How to Get Started as a Professional Conference Speaker

kathryn by Kathryn Hawkins on October 11, 2011
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Want to generate more business leads and add another income stream? Get ready to step onto the podium. Speaking at industry conferences is an excellent way to promote your services, and, if you’re lucky, earn substantial money doing it. Writer Malcolm Gladwell reportedly commands up to $80,000 for a one-hour lecture. It sure beats blogging!

Here’s how to get started as a professional speaker:

  • Position yourself as an expert. The most important factor in public speaking isn’t the quality of your diction, but the value of what you have to say. The majority of sought-after public speakers have high-traffic blogs or best-selling books to their name and have built their speaking careers on presentations based on their key theories. Gladwell’s speaking topics, for instance, go into depth about concepts he covers in his books and New Yorker articles, such as the “stickiness factor” of Sesame Street. Focus on developing your expertise in an area related to your business by blogging, responding to HARO queries, and publishing a book (or e-book).
  • Volunteer to give a few free keynote speeches. No one’s going to pay you five figures for a lecture if you’re not a known quantity. To get some practice on the podium and start building a reputation as a speaker, ask local groups whether they’d be interested in a free keynote speech for an upcoming event. Approach your local chamber of commerce and then move on to higher-profile opportunities, such as a panel at South by Southwest. Even though you’re not being paid, you can capitalize on these opportunities by distributing business cards and other marketing collateral, which may help you attract new clients. Make sure to record your speeches, too: You can use audio and video samples to sell your speaking services to other organizations.
  • Market your services as a speaker. Once you’ve given a few speeches, it’s time to start selling your services. Put together marketing materials, such as a website and brochure, that discuss your public-speaking abilities. These materials should include a detailed biography, a summary of previous speaking engagements, and synopses of various potential speech topics. Research upcoming conferences related to your industry, and send your materials to planning committee members as early as possible.
  • Sign on with a speakers bureau. Most high-profile public speakers get bookings through an agency that’s dedicated to soliciting speaking opportunities for its talent. Visit the International Association of Speakers Bureaus’ member directory to find an agency that fits your expertise. Once you’ve built up a reputation on the lecture circuit, you’ll have a good shot at landing an agent.
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