How I Book & Prepare for Speaking Gigs

Some of my fondest memories from high school and college are of being on stage with the jazz band performing.

I love taking an audience for a ride with rhythm, melody, dynamics.

When you get it right, you can feel the energy in the room shift with the music.

Needless to say, performing music in school got me hooked on performing period.

Once my business started humming, I knew that performing–in the form of public speaking–would be a big part of my goal. Over the last few years, I’ve worked hard to become known as a speaker, learn the craft, and hone my skills.

Now, I have the privilege of getting paid well for it and getting to do it often.

Whether speaking on stage is a part of your goal or whether you realize public speaking (webinars, presentations, meetings…) is a key part of any business owner’s success, you’ll want to invest your time and energy in getting it right.

One of the best things I’ve ever invested in when it comes to speaking (other than working with this week’s Profit. Power. Pursuit. guest, Michelle Mazur) has been seeking out pro speakers and finding out about their process.

So I thought I’d take you behind the scenes of my own process, from booking gigs, to negotiating fees, to planning my talks. Ready? Let’s go.

The Inquiry

I have a speaking page on my site that highlights that I’m available. There’s a form on that page for meeting or event planners to submit an inquiry.

However, most of my gigs don’t come because of that page, even if they come through that page. Instead, my speaking gigs generally come from personal contacts (even if a few degrees removed) or because an event organizer has seen or heard me speak elsewhere.

When we receive an inquiry, the first thing I do is investigate the event as best I can and start considering the audience. The audience determines pretty much every other step of the process—including negotiating my fee.

The Negotiation

Once an inquiry comes in, I normally need to share my speaking fee. While this used to cause me tons of stress, now it’s pretty matter-of-fact. I share my fee and if it’s an audience that I’d really like to get in front of, I might even suggest some alternatives to matching my fee.

The conversation about my fee is often mixed with the conversation about what I’ll present, and I consider this a part of the negotiation too.

It’s in my best interest to both use one of my core presentations and to present a talk that has the most potential for piquing the interest of audience members to purchase from my business. Of course, the event organizer often has something else in mind entirely!

I negotiate the topic balancing what they want with what is in my best interests. Sometimes that might mean designing something new but often it means tweaking what I have to best meet their needs.

I’ve accumulated about 200 hours of potential talks (thanks for 6 classes with CreativeLive and plenty of webinars) over the last 3 years.

The Research

Once I’ve spoken with the event organizer and negotiated both my fee and the topic, I’ll do some more research. I try to gauge the tone and format of the event, as well as look for key audience questions or problems.

My goal isn’t to say what I want to say. My goal is to say what I want to say such that it answers a specific question or problem for the audience—just as I would with a product or service package.

I’ll try to find folks who have been to the event before, engage with an event community, or just poke around the website for the event or event founder to see conversations with real people in the audience.

The Introduction

Over the last year, my goal has been to nail the introduction of any talk I give. That means not getting up on stage and introducing myself, telling people what I do, or asking how everyone’s doing.

You can tell a pro from an amateur by the way they start their talk.

I like to get the audience engaged & laughing in the first 2-3 sentences. So I spend a good bit of time finding that one punchy line I can land to set myself up.

For the talk that I’m giving in Denver this week, the second sentence of my talk is, “We were shocked to learn that Sean…[insert dramatic pause] is an extrovert.” Trust me, that’ll get some laughs.

I’ll actually write out the full introduction so that I feel good about the narrative flow, since storytelling is not a strong suit of mine but writing is.

The Slide Deck

Once I’ve outlined the rest of the talk, citing an example and an action item for each point I’m making, I’ll start the slide deck.

I keep my slides simple with lots of big text and interesting images. While bullet points can help a sales page or blog post become more readable, they’re often messy, messy, messy in a slide deck. I avoid them except when I’m actually listing things out.

The Transitions

One of the reasons I never finished my music degree (I’m 1 class and a few private trombone lessons shy) is that I’m terrible at practicing. So, I don’t spend hours in front of the mirror running through my presentation.

I start by running through the presentation once for timing.

Then, I carefully rehearse the introduction. If I nail that, I know the rest will go smoothly.

Then, I focus on rehearsing transitions. Again, if I can nail each transition, I know I can easily get through the minutes in between.

I isolate the 2-3 slides around each place in the presentation where I change points. I’ll run through how to make the pivot from point to point several times.

The Conclusion

The conclusion has often been a sticking point for me. Many of my talks in the past have ended with, “Well, that’s it. Thanks!” as I sheepishly walk off stage. Even if I gave an outstanding talk, that ending damages the overall effect.

I’ll practice the last thought of the talk… and practice stopping there even more.

Day Of

I’m writing to you on the way to my next gig and, already, I’m thinking about my routine for tomorrow morning. I always wake up early and use that quiet time to settle my mind and do a final run through of the introduction, transitions, and conclusions.

Once I’m at the venue, I’ll find the green room as quickly as possible and get settled. I need “introvert time” without surprise interruptions or personal introductions for at least 30 minutes before a talk or I don’t feel ready.

Then I get miked and head to the stage.

Once it’s over, I love talking with people. In fact, it’s one of the easiest times for me to connect with new people because it’s like we’ve been chatting for the last hour (my presentation!). I feel in my element and completely comfortable continuing the conversation.

I’ve honed much of this process thanks to working with Dr. Michelle Mazur, my guest this week on Profit. Power. Pursuit. Her Speak for Impact methodology has made it so much easier to prepare for talks, find stories and examples to use, and feel confident that I’m going to hit a home run every time.

To hear how Michelle uses public speaking in her own business, from negotiation to preparation to getting paid, make sure you listen to our interview:

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Photo above by Jessica Hill Photography

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