How to Become a Professional Speaker when You Have No Leads or Experience

By Emilie Wapnick of Puttylike.

If you’re like most bloggers, you probably have a message that you want to share with the world. Speaking is a great way to expand your reach and connect with people on an emotional level. It can help you grow your community and customer base and lead to incredible career opportunities. Speaking engagements can also pay exceptionally well(!), depending on who your client is.

But how do you get started speaking professionally if you don’t have any connections or leads? What if no one’s inviting you to speak?

Over the last five years, I went from having zero public speaking experience (and zero connections) to speaking at conferences and organizations around the world. I gave a TED talk in 2015, which was a longtime dream of mine.

In this post, I will outline the exact method I used to get my foot in the door and build a speaking career from scratch.

Step 1: “Hire” Yourself

Instead of waiting for someone else to hire you, hire yourself. In other words, book a room.

Most colleges and universities have rooms that you can book for a relatively low fee. Book a room 2-3 months out, and then get to work preparing your presentation and promoting the event.

Step 2: Promote Your Event

Create a page on your website with the details for the event. Make your event free or very inexpensive. I charged $10 for my first seminar and 30 people showed up. This covered the cost of the room and camera rental.

A nominal fee like $10 ensures that the audience is at least somewhat invested. They’re more likely to show up if they’ve already purchased a ticket, and they will take the event more seriously.

Although I don’t recommend doing much free work once your speaking career takes off, making your first event free can take some of the pressure off. If you mess up or it goes terribly, at least you won’t feel like people didn’t get their money’s worth. This can help, psychologically speaking, especially if you’re nervous about the whole ordeal (which I was).

Since this will be a local event, promote it locally as well as online. Make flyers and put them up in any locations where you think your audience might spend time. This approach might feel a little old school (e.g. I used to put flyers up around town when I played in a band in high school), but it can be very effective.

Email local newspapers, community groups and organizations that you think might be interested in your event.

Don’t forget about the digital space. Promote your event on your blog, on social media, and in your newsletter.

Step 3: Record Your Presentation

Borrow or rent a camcorder and ask a friend to record your presentation. You might end up using the footage as promotional material for future events, but more likely, it will serve as some much needed feedback to help improve your speaking.

It can be hard to watch yourself speak. My TED talk has nearly 3 million views at this point, and I think I’ve only actually watched the video once or twice! It’s hard to watch yourself speak without wincing or being overly critical. Try to get through it though, because it can be tremendously beneficial, especially when you’re starting out.

Step 4: Leverage Your First Event

The week following my first seminar, I received an email from one of the schools that I had reached out to. They thought the topic of my seminar would be relevant for their students and wanted to know if I was available to speak at their high school.

I said yes, of course, and nervously told them that my “speaker’s fee” was $1000. (I had no idea what I should have been charging at that time and was honestly terrified of asking for anything…) They offered me $500, and I happily agreed.

After this next gig, I slowly began to receive speaking offers through my website. I was continuing to blog and grow my community, and as that happened, the offers started rolling in. I no longer needed to “book myself,” (unless, of course, I wanted to. There are times when putting on your own event makes the most sense).

Step 5: If Nobody Approaches You, Repeat Steps 1-3 and Increase Your Outreach Efforts

If your first event doesn’t result in any followup speaking offers, simply repeat steps 1-3.

Expand your promotional effort. Experiment with your presentation and speaking techniques. Use these early days as an opportunity to practice the craft of speaking and refine your message.

Set up a speaking page on your website, and include one or two short videos of you speaking. Make sure all of your readers know that you are available for speaking engagements.

Most importantly, keep blogging! As your community grows, more people will begin contacting you to speak.

Step 6: Put Yourself Out There

Once you have a few speaking gigs under your belt, start applying to speak at conferences and events that interest you.

A lot of people ask me how I got to speak at a TEDx event. The answer is ridiculously simple: I applied.

A lot of TEDx events and conferences have open applications. If you’re interested in giving a TED talk, then go for it. What do you have to lose?

At the same time, keep refining your message and learning how to be comfortable on stage through other speaking engagements. And if nobody’s booking you right now, then book yourself. You will learn a heck of a lot and become a better speaker.

Do you want to become a professional speaker? If you’re already speaking, how did you get started?

Emilie Wapnick is the Founder and Creative Director at Puttylike, where she helps multipotentialites (people with many passions and creative pursuits) integrate ALL of their interests into their lives. Unable to settle on a single path herself, Emilie studied music, art, film production and law, graduating from the Law Faculty at McGill University. Her recent TED talk, Why Some of Us Don’t Have One True Calling has been viewed 2.7 million times and translated into 34 languages

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