There are two types of public speakers, those who get paid and those who speak for free. Both are acceptable paths forward when trying to become a public speaker. As a public speaker myself, I’ve had the pleasure of being both a paid and unpaid speaker.

I’ll outline a few different strategies to take on your public speaking journey. You can determine the right path for yourself.

What to Do to Land a Speaking Engagement

The big goal everyone wants is to become a keynote speaker. But before you can actually land a keynote speaking engagement you must do some prep work. There are 5 big things you need to do to create a career as a public speaker:

  1. Join a public speaking organization like Toastmasters, or National Speakers Association. 
  2. Build your expertise and personal brand.
  3. Network with event organizers
  4. Create your marketing materials
  5. Pitch yourself.

These 5 simple things can help you land your next or first speaking engagement.

Public Speaking Organizations

Public speaking is both an art and a science. There are various public speaking skills, tools, techniques and strategies that make an excellent speaker. A great public speaker doesn’t just give a good talk. The best public speakers bridge the connection between them and you. They allow the listener to comprehend a subject. They emotionally engage you on a visceral level.

This doesn’t just happen overnight. There are many long hours of prep work that goes into becoming a public speaker. The organizations mentioned are the public speaking gyms. Toastmasters, or National Speakers Association is where public speakers go to hone their craft. If you are interested here is a brief breakdown on Toastmasters:

Just a couple of things you can learn from any of these organizations is skills like mastering body language. Knowing how to craft a unique perspective that hasn’t been heard before and how to speak to an audience.

Build Your Expertise and Personal Brand

One of the best ways to become a public speaker is simply to build a massive personal brand and expertise. Bill Gates isn’t the best speaker in the whole world, but he makes an absolute killing for every event.

Bill Gates is an expert, Elon Musk is an expert too. But you don’t have to be a Bill Gates or Elon Musk. These guys are the upper echelon of personal brands bigger in some ways to Beyonce and Jay-Z.

You can make an absolute killing by being a subject matter expert in a single field. For example, I’m an expert in social media marketing and going viral. I’ve given countless talks on these subjects.

I also teach audiences how to win on camera, especially in the age of COVID-19 being an engaging speaker online is more important than ever.

Network with Event Organizers

Event organizers are the ones who will be hiring you. They are the puppet masters behind the scenes pulling all the strings to make an amazing event. Typically they are the ones who decide who to hire as a public speaker.

When it comes right down to it, having a great network of event organizers in your back pocket is key to building a successful public speaking career. Word of mouth marketing is the best type of marketing especially in the public speaking space.

I reached out to a number of my event organizer contacts and this is what they said on getting hired as a public speaker:

“The first thing we do as a team is identify what it is that we want the individual to speak about, and then tie it to a planned event. 

We create a shortlist of speakers, usually 4-6 of people we would like to have speak at this event through asking our networks and looking on LinkedIn or through speakers bureaus for people with both the qualifications and skills to speak at the type of event we are planning.

To me, what makes a great speaker is stories.  Lived experience of the speaker or people known to the speaker conveyed in a powerful manner that relate to the topic at hand.” -Sheri

John Crossman shares 5 very useful tips:

1) Make sure you are communicating directly with the speaker and not communicating through an agent or staff regarding the speech itself.  I’ve had disasters when I wasn’t able to talk to the talent directly.  One time a speaker went 45 minutes over his allotted time and failed to cover the key points.

2). Give clear direction and tell the speaker about the audience.  The better you know the audience, the better the speech will be.  Again, I’ve seen disasters when the speaker assumed they knew the audience and missed.

3). Have a rehearsal.  Have them go through their presentation and give feedback.

4). Have a tech rehearsal.

5). Must have tech in the room during the presentation 

Create Your Marketing Materials

Public speaking is a career and having quality marketing materials is one of the major things you can do in advance to become a public speaker. First impression is everything after all! 

Marketing materials that you will need are :

  • A High Resolution Headshot
  • A Speaker One Sheet
  • A Speaker Reel or Speaking Example
  • Topics You Cover/Expertise
  • Sample Talks
  • Your Own Website

A high resolution headshot is something you should get from a professional speaker but if you are bootstrapping, your phone can take a quality shot.

A speaker one sheet has your contact info, the headshot, some sample topics, and press & testimonials you have. This can be sent along in your pitch to give event organizers all the information they need to make a decision.

If you want to check out a one sheet take a look at mine:

When it comes to making an amazing speaking reel, you’ll want to combine footage of you speaking on stage, testimonials, press, and your value proposition. 

Land a couple of free speaking gigs if you need any of the aforementioned marketing materials.

Sample topics/ and talks are there to show just a few keynotes you can give. Some speakers only have 1 or 2 talks they give over and over again. Others like myself can craft a completely new and unique keynote to better address the audience.

It really just comes down to what is needed for an event.

Here is a sample of a great speaking reel: 

Pitch Yourself

When it comes right down to it, you need to pitch yourself to win speaking gigs. Public speaking is a business and you need to do all the things a business needs to do to land clients. That means:

  • cold pitching for speaking engagements
  • writing blog posts to establish subject matter expertise
  • building an email list to grow an audience
  • Grow social media followings and create content 
  • running paid advertisements for lead generation

Pitching yourself isn’t hard, you must know exactly who your target audience is, what value you bring to the table and be bold enough to take the shot.

To land my first speaking gig I had to pitch myself 3 times just to get the opportunity. If you are interested in that story check out this Youtube video.

At the end of the day, you must master the art and science of marketing. But let’s assume for a minute you’ve built your foundation how do you go about landing speaking opportunities and paid gigs?

That will be in Part 2 How to Win Speaking Opportunitieswhere I’ll share with you my exact strategies I use to land free and paid speaking gigs.Opinions expressed here are the opinions of the author. Influencive does not endorse or review brands mentioned; does not and can not investigate relationships with brands, products, and people mentioned and is up to the author to disclose. VIP Contributors and Contributors, amongst other accounts and articles, are professional fee-based.