Locating Speaking Gigs: Give Yourself Permission to be Wrong

Public speaking is a lot like dieting. When someone has been trying to lose weight and isn’t getting anywhere and then suddenly comes upon someone who has obviously managed to visibly shed some pounds, the frustrated dieter can’t help but blurt: “How did you do it?” That’s really the only question that matters to the frustrated dieter at that moment, especially if a weight-loss battle has so far been a long, if valiant, struggle … “How did you do it?”

If you’re a public speaker whose goal, for whatever reason, is to speak to more and more groups, and you’ve been waging a frustrating struggle in your quest to locate new speaking gigs, you too might be anxiously wondering how other speakers “do it.” Whether you’re new to public speaking or a veteran who’s been at it for many years, how to locate new gigs when they’re not easily coming your way will always be occupying your mind, as in: “Wow! You got invited to do a speaking gig in Buenos

Aires for $10,000 plus expenses? How did you get that?”

Or . . .

“Wow! You’ve been hired to conduct a ten-session training series with Magna Bank? How did they find you?”

Or . . .

“Wow! You’re speaking at this year’s CEO Summit in Las Vegas? How did you beat all the competition?” As mysterious and frustrating as losing weight can be, even for those who have done so in the past, landing new, not to mention a lot of, speaking engagements can seem just as mysterious and frustrating, even, at times, utterly hopeless. Though you may know how to speak, and you may have schooled yourself in the business aspects of public speaking, and you may be a person who views getting up in front of an audience as thrilling, you will nonetheless find yourself from time to time caught up in the throes of wondering where your next gig might be coming from. The well tends to dry up now and then, in fact all too often for some speakers, and

such times can make you feel as if landing even one more speaking engagement may never happen. You just can’t imagine where to look.

That’s why I set out to write about this very subject, and this subject alone. So many books can be found about how to become a great speaker, or about the business nuts and bolts of a speaking practice, or about tools, or about how to dress, or about how prepare for a talk, and so on. But no books that I know of focus solely on strategies and tactics for obtaining speaking engagements. And when you come right down to it, that’s really what we speakers think about the most, right? We’re obsessed with the answer to the question “How did you do it?”

There’s no magic one-size-fits-all formula, however. So if that’s what you’re looking for here, sorry; stop reading this column right now! There are tested strategies for finding speaking gigs, agreed-upon techniques, innovative tricks of the trade, suggested steps to follow, and caveats, prerequisites, and practical advice from those who have been around the speaking block more than once. Yes, you’ll find many of those things in my columns, articles and books. But quick and easy speaking engagement pixie dust? Nope.

“I honestly believe every tactic for landing speaking engagements

works to some degree,” offers Andy Saks, author of “The Presentation

Playbook” and founder of Spark Presentations, and a seasoned speaking star who has tried, over the years, virtually everything. “I believe you could stand on the sidewalk in the center of your town handing out leaflets and eventually you’d trip over someone who has a need for your speaking services and will hire you.

“So the question to me isn’t what works and doesn’t work – it’s which tactics are the most efficient investment of your time, energy, and resources. Which will provide the biggest, quickest return in bookings for YOU? That’s a slippery question and may differ from speaker to speaker. Something will work for you and something will work for me, they just might not be the exact same things.”

So your mission – all our missions-- is to explore, as much as we can, what works for some and not for others. Until you have tried many or most tactics for yourself, you can’t come up with a formula that works just for you. And that’s what matters.

Andy, for example, has developed customized videos directed toward various potential target audiences so that each audience can see how he would interact with them. This tactic tends to convince a particular event planner in a particular industry or profession or conference venue to hire him. This practice has worked very well for him and, upon first glance, it looks like a best practice that might be one all of us should adopt.

Yet Ruby Newell-Legner, CSP, Fan Experience Expert and founder of 7 Star Service, and former president of the National Speakers Association (NSA), has built an extremely successful speaking practice for herself over 20-some years even though she has yet to produce even one video of herself at work. And two decades into her speaking success, she has no plans to do so.

“Videos don’t work for me,” she tells audiences of NSA members. “My customers spread the word about me via word-of-mouth, and so I only rarely get asked for a video. I don’t think any video would adequately display who I am and how I do what I do, so I have never used one. Videos just don’t work for me.”

So, the idea is to explore what works for some speakers and not for others. This will provide a menu from which you can pick and choose what to consider, what to try, what to ignore. This will require experimenting with speaker development methods and tools that may be foreign to you, including ideas you doubt would ever work – if you’re willing to be proven wrong! Which can be very exciting, especially when you skeptically try out an unlikely tactic, really giving it a chance, and – lo and behold – a pleasant surprise: it landed you a gig! Give yourself such permission.

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