One of the most common questions I get as a speaking coach is one of the simplest: How do I find speaking opportunities? Speakers both new and experienced are often confused about where to find speaking gigs and how to establish a consistent stream of opportunities. So that's what we're tackling in this episode!

The good news is, there are tons of speaking opportunities out there. And since you know now that there's no shortage of places to share your message, you just have to go out and find them. I'm walking you through three of my favorite methods for finding speaking gigs in this episode and talking about how to strategically select your opportunities.

As with most things, your community is often the best place to start. Think about who you know, if they have a need for speakers with your message, and whether they know if you're a speaker. You can also do some research into your local area and beyond to see if there are standing calls for speakers that you'd be a great fit for. I share other great tips in this episode, too, so don't miss it!

What You’ll Learn from this Episode:

  • Why starting with the people you already know is often a great way to find speaking gigs.
  • How speaking for free can actually be a good way to build momentum for finding speaking opportunities.
  • Why you have to put yourself out there confidently and consistently to gain exposure as a speaker.
  • Some of my favorite tips and tools for finding speaking opportunities.
  • Why showing up, serving, and speaking to people you really connect with is a great way to start your speaking career – rather than just reaching for every single opportunity that crosses your path.

Listen to the Full Episode:

Featured on the Show:

Full Episode Transcript:


So here's how the conversation often goes. “Oh, yeah. I'd love to know how to be a better speaker. I mean, I'm pretty good now, and I really do love it, but I know I could get better. But what I really want to know is how do you get the speaking gigs in the first place?” This is what people often say to me when we start talking about speaking. And the truth is there are speaking events happening everywhere, like thousands and thousands of them every year, hundreds of thousands. Let's talk about how you can find them.

Welcome to The Thought Leadership School podcast. If you're on a mission to make a difference in the world with your message, you are in the right place. I'm Michelle Barry Franco, and I'm thrilled that you're here.

Hello, hello, my Thought Leadership friends. What's happening in your world? This has been a week of celebrations. It was my birthday. I turned 48. I love my birthday, and I have no problem saying how old I am because I'm just so grateful and delighted that I get to be on this earth for this many years. I hope I get to tack many, many more numbers onto that 48. It was also my oldest daughter's birthday. Her birthday is three days after mine. Then, our youngest daughter's birthday is eight days after her older sister's, so we are in the midst of celebration.

I'm also celebrating because I just had conversations with two amazing guests that we are going to have on The Thought Leadership School podcast, and I cannot wait to share their stories with you, and their thought leadership messages, and just have them share with you what their journey's been like. These are people that you don't get to hear from very often. I think you're really, really going to love these. So if you're not subscribed to the podcast, make sure you subscribe because you do not want to miss this.

One more thing that I'm excited about this week. and it's really our topic for this week, and that is I can't wait to share with you how easy and fun it is to find great speaking opportunities. There are so many out there. And while I knew this, I'm knowing it in an even deeper and more real and actionable way because I am actively looking for speaking opportunities for myself for the year 2020. And of course, I do some speaking, but really, a lot of my experience about how the speaking world works, especially in these last few years, is watching what happens for my clients and helping my clients get on great stages. Which is cool and I definitely get to see how the whole process works, but there's a different kind of investment, and vulnerability, and just engagement with the process when it's about my own speaking. So I feel like I'm in the trenches with you even more authentically and deeply right now. And honestly, it's so fun. I can't wait to share with you what I'm finding as I just go out there and search for these speaking opportunities that are available. We're going to talk about that in a really specific and actionable way today.

First, let's talk about how we all dream of great speaking gigs coming our way. In 2011, I got an email from someone I did not know that came totally out of the blue. The headline said something like, “Are you available to speak in April?” So I opened this email, and it was from a woman who was part of the committee running a conference in the healthcare industry. She basically said, “I found your website online, and we're looking for someone to come speak on presentation skills. I'm wondering if you're available to do that in April. And if so, can we have a conversation?”

I was super surprised because this is actually the first time that I'd ever been approached from someone I did not know directly from them finding my website to pay me to speak on their stage. I got on the phone with this woman, and we made a deal that sounded awesome to me and awesome to her. They flew me out to Dallas, Texas. I stayed in this awesome hotel. I got to speak at their conference. Really loved it. Had a fabulous time.

