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Make Yourself a Bookable Speaker

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December 2012 Independent Magazine, IBPA

Make Yourself a Bookable Speaker

December 2012

by Gordon Burgett


Although I have a thriving niche publishing company, I have made a whole lot more money from speaking than from books. I was wobbly-kneed and shaky-voiced as a speaker at first (for a year), but it turned out to be a lot of fun talking to live people (my favorite kind!). And it made selling my books a whole lot easier too, because when people liked what I said, they usually wanted to dig deeper to read more in print.

Essentially, there are only two requirements for generating speaking dates. You have to be able to deliver the goods from the front of the room, and the booker has to know that.

Profitable and effective delivery formats are keynotes, main presentations, breakout sessions, classes, and emceeing. Seminars and workshops work best for me because I love teaching. You might think about offering a seminar or workshop first, then slide up into single speeches or keynotes. Start where you are most comfortable and can get scheduled.

If you are new to public speaking, join Toastmasters and the National Speakers Association, particularly if there’s a nearby meeting or chapter. Toastmasters will help you hone your tools and give you a platform and audience for practice. The National Speakers Association is a source of tons of how-to information from successful professionals.

If public speaking gives you the trembles, do some teaching or speaking to and with local groups or peers. Teach in a classroom, at church school on Sunday, wherever you can speak with passion and substance about something. Create a needed presentation (like how to collect for the United Way, or what the effects of new local laws will be). Volunteer to give 20 minutes of fun and fact to the Rotary, Lions, Odd Fellows, Women in Business.

Just step up and create excitement while you share knowledge. Why? Because you have to have something to say when the bookers ask, “Tell me about your speaking background . . . ”

Use your research and your early experience to learn how to frame and design speeches, when to use humor, what makes a solid introduction and closing, how to weave stories into a talk, and how to speak (and smile) to every listener.

Then start pitching for speaking that pays.


Looking for Bookers

First hunt for any association, corporation, group, club, company, and service organization that would benefit from hearing you talk about your topic. Check Google and the Encyclopedia of Associations to find the person who handles meetings and conventions. Start with that person, or as close as you can to the booker, who is sometimes called a programmer.

Since I often speak to niche markets, I usually begin by targeting the association that serves the same niche my book serves. I try to get articles accepted by its newsletter or magazine. Often I create spinoff booklets, tip sheets, and related products. Once I’ve been in print in its publication, I begin trying to get booked at its conferences or convention. Sometimes it’s best to start with a group’s regional or state gatherings. Recommendations you get after you speak at them will help you get the bigger bookings.



It’s not enough to have solid experience and a topic that you think listeners would clamor to hear about—at least in the beginning. You must also sell yourself as a better-than-competent speaker.

Ask any of those daring souls who schedule speakers for a convention, conference, or even a monthly meeting what they most fear. They will say: (1) the speaker won’t show up—very rare; (2) the speaker will show up and then bore the audience comatose; or (3) the speaker will somehow shame me with swearing, sexual references, racial comments, or something else that is clearly off track or unacceptable.

Bookers can’t undo the speeches they booked. The booking is a bell (and step in a career) that can’t be unrung.

So bookers must take special precautions before they decide to let their groups hear what you have to say. Their most common questions are: (1) Where have you spoken before? and (2) Why are you speaking about this subject?

Sell your subject, and by extension yourself, for consideration for a presentation at the _______ convention in ____ in 2013 (or 2014) using a sales kit you send by snail mail or digitally. Either way, make sure you provide your email address.

These days my sales kit—all digital and downloadable—is available from my Web site. We don’t send it snail mail because, mercifully, nobody wants it that way.

Here’s what the sales kit should include:

● An introductory letter showing that you understand an audience’s needs, fears, desires, dreams, frustrations, and obstacles, and that you can help resolve or achieve them.

● A full list of your speaking appearances, with topics when they are similar to the topic you’re proposing. For the last three programs or so, I add the name of the person who booked me, along with contact information. If you don’t provide this, bookers will either reject you or ask you for it. Of course, if you have positive feedback—ideally, a rave review—attach it (or them) to your speaking appearances list.

● Material about your direct competition, their manner of speaking, what you feature that is different, and any downloadable follow-up support materials you offer that are better than what they offer. You must have a ready answer to, “There are other speakers who address this topic. Why would we select you?” Now I can say, “Because I’m a seasoned veteran,” if I can’t think of anything better. I’m not sure that has ever really worked, but it gets a laugh, and getting a laugh from a speech programmer is in itself a rare feather worth savoring.

● An assortment of items showing how you have addressed your topic more fully with a book and/or with key articles in the publications that the audience reads. I also use reports, e-books, books in progress, booklets, and tip sheets. And I’ve found that it’s a good idea to create a different tip sheet about each key topic I address. When I want to send videos or other digital tools, I send them as email attachments.


Building Book Sales In

Do you try to sell your books as you try to get booked?

That’s tricky. In a first conversation with a booker, I wouldn’t ask that a book be bought for every attendee. That seems more fitting for a celebrity or someone in the spotlight at that moment.

Instead, I focus on getting booked, using my book to show that I fully understand the topic I wish to speak about. Later, I suggest that an all-attendee book buy might make sense, because the quantity purchase means I can offer a discount of, say, 40 percent. (Remember that you may have to pay for shipping books to a gathering.)

There are alternatives. You might have a book sale at the back of the room during breaks and after your presentation. Maybe you could increase sales by offering to contribute 10 percent of the money you take in to the organization. Or you might have a book signing directly after the presentation in a nearby room, with or without the offer of a contribution. At the least, you should be able to distribute a small handout with a copy of your book’s cover and ordering information on one side and perhaps a three- or four-point summary of what you are saying that day on the other. That way, the audience will have something valuable to take home that will remind them of you and your book.


Package Deals

I find seminars and workshops my best speaking vehicles because I love teaching; I’m not very graceful prancing around or “spontaneously” gesturing the way people often do during speeches; and I can comfortably work humor into a planned context (and the related Q&A sessions).

When I seek a breakout or seminar/workshop booking, I often add material to my sales kit about one or several more similar programs I offer. I mention that if I’m booked to present my proposed program, I’ll be at the site with transportation and lodging expenses already covered, so I could provide a second program at half the cost of the first.

Does that work? Surprisingly, it does about 15 percent of the time. Sometimes bookers even suggested that I give the primary program twice. The offer also seemed to generate other speaking gigs. I was asked to MC several times, and later, when I had created a spousal program, bookers were interested in that too.

It simply seems unfair (to the potential listeners and my coffers) not to offer the vocal extension to my in-print book. If the bookers buy the premise and worth of my book, they’re usually eager to have their listeners hear its oral elaboration. So I must let them know that the program exists, that I can speak as well as write, and that I won’t shame them from the lectern. Rather, the listeners will hail the booker’s persistence and wisdom.


Gordon Burgett has more than 1,700 articles in print, including several he has contributed to the Independent. He is also the author of 42 published books, and he reports that he has given more than 2,000 paid speaking presentations, the most recent being a speech to the Bay Area Independent Publishers Association about niche publishing and marketing. To learn more: gordonburgett.com.


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