5 Tips for Booking Prestigious Speaking Gigs

Back in my 20s and 30s, I made my living as a Jewish multicultural educator, lecturing at prestigious venues like Harvard University and Barnard Center for Research on Women, on the East Coast, and the Simon Wiesenthal Center and Skirball Cultural Center, on the West Coast. Those presentations in turn opened all manner of doors for me - leading to my writing about Jewish multiculturalism for Rolling Stone, The Washington Post, and Seventeen, and getting my book on Jewish women of color endorsed by professors throughout the ivy league.

Indeed, speaking at prestigious venues accomplishes several things at once:
  1. It secures third-party validation of your work.
  2. It establishes you as an authority in your field.
  3. It puts you in direct contact with your target audience.
  4. It impresses media and VIPs in your field.
  5. It generates revenue.

The question is how to get through the golden doors of your target venues. As in the case of media and VIPs, which I addressed in my recent blog posts, you need to step-ladder your way up. Here are a few tips for successfully climbing said ladder:

Present locally.
If you're just starting out, offer presentations at your local rotary club, chamber of commerce, library, university, small business development center, or venue directly related to your work. In the latter case, for example, if you are a nutritionist, offer a presentation at your local holistic wellness institute, vegan restaurant, or hospital (tailoring your presentation to either patients or medical staff). Local organizations and businesses are more likely to work with you, despite your having little or no prior experience, because you are local.

Document your awesomeness.
Every time you present, make sure there is someone taking videos and/or photos of you in action, as well as of the audience of happy, smiling people. (Or deeply pontificating people, depending on your topic.) Just be sure to ask audience members if they are ok with being photographed and/or videotaped. On that note, consult with a lawyer about developing a release form, which you might need if you plan to use the images of audience members on your website or elsewhere. Hot tip: If there is a small turnout, invite people to sit close together, and advise your designated photographer or videographer to make sure s/he angles the camera for shots that make the place look packed.

Get testimonials.
Additionally document your awesomeness by requesting testimonials from the organizers of and/or participants at your event. One way to secure testimonials is to have one-page evaluation forms available for hand-out, as people exit the event. Be sure to include a question about their name and contact information. Then you can follow up and ask if you can use an excerpt of what they said, to post on the testimonials page of your website. (You do have a testimonials paqe on your website, right?)

Climb the ladder.
Make sure that the rock star bio on your website is constantly updated, featuring the three most prestigious venues where you have presented. Each time you present somewhere with a little more "ooh-aah" factor, replace one of the less sparkly venues with that one. Then, when you outreach your next target venue, be sure to wow the representative with the three hottest places you have presented.

Find your "in."
Keep in mind that the most prestigious institutes are usually quite large and divided into departments. Consider which departments are most suited to your particular field and oprientation. Let's say you want to present at UC Berkeley. As in the case of pitching media, "spin" your work to fit various departments. If you are in the field of healthcare, for example, you can discuss th skyrocketing rates of a particular health condition (pitch the medical school and school of public health), the socio-economics of healing holistically from that particular health condition (pitch the sociology department and business school), the politics of how women and men with the same health condition are treated differently by doctors (pitch the gender studies department and women's center), and so on.