Building your network is an essential strategy for growing your speaking career. If you go back to the TSL podcast and blog archives, you’ll see this topic has come up again and again. But that’s a lot of content to digest, and sometimes you just need a simple summary. In a world full of innumerable events and even more competition, how do you do it in a way that strengthens your business? We’ve compiled our top 7 networking tips for public speakers to answer that very question. So let’s dive right in!
1. Start with people you know.
Oftentimes, you’re the only aspiring public speaker among your family and friends. Or worse, they have rather outdated ideas and stigmas around whether “motivational speaker” is a wise career choice. (If they do, check out our blog here for a rundown of what it actually means). Even the most supportive family members might still draw a blank when someone asks what you do for a living. But you know what? If you discount the people you already know, you are missing out on loads of untapped networking potential! Here’s the thing. When you’re a speaker, you’re part of two networks. The first is other speakers. The second is people who hire speakers. Sure, it might be discouraging that none of your friends and family understand the speaking career. But there is a good chance that someone you know attends industry conferences, hosts workshops, or organizes events with keynote speakers. Or maybe they don’t, but work for someone who does. Word of Mouth is the most trustworthy marketing tool, so if you pursue those connections and their links to the speaking industry, you might find yourself with a slew of new potential clients.
Erick Rheam went over a five-step process for leveraging the network you already have in Episode 248 of the TSL podcast. We recommend starting there if this networking tip resonates with you!
2. Let people know you’re a professional speaker.
If you want to be a successful public speaker, you have to go all in. You can’t pretend it’s a hobby or just a temporary side hustle, even before you quit your day job. When you’re leveraging your existing personal network, make sure they understand this too. Informing them could be as easy as a Facebook post announcing your speaking aspirations. This tip doesn’t just apply to family and friends. You’d be shocked at how many people in your audience assume your talk is just a one-off thing, even if they love it!
Whenever you speak, make it clear that this is what you do for a living on and offstage (more on offstage in #3). Mention speaking business when you speak so everybody listening gets the message: speaking is what I do for a living. Establishing your authority in this way might seem uncomfortably self-promotional, but it is essential. You don’t have to constantly make a sales pitch for yourself, but a few deliberate references to other clients, speaking engagements, or projects will go a long way.
3. Be available at events.
Once you’ve established a few watering holes and lined up a few speaking gigs, those engagements in turn can launch you into further networking success. Meeting people at events and conferences can be surprisingly hard when you’re busy preparing for and delivering your speech! While you’re still building your network we recommend making the extra time to socialize with audience members and meet your fellow speakers. (You can also capitalize on events you attend as an audience member by introducing yourself to the speakers).
If you’ve followed tip #3 by subtly promoting your speaking business, being sociable at events affords potential clients the opportunity to ask whether you’re available for any speaking gigs they have to offer!
Here’s an easy way to start: let your audience know that you’ll be available for 15 or 20 minutes after your talk. During this meet-and-greet period, collect the contact information of anyone who wants to learn more from you (and then follow tips #6 and 7 when you reach out). You can read even more tips about maximizing speaking opportunities for networking here.
Once you’re a seasoned speaker who doesn’t need extra connections, you will have the luxury of popping in and out just for your speech while people line up by the door trying to catch you!
4. Connect with people you can model on.
Being available at events is a great way to meet new clients. But what about networking with the other speakers? Isn’t it awkward if you’re all competing for the same slots? Since speaker supply often outstrips demand, it’s easy to feel surrounded by competition. One way to stave off the feeling of competing with your network is to focus on connections who are a few steps ahead of you in their career. In short, seek out role models rather than rivals. If you’re not sure where to start, think about where you want to be in 2 years, 5 years, and 10 years. Then make it a goal to connect with someone who has already reached each of those stages, and learn from them! Filling your network with role models is a great way to find supporters during both the highs and lows of your speaking career.
5. Find “Watering holes.”
Connecting with people you can model on might sound unattainable if you’re a newbie speaker taking whatever gig you can. Where are you supposed to find all these connections if you’re not situated in your desired industry yet? It’s time to seek out some “watering holes.” Watering holes are events, organizations, and even online spaces where the type of speakers (and clients) you want to network with associate. To get started, do some social media stalking (nothing creepy, please!) of speakers you look up to. What conferences do they attend? And what associations are they members of? What conversations are they part of online? These are all big neon signs pointing to watering holes where you will be able to congregate with all sorts of speakers, clients, and audience members in your desired niche. TSL podcast guest David Burkus talks more about seeking out and utilizing watering holes in Episode 193, an episode all about how networking can improve your life!
6. Have a value-add for everyone you reach out to.
The previous networking tips are geared toward finding, building, and expanding your sphere. But how do you really maximize those connections to get speaking engagements? When you reach out, add value. TSL podcast guest Amy Landino calls this a “how can I help you” attitude in her appearance on our show in Episode 244. This applies to everyone, like the audience member who signed up for your email list, your cousin’s sister-in-law whose boss hires speakers, and the event planner you met at a coffee shop. Even if you feel like the one in desperate need of help, think of something you can offer your connection. Often, this means offering a free speaking resource, workshop, or networking assistance from your end! But if you’re just starting out, don’t worry too much about what you have to offer. You can even send a link to an online resource they might find useful, share a favorite TED talk, or buy them coffee.
7. Follow up with gratitude.
This goes hand in hand with networking tip #7. When you first reach out, offer value. When you receive a response (whether it’s a call, meeting, or just a “good luck!) respond with gratitude. Remembering to follow-up is essential for anyone in a connection-oriented business, and the speaking industry is no exception. Your cousin recommended you to his boss for the next company workshop? Follow up. An audience member caught you after your talk and left their card? Follow up. Even if the person you connected with doesn’t have anything to offer you immediately, always express gratitude.Starting a speaking business means playing the long game. Cultivating gratitude from the very start will keep you from frustration when things don’t move as quickly as you hoped. In the speaking world, new gigs often come from someone you connected with years ago. How do you stick in someone’s mind so they remember you when the opportunity arises? By showing authentic gratitude. You can’t go wrong with an old-school handwritten thank-you note, but even an email that expresses how much you appreciate their time and their goodwill will go a long way.
Networking is absolutely essential to building a successful speaking business. A great deal of the speaking industry relies on referrals from speaker friends and former clients. Building positive relationships in and out of your niche creates a foundation for giving and receiving great referrals. And if you feel anxious about how little networking you’ve accomplished, don’t worry! Chances are, your Great-aunt Mildred knows someone who hires speakers.
If you want to dig deeper, we recommend listening to some of our podcast episodes linked above, especially episodes 193 and 248. Our podcast is made up of seasoned speakers who truly want to help you flourish in your own speaking career. Could they have gotten where they are today without tips for success from friends, mentors, and their own network? No way!
These tips for public speakers are part of how we (and all the speakers in our TSL network) want to help you succeed on your own journey. You can find the latest episode of our podcast anytime right here.