Tuesday, December 9, 2008

How To Start Speaking At Events

Original post by Chris Brogan on the Chris Brogan blog

Chris Brogan One day, I wasn’t a speaker at conferences, and then I was. And then a little while later, I was a paid speaker. And now, I’m a decently paid speaker. Some day, I hope to be a really well-paid speaker. It’s not a bad way to make a few pesos, if only to fund all the crazy research I like to do all the time. (Also nice that it pays for the occasional bowl of Frosted Mini Wheats -strawberry flavor- for my kids, too.) If you’re interested in speaking at events, I have some ideas on how you might get that going.

You might first ask yourself what your goal might be. Are you speaking to further establish yourself and your company as thought leaders? Are you trying to pitch some amazing product? Are you hoping to share the learnings found in your awesome book (available for 24.95 from O’Reilly Publishing)? That’s a good first thing to know: your goal. But after that, my advice is fairly the same.

How to Start Speaking at Events

Blog Your Speech - My first presentation at a conference was Content Networks are the New Blogs. I gave it at BarCamp Boston. I think it went smashingly, but if you want to know for sure, ask Christopher S. Penn. He was there. That’s where we founded PodCamp. Before I stepped on stage (in this case, it’s BarCamp, so the barrier to speaking is pretty low), I looked for support about the blog post, to see if it fit my potential audience.

Since then, I still use the technique. I write about the types of speeches I hope to give. It works all the time. I often hear from various verticals with an association meeting who want to better understand something I brought up in a blog post, or they’ll ask me to further customize something to a specific industry. In both cases, I love the opportunity. It’s a great way to find new places to speak.

Make Friends - It never hurts to actually know some conference organizers. I didn’t know Rick Calvert well before speaking at the first BlogWorld Expo, but I met him and Patti Hosking at Gnomedex and that made it easier to be invited to speak.

Showing up at conferences and having decent conversations with people makes it a bit easier to start speaking at events, because then people come to realize and appreciate the kinds of things you’re about, and might want to know more about your ability to speak on a stage.

Shoot Video- So, you might not have put this one together, but you don’t have to attend a conference to speak. You can just set up your video camera or the iSight in your laptop, and shoot your own speech. Videobloggers do it all the time. Or haven’t you ever watched Gary Vaynerchuk?

Now, if you get to speak at an event, at all costs, try to get some video capture of it. Why? Because it means that people will get the chance to see you in action. And that brings me to my next point .

Have a Speaking Page

One of the best things I ever did was build a speaking page, which contains a few elements for you to get a better sense of what I can do for your organization:

  • It starts with a two paragraph overview of who I am and what I talk about.
  • It goes right into sample speaking topics, which are write-ups of presentations I’ve given. (These make it really easy for someone to envision how to use me at their event.)
  • Next comes some sample video presentations (see why I told you to shoot video?). These have proven really helpful to me.
  • I then follow with the laundry list of places crazy enough to have had me speak there.
  • Next to last, but vital are testimonials, which give others the chance to brag about you.
  • And finally, I give people an email address where to contact me.

Having a speaking page has given me lots in the way of evidence that I’m doing okay when it comes to presenting.

Social Proof

I also use my LinkedIn profile to get recommendations from people who’ve seen me speak, and I list professional speaker as one of my “jobs” on the site. Further, if I’m going to an event, I blog about the event at least once before attending, and I use Twitter a lot at the event so that it’s not unknown that I’m speaking yet again.

This is all under the realm of social proof. When people see you in the role of speaker, they better understand how you’re going to help, and what you’re going to deliver. The more they see proof of how you’ve delivered, the more they’ll be interested in hiring you for the next gig.

How to Get Paid to Speak


Okay, that’s step 1, and believe me it’s not that easy. We don’t pay speakers for myNew Marketing Summit, and I couldn’t pay for speakers at Video on the Net. Lots of shows can’t afford to pay for speakers, but those are just the shows you knowabout. There are very deserving and interesting shows out there that do pay a speaker’s fee, and that do want a paid professional speaker who will deliver quite a lot of value back to their attendees for that money.

One way to see who might potentially pay is to see what they charge for admission. If the price is high, there’s likely a little budget for speaking fees.

**Note: The opportunity to speak at certain places, even for free, sometimes outweighs a fee.

Don’t discount a speaking opportunity because it doesn’t pay. Some places even charge for speaking, as part of a larger sponsorship or exhibitor’s package. That doesn’t mean there aren’t opportunities and value in speaking there. Instead, it means that you have to have a conversion plan in mind to transform your efforts as a speaker into business downstream.

Other Things to Consider

Have a good About page on your website. People want to know about the person they’re considering for a slot in their show. Make sure you’re timely in responding to requests for information (which I’m horrible at, but people have been nice to me). Do what you can to make your presentation worth their time, let alone their money.

And above all else, start somewhere. I’ve done some rough analysis, and it turns out that exactly 100% of speakers I’ve met at conferences all started by speaking.