Over the past several years, I've spoken at more than 50 events, done more than 20 keynotes, and spoken to audiences as large as 2,000 people and as small as a dozen. I have led panels, conducted full day workshops, done 45 minute conference opening keynotes and even done a unique style of presentation called Pecha Kucha where you present 20 slides that auto-advance without your control at a rate of 20 seconds per slide. I am officially part of the "speaking circuit", if there is such a thing, and I have the requisite things in my resume such as having a book published, writing a blog, and working with big and small businesses as clients.
I share this information not to impress you, but to tell you that when it comes to getting invited to speak at a conference, none of these things matter as much as you may think. Yes, having a background in speaking and a book published are good measures of your credibility. If you can do one or both, I highly recommend it. But neither is a necessity. When it comes to getting speaking gigs, there are a few important but simple principles that will greatly improve your chances:
- Build your personal brand. Conference organizers want to know that you have built up a reputation for yourself before they invite you onto a speaking roster. Having a strong personal brand gives them that level of comfort that you will be a good choice to contribute to their event.
- Work your network. I guarantee there are a few people in your social network (in real life or online) who are actively either helping with or putting on their own events. Start to pay attention to the people in your network as they share who they work for or what they are working on. Often, getting on the speaking list is largely based on who you know and who knows you.
- Always be pitching. The sooner you come to the realization that you are not Bill Clinton or Guy Kawasaki, the better. Finding speaking opportunities means pitching yourself for them constantly, and understanding that conferences have longer lead times, and getting on the speaking roster early while a conference organizer is facing a blank spreadsheet and feeling the pressure to fill it up is definitely the easiest time to get slotted in.
- Learn to moderate properly. The number of speakers who can moderate well and conduct a session is much smaller than you think. Everyone wants to share their expertise through a session, but if you can learn to be a great moderator that asks questions the audience wants to hear and puts your own ego aside, you can completely control the direction of sessions and make a memorable impact because you managed to focus on the audience and not yourself.
- Choose the right events. The events you choose can have a big impact in whether you can get approved to speak or not. If you can find events where you are not going to be the same as everyone else there and may have a different point of view, those are the best events to focus on. Finding local events can also be a great technique, because the conference organizers won't have to worry about paying you to get there.
- Create a style, not a schtick. A style is the format and type of presentation that you do. I tend to use a lot of visuals and use numbered lists to people can track with me and take notes easily. That is my presentation style. It DOES NOT mean doing the same presentation over and over again - that is boring and pretty soon you will find that your materials is either dated or already heard so it makes you less relevant.
- Be original. If you cannot share original thinking, don't bother trying to present. Nothing will negatively impact your reputation more than speaking and sharing completely obvious information that everyone has heard before.
- Value your own time. Saying yes to every speaking opportunity you get may make sense initially, but rapidly you will find that this is not sustainable and sometimes you do need to learn to say no.
- Participate generously. When you are at an event, people will remember the time you spent with them. As a speaker, they want to hear from you and learn from you, so no matter which event you end up at, make sure you leave enough time to spend networking with the people there.
- Get to know the other speakers. Finally, there are great things you can learn from fellow speakers, and this may even lead to the introductions to other events, so try and meet as many fellow speakers as you can.