example, maybe you want your book to help you make money, gain clients, sell books, or build your brand.
Revisit those objectives.
Do they include being a professional speaker or being a keynote speaker at conferences? If so, then yes, obviously speaking engagements are right for you.
Can speaking engagements help you reach the people you need to reach in order to meet your objectives? For example, would they help you meet new clients or land big contracts? If so, then speaking engagements are right for you.
Are there other ways to meet your goals that are more effective? Does the idea of giving a public talk make you shudder? Do you think your time is better spent pursuing other book marketing opportunities? Then, no. Speaking engagements aren’t the right option.
Basically, always start by considering your goals. If a particular engagement will serve your goals, go for it.
This isn’t a one-time evaluation, either. Referring back to your goals as you make decisions can help you make sure you’re choosing individual speaking engagements that suit your needs.
Chris Dessi stayed true to his goals when he published Remarkable You. He knew that he wasn’t going to make much money from book sales. Instead, the book was a great way to showcase his ideas.
Chris already had a thriving career as a professional speaker, but he wanted to increase his reach and fees. After publishing his book, he was able to do just that. “The speaking fees have paid for the book ten times over,” he reported.
He also wanted to use the book to gain credibility with clients. As a consultant, Chris is paid lucratively to help Fortune 500 companies, but many of them don’t implement his advice. By leveraging his book to demonstrate his credibility, he’s been able to break through that barrier.
“That’s why I wrote the book,” he said. “I’m getting the gigs anyways, but now when I tell them to listen up, they get it. There’s reverence for the book, even among the billionaire founders. They have an understanding that I’m the expert.”
Because Chris kept his objectives in mind, he’s been able to use his speaking engagements to more successfully meet those goals.
How to Book Your First Speaking Engagement as an Author
1. Identify Your Ideal Audience
The key to speaking engagements is simple: delivering engaging content that helps people solve their problems. Once you can do that, actually getting the engagements becomes much easier.
Thus, the first step to booking speaking engagements doesn’t have anything to do with event planners, speakers bureaus, or public relations. Instead, it’s all about figuring out who your ideal audience is.
Who do you want to talk to? And why?
Authors often make the same mistake with speaking engagements and media coverage as they make with their book: they go broad instead of niche.
Many Authors get caught up dreaming about the glitziest or most prestigious stages instead of focusing on the small, dedicated audience they could really serve.
Don’t get me wrong. Booking a five-figure talk at Amazon HQ is great. But unless Amazon is the gateway to your ideal audience, that’s not where you should set your sights.
Your ideal audience should always be linked to your objectives.
If your goal is to get more clients, then you’d be much better off speaking at the smaller, niche conferences your prospective clients attend regularly.
If your goal is to change how nonprofits do business, then set your sights directly on speaking engagements that will reach nonprofit administrators.
The first step to booking speaking gigs is to know exactly who you’re talking to and why your message will matter to them. That’s what Dr. Robert Silverman did when he published his book Inside-Out Health.
His goal was to find a more lasting way to make an impact on public health. He explained, “I didn’t want to write a book to get on Dr. Oz or CNBC. I wanted to write a book to exponentially increase my voice. I wanted to get my knowledge out in a way that allowed people to learn from me even if I wasn’t in the room.”
Ultimately, publishing his book accomplished this goal, and speaking gigs expanded his ability to spread his message of functional nutrition to his ideal audience.
After learning that the book had become a #1 Amazon bestseller, Google reached out to Dr. Silverman about speaking for the prestigious Talks at Google series.
When Dr. Silverman accepted, his motivation wasn’t prestige or fame. It was tied to his core objective: sharing information about long-term health solutions to an audience that needed it. According to Dr. Silverman, “That day at Google was an incredible reminder of what my book had become: a permanent teaching tool. The ripples of my knowledge are now spreading beyond my private practice and the walls of a single auditorium.”
Staying true to your audience and objectives will help you decide which speaking engagements are worthwhile.
2. Identify Your Ideal Speaking Gigs
Once you’ve figured out your target audience, you can consider what market you’re going after. What events do you want to be at?
Are you interested in meeting community members at your local bookstore? Or are you interested in becoming a motivational speaker at business events?
Do you want to give small talks to C-suite executives, or are you looking for large-scale events with book signings?
What’s the best venue for spreading your ideas to your ideal audience?
