6 Proven Steps to Find and Book Paid Speaking Engagements

Table of Contents

Introduction

Have you been trying to get hired as a paid speaker? Thought it would be easy but you’re coming up short? Struggling to remember which emails to write back to and which to archive? There are no loopholes when it comes to booking paid speaking engagements. But there are practiced and proven steps that can get you started on the path to a successful and sustainable professional speaking career. 

Today, we’re going to go through six steps to find and book paid speaking gigs. they will help you find clients, get hired, nurture the client relationship, and leverage the event to get more clients. The steps are as follows:

  1. Lead Generation.
  2. Contact Strategy
  3. Discovery Call.
  4. Proposal.
  5. Timeline of Events Email.
  6. After-Event Connections and Feedback

These six elements will help you maximize paid speaking opportunities and build a strong foundation for your speaking business. All the most successful professional speakers follow the same general strategy to build and scale their businesses. Now, you can too.

1. Lead Generation

At the beginning of your speaking journey, you’ll find quite a bit of necessary grunt work happens before the fun starts. Lead Generation is part of that grunt work. Lead generation in general means finding and attracting potential clients to your business. For speakers, it means researching events that you would like to speak at, finding out the name and email of the person who is hiring speakers, and cataloguing that information so you can reach out to them using step #2 (Contact Strategy). 

Try to allocate 30-60 minutes per day to prospecting, aiming to find five to ten new events per day. Don’t have that much time? Well, the key to getting booked and paid to speak isn’t quantity of leads, it’s quality. Systematizing and refining your search methods so you are looking in the right places will ensure you are reaching out to high-quality high-potential leads. It will take some trial and error before you figure out the “green flags” that make a lead high-potential. If the perfect client seems like the proverbial needle-in-the-haystack for the first few weeks trust that you’re still on the right track! 

A lot of speakers want to outsource this part of the work because it’s boring and time consuming. We get it–nobody wants to spend hours on end sifting through google (pssst! AI can help with that!). At the same time, nobody knows your speaking business, your goals, and your passions like you do. You alone are the best judge of whether a lead looks like a good fit. Once you start putting your trust in your business into somebody else’s hands, you lose a little bit of control. Until your speaking business has a strong reputation and firm foundation, try to do all of your prospecting yourself. 

If you want access to tools that can cut your time prospecting in half, get in touch with us here

2. Contact Strategy

Once you have identified leads and put them into your system, it’s time for your contact strategy. This is the part where you actually reach out and follow up. Like lead generation, contact strategy takes time. Often, it feels as fruitless and exhausting as the endless prospecting that came first. While it’s not fun, it’s the only way to get those first paid speaking engagements that will serve as the foundation for your career. Figure out a general template for your initial email letting leads know you’re interested in speaking at their event. Then make it personalized to everyone you reach out to with the details of the event and target audience in mind. Personalization goes a long way in this business! Paid speaking opportunities come to those who 

Many newbie speakers think that the first time they fail to get a response from a lead, they should just cross that contact off the list. On the contrary, speakers rarely win over event planners until the second or even third follow–up. By failing to follow up, you could be foregoing a great paid speaking engagement that is just one more email away! 

A simple strategy is to reach out every a week for four consecutive weeks. At that point if all you’ve heard is crickets, you’re probably not going to hear back at all. TSL coach and professional speaker Dan Irvin likes to send out one more email six months later with a humorous last-ditch attempt–surprisingly, it sometimes works! (Listen to him talk about these strategies here).

Once you get started on this contact strategy, the emails you have to send each day will build up. Prioritize consistent effort over powering through as fast as possible. In these early stages of your business, reaching out to dozens of leads at once will give you a never-ending to-do list in a few short weeks. Applying consistent effort just a few minutes a day will get you a more manageable workload and paid speaking engagements. There is no “get rich fast” solution with speaking–you should only embark on this journey if you’re ready and willing to play the long game. 

To manage all your leads and time-sensitive emails, it’s important to set up systems for your success. Using a good CRM like Hubspot or Zoho is a great investment in streamlining the future of your business. But if you don’t have the money for software yet, a well-organized excel spreadsheet can serve you just as well. We have templates for sending incredible emails that will help you land paid speaking gigs right here

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3. Discovery Call

Once you get a promising response from one of your leads, ask to schedule a discovery call as soon as possible. If you have a scheduling link you can send with a software like Calendly, that’s great! Or ask for their number and their earliest availability. Then, use that call to learn as much as you can about the paid speaking engagement while also communicating the most important information about the speaking services you offer.

The discovery call isn’t just about showing your potential client how great you are. In addition, it’s about getting a feel for their needs and their event so you can quote them an accurate speaker fee

You might be tempted to keep using email for this part of the process, but we can’t recommend a real-time conversation enough. Showing the best parts of your speaking business is much harder over email!  Think of your discovery call as the first audition for the part of speaker.

In addition to subtly selling yourself, you should expect to answer three main questions in the discovery call. They are: 

  1. What do you speak about?
  2. Are you available on that date?
  3. What are your fees?

The discovery call is not a decision-making call. It’s your chance to make a great first impression and learn enough about the client to set an appropriate fee. It is also a chance for you to decide if the client is a bad fit. The next step, the proposal email, puts the ball in the client’s park.

4. Proposal Email

It’s impossible to communicate all the details about your speaking business over the phone. After all, the person on the other end might not remember them anyway. That’s where the proposal email comes in. At the end of your discovery call, let your potential client know you will send them a follow-up email with your speaker proposal. 

