Kickstart Your Speaking Career: How To (Metaphorically) Drop The Mic

Kickstart Your Speaking Career: 2016

The very idea of public speaking is enough to make plenty of folk break out in a cold sweat. And while the thought of standing up in front of a crowd, and holding their attention is the literal stuff of nightmares for many, the benefits of becoming a publicly trusted voice within your industry — especially for someone looking to raise their freelancing or agency profile — are clear.

Whether you work as freelancer or as part of a wider agency, public speaking is a chance for you to establish your particular expertise and specialism, while enjoying promotion ahead of the event, live feedback and interaction during, and ongoing discussion in the follow up.

It’s also a wonderful chance to personally connect yourself, your brand, and your business with your community, as well as potential clients. Words spoken out loud have the potential to resonate louder and longer than written discourse, which can quickly get lost in the ever-changing onslaught of online information.

Successfully mastering the art of public speaking has many personal benefits, which will have a positive effect on your freelancing business or agency, including better pitching and improved critical thinking. But beyond that, the connections you make with people, both from the stage and after you’ve left it, have the ability to bring your business new opportunities, meetings, clients, projects, and much more.

I’m not here to tell you how to become a great public speaker — that market is well and truly covered, with countless books, online courses, and more on offer to help you develop your stagecraft and presenting skills.

But having run high-profile web design conferences for the last six years, I’ve curated more than my fair share of lineups, and thought it might be helpful to share some “insider tips” for kickstarting your speaking career.

Let’s assume that you’ve gotten over the initial mental hurdle, and decided that you’re going to make a go of getting some speaking gigs under your belt. You’ve started looking for opportunities…this is where many are surprised to find out how challenging getting booked in the first instance can actually be!

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From Little Acorns

Starting with a more obvious pointer, consider the level of the event that you’re hoping to speak at. Look at their past lineups; are they more commercial, providing a platform for newer speakers, or packed with familiar industry bigwigs?

Increasingly, established conferences are offering “rising star” slots to unknown but talented speakers, but many will shy away from names that don’t bring cache and sell tickets, so don’t disappoint yourself by gunning for these right away.

Instead, look for ways to build your experience, and get noticed. Meet ups, local events, and community-led conferences are a fantastic way to start adding to your resume. Once you have some of these under your belt, look for lower level speaking slots at the kind of big industry events that you’ve ultimately set your sights on.

Many conferences will hold lightning talks, jam sessions, pre-event meet ups etc., and will often put out calls for attendee speakers at these –– check out SmashingConf and Fronteers once they launch their 2017 schedule, who usually offer this. They are a fantastic way to couple yourself to the event’s established reputation, as well as a golden opportunity to get onto the radar of the organizers. Some conferences, such as, will even run speaking contests to earn yourself a main stage spot the following year.

Signpost yourself

Make it easy for organizers to find you. Let’s say you write an amazing blog post that receives a lot of industry attention, and a conference booker thinks it might translate well into a fantastic talk at their event. They could well be put off reaching out to you, if nothing about your online presence signals that you’re keen and willing to speak.

It can be as simple as adding the word “speaker” to your social media profiles, but if you’re serious about building up your reputation in this regard, you could also consider adding a “speaking” page to your personal website.

This should contain a high quality headshot, up to date biography, clear outline of the kind of topics that you like to cover, and a summary of the talks you have already given. Here’s a nice example from speaking circuit stalwart, Val Head. If you have it, this is also a fantastic place to add in video footage of yourself presenting.

Which brings me neatly onto my next point...

Your secret weapon

Having booked hundreds of speakers over the years, many of them previously unknown to me, I can say with some confidence that the number one resource in helping me to make a decision on someone, is being able to check out video of them delivering a talk. Brilliant writing, charismatic Skype calls, huge commercial agency success; none of this guarantees a safe translation to an engaging and educational on-stage presence.

When speaking at smaller events, ask if sessions will be recorded, and if you’ll have access to those videos afterwards. Go out of your way to speak at events that can help you out here; a decent recording of yourself nailing it on stage is honestly the very best thing that you can provide to an event organizer who’s sitting on the fence about your session!

Pitch successfully

Consider how you approach event organizers. Simply telling them that you’re interested in speaking isn’t going to have them falling over themselves to sign you up. Don’t assume they’ll know your work (or that they’ll do the legwork to find out about it). We get too many of those emails, and sadly there just isn’t enough time.

Instead, I suggest the following formula: a brief bio, why you want to speak at their event (be specific, show interest and knowledge, tell them why you’re a good fit for their crowd), your proposed session (title, 50 word description, five takeaway bullet points), and finally a short summary of your speaking experience.


Hi [conference organizer’s name],

Hope you’re well. I saw that the new site for went live –– congrats on launching! The new venue looks fantastic. (Or some other observation that shows you’ve paid attention.)

I’m getting in touch because I’d love to be considered as a speaker this year.

Some background info; I’m at [agency/business name], specializing in ecommerce solutions, and I’ve gained experience speaking at a range of events (NB: link to your Speaking page here.) Over the last three years, working with a diverse range of clients, I’ve learnt a tonne of interesting, surprising lessons and I’d love to share some of these with your audience, who I think would appreciate the approach we’ve taken with regards to refining our UX research process.

Here’s a brief outline of how my session could look. (Nb: If they already have talks listed online, structure your outline in the same format.)

Shop ‘Til You Drop: 10 Check Out Optimization Lessons Learned The Hard Way

With clients’ ecommerce goals increasingly targeted and specific, demands on our UX research processes have never been higher. In this session, I’ll be covering lessons learned at the coalface of check out optimization, a place where the tiniest of tweaks can send ripples across your whole project and its outcomes.

What You’ll Learn

      • The three word copy tweak that will boost conversions instantly.
      • HTML5 tips to streamline your checkout process.
      • The benefits of making customization choices reversible.
      • Best practices for integrating social media.
      • Testimonials - the right way.

If you think I might be a good fit for your audience, I’d love the chance to chat a bit more and hear your thoughts regarding this initial idea.

All the best,



It’s the same as applying for a job; a scattergun approach, and an email that suggests you’ve sent it to several others that afternoon isn’t going to get you nearly as many wins as an email that implies you’ve taken time to understand the vibe of the event, and really thought about how your contribution might be a good fit. A good booker will know at a glance if a topic sounds right for their conference and crowd, so I promise that putting time into thinking this through will pay dividends.

Shout about your specialism

Finally, when folks are putting together a conference line up, 99 per cent of the time, they’re thinking more about the topic than the speaker. They know what they want to see covered, so they’ll firm this up, then go fishing for the perfect person to cover each element.

Signpost your specialism! If you’re an expert in a certain field, make sure the speaking circuit knows that this is your jam. Once you have your foot in the door, becoming the go-to guy or girl for a clearly defined facet of web design or development can really ease your way onwards and upwards on the speaking circuit.

During my time as a booker, I often struggled to find folk who specialised in the more subtle elements of ecommerce, so I’d suggest that if Shopify has brought you to this article, you’re probably off to a head start already here!

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In conclusion

The benefits of establishing a solid speaking reputation, both on a personal level and for your business more broadly, are proven. By taking a little time and some care, you can make sure your newfound talents aren’t wasted, and avoid coming up against brick walls in terms of getting access to the platforms you’re looking for.

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