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.
Some of these suggestions I have tried, and others I 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 9 areas:
- Industry-Specific Conferences
- Follow The Path of Speakers You Respect
- Event Management Associations
- High Schools
- Speaker Bureaus
- Online Communities
#1. Industry-Specific Conferences
Apply directly to conferences from the industry you are interested in.
- Identify the industry and audience that you want to be a part of and then find every conference for that industry that piques your interest.
- I work with many tech companies, so I created a list of all the Top Tech Conferences Looking For Speakers. 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.
- Here is an additional list of conference venues for Speakers Who Need To Speak — 100 Stages
Have A Conference Lead-Generation Follow-Up Plan
Most conferences do not pay, so you are speaking in order to display your work to specific companies, so they can hire you directly. Make sure you have a clear follow-up strategy in order to maximize gathering leads during and after your talk.
I have seen speakers provide some sort of value-add at the end and ask attendees to either leave their business cards on the seat to be collected or have someone collecting business cards at the door as people are exiting. Both are smart strategies to make sure you can follow up with the people that attended your talk.
- TEDx Stages: People talk about how it is a big deal to become a TEDx speaker, but it really isn’t that difficult to get booked as there are hundreds of TEDx events all over the world. You can find TEDx events here. Find out the theme of the TEDx talk and submit to a few and you’ll eventually get picked. The Humor Engineer, Andrew Tarvin wrote a really 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 around the world.
- 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, which I have spoken at twice is the HR Virtual Summit run by Bamboo HR. They provide you the emails of every attendee, even tracking the amount of time that attendee stayed to watch your talk. Last year, they even 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 are using 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 at and apply
- The phenomenal speaker Denise Jacobs, who once filled in for Brene Brown, gave me this advice
- Denise actually 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. Event Management Companies & Associations
Event Management companies are valued in their industry by how they have access to the latest and most talented rosters to provide value to their clients.
Get on their radars by either attending their chapter association happy hours or presenting at their 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
Colleges have departments specifically devoted to finding speakers to bring value to the campus. Simply because you don’t have a PHd 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 of a well-known graffiti artist in NY. No college professor could have shared with us the experience this street artist shared with us, especially about how to avoid the cops when tagging a specific building.
Here are the organizations and associations that 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
If they are a speaker bureau or agency, you can submit an application to be on their roster. If they are an association, they typically have conferences, virtual and in-person, that you can apply to speak at to showcase your talent. In the HBO show, Crashing, they feature an episode where comedians performed at NACA:
It is a really great episode in getting an idea of what that vibe is like.
#5. Junior High & High Schools
Many speakers don’t know that there are is a whole high school speaking world where you could make an entire living on. High School Speakers can get paid between $1,000 — $8,000 a talk depending on how good they are 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. If you do well at one of these conferences/conventions, it 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:
#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 or not. I am not familiar with this world, so I gathered a bunch of resources where you can find out everything you need to know about speaker bureaus and come up with your own 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 her own work, while also being part of a bureau. It really depends on your speaker agent and how much they are willing to work for you, while also managing a whole 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 are utilizing the connections and relationships these bureaus have built to get into venues you might not be able to access directly.
The reason why I’m putting Clubhouse and eventually Twitter’s Spaces, as a separate space to speak is that 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, you can ask to be a guest moderator for a clubhouse room to show your work, or you can create your own rooms and speak as a moderator. The craziest part is there is a strong likelihood you’ll get an audience.
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, 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 not only practice your talking points but do it in real-time with audience reaction, so you can see what resonates and what doesn’t.
If you want to practice your talking points or strengthen certain parts of your talk, a great venue to do this while display your work is podcasts. There are currently 850,000 active podcasts around the world, and a decent percentage of them 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, as well as the steps to get on podcasts. This isn’t a paid opportunity, but it does introduce your work to people you wouldn’t otherwise have access to and you get the practice of working on your talks.
I was able to create two brand new talks based on the talking points that I honed being on over 150 podcasts since last March.
#9. Online Communities
We underestimate the number of strong online communities of people who have never met each other 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 certain topics under FB Groups (I.e. Speaker & Coaches Network Society, International Speakers, The Women/Womxn, BIPOC, and Inclusivity Speaker Initiative, )
LinkedIn Groups: Search certain subject matter such as LinkedIn Groups for the Speaker Community
Hobby/Interests Groups: Search for certain 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 at, check out this article which I believe is the most comprehensive article on finding more speaking gigs:
Books 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 that they know (friends, former colleagues, FB/LinkedIn/Instagram connections, etc.) anyone that you feel comfortable emailing. Put them all on a spreadsheet with their contact info, and when you are ready, figuring out what you’d like to ask of them.
- Easiest Ask: Would they be willing to share a link with their network or their 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.
Most of the time, we are scared to ask for help though, so we usually avoid this one. Embrace this and see where this adventure takes you.
Whatever you do, whatever suggestion you end up pursuing, the most important step is to keep trying, consistently showing up even if you are getting rejected, and choosing not to give up.
If you truly have an important message that you want to share with the world, put in the work to make this a reality. Don’t simply do it for you. Do it for the person that needs to hear your words in order to pursue their purpose. I expand on this in this Good Will Hunting snippet based on the construction scene part of the movie.
Back in 1999, Brene Brown said that 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, letting go of the results, and see the magic that unfolds.