One of the best ways to determine this is to choose 25 or 30 people that fit your target audience perfectly. These are the kinds of people you ultimately hope to meet through your speaking engagements.
What events do they prioritize attending each year?
Once you have your answer, work toward those speaking opportunities. Ask yourself, Why do they hire speakers, and what are they looking for?
Remember, you’re not just determining which events will work best for you. You have to make the case that you’re the best fit for them, too.
Keep your expectations realistic. Don’t expect your first book to land you on the TED mainstage. You may be lucky, but most people have to spend a long time building their platform and working up to those large venues.
If TED-style talks will help you meet your goals, consider starting with a TEDx first. Get a feel for this style of public speaking, and hone your craft.
Podcasts obviously aren’t the same as in-person events, but they are also a great way to showcase your ideas and speaking talent. You can use these same tips to determine which podcasts are suitable for your ideal audience.
3. Choose Your Topic
Next, figure out what you’re going to talk about. Since you’re a published Author, that’s easy. You have the book, so your content is there.
Still, you have to figure out what, exactly, you’re going to draw from the book to fit inside a 30-, 45-, or 60-minute talk.
You must figure out a speech abstract. A speech abstract is the place where your expertise and experience meets a timely and interesting trend in your industry.
In other words, it’s a topic that speaks to your skills and to issues fresh on everyone’s mind. You need an angle showing that your ideas are relevant.
That’s exactly how Will Leach launched his speaking career. After posting a three-article series linking his book idea to Game of Thrones characters, the organizers for the ILX Behavior US conference reached out to him.
They asked Will to present to a room full of marketers using that angle. A representative of the pharmaceutical company Merck happened to be in the audience, and shortly thereafter, Will was invited to give a 60-minute presentation to their marketing team.
Those 2 talks directly targeted his ideal audience, and he estimates that, at a minimum, they led to $200,000 worth of new projects. When your talk has a fresh, relevant angle, it can open new doors for your ideas.
Start with one specific talk. And I mean specific. The more interesting, intriguing, and granular you can get, the better. Give your audience data. Give them stories. Give them examples. Dig in.
Also, leave the audience with actionable steps so they can see exactly what they’re going to get.
For example, don’t give a talk on “how to grow a business.” That’s too big, and it’s been covered a million times. You won’t stand out.
Instead, give a talk on “how to build your CPA practice to X revenue in 5 easy steps.”
This is another place where really knowing your audience will come in handy. If you know exactly who you’re speaking to, it’s much easier to see what kind of topics will catch their attention.
Once you have your abstract, consider your voice, angle, and demeanor. Is this a topic that lends itself to humor? Is this a complicated subject that requires you to simplify and give clear examples?
Make sure that when people hire you, they know exactly what kind of talk they’re going to get.
4. Create Your Speaker’s Press Kit
Your speaker’s press kit is different from your professional Author media kit.
It’s a single, professionally designed PDF file that includes:
- a list of your impressive past speaking experiences (the top 5-10 stages you’ve spoken on)
- testimonials that give proof of the impact you can make on an audience
- links or blurbs from any media you’ve been featured in
The goal of a press kit is to entice and impress an event organizer. So, if you can’t create a branded, professional PDF, it’s better not to create this document at all.
If you’d like to see an example of what a professional speaker’s press kit looks like, you can download our CEO Jevon McCormick’s speaker kit for free here.
5. Create a Speaker’s Reel
A speaker’s reel is a short video designed to show your style and stage presence. It boosts your credibility and gives organizers confidence in your ability to hold an audience’s attention.
To put it bluntly, not all published Authors are cut out for the stage. Some people have great ideas but don’t have the charisma, flair, or presence to make their ideas come to life in person.
That also goes for some bestselling Authors. Expressing yourself on a page is different from keeping large audiences engaged during a talk.
It’s also the case that not all great professional speakers are great for every event. Some venues are more appropriate for serious, academic speakers, while others are geared toward fun, experiential talks.
Your speaker’s reel will help event organizers determine if you’re the right fit for their event. In the end, this will benefit both you and the audience.
Earlier, I mentioned that the topic and tone of your talk should be consistent with your Author brand. The same goes for your speaking reel.
Consider the case of Jesse Cole. Jesse made it his mission to create what he called “the world’s largest baseball circus,” and he made a splash as an entertainer.
