Originally published on Entrepreneur Magazine on July 24, 2015.
Imagine going to your next conference. You’re given the choice to be in the audience or onstage. Which do you choose?
Some people are so scared to give a speech, they’d rather be in the casket at a funeral than give the eulogy. OK, that’s an old Seinfeldjoke. But, there is some truth to it, because some people are deathly afraid to take the stage to share their point of view.
If that’s not you — if you actually want to find your first speaking opportunity, or more speaking opportunities — let me share three tips for doing just that. These apply to paid speaking gigs, but for all practical purposes, they will help you get your first (unpaid) ten gigs that in turn will pave the path to paid gigs, if that’s what you want.
My credentials? I started speaking for my business three years ago. The “truths” I share here worked for my first gig and have continued to do so for my 40-plus speeches since then. I have also interviewed many speakers on my podcast about their businesses to deepen my understanding of what it takes to be invited to the “stage.”
Now, don’t assume that a “stage” has to be a 2,000-seat arena. “Stage” can mean any setting where you share your message with an audience. And technically, that audience can constitute as few as two people. Most of my own speeches have been to groups under 75.
So, here are those three tips for grabbing consistent speaking gigs:
1. Be proactive.
Going after what you want is important when it comes to speaking. At first, you’ll rarely have people ringing you up in hopes you’ll give a speech. You’ll have to go after it.
But the reactive person gets what the proactive person refused. So, don’t get comfortable, waiting. Proactive people tend to get the best clients, best projects and best speaking opportunities.
2. Get social proof.
Organizers and planners (those who select speakers) want to know you will add value to their event. The biggest worry they have is selecting someone who might reflect negatively on them.
Organizers and planners also tend to select speakers they have seen in person. If someone they trust has seen you speak, that works just as well. Finally, there is the ever-so-famous speaker-demo video. This will work too, but most organizers prefer to see you in person before giving you that big chance. If you do rely on a demo video, high production quality is essential if you want to be taken seriously and get paid gigs.
If you submit a testimonial, know that most of these are weak. A powerful testimonial, however, is one that addresses the transformative quality in your speech. Additionally, testimonials with photos tend to be more trustworthy. If your testimonial is on video, that helps build trust even more.
First-time speakers, don’t fret! Social proof can come from your perceived expert level. If the organizer or planner sees you as an expert, he or she will give you a chance even if you have never spoken before. I had a client, Ron Dod, with Grey Umbrella Marketing, apply for a huge speaking opportunity in his market, Magneto’s Imagine 2015 conference. Ron got the gig on the first application, simply because he was already positioned as an expert for his topic.
Don’t let anyone stop you from applying.
3. Build relationships.
Your success is mostly about the relationships you create. Organizers and planners like to know you before giving you a shot at their stage. If you want to get your first or more speaking engagements, you must build relationships.
You should also get to know other speakers and even other members of the organization, too.
An example comes from my own experience, back when I made a move to speak at Podcast Movement last year, where my peers were learning about podcasting. As a podcaster myself, this was a huge speaking opportunity I really wanted. Four months ahead of time, I become good friends with Jared Easley, one of the organizers. I surely didn’t expect to be invited to speak at such a big conference. But after I talked with him about a specific topic that I wanted to offer the audience, Easley gave me a shot. Building that relationship allowed me be more than just an applicant.
Without knowing the organizers or the selection committee, you will be relying solely on your own social proof and proactive approach. So, what are you waiting for?
Check out the infographic, 7 Steps to Getting Speaking Gigs, for more thoughts on getting the gig.