How to Become a DEI Speaker

Table of Contents


A lot of speakers are interested in learning more about DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion). That’s why we recently published a primer on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion for speakers. And if you just wanted a basic overview of what DEI is all about, that blog might be all you need. But in that piece, we could only scratch the surface of how to become a DEI speaker. After all, we’re talking about a fast-developing multi-faceted field, and there’s a lot of information to keep up with. But if you want to speak about DEI, integrate related topics into your talks, or cultivate greater cultural sensitivity, keep reading.  Today, we’re taking a more in-depth look at how to get booked and paid to speak as a DEI speaker. We’ll be covering three main action items: 

  • Choosing your niche as a DEI speaker.
  • Finding your clients as a DEI speaker.
  • Marketing yourself as a DEI speaker.

This isn’t a start-to-finish handbook for getting booked and paid to speak about DEI. While we’d love to be able to offer that someday, the complexity and depth of the field means we still have a lot to learn ourselves. What we can do is give you the tools to set yourself up for success. Whether you’re leading carefully tailored workshops on workplace inclusion or delivering keynotes that inspire professionals to confront uncomfortable truths, we want to give your DEI speaking career a bit of a leg up.

1. Choosing your niche as a DEI speaker.

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion are three big topics in themselves. Add up all of the additional concepts that fall under that umbrella and their intersections with other important speaking topics like leadership, workplace culture, and entrepreneurship? You’ve got a list a mile long! (We go into more detail with what “DEI” usually refers to in our previous DEI blog here). Microaggressions in the workplace, representation in marketing media, unconscious biases in hiring practices, tokenism on boards of directors…we could easily write a dozen articles on each of these issues within DEI. 

If you’re overwhelmed by the options, take time to research and figure out where your interest and experience intersect. Whether you go for a big-picture perspective or focus on one specific pillar within this field, the same principles apply as to any speaking career. Select a problem to solve. Narrow your audience. Establish your expertise. With these steps, you’re well on your way to success. 

Once you’ve picked a topic, you have a few more options at your disposal to settle on your niche. Think about whether you prefer a small audience, a big audience, or feel comfortable in front of both. Workshops on company, leadership, and team culture are a huge area of demand. Keynote slots also need to be filled, whether at conferences for particular identity groups, and any event trying to increase cultural awareness and sensitivity of these issues. 

If you are pivoting to DEI from an established career (speaking or otherwise), you can leverage your experience to carve out a new niche. Professionals from the fields of law, nonprofit work, or politics are well-positioned with expertise on the policy and advocacy side. Alternatively, a corporate or entrepreneurial background can help you introduce principles of DEI to industries and clients who would otherwise be slow to adopt them. 

Whether you are diving right in as a “DEI specialist” or expanding your existing speaking menu, now is the right time. Interest in DEI and related topics is surging and will only continue to do so as political conflict and social activism bring these subjects to the fore. However, becoming a DEI speaker puts your integrity under scrutiny precisely because it is such a hot topic. We talked about the importance of integrity in our previous piece on DEI. To round off the discussion of your niche, we’ll dig a little more into the integrity of your speaking platform. In section 2, we’ll discuss the integrity of your clients. 

When your speaking platform is informed by your identification with a marginalized community or victims of discrimination, your experience backs up your integrity. If that describes you, you can let your story speak for itself. At the same time, don’t feel confined to speaking about particular personal experiences because you are part of a particular group. Often, the general public expects a particular narrative from somebody based on the color of their skin, their sexual orientation, or any other “label” that shuts them up in a nice simple box. You do not have to conform to that narrative. If bucking such expectations makes people uncomfortable, go on right ahead. People have to get uncomfortable when it comes to these things. You can even make discomfort part of your mission and encourage your audience to get curious and learn from unpleasant feelings. 

If you are someone committed to furthering DEI principles without a great deal of life experience on the receiving side of exclusivity, discrimination, and inequality, you may have a lot to learn. There is no shame in that. Allies play a huge role in furthering the message of DEI without putting undue pressure on the voices of a few. Putting the burden of education on the marginalized when so much information is publicly available is not a good look. Setting the standard for educating yourself and sharing that knowledge with others? That’s a great look. Acknowledge the gaps in your knowledge and defer to experts who speak from lived experience in these areas when appropriate. Being honest about your perspective will give you more integrity than using DEI and adjacent topics as a buzzword to get more speaking gigs. 

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2. Finding your clients as a DEI speaker.