Then, on the last day of the conference, someone came up to me and said, “Hey, I was in your session yesterday.” I ended up staying for the whole conference because it was just so fun for me. It was the first time I was at a paid speaking gig in this way, and it was really exciting. So I ended up staying for the second day, which I don't always do now. But the benefit to sticking around is that things like this happen. This guy came up to me and said, “Hey, we have a healthcare conference coming up in about six months. We'd love to have you speak at it. Can we have a conversation?” I said, “Sure.” We had a conversation the following week or the week after that, and we made our arrangements and I flew out to their conference and stayed in the heart of New Orleans for the first time, was paid to speak at their conference. That's how I got those two paid speaking opportunities.

It might seem funny that I had not gotten speaking opportunities out of the blue until then, but I came at this whole public speaking world kind of from an inside place. I came at this from a place of knowing that self-expression is a powerful path to wellness and building a business, so I really wasn't looking for paid speaking opportunities. But, this is how we dream of them coming, right? So this is my introduction to the world of paid speaking. This is rarely how it ends up happening, or at least rarely for those of us who aren't already out there speaking regularly.

Now, to be fair, this wasn't my first speaking gig. I had spoken many times, often for free, because I spoke to naturally attract clients, and it worked beautifully in that way. I did some smart things along the way that helped set me up to have someone find my speaker page, note to you, have a speaker page, that had video on it, that had pictures of me speaking, that had testimonials, and had titles and descriptions of talks. Those are some of the elements of a speaker page that allow people to get a sense of you before they actually reach out to speak with you.

This is how we dream of it happening. This is how it absolutely can happen. But what if you're not there yet? What if you haven't spoken, or you haven't gotten video or images, or you don't know quite what you want your talk titles to be yet, or you don't have those testimonials? Well, you want to get out there and start speaking. I'm going to share with you three ways that you can start seeking out speaking opportunities right now. It can be way more fun than you might imagine.

First of all, the best gigs are going to come from people you already know. I just got an email from a client/friend/colleague who invited me to speak to her group this next month. It's such a natural thing. So when the people in your immediate circle know that you're an expert in a particular area and that you speak, you're much more likely to come to mind as someone to come speak to their group. This place where I'm going to speak next month, I think there are going to be 26 people in the audience. So it's not huge, but they are my ideal clients. It's a perfect place for me to go serve with my message and my expertise, and also a very natural place for me to connect with people who are probably, at least some of them, looking for more help with speaking.

That's what I want you to first level think about. How can you set it up so that the people in your immediate network, your friends, your colleagues, the people who you're in contact with through your work know that you're a speaker? It could just be that when you introduce yourself at events you say, “I am a coach and a speaker,” or, “I'm a consultant and a speaker,” or, “I'm the founder of this company, and I speak on this topic.” So just getting it out there that you do this.

Also, use your ways of communicating with your people to share different ways that you've spoken. So if you've spoken somewhere recently, make sure you post some pictures of it on your social media, that you tell people about it. And you might even just send out an email every so often to different people in your community and say, “Hey, I just want to let you know I just spoke at this particular event. I thought it would be really great for your group, the people that you serve. Can I come do a Facebook live? Or is there some way that I can serve your community with my message?”

The easiest and best for you to get gigs fastest is from people that you know, that know you, and so all of that uncertainty is minimized. What meeting and event organizers are trying to do is make sure that whoever gets in front of their group, whoever they gift with the time, and attention, and trust of their audience, that they will delight their audience. When the people know you already, then they have way less uncertainty. They have a lot more confidence in your ability to serve their audience. That's the first level advice I'd give you. Reach out to people you know, and let them know you speak and you'd love to come serve their audience.

The second is to get out there and speak. This one might be kind of annoying, but the truth is that speaking begets speaking. We know that from the example that I gave you earlier. I went to speak at that first healthcare conference, and another person in the audience who is in that industry said, “Oh, we have a conference coming up. Wouldn't it be great if we had a session on public speaking? I think I'm going to ask her to come speak.” He got to see me speak. He got a sense of my style and the way I add value, and he thought it would be perfect for his group. That is an awesome way. Once you're out there speaking, you will get speaking opportunities from the speaking opportunities that you're currently engaged in.

I just had a client who spoke, who's new to the speaking world, who ended up because she reached out to her network, so my number one tip. She reached out to a friend, colleague and said, “Hey, I know you're putting on this conference coming up. I'd love to come tell my story and talk about this,” and she talked about her particular message. “Would that make sense for your audience?” And the person said, “Let me think about that. I've got a lot of my speakers lined up, and let me get back to you.” But because they're friends, she spent some time thinking about it and thought, “You know what? Her story would be really awesome for my audience,” so she said yes.

