When I officially became a professional public speaker (after writing my book in 2009), I realized it was crucial that I learned “the way of the speaker.” However, before I get into that, I need to digress.
Many people write books hoping to build their consulting business around them or further promote their personal brand. I, however, wrote my book after my business was already established and doing fairly well. I simply wanted to help socially awkward people gain more confidence around networking and wasn’t thinking about showcasing myself as a thought leader, although that’s exactly what writing and promoting ,”I’m at a Networking Event–Now What???” did.
This turned out to be a very good thing for my business, so I happily went with it and now paid public speaking engagements and workshops have become an important revenue stream for my small business.
One of the things I learned regarding “the way of the speaker” is that sometimes it’s well worth it to speak for “promotional purposes” (aka, for free) because, perhaps the audience is your exact target market for other services you offer, or the organization behind the event is a non-profit that supports a cause you believe in, or it’s a business that has phenomenal reach and your brand will likely be showcased nationally or internationally.
So, to all aspiring pro speakers out there, these tips will serve as a guide for what to ask for if you’re approached about speaking for free. You might even want to send them a link to this post soon after you’re approached.
And to all the meeting planners or conference organizers both big and small, you can consider these my tips on how to entice a professional speaker to present to your audience for free.
These 5 tips have been culled not only from my own experience as a speaker, but also from a few other active public speakers I know that were willing to share.
1) Allow the speaker to bring a helper or assistant for free, and especially if they’re an author (hoping to sell books) and you have sponsors and/or are charging for your event. Speakers often like to collect video of their speaking gigs, especially when they’re not being paid to speak, so they will often bring someone along to shoot video footage or take photos for their speaker reel or portfolios. Whatever you do, don’t respond to a request to bring an assistant with:
“If you are planning to bring an assistant or guests, they will have to register and pay the guest rate. Unfortunately, our budget doesn’t allow for complimentary guests.”
Notice, they weren’t even offering the Member Rate to the assistant/helper.
2) Make it super easy for the speaker to provide you with the information YOU will need to market and promote the event. Don’t send them multiple emails with forgotten items coming days or weeks after the initial request. Use a structured form (preferably online – Google forms are free) to collect what you need so they can just cut and paste from info they likely have saved somewhere. It’s 2015 after all, so don’t send them PDF forms that they can’t edit online, but instead have to fill out manually, then scan and email back to you.
3) Treat the speaker as if they’re a New York Times best-selling author that you’ve paid $25,000 to speak to your audience. Most speakers at this level don’t need to sell to your group, so stop worrying about how much any speaker might try to sell during their presentation especially when you are not paying them AND are charging admission to your event. The majority of professional speakers know that being too salesy throughout a presentation will likely backfire by damaging their own credibility, alienating the audience or in some cases generating seriously bad session reviews. Do your homework and check out their speaker testimonials, LinkedIn recommendations or references if this is truly your concern.
Maria Ross, a branding expert and author who also speaks at events, advises giving speakers the VIP treatment no matter how big your event may be. “The best events at which I’ve spoken are those where a host greets me, gives me the lay of the land and introduces me around.” This means that if you are too busy working the event, assign someone else to be a dedicated “speaker handler” so your guest speaker knows where to go, how to set up and that he or she has everything they need, including a glass of water.
4) Be sure they are able to sell their books or promote an offer at the end of the event, but do not expect to make money off their sales. You haven’t paid them to do their work, so why would you expect them to provide you a kickback? And usually when audiences have paid to attend your event, spending any additional money at the event is often not likely to happen anyway. Plus, most at-event sales barely cover the gas, airfare or other expenses a speaker may have spent to get to your venue. (This happened to me recently when I only sold a few books at an event of over 50 people and it costs $57 to fill up my gas tank to just get to and from the venue.)
5) Market and promote the heck out of your webinar, event or conference. Do not withhold your marketing and promotion plan for the event. Be ready to share the size of your list(s) and how many impressions you expect to give the speaker’s brand leading up to the event when you first contact them about speaking. Then, copy your speaker on all communications that go out where they’re mentioned and send along any links where the event is posted. If they can see where the event is featured online, they just might help you promote your event in their own monthly newsletter or via their social channels.
That being said, it’s important to make it ridiculously easy for a speaker to promote your event to his or her audience. If you want the speaker to tap into their network and social media communities, make it easy for them, don’t give them extra work to do on your behalf. I recommend preparing 3-5 Tweets and 1-2 posts for them to cut and paste – complete with the shortened link to the Event sign-up page.
Another nice touch? Send a brief “blurb” the speaker can send in their next email newsletter or in a status update on LinkedIn. You can’t expect a speaker to do all your marketing for you, so make it painless for them to help boost your audience.
If you’re a speaker and have some additional tips for meeting planners or conference organizers, please feel free to share them in the Comments section. And if you have any questions about the above, or would like to learn more about booking me as a professional speaker, please contact me.
Hope these tips help all parties involved!