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speaking engagement tips Polywork

4 steps to getting more speaking engagements, according to an expert

Whether you dream of inspiring huge audiences as a professional speaker or just want to grow thought leadership in your industry, getting yourself on more stages can be a great step forward in your career. But speaking opportunities can feel like one of those catch-22 things where it feels like you need to have experience before anyone will give you opportunities.

Luckily, it doesn’t have to be that way. Polywork talked with Sally Zimney, professional speaker and speaking coach at BeMoved, about the tactics she recommends her clients use for finding (and landing!) more speaking engagements.

1. Make sure people know that you’re a speaker

Zimney says that the first step in drumming up more speaking gigs is shockingly basic, and yet is overlooked by so many people: simply make sure you’re broadcasting to the world the fact that speaking is one of the many skills in your repertoire.

“It's amazing how people are like, “I want to speak more,” and nowhere on their bio does it say that they're a speaker, nowhere on their website does it say that they're a speaker,” she explains. So, simply updating your personal website, personal branding statement, online profiles, and anywhere that someone might go to learn more about you is step one. But to take things even further, you want to do everything you can to demonstrate that you’re a good speaker.

Your Polywork profile can be a great place to advertise that you’re open to speaking at events. Source: Polywork

This is where preparing what Zimney calls “speaker marketing materials 101” comes in. This includes a one-pager with your bio, the topics you cover, credibility check marks like a list of where you’ve spoken in the past or testimonials from past gigs, and information on your general availability and any caveats (e.g., if you only speak virtually or prefer limited travel). You’ll also want a speaker reel: A short video that shows clips of you giving talks so organizers can see you in action before trusting you in front of their audiences.

If you don’t yet have a lot of impressive gigs in your back pocket to bolster these materials, Zimney says to work with what you’ve got. “Having something is better than having nothing,” she explains. “If your goal is not to become a professional speaker, just having one clip of you speaking might be good enough.”

2. Opt in to all speaking opportunities—and don’t be afraid to ask for them

As for getting those first clips, Zimney says to say yes to every stage offered to you, no matter how small: free gigs, local Chamber of Commerce talks, library community events, meetups, random panels. “Say yes to whatever at first and then you can start to leverage from there,” she says.

For one, these opportunities can help you to start building those marketing materials. “You want the testimonials, the photos, and the videos from that experience,” Zimeny explains, suggesting that if the event organizers aren’t capturing media, you bring along a friend to record you on their phone and snap some pictures.

The more you speak, the more you speak. That’s an audience full of people who say, ‘Oh, wow, [your name] was awesome. I’ve got a thing and I want to invite them to that.

But more than that, Zimney says, “The more you speak, the more you speak. That’s an audience full of people who say, ‘Oh, wow, [your name] was awesome. I’ve got a thing and I want to invite them to that.”

It’s important to note that all of these early speaking engagements aren’t just going to land in your lap—you’ll likely have to go out and ask for them. “We like to think that these opportunities will just happen naturally, but there’s a certain level of hustle in the speaking business. You’ve got to do a lot of reaching out and pitching,” Zimney says, suggesting you start by asking your network if they know of any opportunities, or reaching out cold to conferences and organizations you admire. There are also professional organizations you can join that will help you find speaking engagements for a monthly fee, like SpeakerHub, eSpeakers, and Innovation Women.

3. Seek out paid speaking opportunities before you feel ready

If getting paid to speak is one of your professional goals, Zimney says the biggest mistake she sees is people undercharging (or not charging at all) for too long. “The biggest difference between people who get paid to speak and those who don’t is that the people who get paid to speak ask for it,” she says.

The biggest difference between people who get paid to speak and those who don’t is that the people who get paid to speak ask for it.

Yes, asking for money can feel uncomfortable, but Zimney adds that money translates to credibility in the speaking industry in a way that surprises a lot of people. “If you come in with 20 years of experience in your industry and you speak for free, that undercuts your credibility. If you're keynoting a conference and you're charging less than $10,000 people might not think you are experienced or know what you're talking about,” she explains. While speaker fees can seem high, they’re not just paying for your time, but also for your experience, your wisdom, and the transformation that you’re passing onto the audience.

Zimney shares one caveat: “If you're asking for money, then you better deliver the goods,” she says, with higher-quality marketing materials and a truly incredible presentation.

4. Keep building your thought leadership

While speaking opportunities can help build thought leadership in your industry, looking for opportunities to build thought leadership in other ways can also help foster more speaking engagements. “If you want people to bring you in, they need to have a sense that you are an authority in your industry,” Zimney says. “So the question is, how do you build your authority? How do you show the world that you're an authority on this topic and industry and have a particular point of view that you want to share?”

For instance, by writing a thought provoking blog or being a guest on podcasts, you can start sharing your perspective on topics you might speak about, and get your name out there to folks who may be interested in hiring you.

If nothing else, Zimney suggests turning to the free stage of social media to speak your mind and share your thoughts. “Show your face and speak words on social media,” she says. “Don't just hide behind the pictures or your writing—we need to see you speak.”