Build Your Platform – Get Yourself Some Gigs

Here is a terrifying sentence: If you want to be a writer, you probably need to be a speaker as well.

Gulp.

I know that most writers would rather hang out a coffee shop or with their cat writing the day away than speak. I know a few writers who would rather stab themselves in the eye with a sharpened yellow #2 pencil than speak. But if you are working on building a platform, speaking is your quickest way of doing that.

Just today, I had a woman from Texas call me up and say, “I’m ready to speak, but I don’t know how to launch that part of my business/ministry.” Since a good part of each of my work days are spent finding speaking gigs, I thought it would be helpful to share some of my strategies each time I blog here.

Tip #1

Speak for Free

It is the bane of every speaker’s existence. That moment when your event coordinator says, “We don’t really have a budget for speakers, but we would love to have you come.”

In my opinion, unless you are already booked to capacity, take the gig.

Yes, you are worth more than that, and your time is valuable. However, the best way to get more speaking engagements is by speaking. It is a false economy to sit at home all day creating flyers and making phone calls looking for paid speaking engagements, when you have passed up the opportunity to speak for free.

Speaking is your best form of advertisement. When someone is sitting in the audience listening to you, chances are she belongs to at least one or two other groups or organizations that use speakers on a fairly regular basis. Multiply that by the number of people sitting in the audience, and that is the best form of marketing.

Recently, a large church asked me to speak for free to a group of over 150 women. At first I was put off because surly they could afford to pay me. I thought better of it and accepted the gig.

From that one engagement, I have had three paid bookings, and another spin-off booking. Plus, I got a great recording from that one engagement.

If you are going to speak for free, make sure you get something out of it besides free advertising:

  • I always ask for my expenses to be reimbursed, (food, travel etc,) Don’t ever let your speaking cost you money.
  • Ask your venue if they can record you. Having that recording is essential when you are booking other gigs and they want to hear what you can do.
  • Build a great book table so even if you are not getting paid to speak, you can make money by selling your products.
  • Ask if the event coordinator will be a reference for you.

Action Plan:

  • Let the world know your are available. Tell friends, coworker fellow church members that you are open for business and willing to speak no matter the fee
  • Search our religious, community, and industry groups who are looking for free speakers
  • Even if it is not a subject that you are an expert on or passionate about, see if there is a way you can make it work for the group. This is especially important if you are fiction author. Your local MOPS group probably isn’t going to book you to talk about your latest historical novel, but they might just love your talk on Pursuing Your Passions as you talk about what it took to get published. Or how about a talk on making history come alive to kids?   Just figure out how to become a niche expert for any group by bringing in your specific expertise.

Question for You – If you speak, how are you getting your speaking engagements. If you don’t speak, why not?

40 Replies to “Build Your Platform – Get Yourself Some Gigs”

  1. Thanks so much for discussing this topic, Kathi! I am the gal who would rather poke her eye out with a pencil then get in front of a group and ramble. In fact, I have a speaking engagement in the middle of October already booked and I’m a nervous wreck just thinking about it. But like you said, in order to build my platform, I need to do it.

    As far as booking these appearances, I think your church or churches within your area are a great way to start. There’s always numerous bible studies, women’s groups, conferences and retreats going on which provide great opportunities to hone in on one’s speaking skills, network, etc.

    Ugh, October will be here before you know it. Maybe I’ll start sharpening those #2 pencils…kidding of course. 🙂

    GREAT advice!

    1. Thanks Jenny. Put down the pencil! i think that the more you speak, in front of even just a few people, the more you can approach the stage with a “Yes, I can do this!” attitude.
      October will be great – just think about what you would want to hear if you were in their seats!

  2. Kathi, you hit the nail on the head. I started as an adult Bible study teacher. Of course those aren’t paid, but I obtained great recordings to build my platform. Ladies would connect with my passion & enthusiasm and invite others. Those invitees were women’s ministry leafers who are constantly in need of retreat or special event speakers. Although occasionally I’m asked to speak for free (which I absolutely do if it works with my schedule), the majority are now paid (including travel), provide manned book tables, more opportunities to connect, and an ever-increasing platform. Speaking is THE most effective platform builder–bar none.

  3. For those who want to take Kathi’s terrific advice but feel like Jenny, I recommend joining Toastmasters. It’s an international club in which you learn public speaking. Members are extremely supportive and helpful, and through regular practice in a supportive setting, you will overcome your fears. It’s also a great networking resource. See http://www.toastmasters.org.

  4. Great info, Kathi. When I began writing several years ago, I knew I wanted to branch into speaking at some point. I joined Toastmasters and spent a wonderful two years learning how to deliver a speech, both prepared and extemporaneous. My time in Toastmasters has served me well.

