In so many articles and videos about speaking, I hear so much advice about how to craft your talk, how to market your talk, but rarely does anyone ever give tangible advice on where you can actually apply to speak as a speaker.
Just give me the answers already.
So, I did my own research to find the answers and this is what I came up with.
I have tried some of these suggestions, and others have simply been recommended. Let me know which ones you find most effective.
I have broken down the categories of places to speak into these nine areas:
- Industry-Specific Conferences
- Follow The Path of Speakers You Respect
- Industry-Specific Associations
- High Schools
- Speaker Bureaus
- Social Audio Apps
- Online Communities
#1. Industry-Specific Conferences
Apply directly to conferences in the industry you are interested in.
- Identify the industry and audience you want to be a part of, and then find every conference for that industry that piques your interest.
- I’ve spoken at many Tech, Human Resources/Talent Development, & Non-Profit conferences, so I created a list of all the conferences I’ve applied to or encouraged my friends and coaching clients to apply to.
- Here’s the comprehensive list that shares top conferences around the world, Women’s Conferences, HR Conferences, Parks & Recreation Conferences, Event Planning, as well as SHRM & ATD Chapters:
This list is constantly updated.
- I either searched for the speaker application on the conference page or emailed the conference organizers to see if they were taking new speakers.
- The easiest way to contact the Conference Organizers is by looking them up on LinkedIn and DMing them, or you can find their email using Clearbit Connect.
- Another great way to find a call for speakers is to type #callforspeakers on LinkedIn’s search bar and sort by latest posts. You can do the same on Twitter and Instagram. Do this every quarter, as you will see new call for speakers opportunities that weren’t available a few months ago.
- Other places to find speaking opportunities are Sessionize, Conference Monkey, and Intel Engine.
Have A Conference Lead-Generation Follow-Up Plan
Most conferences do not pay, so you are speaking to display your work to specific companies so that they can hire you directly. Ensure you have a clear follow-up strategy to maximize gathering leads during and after your talk.
I have seen speakers provide some value-add at the end and ask attendees to either leave their business cards on the seat to be collected or have someone collect them at the door as people exit. Both are smart strategies to ensure you can follow up with the people who attended your talk.
- TEDx Stages: People talk about how becoming a TEDx speaker is a big deal, but it isn’t that difficult to get booked as there are hundreds of TEDx events worldwide. You can find TEDx events here. Find out the theme of the TEDx talk and submit it to a few, and you’ll eventually get picked. The Humor Engineer, Andrew Tarvin wrote a great article on how to prep for a TEDx talk and the process of doing it.
- Apply to speak at Creative Mornings, a monthly Breakfast-Lecture series for Creatives created by Tina Roth Eisenberg, with over 106 chapters worldwide.
- You can find speaker applications simply by doing a basic google search: Apply To Be A Speaker
Virtual Conferences & Summits
One of the best virtual conferences I have spoken at on four separate occasions is the HR Virtual Summit run by Bamboo HR. They provide you with the emails of every attendee, even tracking the time that attendee stayed to watch your talk. Last year, they gave speakers a complimentary Yeti microphone and a quality computer camera to ensure their talk was excellent.
Also, due to the pandemic, there have been many more virtual summits that have popped up. Many people and organizations use summits as lead generators and need speakers to bring in more attendees.
Look up summits based on your interest. Find the creator/coordinators of the summit and ask if you can speak or if you know of other similar summits to speak at.
#2. Follow The Path of Speakers You Respect
Find speakers you admire most and see where they have spoken and apply
- The phenomenal speaker Denise Jacobs, who once filled in for Brene Brown, gave me this advice
- Denise shows her entire list of speaking engagements, and probably other speakers do this as well, so you can find venues and conferences that resonate with you
- If any of your speaker friends have spoken at venues/conferences that you want to speak at, time to call in some favors and ask them if they can do an introduction for you
#3. Industry-Specific Associations
EVENT MANAGEMENT ASSOCIATIONS
Event Management companies are valued in their industry by having access to the latest and most talented rosters to provide value to their clients.
Get on their radars by attending their chapter association happy hours or presenting at quarterly gatherings. Each association listed below has both in-person and virtual events:
- MPI — Meeting Professionals International
- ILEA — International Live Entertainment Association
- PCMA — Professional Convention Management Association
- IAEE — International Association of Exhibitions and Events
If you want to connect with HR teams, your best bet is to contact SHRM Chapters. There are over 575 SHRM chapters in existence, and many of them are looking for monthly speakers. You can find one near you here. Some SHRM Chapters have a budget for speakers, others have an honorarium, and some have no budget but are potentially open to an exchange of service (e.g., sharing attendees list, being included in their newsletter, etc.) with you.
Talent Development is a subset of Human Resources comprised of learning & development staff, facilitators, curriculum designers, and talent development executives. The Association of Talent Development has over 100 chapters in the U.S. You can find local ones here.