When it comes to prospecting new leads, you have to look where there’s a need. If you’re a “pure DEI” specialist, this can be as simple as finding companies that have DEI departments, organize events, or have recently published statements committing to e.g. new inclusion policies or diverse board representation. But not every organization who needs speakers in this area is ready to admit that. To find those audiences that need your solutions the most, you may have to look for those who are missing those departments and initiatives. If you’re interested in pioneering your topic in these spaces, you may have to get creative. For example, TSL alum and DEI consultant J. Israel Greene found companies with poor company culture reviews on Glassdoor and reached out to them with ideas for helping them improve. You can listen to his testimony on the TSL show here

The easiest contacts to target when you reach out to leads at specific companies and organizations are DEI staff themselves. Some organizations, like Universities, will have a whole team in this department. Others might have a VP or representative. At companies with no such department, your best bet is an HR representative. However, if you are reaching out with examples of how the company can improve, you might get more attention by contacting leaders who are responsible for the problems you propose to solve. 

The biggest challenge at this stage? Finding clients who are serious about making change. How do you evaluate the integrity and commitment of these clients? What do you do in a field where people have a hard time admitting they have a problem you can solve? 

If you advertise yourself as a DEI speaker, you will be sought out by clients and organizations who want to learn. However, you might also find yourself in high demand at events who are scrambling to check a box or make a homogeneous speaker list look or sound “more diverse.” Depending on the angle you take as a DEI speaker, you will have to decide how rigorously you want to vet your clients. If they are honest and open about hiring you because they need to learn more, shortcomings are unavoidable. But if you are talking to a client who positions themselves as a leader in progressive values despite a reputation that says otherwise, you have every right to say no. 

Let’s say you have a comfortable niche and established clients but want to integrate DEI into your speaker menu. In this scenario, you have an advantage of industry connections that can help you get gigs at events that wouldn’t ordinarily invite a DEI speaker per se. But they might resist. Many fast-moving industries don’t prioritize social issues at all, not to mention DEI in the workplace. Often, it takes someone else’s public scandal (think the Away exposé of a few years back) for leadership at other companies to look around and say “Houston, we’ve had a problem.” Sometimes, it doesn’t happen till it’s your public scandal.

If that sounds like your typical client, you might have to use our founder Grant Baldwin’s “Trojan Horse Method” to bring these issues to the fore. This means that, while the title of your talk might not be so explicit as “making our industry more inclusive,” you can make a point of integrating related topics and food for thought into your talk. Remember–to a great extent, DEI is about learning together to create a better culture. 

3. Marketing yourself as a DEI speaker.

The key to marketing your DEI speaking business is effectively communicating the value you have to offer. As we’ve mentioned above, that might also require informing your potential clients why they need to hire you. This means you might have to take a more educational tack than you would in another niche. And the best way to educate off the stage is with concise and creative content creation that sets you up as a thought leader. The best DEI speakers distinguish themselves through thought leadership on one or two channels, educating their followers and growing their brand at the same time. You don’t need to max out on all social media platforms or get your name into every magazine. 

Because DEI intersects with many ongoing conversations about political and social justice concerns, engaging with other speakers is an incredible way to drive additional conversations. J. Israel Greene recommends spending some time every day researching other speakers in your space not to copy them, but to learn from them and gain inspiration for how you can complement their work doing. (Hear more from J. Israel Greene on his TSL podcast appearance here). Many DEI speakers, coaches, and consultants converse on LinkedIn, which has several top voices categories where you can discover a community of DEI leaders. 

You can also consider joining a speakers bureau. While this should never be the first step in your marketing strategy (learn why here), it’s a great asset especially in this field. Many clients don’t know the first place to look when it comes to finding a DEI speaker. Remember, many event planners, HR departments, and other decision makers might not yet understand why DEI speakers are so important. Even fewer are experienced when it comes to evaluating the integrity and expertise of those speakers. Many speaking bureaus now have Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion sections. Appearing on those lists will be a valuable credential in the eyes of potential clients. So long as you avoid relying on your bureau to create demand and continue marketing yourself on other channels, partnering with one is a great tool to add to your speaker toolkit. 

As a DEI speaker you don’t have to market yourself solely as such. Because DEI is a framework that applies to all industries, there are many configurations for connecting your passion, identity, and experience to your speaking business. For example, a black female business owner has a unique and valuable perspective on the experience of minorities in entrepreneurship. But she might be looking for speaking gigs on topics like starting and scaling a business, networking, or raising capital. Without compromising on her interest, she can emphasize her perspective in her personal brand. Then, when she scales her business, she can add services. Such services could include speaking, coaching, consulting, or online courses. Rather than closing doors, speaking on DEI opens up many opportunities. 

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Keep in mind the strategies we’re talking about here are not new–they’re all part and parcel of our S.P.E.A.K. framework that we teach all our TSL students. We’re just helping you apply them to your DEI speaking business. If you want help from our stellar lineup of coaches on your DEI speaking journey, we’d be happy to help you. 


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