    I was invited to deliver my first writing workshop this summer, and it went far better than I dared dream. I’m scheduled to speak in November and will be lining up more speaking engagements after that. I’ve learned that while speaking can be scary, it can also be rewarding. I loved hearing the workshops participants tell me how much I’d helped them. That was worth much more than the money I earned.

  5. I think that’s good advice, speaking may be hard work but it is an excellent way to engage with an audience and develop prospective clients – in a way that writing and advertising often can not.

  6. HI Kathi. This is great information. I’m just going to vent a moment though – not in an ugly way. More like in a, “oh good grief I can’t keep up way” 🙂 In my head I understand the need to build a platform, though I never had heard of that until I started to try to get published, or even just find an agent. The reality of this for me has been and continues to be a little overwhelming. First you need to blog, then you need to be social networking, now you need to start speaking…

    OK. Enough of the vent.

    This comes at a time when I am questioning the effectiveness of any of what I’m doing. I just got on Facebook but I’m not really doing anything with that. Been blogging but building a following with that is very slow and frankly, sometimes makes me feel like a used car salesman; this even though I believe in what I’m writing about. It really has become a matter of deep soul searching and prayer for me recently.

    Here’s what I’ve decided. I’m praying for God to use me and my writing. That may or may not end up with a publishing deal…ever. I’m good with that. I will continue to do the things I know to do, and continue to ask God for opportunities and the courage to follow his lead. However, I’m going to have to rework my priorities, especially the time I spend on those things I’m not sure about. Trying to get published can easily become a full-time job and if you’re not careful, take over your life. I need to make sure that doesn’t happen.

    So is this a newbie thing? Does everyone go through this in the beginning and then find some point of equilibrium? I love your advice and I’m keeping this post for future reference.

    I’m just sayin’… 🙂

    1. Sherri, I totally empathize with your worries! Yes, it is very easy for life as a published author (or as a trying-to-be-published author) to spin out of control so you no longer have the right priorities. I have really had to do a lot of thinking and praying since May, when my first novel released, on how to balance my life. I wish I had better counsel, but all I can say is that most published authors I know take it one day at a time to get through the pressures. The same is true for pre-published authors: only you can know when your life feels right and good, as if you are fulfilling your spiritual priorities and spending enough time with your family. If the promotion starts to really bother you, it may be a good idea to take some time off and see how you feel *without* that activity. I hope that is helpful–it’s the best I have for you, given my own experience.

      1. Thank you, Rosslyn, and congratulations on your first novel! It has been amazing to me that through the day today and in prayer meeting last night, God has just provided validation and encouragement right when I needed it the most. I am going to continue the blog and continue doing the things I know I am to do, and will walk through whatever door he chooses to open – in his time. I need to remember that it’s not up to me, and stop trying to do things in my time and according to my agenda. It’s amazing how freeing it is over and over to remember that! Thanks for your words of encouragement. They are greatly appreciated.

  7. Heeeeeey, were you referring to me when you said you know women who’d rather stab themselves in the eye than speak?! These are great points. And I know they’re true. But I don’t like them. Going to get my pencil now…

  8. Like many others, I don’t like public speaking. However, I do it because I know I must. The more I have spoken, the less afraid I have grown. (I’m not sure if I’m getting better or not, but at least, that “I’m never going to subject myself to this again” feeling is no longer there.)

    My first paid gig is coming up. And suddenly I feel an added pressure to perform well. Aah, one more issue to deal with!

  9. Excellent advice. As someone who comes from a ridiculously small church, it’s often difficult to find anyone who will be willing to come minister to us for the amount we can afford to pay.

    I especially like the advice on tailoring your fiction topics to fit the group you’re speaking to.

  10. But… How did you know?!

    With our debut novel releasing at the tail end of June, promotion and marketing is on our minds. You’ve given us some GR8 ideas to make this even better.

    We speak to groups about how a book is made (Dad gave Mom a trip to actually SEE our book made) and then Mom does a read along session while I play. Works for me! And our audiences enjoy it. Mom also teaches a creative writing workshop.

    She says if she can get our book into someone’s paws, they buy it, soooo, that’s what we’re trying to do. And, so far, so good! 🙂

    I don’t post very often. I let Mom do it mostly. So thanks for having me today!

  11. Thank you for your post. I haven’t found a publisher yet but I have been thinking about how get speaking engagements when that time comes. You have helped me a lot. Thank you

  12. Much needed advice and perfectly timed…I know this is a step I need to take…if I can only get my feet (and my mouth) to move. Thank you.

