Approach the Podium: How To Get Speaking Engagements

One of the best ways for a Freelance consultant to demonstrate and validate our bona fides as an expert in our chosen field is to get in front of an audience and deliver a talk to peers and prospects. As we all know, billable hours and referrals are built on confidence and trust and we must do everything possible to encourage and sustain their growth. If you would like to get on the speaker’s circuit but have not yet done so, begin by acquiring some public speaking experience and as you do, think about topics that you can convincingly address.

I’ve been teaching since 2006 and I’ve found it to be a learning experience for me, as well as for my students. Teaching is a wonderful place to start building your public speaking resume and you will be (modestly) paid as you and your students learn.  Absolute beginners are advised to approach an adult learning center to explore opportunities to teach a workshop that you propose.

As your teaching skills become more proficient, browse the catalogues of community colleges and four-year institutions and contact department heads to inquire about teaching for a semester. BTW, the workshop that you proposed and taught at the adult learning center represents curriculum development and in the world of teaching, that is a plus. You could be asked to expand your workshop into a semester-long course.

Step up your activity in local business or social organizations that offer professional development or even current affairs programs. Attend a program or two, get to know and build relationships with the program organizers and make it known that you are able to serve on a panel that will address a subject in which you have special knowledge.

Speaking on a panel is a great way to let program organizers see you in front of an audience. Do well and you may next be invited to moderate a panel and eventually, receive an offer to be a keynote speaker. If you know of a potential speaker, moderator or panelist who program organizers may want to feature, do not hesitate to make the referral. That will be a feather in your cap and increase your value to the organizers.

Give careful consideration to the topics you can speak to and the corresponding prime audience demographics. Should you approach organizations where you are not known, it will be very important to help program organizers understand where your topics and their audience needs intersect. Create a one page document for each of your talk titles.

List the your name and company name at the top, followed by your talk title in a bold and larger font. In five or six bullet points, describe the primary content of your talk and the benefits that audiences gain by attending. It is also useful to write a 60 second pitch for the talk that you personally make to program organizers and to those who can make referrals for you. Add your talk titles and those descriptive bullet points to your website, LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook pages.

If you have presented a webinar, or recorded a podcast or video, upload these to your website and social media accounts, so that program organizers can see and hear you in action. Larger organizations may request that you send in a few of your Power Point slides for review.

Speaking of Power Point, if you are fortunate enough to land a speaking gig that gets you in front of potential clients, strongly consider paying an experienced graphics specialist to customize slides for you. it is so in your interest to present high-quality slides that represent you and your brand well. While you’re at it, have your graphics person embed your photo into your “one sheet” talk info documents,  so that they can be used by you and program organizers to promote your talk.

To make your goal to obtain speaking engagements a true marketing plan, commit your proposed actions to writing and make a list of organizations where your speaking talents as keynote, moderator and panelist are best suited. Ask clients and colleagues which conferences they attend as you make your choices. Then, visit the program websites and find out about previous speakers and topics.

Finally, be aware that the vast majority of speaking engagements are considered opportunities for exposure and are unpaid, but that should not discourage you from selectively and tactfully asking for an honorarium.  If you speak in a location that is more than an hour away, or where the parking cost is large, ask if expenses related to getting you to the venue will be covered. If you must take a hotel room, ask if the program organizers will reimburse the cost.

Generally speaking, lining up teaching or speaking engagements is a long-term project, since schedules and course catalogues are determined far in advance. Consider it something useful to do when business is slow.

Thanks for reading,


Master Moderator: Run A Panel Like A Pro

Speaking opportunities are a time-tested way to position oneself as an expert. Speaking engagements are often gateways to connecting with prospective clients, strategic partners and referral sources. Being showcased as the keynote speaker is the most coveted role at the conference, but an invitation to join a panel is highly desirable as well. Should you be asked to moderate, you may work with the conference organizer to select the panel speakers.

When considering speakers, remember that the goal of every panel discussion is to bring together three to five smart and witty people to have a dynamic discussion about an intriguing topic. A group of highly regarded, yet boring, experts will not do. The best panel discussions are lively. The moderator and speakers will enlighten and entertain the audience and draw them into the discussion with questions and comments.

Panel preparation Invite experts who communicate well and have the ability to engage the audience. Research the panelists and their work and let that guide questions that you will ask, in addition to questions on any big developments that the audience will want addressed (like the Supreme Court ruling on the Affordable Care Act if health care is the topic).

Experienced moderators suggest that you send panelists a group email that lists three questions that you will pose and ask them to suggest other issues/questions that they feel should be addressed as well. At the conference, introduce the panelists to one another and suggest that all of you sit together while whatever meal is served or as the keynote speaker is on, so that everyone can get somewhat acquainted before the panel goes on.

Panel discussion objectives At the start of the panel, thank the audience for attending and introduce yourself. State the title and purpose of the discussion. Three sentences should be sufficient to describe why the topic is relevant to the audience and the community (professional peers or the public).