This relatively new speaker who is just awesome on stage, and loves it, and you can tell, got to go speak on this pretty dreamy stage right away. It turns out that one of the people that she really respects as a speaker was also sharing that stage. Now she can also say, “Oh, I've spoken on stages with this other person who's respected in our industry.” And she's new to this, right? So again, I'm kind of combining these two, reach out to your network and recognize that that is going to probably start the ball rolling.

But, another thing you can do to proactively set up your current speaking opportunities to bring in additional speaking opportunities is to plant that seed when you're speaking at that event. It might just be as you craft the talk for this speaking event, you build in things like when I was speaking for a group in Nebraska last month, or whatever's true. You're going to tell stories about what's true about your previous speaking opportunities. It tells that audience, yes, I do this regularly. It just plants that seed in their brain.

My clients tell me all the time. So we do a debrief after they go speak at one event, and I'll say, “So how did it go? What were some takeaways for you? What went awesome? What are things that you took away that you want to change or try different next time?” And they'll say, “Oh, this was so cool. This person came up to me and said this stood out for them. Then, I had this woman come up to me at the end of the conference,” or, “at the end of my speaking event and say, ‘Oh my gosh. Your topic would be so perfect for this gathering that we're having at our … for this group next month,' and invited me to come speak there.” It happens all the time.

That's my second speaking tip for you, which is just get out there and speak wherever you can. I'm making this distinction, even though it's kind of annoying. It's like, “Here's how to get speaking gigs. Go have some speaking gigs.” But, one of the things that people tell me regularly is that they've gotten the advice that they should never speak for free, that speaking for free devalues their message and their speaking, and I do not agree with this. I believe you should strategically speak for free. I have a whole podcast on this, I believe. We'll find it in and link it. It might be a podcast or a blog post. I can't remember. But we will link to that about when you should speak for free because you do want to be strategic about free speaking. But oh my gosh. If you get the opportunity to get in front of a room full of your ideal clients, or customers, or the people your heart is called to serve, what a tremendous gift this is and what an opportunity to get some of those really valuable assets, like video and images of you speaking, testimonials from that group. Use it as an opportunity to get those assets and to also seed your talk with letting them know that you do speak and that you're happy to speak on stages by carefully and thoughtfully talking about other audiences where you have served.

This is also, of course, the most natural and powerful way that I know of to attract ideal clients and customers to your business. Speaking for free can end up meaning thousands and thousands of dollars in new business. That's happened to me multiple times, and it happens to my clients all the time. Just strategically choosing those opportunities is the way you want to think about it. That's my second piece of advice about how to find speaking opportunities, is to speak and to let people come up you afterward and invite you to speak on their stages.

Third, reaching out and offering to speak does work, too. It is more of a numbers game, as people say, but it does work. I got to speak at World Domination Summit, which is an amazing conference where many of my ideal audience members and ideal clients hang out. I got amazing clients that I know will be in my life for a very long time because I spoke at that conference. And that all happen because I reached out. They didn't even have a call for speakers exactly, which is something I'm going to tell you about in a minute. I just went to their contact form and sent in a submission and said, “I'd love to speak at the conference this year. Here's some ideas.” It really was that simple.

I did have my speaker page in pretty good shape. I did excellent audience analysis, and I offered a talk title that I knew would delight their audience because I did that really good audience analysis. That is essential. I've talked about that in a previous podcast, and I talk all about that in my book. I'm going to give you the link to my book so you can get a free copy and in just a couple of minutes. Once you do a really good audience analysis and you get yourself a speaker page that at least lets them know that you take your speaking seriously, and if you offer a talk title and a description that you know will delight their audience, you up your chances significantly.

Let me give you that link to my free books so that I don't forget. You can get a copy of my book Beyond Applause. In there, I really talk about the full path to thought leadership, and I give so many resources so that you can set yourself up to be invited to speak on stages and to get a big giant excited yes when you offer to speak. That's at michellebarryfranco.com/freebook. I'll guide you through all of those things, or you can come to one of my retreats that are coming this year. We're just mapping out the retreats coming up in 2020, 2020. So you'll see those, and you can come to those, and I'll guide you through that real time. So more on that soon.

So we're talking about you reaching out and offering to speak. Here's where it gets super fun and where my own research for my speaking in 2020 is really lighting up my world. I'm having such a fun time offering to speak at all kinds of places. Here's how I'm finding a lot of these speaking opportunities. Get ready because this is really simple and you can do it, too. You're going to go into your favorite browser. You're going to Google, or whatever your favorite browser, and put in call for speakers, and then a group that you love to serve, and a region of the world if you'd like. You don't even have to narrow it that way.