He renamed his team the “Savannah Bananas” and wore a yellow tuxedo to the ballpark. He also added a slew of carnival-inspired games to the regular stadium entertainments, including grandma beauty pageants and “flatulence fun” nights.
In 2015, Jesse was asked to speak to a group of accountants, and he wasn’t expecting to win over such a serious crowd. Nevertheless, he stayed true to his brand and stuck to his strengths. By the end of the speech, the accountants gave him a standing ovation.
If that group of accountants had hired Jesse to speak and he showed up in somber black and delivered a straightforward, boring speech, they would have been disappointed.
Your speaking reel should accurately convey who you are and what you can offer.
Don’t try to make yourself into what you think others want. To find the best engagements for your career, showcase who you are and trust that event planners will make the right decisions for their audience.
6. Figure out Who to Contact
Once you’ve gathered your materials, you can start the process of reaching out to your list of ideal speaking engagements.
Many events have forms to fill out online, but your pitch will be more impactful if you can figure out the right person to contact. A pitch addressed to a specific person goes a lot farther than a general “to whom it may concern.”
I recommend taking your list of your top 20-30 events and heading to LinkedIn to find the appropriate meeting planner. Search for the conference’s brand or company. Then, go to the search filter and type in “event” or “event manager.”
If that doesn’t work, try a Google search for “brand name + event + press release” or “event + year + press release.” This should turn up a lead on a contact.
7. Create Your Pitch
Now it’s time to create your email pitch. Ask yourself the 2 following questions:
- What challenges does this organization face when hiring a speaker?
- What keywords do they search for in Google when looking for a speaker?
In your email, address those challenges and use those keywords.
Be concise and specific. This email should be short. The idea is to pique their interest, not to give them the full rundown of your talents, abilities, and topic.
Provide a bulleted list of actionable takeaways for the audience. What will someone who attends this talk get out of it? And why will these takeaways be important to them?
Use this list to show that you really understand the event and its attendees.
Include a brief summary of your credentials. Only include the top 2 or 3 impressive items.
Attach your press kit.
Include a link to your speaker’s reel. Don’t attach the video because this may send your email to a spam filter or clog the receiver’s inbox.
8. Act Like a Human Being
Don’t blanket-pitch 50 people at once. Booking speaking engagements is all about relationship-building.
If you find the right 10-15 people, take the time to build a real relationship with them before sending the pitch.
Like and engage with their posts on social media. Reach out with articles they may find interesting. Do anything that might make them feel seen and valued.
Just think: how often do sales cold calls work on you? Not often.
It’s the same with booking speaking engagements. You will be a more interesting candidate if you share some kind of emotional connection with the event planner.
They want someone who will connect with their audience and share valuable insights. They want a human being.
9. Be Persistent (but Not Too Persistent)
When you’re ready to send your pitch, you should show initiative, but don’t overdo it.
One email probably isn’t enough, but sending too many will get you blacklisted. No one likes feeling pressured or hounded.
Here’s how you should proceed:
- Send your first email.
- If you don’t get a response, follow up 2 days later.
- If you still don’t hear anything, follow up one week after that.
- Try a final follow-up one week after that.
The fourth email should be your last. Include a line to the effect of, “I haven’t heard back from you, so I assume you aren’t interested. I won’t reach out again, but if something changes, please let me know.”
You can pitch again in a few months if you have something different to offer, but don’t pitch the same thing again.
How To Determine Your Speaking Fee
People call it a “speaking career” because, like any career, it takes time to rise in the ranks. You have to build up to larger speaking fees gradually. Professional speakers tend to get paid more than occasional speakers simply because of time, experience, and the breadth of their audience.
Don’t expect to get paid for your first professional speaking engagements. Use your pre-existing relationships to find them. Spread the word that you’d like to give talks, and see what turns up.
Think of this phase as an internship. You’re essentially building your portfolio. Eventually, you can be paid for speaking gigs. Depending on the “stage,” some events pay more than others.
When you hear about professional speakers who command a set fee of thousands of dollars, it’s because they’ve worked their way up to a certain professional speaking level. They’re also in high demand and have typically moved away from the pitching stage.
Of course, it’s nice to get paid for a speaking gig, but for most speakers, that’s not the main objective.
Talks are a way to promote your ideas, services, or products. They’re a way to spread the word about your talents and expand your platform. They aren’t usually the primary way you’re going to make money.