There are many types of associations depending on your industry, from The Association of Change Management Professionals (ACMP) to Manufacturing Associations.
If you want to find a specific association, check out the Directory of Associations here. It’s the most comprehensive list of associations.
Each has its national conferences, as well as chapter events that you can speak at. It’s your job to hustle to find the ones that fit your work and outreach to them. Expect a 5–7% success rate, so be ready to reach out to many organizations to see progress.
Colleges have departments devoted to finding speakers to bring value to the campus. Simply because you don’t have a Ph.D. doesn’t mean you aren’t qualified to speak in colleges. College campus activities departments are constantly looking for unique talent that can open their eyes to worlds that college kids might not have access to.
I remember attending a talk once by a well-known graffiti artist in NY. No college professor could have shared this street artist's experience with us, especially about avoiding the cops when tagging a specific building.
Here are the organizations and associations you may need to go through to get to the colleges. You can also contact college campus activities departments directly, but these associations usually are the gatekeepers that identify quality talent.
- NACA — National Association of Campus Activities
- APCA — Association For The Promotion of Campus Activities
- ACCED-I — Association of Collegiate Conference and Events Directors-International
- Campus Speaks — College Speaker Agency
- Greek University — College Speaker Agency
- LAI — College & Universities — College Speaker Agency
- Conscious Campus — College Speaker Agency
You can apply to be on their roster if they are a speaker bureau or agency. If they are an association, they typically have in-person conferences that you can apply to speak at to showcase your talent. The HBO show, Crashing, features an episode where comedians performed at NACA:
It is an excellent episode for understanding what that vibe is like.
Michael Ayalon of Greek University was generous enough to share his wisdom on how to get onto campus through the Fraternity route. It’s worth reaching out to him as he has a vast knowledge of how to speak on college campuses, as he has been doing it for over 15 years. He recommends applying to the call for speakers for these five conferences:
- Association of Fraternity/Sorority Advisors (AFA) — July Call For Speakers
- Northeast Greek Leadership Association (NGLA) — Sept. Call For Programs
- Southeast Greek Leadership Association (SGLA) — TBA Call For Speakers
- Association of Fraternity Leadership Values (AFLA) Central — Sept. Call
- Association of Fraternity Leadership Values (AFLA) West — Sept. Call
#5. Junior High & High Schools
Many speakers don’t know that there is a whole high school speaking world on which you could make an entire living. High School Speakers can get paid between $1,000 — $8,000 a talk, depending on how good and how long they have been doing this work.
You can apply directly to high school to speak, but usually, the gatekeepers are these conferences, where you can present to show your work. Doing well at one of these conferences/conventions can set you up with many speaking engagements just for junior high & high schools in that state.
High School Conference/Convention & Month
- Massachusetts Association of Student Councils — January
- Idaho Association of Student Councils — February
- New Mexico Association of Student Councils — February
- CADA State Convention — March
- Missouri Association of Student Councils — March
- Texas Association of Student Councils — April
- Illinois Association of Student Councils — May
- National Student Council Conference — June
- Principal Conference — July
- Southern Association of Student Councils — October
- Oregon Association of Student Councils
- Pennsylvania Association of Student Councils
- Georgia Association of Student Councils
Here are some of the Junior High/High School Speakers I came across who are doing great work right now that are worth checking out to get pointers from:
- Tyler Durman
- Harriet Turk
- Patrick Maurer
- Jeremy Anderson
- Scott Backovich
- Keith Hawkins
- Blake Fly
- Houston Kraft
#6. Join A Speaker’s Bureau
There are many opinions about the benefits of joining a Speaker’s Bureau. When to join, if it is beneficial to have someone representing you. I am not familiar with this world, so I gathered a bunch of resources where you could find out everything you need to know about speaker bureaus and come up with your conclusion on this avenue.
Speaker Bureau Resources
- Speakers Bureaus: Everything You Need To Know
- What You Need To Know About Speaker’s Bureaus & How They Work — Forbes
- How To Successfully Land Speaker Bureau Representation
Speaker Bureaus To Consider
A friend of mine who is part of a Speaker’s Bureau says that she still has to look for work while also being part of a bureau. It depends on your speaker agent and how much they are willing to work for you while also managing an entire list of other clients.
If your work is trending (I.e., DEI during the BLM resurgence or Toxic Masculinity during #MeToo), speaker agents may be more likely to pitch your work as that is what their clients are currently looking for.
Speaker bureaus aren’t the end-all for speakers, but they can provide an additional revenue stream where you utilize the connections and relationships these bureaus have built to get into venues you might not be able to access directly.