What this might look like is call for speakers, women's leadership, California. I live in California if I just want to see what's nearby so it would be easy for me to get to it, and it's a simple speaking opportunity. If I put in those words, all kinds of things are going to come up. You can also put in call for speakers, dental hygienists, Nebraska, or you can just put in call for speakers, dental hygienists, or call for speakers, nutritionists, or call for speakers, health and wellness conference. Just start playing with words that are related to the groups of people that you want to serve, and you are going to see all kinds of events that are coming up.

Now, sometimes it'll bring up events from 2017. You might want to put in call for speakers 2020. It's unlikely. Usually, conferences are looking for speakers about 8, 9, 10, even 12 months in advance. So you're probably not going to find, though it's not impossible, you're not going to find a lot of conferences, or events, or gatherings that are looking for speakers for 2019 still. There will be a few, especially smaller ones, and especially if they're low-paying or for free, so don't rule it out entirely. But if you're looking, especially for paid speaking opportunities, it's probably into 2020, and you're looking at February or after that, at least as we sit here in June of 2019. So depending on when you're listening to this, just add another 8 to 12 months to that searching.

But, put in call for speakers. Now, what's going to come back to you might be called for speakers. It might be call for proposals. There are different words. They call it all kinds. I've even seen call for papers or call for publications. Interestingly, that is actually calls for speakers, and you don't even necessarily have to have done a formal papers kind of thing. But, most of it's going to come up under call for speakers.

Then, you can even leave off call for speakers and just put in women's leadership conference, California 2020. The point is that finding gigs is easy and really can be fun. Of course, there's a whole process then. You need to put in a talk title and description that will delight those meeting and conference organizers. You need to have a place to point them usually. Having a speaker page will really help that has testimonials. Remember, they're looking to decrease uncertainty around you and how amazing you'll be for their audience. Or we could set another way, increase their confidence that you'll be amazing on that stage or in front of their audience. And when you have a page on your website or somewhere to point them that shows that you do this, that you take this speaking seriously, it dramatically increases your chances of getting a yes.

I'm seeing the delightfulness of this process with the amazing speakers in The Thought Leadership School course that we're running right now. We're a course on messaging called The Message You Came to Share, and many of the people inside the course are in the process of doing this kind of searching for speaking opportunities, and they're coming in with comments like, “Wow! There really are a lot of speaking opportunities out there. It's so fun. This makes it all seem so much more possible.” I want you to have that feeling, too.

And if you hold this process lightly, if you just go into this almost like you're playing, like, “Let me just see what's out there,” if you submit to speak with a whole lot of levity, “Let's just see what happens. Let me put in a talk title, a submission.” I want you to take this seriously enough that you put some time and focus into the talk title, the description into your note to them. Of course you want to take that part seriously, but take the outcomes of this lightly. Just put it out there and see what happens. The more you put out there, the more chance you'll get a response and have the opportunity to have a conversation with people. That's what you really want.

Actually landing the speaking opportunity is much like other opportunities. It really helps to know someone, just like I said in the very first point I was making here. The truth is the more you speak, the more opportunities you'll have because those people in that audience get to see you in action, and they can vouch for you with other stakeholders. Yet, it is a who-knows-what'll-happen game if you just keep putting yourself out there. It's so fun to see that the opportunities are so abundant that I just can't imagine that when you keep putting yourself out there, you're not going to get all kinds of responses where people want to have these conversations with you, invite you to come share your beautiful story and your expertise on their stage.

I hope you find this as inspiring as I have found it to be out there doing it. Go give it a shot because I know there are groups of people out there just waiting for your story, your voice, your specific way of serving with your message. Get out there. Start playing with ideas. Ask around about events. Let your friends and colleagues know you want to speak, that you're available, that you're ready and excited to serve. And toss your name in as many hats as make sense for you.

Remember, you have my book as a support. You can get it for free at michellebarryfranco.com/freebook. Through that, I guide you through all kinds of processes to help you get clear on that message, to help you understand your audience better, to get your speaker page in shape, so go there. Take advantage of that free resource. I want to see you on those stages in front of those rooms in all the ways that you want to be there. You know why, right? Because you were made for this. There's just no way that that's not true. You know how I know this? Because you know this. I'll see here next week.

Thanks so much for being here with me on The Thought Leadership School podcast. If you want specific and actionable guidance on how to become a recognized leader in your industry, you can download a free copy of my book, Beyond Applause: Make a Meaningful Difference Through Transformational Speaking, at speaksoitmatters.com/freebook.

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