Introduce the panelists The moderator always introduces the panelist and the introduction should be brief and to the point, letting the audience know why they’ve been invited to discuss the subject. Smart panelists will give you their own introduction for you to read.

Layer the questions A-List moderators know that there is a sequence to follow when posing questions to the panel. The opening question is the “view from 30,000 feet”, an overview that allows panelists to give their perspectives of the big picture regarding the topic. The next couple of questions become more specific, boots on the ground. Once everyone is warmed up, throw in a curve ball with a tough question.

You the moderator are looking to elicit from the panelists concrete examples, war stories, amusing anecdotes, the outrageous truth and provocative or controversial opinions. It’s OK for panelists to pose a question to another, as well. Panelists may ask questions that are sharper and more provocative than those you’ve prepared and the answers may be more candid.

Keep the energy flowing and resist the predictability of going down the line of panelists every time, to allow each to answer your question. If the first three give a similar answer, give another question to the next two, transitioning by saying “The question seems to be answered…” as you pose another to the next panelist(s).

The wrap-up question don’t bother to ask for a closing thought, that’s been done all too often. Instead, ask panelists what they think might be an important trend that we’ll be talking about next year at this time, or to make some counterintuitive out-of-the-box prediction about what the industry will look like in five years.

Audience questions To the best of your ability, allow 5 – 7 minutes for audience questions. Following the audience questions, give a brief closing wrap-up and thank the audience for their attendance and participation.

End on time The panel discussion will likely be 45 – 60 minutes long and it is the responsibility of the moderator to facilitate an engaging and informative discussion that makes the panelists (and you) look good by posing questions that will quickly get the relevant information onto the table and make the audience value the experience. Make the organizer happy by staying on schedule. Ask the organizer for 10 minute and 5 minute warning signs.

Thanks for reading,


Be A Rock Star Panelist

Being invited to speak on a panel is a golden opportunity, a wonderful way to demonstrate your expertise and ability to think on your feet. Being on a panel is an excellent marketing technique and it can also be fun. There is an art to it though and if you want to be invited to participate a second time, make sure that you look good the first time.

1.   Know the subject

You’ve been invited to join the panel to share your deep knowledge and experience and/or your intriguing and compelling perspectives regarding the subject matter. You are there to inform and enlighten the audience. Do not disappoint. If you do not possess the expertise, then you must decline the invitation, regardless of how wonderful the opportunity is.

2.   Control your introduction

One week before your appearance, confirm details with the program organizer and send a three sentence bio that should be forwarded to the panel moderator. As a precaution, print out a copy and hand it to the moderator before taking your seat.

3.   Speak up and speak clearly

Veteran speakers say that the optimal distance between your lips and the microphone is one inch. Lean in (but don’t hunch over) and speak clearly.

4.   Entertain and inform

As with a program keynote speaker, a panelist is there not only to inform, but also entertain. A bored audience tunes out. Witty sound-bytes work wonders. Sprinkling in a few makes you look smart and you will be remembered by those in the audience.

5.   Tell the outrageous truth

Prepare yourself for a tough, possibly embarrassing, question form the moderator. Fear not, because this is a good thing. You will then have the opportunity to be gutsy and funny, and show the audience that you are a straight shooter. Tell the outrageous truth, especially when it’s obvious. If the question is that scary, plead the fifth amendment and let the audience laugh with you.

6.   KISS—Keep it short and simple

Real experts know how to boil complex issues down to their essence and give answers and explanations that can be readily understood by non-experts. Avoid tossing around technical jargon and you’ll look like the smartest person in the room and win the admiration of the audience.

7.   Answer the question that you want to answer

Unless you feel that you must take the fifth, answer the question that was asked, but do not hesitate to take the discussion in a direction that lets you express your unique perspective, or demonstrate your expertise and experience. Give your answer and segue with “… but the real issue is…”

8.   Face the audience and not the moderator

It is tempting to face the person who asks the questions, but be mindful that s/he is not the audience, but the vehicle for posing questions that tease out information that audience members are presumed to want.

9.   Never look bored.

Active listening will help with this one. Looking engaged while another panelist is droning on, or resisting the reflexive action of making a face if someone says something that you find inaccurate or ridiculous, is perhaps the hardest part of being a panelist.

10. Listen to the other panelists

Being able to refer to something said by another panelist adds to the value of the information shared. If you want to politely refute a previous panelist, or add more information to a point that has been made (“…I think the real issue is…”), you’ll need to listen carefully. Jotting down a couple of notes is a good idea as well, to help you remember what was said and/or formulate your rebuttal.

11. Never agree with the other panelists (much)

Moderators frequently put the same question to every panelist, so that different perspectives on the question can be brought forth. The last speaker often will have nothing to add. Rather than stating that you agree with the previous panelists, with a smile, say “I believe the question has been answered…”

12. Know the other panelists

The organizer should tell you who else is on the panel. Internet search and find out their area of expertise and what they may have written or said about the subject. You do not want any surprises and honestly, you want information that will help you look smarter.

Thanks for reading,