Your speaker proposal should include everything a decision-maker needs to know about you. At the end of reading your proposal (and presenting its contents to a board, committee, or any other decision-makers), they should be able to confidently say a) “you’re hired!” or b) “our event isn’t a great match, but we will recommend you to an event planner who might want to work with you.” Remember, it’s not the end of the world if a potential client doesn’t hire you. Those leads can still lead you to speaking engagements through referrals and recommendations. 

Your proposal should include at minimum: 

  • A headshot. 
  • Your contact information
  • The title of your proposed talk.
  • A short paragraph explaining the premise of the talk.
  • Any testimonials from previous event planners (if you have them). 
  • Learning objectives (what your audience will learn from you).
  • References (who have consented to being contacted by your clients). 
  • Your speaker fee (based on what you learned from the discovery call).

You can learn more about what to include in your speaker proposal on this episode of the TSL show. 

5. Timeline of events email

If your proposal does its job and your lead is a good fit, the next steps are a signed contract and a check in the mail. It might feel like the hard part is over, but there’s more! You have to nurture that client-speaker relationship such that this is the first of many paid speaking engagements. Speaking is a relationships business–building your reputation as someone easy to work with is one of the best things you can do to market your speaking business. 

Sending out a “timeline of events” email is a huge asset for you, your client, and your speaking platform. In this email, you outline everything your client should expect from you from that moment on until after you step off the stage. Whether you book your gig a year or a month in advance, sending this email will set clear expectations and give both sides of the relationship peace of mind. 

A non-exhaustive list of things to include in your timeline of events email: 

  • The point by which you will book your flights (or want them booked for you).
  • The deadline for sending your headshot and bio (ask your client for this ahead of time).
  • An appointment for a call to run through the day-of logistics.
  • What time you’ll arrive at the conference.

Every time you cross off a step send an updated timeline of events email. If new information comes to light about your flights, hotel, and conference schedule, put it in the updated version. This email is both a catalyst for staying constantly aligned with your event planner and a differentiator that will set you apart from most other speakers. Event planners remember small but important gestures like this! 

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6. After-Event Connections and Feedback

Giving a great talk is undoubtedly the most important marketing strategy for any speaker. Trust, credibility, positioning, and stature are all things that are best communicated from the stage. But you know what’s almost equally as important? How you relate to your audience, event planner, and other speakers at and after the event. As our founder Grant Baldwin says in his book The Successful Speaker, “The best way to stay in this business for a long time is to learn how to relate well to people.”  

Small efforts you make after you get off the stage are helping get you new speaking gigs before you even realize it. You never know which audience members could be on the lookout for a speaker for a future event–or on boards and committees that hire or recommend speakers. Don’t force yourself on the audience, but don’t be shy either! Offer easy opportunities to opt in to your marketing and follow you on social media. If you use slides, you can show a QR code that leads to a subscribe form. On the other hand, you can go old school and ask for your audience to pass up business cards or even pass around a clipboard. Make it an easy choice by offering a “freebie” (like a PDF of your slides) to anyone who signs up for your email list

Finally, before you hop off the stage, advertise when and where you’ll be available to chat later. Doing a keynote first and a breakout later? Invite your audience to the breakout. Hanging around for 10 or 15 minutes outside the auditorium? Let them know. Heading to cocktail hour before dinner? Remind everybody to find you there. When an audience member takes you up on the offer, get their contact information. If they ask a specific question, try to take note of it so you can send them a personalized message with helpful resources. 

All of these points of connection with your audience members are fertile opportunities for forging relationships that lead to paid speaking engagements. Don’t worry if nobody asks you to come speak to their organization then and there (although it is a distinct possibility)! Speaking is a relationship business and relationships take time. When you focus on building those relationships with your audience, it will also reflect positively on your re-hireability from the event planner’s perspective. It’s a win-win!  

But wait, there’s more! Once you head home, ask your event planner for feedback about your speaking performance. You can create a survey or even get on the phone depending on how busy your speaking business is. If they are glowing with praise, it is critical to ask for testimonials now while working with you is still fresh on their mind. In addition to testimonials, ask for references to other event planners who might be holding similar events in the same industry. Don’t ask without giving–offer them some names of speakers in your network who might be a good fit for them in the future. (Most events do not hire the same speakers year after year. While there are exceptions, most clients only hire repeat speakers on a rotation of every few years.)

If your client was disappointed in any way, listen constructively and use that information to improve next time. Thank them for helping you become a better speaker. After all, that’s what this is all about!

Conclusion

These six steps sound like a lot. Unquestionably they are a lot. If you don’t have all of these systems in place as you first start reaching out to leads, that’s perfectly fine. Every speaker starts small. As you accumulate more contacts and book your first paid speaking engagements, you will find that a more structured methodology aligns with the process of scaling a business. These systems exist for you to tailor to your needs, not the other way around. Being equipped with the knowledge of these best practices will put you miles ahead of other speakers.

These strategies are attested to by the professional speakers and coaches here at The Speaker Lab. We have helped thousands of students build and maintain momentum as professional speakers. If you want to work with our stellar team of coaches, get in touch here

FAQ

What is the average speaking engagement fee? 

Speaking engagement fees vary widely based on experience level, but $1000 is usually a safe ballpark estimate for a beginning speaker. You can find out exactly how much you should charge here

How do I land my first paid speaking gig?

By consistently prospecting for potential clients in your industry, putting your best foot forward in your discovery call and proposal, and being easy to work with.  

How do I become a professional speaker? 

Anybody can become a professional speaker. Find an industry that lies at the intersection of your passions and expertise and start looking up events that are hiring. We can help

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