How to Land Cool Speaking Gigs

Adoring fans. Scads of money. Free, first class plane tickets…

OK, so you probably won’t experience these things as a conference speaker…but speaking at events is still pretty fun (and great for business, too.)

Conference speaking is a great way to take your personal brand to the next level. You’re able to show folks what you know, connect with your target audience and demonstrate your expertise. I typically walk off stage with a pretty nice stack of business cards  – and that’s always a wonderful thing for lead generation.

But what I love the most about public speaking is knowing that I’m truly helping folks. One of my most favorite things in the world is seeing an audience member “get it” – and watch a smile that says “OK, I can do this” cross their face. That feeling has kept me on the speaking circuit for about 21 years now…and I still love it!

Sounds like fun? If public speaking is your goal, here’s what to do…and what to avoid like the plague…


– Start small.  Although it’s possible to start speaking at national events, most event coordinators want to see at least some speaking experience. See if you can speak at networking events, Chamber of Commerce meetings – anywhere where the audience would be interested in what you have to say.

– If the speaking opportunity asks you to pitch a topic before they accept you as a speaker, create a presentation that your audience would love.  Think about what your audience is interested in, what challenges they’re facing, and what they need to know.

– Follow the speaker guideline instructions. They are your guide for creating a fantastic session pitch. Some speaker coordinators will trash any application that doesn’t follow the instructions – so don’t let this happen to you.

– Ask if expenses/a speaker fee is included – but don’t count on it. Many conferences don’t pay any expenses (yes, that means that you’ll be paying everything yourself.) Others may comp a hotel room or your flight. It never hurts to ask if expenses are covered. Just don’t expect it.

– Create your presentation early and practice, practice, practice. Feeling unprepared on stage is no fun. There’s nothing worse than looking at a slide and wondering, “Um, so what was I going to talk about?” Review your presentation so many times that you could deliver it in your sleep.

– Did you miss a speaking deadline? Email the conference coordinator and tell them that you’re available in case someone can’t make it. During every conference, there’s always one (or more) last-minute cancellations – and you never know when you may get a call begging you to fill in.

– Jump on the phone with your fellow speakers (assuming that you’re speaking on a panel.) First, this gives you a great chance to “meet” your co-panelists before going on stage. Plus, it gives everyone a great opportunity to coordinate their presentations and make sure that there’s not any major topic overlap.

– Promote that you’ll be speaking. Post on social and put the information on your site. It’s great PR for you and the conference. Everyone wins.

– Speak slowly when you’re on stage. I struggle with this every time. :) It’s easy to speak too fast when you’re nervous or jazzed – heck, one of the main criticisms I hear is “Heather, you talk too damn fast!” Make a conscious effort to slow yourself down. It’s hard. I know.

– Thank your fellow panelists and the speaker coordinator after the event. These are the folks who helped you look good – and a few “thank you’s” can go a long way.

– Try to speak at bigger and bigger conferences. Did you just speak at a local event? Cool! Now pitch for a regional event. Once you have some more speaking experience under your belt, try for a national event.


– Harass the speaker coordinator. If you’ve sent in your application and received an initial acknowledgment, you’re good. Emailing, phoning, texting and berating the speaker coordinator will do nothing but make them angry. Trust me. These folks hold the key to your speaking opportunity… so be nice.

– Create a self-serving sales-y presentation.  This is a sure way to never be invited back to speak – ever! The audience is there to learn from you, not listen to a sales pitch. Leave any pitch to your final “contact me” slide – or leave it out entirely. If you’re good, folks will want to talk to you.

– Sell from the stage. I know a lot of books chat about “back of room sales.” It’s true that some conferences will let you sell your books/CD’s, etc – but many of them do not. When in doubt, ask – and if you hear “don’t do it,” don’t.

– Read your slides without looking at the audience. I know that public speaking is scary – and it’s easy to hide behind the podium. But if you’re reading everything on your slides and not making eye contact, you’re going to lose your audience.

– Slam your panelists. You may think that you’re being “edgy” on stage. But if you start rolling your eyes while another speaker is talking, slam what they say or get openly hostile, you’ll lose your audience. And yes, this happens more times than you’d think…unfortunately.

– Insist that you need to get paid. If you throw out an ultimatum like, “Well, if I don’t get a first class plane ticket, I’m not speaking,” you will lose the gig. What’s worse, that speaker coordinator will remember your rant and make sure that you never get invited back. If you can’t afford to speak, don’t pitch.

– Get drunk the night before your presentation. Speaking with a hangover is no fun. You won’t do a good job, and getting the cold sweats on stage is really bad news. I’m so careful about this that I sequester myself in my hotel room the night before every gig. It’s not as much fun – but I don’t have that “I’m going to throw up” feeling while I’m on stage. :)

– Forget about your leads. Did people give you business cards? Fantastic! Email them that day and thank them for attending your session. It’s so easy to forget to follow up a few days later – and who wants to receive an email saying, “We met three months ago when I was speaking. Remember me?”

– Beat yourself up if you made a mistake. We’ve all had an “oops” on stage. They suck. I know. Fortunately, people forget (or they don’t even notice in the first place!) Learn the lesson and move on. After all, you have more speaking gigs to land!

What else would you add to this list?

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