Beyond PR

Aug 13, 2012

Dear Gracie: How to Land Speaking Gigs

Dear Gracie,

I’m a seasoned industry expert, but do not have any significant experience as a speaker. How do I get my name on the radar of conferences, trade shows, workshops, etc.? Is this a good way to supplement income? What can I expect?

Seeking Speeches


Dear Seeking Speeches:

Five ProfNet experts share some advice:

Dan Collins, senior director of media relations at Mercy Medical Center, suggests four ways to break into speaking:

1) Have a Notable Political, Religious or Athletic Career.

  • Political: Federal workers at the White House level, or former Secretaries of State are always in demand.
  • Religious: a la Billy Graham
  • Athletic: Always a slam dunk!

2) Write a Book.Preferably published by a well-known company like Random House or HarperCollins.

3) Be Very Funny. Take notes from Bill Crosby.

4) Appear on a Top-Rated Reality Show. This might be a tough one — but remember the uproar last year when Rutgers University paid Snooki from “Jersey Shore” $32,000 to speak? Compare that to the $30,000 they paid Nobel Prize-winning author and feminist Toni Morrison to speak at their commencement ceremony.

General tips on landing speaking gigs:

1) Be Visible. The expert’s personal or company website needs to show that they are available to speak, explains Lorrie Thomas Ross, CEO of Web Marketing Therapy who is also a speaking trainer and paid speaker herself. People who want to speak have to let organizations know they are available to talk and can add value to events.

2) Network. Experts should attend the events they’d like to speak at, and let friends and colleagues know they’re available too, says Lauren Fleming, publishing specialist at Emerson Consulting Group and author of Business Review USA’s article “Want to Let People Know You’re an Expert? Start Speaking!”

3) Team Up. If someone in the field is already an experienced speaker, you could offer to open for them, says Fleming. That experienced speaker already has a fan base which can be used to build credibility by association.

4) Create a Demo. Invite colleagues and friends to a private room and tape a speech, suggests Alan Weiss, president of Summit Consulting Group, author of “Million Dollar Speaking” and member of the Speaking Hall of Fame. There should be two cameras: one on the speaker and one on the audience. Or consider making a YouTube video, adds Fleming.

5) Offer Free Speeches. It pays to give free speeches — for the practice, testimonials and video clips, says Thomas Ross.

6) Start Small. Check out the local Chamber of Commerce, industry networking groups, Rotary Clubs, etc., says Fleming. Any meeting with about five to 20 people in attendance who will show up to the meeting regardless of the speaker.

7) Pitch Trade Associations. Form a distinct portfolio of expertise — whether that’s through books, articles, teleconferences, interviews, etc. — to pitch trade executives, says Weiss.

8) ProfNet Speaker Service. If you’re a ProfNet member, you can monitor query feeds for Speaker Service opportunities.

What to know about fees for speaking engagements, according to Weiss:

  • Typical Rates. The top non-celebrity speakers earn $25,000 or so for a keynote (typically 60-90 minutes), but most excellent speakers earn $10,000, and most speakers earn only about $3,500 per speech or even less.
  • Reimbursements. Because speaking engagements are labor intensive, expenses are generally reimbursed. Speakers can request first-class airfare, for example.

To pitch a speaker, create a “sales package with sizzle,” says Susan Tellem, partner at Tellem Grody Public Relations. This should include six key components:

1) Introduction. Provide a brief description of the speaker and what makes him or her so dynamic.

2) List of Topics. Briefly summarize the subjects the speaker can discuss. Topics should cater to different audiences: consumers and the public, executives and administrators, industry professionals, etc.

3) Press Kit. A full electronic press kit.

4) Speaker Sheet. Condense the bio information, fees and suggested topics onto a single page.

5) Testimonials. If the speaker has previous experience, provide audience or group testimonials.

6) Media Clips. Provide prior press coverage of the speaker with links or PDFs, including any broadcast appearances.

Now break a leg!


Written by Grace Lavigne, senior editor of ProfNet, a service that helps journalists connect with expert sources. Dear Gracie is published weekly on ProfNet Connect, a free social networking site for communicators. To read more from Grace, check out her blog on ProfNet Connect.

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