How to land high-profile speaking opportunities

If you’re looking to raise your profile – and attract leads and sales for your business – speaking at live events is a smart move.

In 2017 I spoke at three high-profile events in the UK: CMA Live, Social Day and the Youpreneur Summit. I also hosted two of my own live events: Soulful PR Live and Your Year In PR.

How do you get hired to speak at high-profile events? Read on and find out:

1. Get speaking experience

Most event organisers get more applications from speakers than they have speaking slots. So if you don’t have any experience (or the right kind of speaking experience) why would they hire you to speak at their event? Speaking at local networking events can be a great way to get experience, as is joining a speaking organisation like Toastmasters.

You might also want to look into TEDx. This is an international community that organises TED-style events (TED is a nonprofit devoted to spreading ideas in the form of short, powerful talks). TEDx events are produced independently of TED conferences and each event curates speakers on their own, based on TED’s format and rules. The application process is tough, but giving a TEDx talk carries a lot of kudos and, as the event is recorded, will provided you with a ‘showreel’ you can share with event organisers.

Another tip is to add ‘public speaker’ to your LinkedIn profile (along with your showreel, testimonials from organisers of events you’ve spoken at and/or pictures of you speaking) as many event organisers search there for speakers.

You could even host your own live events. Find out how to create sellout live events. 

2. Build relationships with key event organisers 

Most event organisers I know say they won’t hire anyone to speak at their event they don’t already know. That doesn’t mean you need to know them personally, but you should be known to them. It’s never been easier to get to know event organisers – just start following and engaging with them on social media (although don’t overdo it – there is a fine line between interest and stalking). Many event organisers have a blog, podcast and/or book – so spend some time immersing yourself in their content so you can understand what they’re about (you might even start by pitching yourself as a guest on their podcast).  

I attended CMA Live as a delegate before I was invited to speak at the event in 2017

3. Attend events you’d like to speak at

If you want to pitch yourself as a speaker for a high-profile event, it’s a good idea to buy a ticket and attend the event as a delegate first. Not only will this give you the chance to get to know the event organiser in person, you’ll also have a much better understanding of the audience and content – which will help you get your pitch spot on.

I attended CMA Live in 2016 and was invited to speak at the event the following year. I also attended three of Chris Ducker’s live events and pitched myself as a guest on his podcast before being invited to speak at the Youpreneur Summit.

This year, I’m flying out to San Diego to attend Social Media Marketing World as I would like to speak at the event in the future.

Don’t have the budget to attend a live event you’d like to speak at? You may not want to hear this, but if you can’t afford to attend the event as a delegate, you haven’t built the authority to speak on that stage. Focus instead on building your authority, getting experience at local and industry events and making enough money to attend the events you want to speak at. Then when the time’s right, you’ll be ready to go.

One of my favourite books on this topic is Mark Schaefer’s Known. You can listen to my podcast interview with Mark on how to get known here. 

4. Invest in professional speaker training

I’ve been speaking at events for years. It was only when I invested in public speaker training with the marketing expert and international speaker Marcus Sheridan that I realised that there is a big difference between giving a talk and commanding a big stage (of 350 or more). Learning how to speak without notes/prompts, to craft stories together in a set (like a comedian might) is an art – and needs considerable investment of time and money.

Learn how to plan and deliver  a great talk.

5. Get testimonials (and a speaker reel)

Most event organisers will want proof that you know your stuff and can hold the attention of an audience. That’s why gathering testimonials is vital. You may also want to put together a short speaker reel, although many event organisers prefer to see raw footage of you speaking so do make sure you have that available.

You can take a look at my speaker page here.

6. Consider getting professional speaker shots

Like it or not, people do judge by appearance. So if you want to be taken seriously as a speaker, good quality headshots are a must. If you want to secure high-profile/international speaking opportunities, events organisers will almost certainly want to see shots of you on stage as well as standard headshots.

I hired professional headshot photographer Laura Pearman to shoot me at both CMA Live and the Youpreneur Summit, which means I now have a range of speaker shots in different poses, to share on my website and on social media. Find out more about how to get great headshot photography. 

Speaking at CMA Live 2017
Speaking at the Youpreneur Summit 2017

7. Put together a great pitch

There are two ways you can pitch yourself as a speaker: send a speculative email pitch or respond to a ‘call for speakers’. As with any pitch you make, the more you focus on the value you can add (rather than what you can gain from the experience) the better chance you’ll have of getting a ‘yes’.

If you’ve already got some experience under your belt, a Google search using the phrase “call for speakers” (along with keywords relating to your preferred topics and location) should also throw up some opportunities. Creating a Google alert with phrases and keywords that relate to your preferred location and/or area of expertise should help you find out about speaking opportunities as soon as the call for speakers goes out. If you’re really serious about building your speaking career, you might also considering hiring a specialist VA to find speaking opportunities for you (I’d recommend you to the pitching yourself though). 

Learn more about how to find and book speaking gigs. 

Organisers of big events generally send out a ‘call for speakers’ as much as a year in advance (sometimes even more). The application process usually involves filling out an online application form outlining any relevant experience. You may even be asked to submit a show reel or video of you speaking.

As an event organiser, I often get emails from people who say they want to speak at my events. Very few have taken the the time to research my events, which means their pitches are usually way off the mark (there’s plenty of content to look at – for example this review of Soulful PR Live and video trailer).

When responding to a call for speakers or even sending a speculative email about speaking at an event, remember it’s not about you – it’s about providing content that will be a great fit for the event. So don’t waste words telling the event organiser how good you are – show them – by researching the event thoroughly and offering an idea for a talk that’s a great fit for their audience.

Want to know how to get booked to speak on big stages? Register for my online masterclass taking place on the 20th of February 2020 at midday (GMT)