You already know that landing speaking gigs can help your career, company, or personal brand. That’s why you took a public speaking course in college and study TED Talks for tips from the pros. But useful as that can be once you actually get up onstage, it won’t teach you how to pitch and land speaking gigs to begin with. To start getting more speaking dates on your calendar, you may have to stop committing one of these common blunders that even the most effective speakers tend to make while pitching themselves.
You’re Pitching A Generic Topic
If I had a dollar for every time somebody’s told me they want to speak about “leadership” or give an “motivational” talk, I wouldn’t need speaking fees anymore. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of successful public speakers who are leadership experts and who do build their careers as motivational speaker. But they don’t do it by sending a pitch to an event organizer that simply says they’d love to come speak about how to be a good leader.
What makes you different from every other speaker out there who’s also teaching leadership lessons? Simple: It’s how you angle your talk—which in turn should determine how you position your pitch. For example, Jeff McManus is a successful leadership speaker and author who’s found a unique way to incorporate his background as the director of Landscape Services at University of Mississippi into his speaking—which he frames as techniques for transforming “weeders to leaders.”
Pitch a topic that shows off your unique background or expertise, and make sure it conveys how you have a fresh, unique perspective to share on a common topic that a lot of people want to hear about.
Your Title Is Lame Or Unclear
Regardless of whether you’re pitching yourself via email or preparing a formal speaking proposal, the proposed title of your talk needs to be attention-grabbing. Sticking with our “leadership” and “motivational” examples, you might pitch, “What You Can Learn About Leadership From Playing Video Games” or “Living Joyfully After Loss: Overcoming the Grief of Losing a Child.” Great speakers are skilled storytellers, and that all begins with your title.
You Aren’t Doing Your Research
There are a few clues that tip off event organizers to speakers who haven’t done their homework. Maybe you pitch a 30-minute talk to a a TEDx organizer, forgetting that the TED format is 18 minutes or less. Or maybe you miss that the event has an overarching theme.
“Unfortunately, some applicants immediately disqualify themselves if they pitch a topic that doesn’t relate to the theme of the event or retreat,” says Ash Ahern, who recently reviewed nearly 100 speaker applications for an event she founded. For example, a pitch titled something like, “Business Badassery: Five Steps to Scaling Your Startup Fast” would be thrown out as a potential talk for a retreat devoted to personal development.
“The easiest way to ensure your topic would fit well is to research the event website, connect with the organizers via social media, and get a feel for what the retreat is all about before submitting talk ideas,” says Ahern. In other words, it’s pretty easy—it just takes a little time and diligence.
You’re Using Confusing Terminology
As more of us become entrepreneurs and create businesses that speak directly to a certain target market, we tend to take some creative license with our job titles. Maybe your ideal client understands what you do, but an event organizer might not.
“It’s become a bit of a trend to use emotive synonyms and language of feelings, especially in the spiritual business space,” Ahern explains. “The downside is, if an event organizer doesn’t understand your title or topic description, it’s more likely to be thrown out. I would rather see less fancy labels and more straightforward titles in a speaker’s application so I know what they’re about.”
But it goes beyond your own job title. If you’re in a tight niche and applying for a conference that covers a broader range of topics, you might want to stay away from industry jargon in your program description. If you’re unsure whether you’re being clear enough for an outsider to understand, try to think about how you’d explain your speech to a friend or relative who isn’t familiar with your business or industry. How can you put it in layman’s terms and still make it sound appealing to the uninitiated?
You Waited Too Long
Not every event opens a formal application process for speakers, but that doesn’t mean you can’t pitch them proactively on your own. However, you can’t wait until a month before the event to send your pitch in. Not only will the agenda be set by that point, but even if you’re a late addition you’ll miss out on promotional opportunities.
“Speakers need to be locked in at least three months in advance—two at a bare minimum—otherwise the visibility is minimal, if at all,” says event planner Vanessa Cañas, who works with entrepreneurs to plan conferences, retreats, and nonprofit events.
So in short, pitch early, pitch often, and make sure organizers know what the heck you’re pitching to begin with.