If you aren’t ready to join a speaker bureau but want to connect with other speakers, join a local speaker’s association. The largest one in the U.S. is the National Speakers Association(NSA). They have local chapters all over the country. They do monthly online trainings throughout the year and even host a monthly virtual networking event for speakers called Mic Swap, hosted by the phenomenal speaker Robbie Samuel.
#7. Social Audio Apps
I’m putting Clubhouse and Twitter’s Spaces as separate spaces to speak because I consider these apps 24-hour conferences/summits. At any time of the day, you can find a stage to speak on simply using this app. You can hop on stages of rooms next to other speakers, ask to be a guest moderator for a clubhouse room to show your work, or create your rooms and speak as a moderator. The craziest part is the strong likelihood of getting an audience, even if small.
The hype for these apps has died down, so they aren’t as popular, like a club that people don’t go to anymore, but if you are looking for a stage, if even a small one, you have one 24 hours a day to go to.
Never, in the history of social media, do we have access to people and networks like this 24 hours a day in real-time.
Also, there are many rooms run by professional speakers and people who work for speaker bureaus, so you can learn a great deal about the industry and build relationships with these speakers. The more you show up in their rooms and contact them via Instagram/Twitter DM, the more they might be willing to check out your speaking work.
These apps provide you a venue to practice your talking points and do it in real-time with audience reaction, so you can see what resonates and what doesn’t.
Also, consider all the main social media apps where you can go live as more stages you can practice on. You can go live on TikTok, LinkedIn, YouTube, Instagram, Twitch, and Facebook. Even if you have a few people watching, it gives you more reps, making you a better speaker.
Ten years ago, Speakers didn’t have all these opportunities to practice in front of live audiences, so why not take advantage of the abundance of possibilities with these social media stages?
If you want to practice your talking points or strengthen certain parts of your talk, podcasts are a great venue to do this while displaying your work. There are 850,000 active podcasts worldwide, and a decent percentage are consistently looking for guests.
In my article, How I Got On Over 100 Podcasts In 9 months, I share the benefits of being on podcasts and the steps to get on podcasts. This isn’t a paid opportunity, but it introduces your work to people you wouldn’t otherwise have access to, and you get to practice working on your talks.
I created six new talks based on the talking points I honed, being on over 150 podcasts in 2020.
#9. Online Communities
We underestimate the number of strong online communities of people who have never met but look out for one another. Clubhouse is just one example of this, but we need to explore all the other online community gathering spaces (I.e., Slack Groups, LinkedIn Groups, Facebook Groups, Hobby/Interest Specific Online Groups)
Slack Groups: Top 14 Ways To Find Open Slack Communities
Facebook Groups: Search specific topics under FB Groups (I.e., Speaker & Coaches Network Society, International Speakers, The Women/Womxn, BIPOC, and Inclusivity Speaker Initiative, Black Speaker’s Collective, etc.)
LinkedIn Groups: Search specific subject matter such as LinkedIn Groups for the Speaker Community
Hobby/Interests Groups: Search for specific subject matters such as Travel Groups (I.e., The Nomadic Network, Location Indie, Ultimate List of Travel Groups) or speaker communities like Heroic Public Speaking
If you try every single one of these suggestions and you still can’t find a place to speak, check out this article which I believe is the most comprehensive article on finding more speaking gigs:
Books On Getting Paid To Speak:
Videos On Getting Paid To Speak:
Bonus: Tell Everyone You Know You Are A Speaker
We sometimes forget to tell the people closest to us what we actually want to do. In my article about marketing yourself through play, I encourage people to build a list of all the people they know (friends, former colleagues, FB/LinkedIn/Instagram connections, etc.) and anyone you feel comfortable emailing. Put them all on a spreadsheet with their contact info, and when you are ready, figure out what you’d like to ask of them.
- Easiest Ask: Would they be willing to share a link with their network or community of you speaking?
- Medium Ask: Can they introduce you to someone or to an organization that you want to speak at? (Find out who they are connected with on LinkedIn)
- Big Ask: Would they be open to hiring you to speak, or would they vouch for you to someone that could use your speaking services?
If you simply did this one step with your entire network, you could probably start booking paid speaking gigs right now.
We are usually scared to ask for help, so we avoid this. You will most likely get your first speaking gig from someone you know. Embrace this and see where this adventure takes you.
Whatever you do, whatever suggestion you pursue, the essential step is to keep trying, consistently show up even if you are getting rejected, and choosing not to give up.
If you truly have an important message you want to share with the world, put in the work to make this a reality. Don’t simply do it for yourself. Do it for the person that needs to hear your words to pursue their purpose. I expand on this in this Good Will Hunting snippet based on the construction scene part of the movie.
In 1999, Brene Brown said she wanted to have a global conversation on vulnerability and shame. Her Netflix special came out in 2019, 20 years after she committed to doing this work.
Do the work for the sake of doing the work, let go of the results, and see the magic that unfolds.