There is a proverb Al Gore shared in his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech that states: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
Going far with relationships is how you grow a speaking career. The place to start when looking for speaking gigs is everyone you have worked for, worked with and met along the way. This is much more productive than contacting a database of strangers with cold calls, postcards and books (although I recommend that too).
I asked Vanessa Emerson to share her best advice on the subject of growing a speaking career. Founder of Dental Speaker Institute and Dental Speakers Bureau, Emerson is known as a thought leader by clients, prospects, meeting planners and peers. Her marketing services are in high demand, specializing in speaker materials, website design and email marketing services. (I have volunteered to lead a breakout session at her JUMPSTART2020 conference in Phoenix in January 2020).
She is a matchmaker, helping people with something to say in the dental world to find audiences who are hungry for great information. Emerson is known as the go-to-resource for inside-the-industry information that helps meeting planners create better meetings, speakers acquire more bookings and both to meet their business goals.
“Author Judy Robinett has a theory that in any conference, meeting or group of 10 or more people, the solution to any problem is in the room,” says Emerson. “I put her theory to the test during an Academy of Dental Management Consultants annual session. When speaking on the topic of networking, I engaged the attendees in an exercise to test Robinett’s concept. After only a few minutes of conversation with a new contact, the majority of the room reported that they had already found a likely solution to a business challenge.”
I used to feel that using my relationships to get speaking gigs was somehow like cheating, but then I discovered it is the secret to success for many speaking careers. You need to know who your ideal audience is and what you have to say that matters to them. The next step is to network with those who have heard you speak. There is an important truth: you can’t recommend someone as a speaker unless you have heard them speak.
“The more that you network, participate and build relationships, the more opportunity that will be presented to grow your speaking career,” says Emerson. “Your social network provides the opportunity to accomplish together what would be difficult or impossible for individuals to accomplish alone.”
Emerson says the best way to build your network is to put yourself in places where you can get to know people personally.
“Before you attend a conference or meeting, determine what you hope to achieve by attending and figure out how to help others before you ask them for something,” says Emerson. “You may have connections that would be helpful to a colleague. You may be able to serve on a committee or know of a great speaker for a future meeting. You may be able to mentor a young colleague.”
To paraphrase President John F. Kennedy: Ask not what they can do for you; ask what you can do for them. The question on your mind should be, “How can I give back to others in this organization?”
Emerson highly recommends Robinette’s book, How to Be a Power Connector. She drew these networking suggestions from the book:
Connect personally. Ask people about themselves. Show genuine interest.
Connect professionally. Ask them about their work. Take mental notes.
Connect with possibilities. Ask them: how can I help you, what ideas do you have for me, and who do you know that I should talk to?
By utilizing this formula in her exercise at the annual meeting, her attendees were able to zero in on their answers within a few minutes.
“Utilize the formula to grow your circle of influence and create a greater impact in your industry,” advises Emerson.