How to Get Speaking Engagements:

Your Guide to Booking Engagements and Making the Most of Them

What: The following are steps you can take to get great speaking engagements. While this tip sheet is focused on garnering paid and unpaid speaking engagements with corporations, associations, and nonprofit organizations, the principles can apply to any booking.

Why: Speaking engagements offer incredible opportunities for direct exposure to audience members who could book you for future speeches, hire you as a consultant to their companies, or be lifelong fans of your work. Further, a successful speaking engagement is sure to lead to book sales, whether they occur at the event or afterward. Increasing your number of speaking appointments is a critical step in positioning you as an expert source in your industry. Finally, some industry conferences and trade shows are well attended by the media, creating an opportunity to arrange one-on-one media appointments. Each speaking engagement represents an opportunity to get your name, your message, and your book out into the world.

How: Here are some tips to help you create appropriate collateral materials and increase your chances of securing speaking opportunities:

  • Assemble a dynamic press kit in both electronic and hard copy formats. Probably the most important part of the kit is a video of you speaking that you’re proud of. Potential bookers usually ask to see a sample of the speaker in action and, in addition to other factors, much of their decision on whether to book you is based on your speaking video. Other key components include lists that highlight your major media placements, testimonials from past speaking engagements (the higher the title of the endorser the better), and awards, along with a copy of your book, a sample session description, your biography, pertinent press releases, and a pitch letter.

  • Familiarize yourself with the organizations that you’re targeting as much as possible. Read their websites, and, if you can, incorporate some of their language into your materials.

  • It’s important to remember that your submission is one of many. How do you separate yourself from the sometimes hundreds of other speakers who are being considered? First, email your submission and follow up with a phone call. Once you’ve determined you’re speaking with the right person, ask for permission to mail a complete package (that includes your book).

  • After you’ve made initial contact, phone and email follow-up is critical. Ask the booker when he or she is looking to make a decision and keep in touch. After you’ve sent your package, follow up to make sure it’s been received and find out if there’s anything else the decision maker needs. Ask if the person you are dealing with is the only decision maker or if the decision is made by a team. Encourage your contact to share your information with the other members of the decision-making team. Alternatively, ask if it would be okay if you emailed the decision makers directly or if you could send each of the decision makers a package with a copy of your book. The key is to make as many people as possible aware of you and your interest in speaking to their organization, and to ensure that your submission doesn’t accidentally “fall through the cracks” and get lost among all the other contenders’ packages.

  • Presenting a highly interactive session is a key selling point to potential bookers. Oftentimes, they have experience with boring lecture-type speeches so your proposed interactive format would serve as a welcomed change. It’s also important to let them know that you can tailor your interactivity based on their needs, the needs of their organization, and audience. Sometimes bookers want speakers to be more or less interactive, and it’s important that they know that you are amenable to working with them to provide an experience that best suits their audience.

  • Your session should not be promotional. Telling the potential booker that your session is not promotional is another key selling point. Sometimes bookers get worried (due to past experience) that you might stand up in front of their group and promote your books or products the whole time. If you can assuage their fears by reinforcing that your engagement is not promotional, they will be extremely appreciative, and it can help to close the deal. A self-promotional or boring session (a session with little value to the audience) can not only dissuade potential audience members from buying your books or products but will usually result in no further bookings, poor evaluations, and no endorsement or recommendations from the conference booker. That said, you should feel free to reference your book, within reason, and discuss it briefly at the end of your session. Bookers and the audience do expect some mention of your book during your speech. You can say, “In my book, I expand upon many of the topics addressed today…”

  • Book sales at the end of a speaking engagement are an excellent way to solidify your message in the minds of your audience. The ideal scenario is for every person in the room to leave the event with a copy of your book. When appropriate, you can negotiate this when you are arranging the event by offering to reduce your speaking fee if the organization buys a copy of the book for each attendee. If that isn’t possible, then conference bookers are usually amenable to arranging to set up a table so you can sell your books. Assuming you’ve motivated and taught your audience valuable tools, they will be eager to buy your book after your session. Offering to sign their books with personalized messages can have a greater impact. Conversations with audience members after your session frequently lead to recommendations and future bookings. If you need help setting up book sales for your event, Berrett-Koehler’s senior sales manager Marina Cook is available to assist you by contacting the conference booker or by working to bring in a local bookstore. Please contact her at least a month in advance for U.S. events.

  • It is also a good idea to try to collect the names of interested attendees with whom you can follow up. You can put an envelope on each table and let attendees know that if they put their card in the envelope on the table, they will be put on your enewsletter list. In addition to putting them on your promotional mailing lists, we recommend sending thank you notes to everyone who gave you their card and also doing individual follow-up with any key contacts with “decision-making” or “meeting planner” titles, particularly those contacts who spoke with you after the session.

  • You should also see if you can leave a promotional piece with each attendee. A special business card, bookmark, or postcard with key tips from the book or helpful reminders can be effective at reminding the attendees of the event and of your book, and these aren’t usually viewed as being too promotional by the conference booker.

  • If possible, try to have your speaking sessions videotaped. This can get costly, but it’s an invaluable tool you can use to review yourself as a speaker. Further, you can compile the footage from a variety of different engagements throughout the year and use the compilation for your next speaking video. The conference booker may or may not be planning to tape your session, so it’s best to find out in advance. If not, and you want to bring in your own videographer, you will need to speak with the conference booker to get clearance. Sometimes audience members are videographers who might volunteer to tape your session at no charge, especially if this is an unpaid speaking engagement. Furthermore, if you are not getting your standard speaking fee, it’s perfectly acceptable to ask the conference booker if there’s someone in the group who would videotape you at no charge.

  • If you can, offer a free book or two (or other relevant gift) to use as audience participation giveaways during your session. This is a great way to engage your audience and get your message out.

  • Be engaging and entertain! Your enthusiasm is contagious and your passion will be felt by your audience. This will help lead to the next phase in your process of building your speaking business—book sales, positive evaluations, great word-of-mouth reviews, recommendations, and future bookings.

After each speaking engagement, analyze what worked well. At what point in your speech did you feel the audience members were paying special attention? Were there any parts where you felt their interest waned? Were there any interactive exercises that worked especially well? Can you sense a trend? Make notes of anything that might have been a problem and to help correct those, practice giving your speech to loved ones, colleagues, or friends.

Remember that garnering speaking engagements takes time as bookers need time to review your package, share it with others, get approval, confirm session themes, etc. By following these steps and putting forth a diligent effort, you can build your way to a thriving speaking business!

How Much: Pitching yourself for your own speaking engagements doesn’t cost anything other than your time and the cost of compiling and mailing your hard copy press kits to potential bookers. However, if you want to increase the number of speaking engagements you get per year, increase your income, and put yourself on a path to building a sizeable speaking business, it is wise to hire an expert who specializes in booking speakers. We highly recommend Jen Gould, who compiled this tip sheet for us. Thanks Jen!

Jen Gould Public Relations (JGPR) is a boutique firm specializing in the executive coaching and book publicity arenas. Increasing awareness, generating high-impact speaking engagements, creating effective media opportunities, and positioning their clients as experts in their fields are their hallmarks.
Their reputation for success stems from their well-established relationships with key organizations and thought-leaders, their deep knowledge of the media space, and their proactive and targeted approach to establishing a distinct identity for you and your services. In working with JGPR, you will find a true partner, collaborator, and guide with an unwavering commitment to understanding, achieving, and evolving your business objectives and successes.


Please contact Kristen Frantz or Zoe Mackey about any of the content included here. Thanks.

Berrett-Koehler Publishers

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