Public speaking has become an industry that is highly competitive, and highly profitable. It's a huge piece of public relations, company visibility, and your own career trajectory. Clients come to me more often than not asking for whether or not I book speaking gigs before they ask to be placed in the New York Times. I'm not alone in this - many publicists now consider speaking another press hit.
There are a lot of reasons why you might not get booked that are out of your control -- timing, costs, or a general lack of experience when it comes to understanding how to market yourself for speaking opportunities.
But one baseline thing you might not be considering that is in your control:
Is it easy enough to tell exactly who you are, what you do, and what you stand for?
What I mean by this, (and one of the first things I tell anyone that will listen), is that the American media is the most literal representation of our need as human beings to put things in boxes. This is crucial for press pitches, but you might be underestimating how crucial it is what it also comes to speaking. Once you book a speaking gig on a highly specific subject for which you are an expert, you can expand your topic area.
I've struggled with this with clients. It's the number one issue I see with people coming to me for representation or help with bragging - too many things going on at once. I've gotten into fights about it, too, but if I can't figure out exactly who you are, the general public can't either. When I pivoted from running a PR firm to FinePoint as a professional development company that leveraged public relations tactics for success (they are different, but it's slight), it was extremely difficult for people to understand me and not only hire me but also book me to speak. Once I broke it down into - I help professionals (especially women) brag about themselves, and I use PR as a weapon for company visibility and bottom lines, people got it a little bit more.
There's a strong chance you're not getting booked because your realm of expertise is not specific enough. I'm almost sure of it, and it's the number one issue I see of clients that come to me -- too many generalists, or not enough packaging with specifics. You're not making your specific areas of expertise well-known enough.
It comes down to this: can you tell me who you are in two sentences? What about two words?
It's one of the toughest challenges that I present to friends and clients, tell me who you are in not very much space. But that's what you need when someone is booking a conference speaker. It's often a precise subject area panel, and if you present yourself as a generalist, it's not gonna work.
The first thing you need to do is figure out what you're speaking topics really are. They need to be specific, concise, tied to your direct experience, and differentiated from other people out there. Broad words like visionary, futurist, thought leader -- those do not work. I really drill into my clients that you cannot use these general terms because they confuse people - i.e., they can't put you in a box.
If you're having trouble with this - bring in outside forces. Ask people close to you - friends, work colleagues, and others in your circle - about how they perceive you and what you do. They are a good litmus test for whether or not you're getting the right word out. If someone close to you can't describe what you do quickly, the general public won't be able to either.
Can you ever get too narrow? Yes. But it's better you be the foremost expert on one species of fish and then move outwards from there than try to present yourself as a thought leader in...thought leadership.
Here's the other crucial thing that people often miss. Speaking begets more speaking, and press begets more press. Do you have a reel? Are all of your previous speaking engagements, videos, laid out on your personal website? Are there high-resolution photos of you in action speaking?
These are crucial. Similar in the way to when bookers on television promptly want video of potential guests before they decide whether not to book her, the same goes for speaking. If I'm using my conference money (say I'm the organizer), I'm gonna want to know exactly how you look sound and present before I spend money on you.
It also needs to look like you've done this before. I tell clients to take smaller, unpaid speaking engagements without honorariums because not only are they good practice, but there are opportunities to get video and photo, and refine your skills. Don't expect a booker to go through all the links on your site where you spoke other places. Put it all in one place or in one video or gallery.
So should you just take every speaking engagement? No. In the beginning - take ones for practice, for understanding your timing and delivery, for video and photo. However - if it's wildly out of the realm of your expertise (sorry for that turning down of the Magic Mike XXL and feminism TV segment) say no. But when you decline, be sure to emphasize how willing you are to talk about your topics. And say that bluntly - I'd love to be considered should you ever want to do a panel on my highly specific area of sustainable lattes.
It also might just not be easy enough to get in touch with you. Make it idiot proof, your email on your personal website, and your Twitter bio, and your LinkedIn.
And make it clear that you want to speak. A lot of people don't know that you want to be booked unless you say it.
By the way, you can hire me to speak too.