  13. It’s good advice for fiction writers and excellent advice for nonfiction writers. Speaking for free also helps a writer get past the jittery “I don’t know if I can do this” phase.

  14. Hello, Kathi! You coming my way again any time soon? (Sorry, that is sooo off topic!)
    I speak somewhat regularly. Sometimes I get paid. Mostly I don’t. I speak as a form of ministry–and yes, it’s a chance to let people know about my books. But mostly I speak to encourage women. It’s part of my platform, yes. But I guess it’s not a huge plank in the platform. Yet.

  15. Science Fiction/Fantasy/Horror writers have it easy. We can attend conventions and sit on panels to discuss everything on how to write/publish to the hottest trend in the genre. This venue often gives the participant a free membership as long as you are involved in X number of events.

  16. Great blog and perfect timing. In the past few years I have done speaking engagements through the National Center for Missing Children at the Ride for Missing Children in Albany and Utica, New York. I was invited to speak because my sister was kidnapped over seventeen years ago. In the past year I finished my first book and just started to seek publication. At the Greater Philadelphia Christian Writer’s conference, a couple people suggested I started to speak more outside of the missing children venue and about my book’s subject matter, how God never left me and there is hope in tragedy when we trust God. I updated my speaking page on my website and your ideas are great to move me forward in this venue.

    Thank you so much. I look forward to the future tips.
    Lisa Buske
    “Where’s Heidi: The Search Begins”

    1. Lisa- It sounds like you have a compelling story and speaking about hope is a great way to identify with everyone in your group while still speaking on something that is so personal. I look forward to reading your book.

  17. I don’t speak [yet] because the thought of it gives me 10,000 heart attacks. That said, I know it’s important…and you have given me the incentive to get going! I did do one speaking engagement at my church a couple of years ago — it was an audience of 500+, which was huge for me. I didn’t even think my legs would hold me upright at the podium. It went really well…but I was so glad not to have to do it again!

  18. An interesting article. And I appreciated the unintentional pun. At least, I assume it was unintentional: “I was put off because surly they could afford to pay me.”

  19. Great post, Kathi. It’s like you said, the more you speak to groups, the better you get and the easier it becomes. I began speaking to libraries/church/ladies’ groups as soon as my first book came out. Some contacted me, and for others I made the first contact. It helps to have something on your website about your speaking, or at least make yourself available for such. PLUS, can I just say how much I adore POWERPOINT! 🙂 It makes speaking so much easier! I plan to post here on this very thing later in the year. Thanks!

  20. Great advice Kathi! I primarily get my speaking engagements via word of mouth (from endorsements, readers, etc.) and through my website. It’s good to have “discoverability” – so when you’re name is mentioned they can google you and find out more about what you’re about. And I definitely believe in finding your niche (what makes “you” you). I used to be super nervous to speak, but the more I did it, the more I realized it was the same voice as my writing, only out loud 🙂 And for sure, the delight I got from seeing others ministered to helped me overcome my fears and ultimately also made me a better writer because of the things I learned from the audience.

    Again, great advice 🙂 I’d tell those who are nervous, do it afraid! God will help you!

  21. Good advice, Kathi. I always tend to think of public speaking in terms of doing conference workshops, but you’re absolutely right—there’s a world of opportunity for a writer willing to speak for free anywhere. I think the exposure would be worthwhile even if I was never paid for it. I’m going to put this on my ‘action plan’. (:

  22. I’ve been kicking around the idea of creating a presentation for my local writer’s group about “The Business of Writing.” As writers we like to write. But to get published, there’s a whole business side you have to keep in mind. And I take for granted the ease to which I’m able to research the industry and find out all the do’s and dont’s. I’ve put in countless hours figuring out how to go about getting published. So many in our writing group are older folks who aren’t as tech savy and so may not be as comfortable finding out this info that is all literally at our finger tips. So I would just say, don’t assume you have nothing to speak about. If you have alot of information about a particular topic, it’s worth sharing.

  23. Thanks for this great post. I’m curious as to how others have found speaking gigs…how to search effectively for conferences and so on that might be relevant to your topic to pitch yourself to the organizers? I speak quite frequently for my “day job” and am now starting a business which includes speaking. I love it! I’d like to offer up the suggestion that if people are really quite afraid of speaking to just imagine that the audience wishes you well. If you think about it, when we see someone speak we really are unconsciously hoping that they will do a good job, that they will be interesting and entertaining and maybe even “wow” us, aren’t we? So imagine everyone wishing you well. They don’t wish for your downfall! I’ve always found a lot of comfort in that.

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