Whether you’re just getting started as a speaker or you have lots of speaking experience, it’s helpful to understand the tactics and strategies of the speaking world and what you need to do to get onto the stage more frequently to boost exposure for you and your agency.

Many people are unaware that the vast majority of speaking engagements are not paid engagements. How can this be, you ask? Why would anyone give up their time and provide an audience with useful knowledge and not get paid for it?

While some meeting organizers are sometimes willing to pay for a longer format than a 45-60-minute presentation, such as a workshop, it’s important to keep in mind that most events have a policy of not paying speakers other than the keynote speaker and possibly one or two featured speakers. It would be unaffordable for them to do otherwise. Further, most speakers and panelists are not interested in speaking as an income source. Rather, subject matter experts are usually trying to grow a non-speaking business, such as an agency or some other professional services firm. They look to speaking as a great way to create or boost awareness for their business and personal brand, so doing free gigs is a good business strategy. Speaking is also a great way to demonstrate thought leadership.

Let’s focus primarily on unpaid speaking engagements and how to obtain those gigs.

Speaking is a great way to expose your expertise to prospective customers and clients. Conferences, seminars and forums held by independent event organizers, associations, and professional and industry trade groups all offer the opportunity to reach your target customers.

Furthermore, speaking often results in the attainment of business, by providing increased awareness of you and your company to an audience of potential clients. Presentations about industry trends or “how-to” talks can make a large impact on the audience.

Speaking opportunities represent a strong marketing, public relations, and business development tool for the following reasons:

  • Attendees get to learn about your expertise firsthand and can interact directly with you immediately before or after your presentation. An attendee asking for a business card can be the first step to obtaining a client. The media in attendance also present opportunities for added exposure.
  • Speaking can increase your visibility in vertical/industry sectors or broad-based areas that you have targeted for greater exposure.
  • You gain “advertising” by having your name and your company’s name published in the agenda seen by hundreds or even thousands of people online.

What should you be doing to get out on the speaking circuit? Take the following six steps:

1-Create high-impact presentations. Audiences want to acquire actionable information they can take back to their organizations. They don’t want to hear that your firm is a leader in this or that subject area. A solid, informative presentation that is purely educational and does not promote your business will create instant credibility and obviate the need for a “sales pitch.”  A presentation that turns out to be a sales pitch will ensure low evaluations by the audience and a one-way ticket home from the meeting organizer.

2-Target the right audience. Thoroughly research the events for which you can propose yourself as a speaker, as a solo presenter or as a panelist. Identify speaking engagements whose audiences represent the clients and industries your organization wants to reach. While you are talking to the organizer you can also find out if they pay for any presentations and if so in what format.

3-Develop a proactive speaker placement program. Getting speaking gigs takes a lot of effort. It’s fine to evaluate unsolicited speaking opportunities if you’re lucky enough to receive them. However, having someone – yourself included – dedicated to the task who will aggressively identify opportunities, develop relationships with event organizers and write and submit speaker proposals, should lead to an increase in the frequency of speaking engagements.

4-Decide on the geographic area to target for speaking engagements determine if you want to speak at local, regional, national or international events.

5-Learn the process for submitting a speaker proposal to the event organizer. It could be a formal process, such as doing so through a Call for Speakers application or simply sending an email to the person you identify as being the gatekeeper. Take care to follow the process for submitting a proposal, which includes writing a presentation abstract, submitting your bio and speaking expertise, and, of course, meeting the proposal deadline date. Make sure you tailor the abstract and the bio to each speaking opportunity so that they fit the objectives of the audience.

6-Follow up continuously and persistently with the event organizer to help you stay above the noise, since you will often be competing with many others for the same speaking slots.

Even if speaking engagements are successfully attained, be sure to maximize the engagement by ensuring that the presentation has a shelf life.  Always come armed with “take-aways”, including handouts.  The handout could be a reproduced article written by you or a colleague at the agency or a white paper on the subject at hand. You might also want to have a colleague attend with the speaker, to take advantage of the networking opportunities at an event.  And last but not least, bring business cards…lots of business cards.

By developing an effective speaker placement program for your organization, you will have taken a big step in contributing to your agency’s marketing, PR, and business development objectives.