Make Marketing Suck Less

How to Find Speaking Gigs by Building Relationships & Using LinkedIn with David Fisher

How do I find speaking gigs?

This is the number one question that I get all the time from speakers.

Speakers are looking for the magic bullet to find those gigs and to find them without doing the ONE thing that makes the biggest difference to your speaking business: building relationships.

On the Rebel speaker, we are very fortunate because we have David Fisher here. He is a speaker but he is also an expert on building relationships and how we do leverage our relationships to book more speaking gigs or get more sales.

In this interview David and I talk about:

  • How to find speaking gigs when you’re just starting out
  • A LinkedIN strategy for networking and finding speaking opportunities
  • How to start building relationships with an organization where you would like to speak
  • Should you hire a speakers bureau to help you get the gig
  • Why once you’ve landed the speaking gig and delivered the goods, you’re relationship has only just begun

Enjoy the show!

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How to Find Speaking Gigs When You’re Just Starting Out


I'm excited to have you. So to start off let's say I am just starting out as a speaker. I've got zero leads on places to speak. What would you tell me to do?


So, the first thing I will tell you to do is have a little bit of patience. It sounds ironic, but so often when we are selling anything, we want the world to be on our time frame. It rarely is, so what happens is a lot of frustration, way too early. So, I always caution people to have the right expectations. From there then we can start getting tactical.

A couple of things I suggest to people is to look to relationships you already have. Now, this doesn’t have to be just  speaking. If you are a business owner starting out, no matter what environment you are in, unless you live under a rock or in a cave, you've already got an established network in some way or form. So, I actually usually coach people to start there first, with people that they know, and it's really about asking some questions, “Hey I'm looking to gain some speaking experience,”, “I think that this is my audience,” or “I think this is the sort of venue I want to be in,” and obviously you have to figure that stuff out first.


Yeah, that's key.


Once you've done that groundwork, maybe you're like, “Hey I really want to work for X. ‘, or speak to schools, maybe high school students, or entrepreneurs or veterinarians. Start asking the people you know, “Hey do you know someone who is a veterinarian?”,  “Do you know somebody who is a high school administrator?”. You will be really surprised at who they might know.


I completely agree on both counts. Patience, because I always say speaking is a long term strategy. If you need money tomorrow, speaking is not the way to go, because it does take time to find those places where you want to speak, to pitch, to get it booked, to get paid. so the patience is key.

I am also right there with you that starting with who you know in your network is the best thing. That's what I do with my clients- once we get the speech down and we have the audience, it's like alright, who do you know? And also tell everyone you know because you never know what's going to happen.


Absolutely, and you have to remember that people that you do know, they don't necessarily know much about what you are trying to do. I always make the joke that I don't think my mum really gets what I do, my dad does. My dad actually recommended me to people, which is great.

The reason I say that though is because it is really easy for us to assume that because the people that we know know us, they know all about us, they know about who a good contact is, who is someone that they should introduce us to …

I think that we are often afraid of being a pest or being obnoxious. There's that stereotype of the insurance salesman who will always asks “Do you want to buy insurance?” Understand that we live in a really busy, noisy world. There is a lot of information swirling around all of our heads. So again, even people that know you, that like you, that want to help you: they might not know how to, so sometimes you have to reach out and talk to them about it.


Yeah and you will find that people are willing to help. If you ask, they are like, “Oh! Thank you so much for thinking of me.” Even if they don't have someone they can think of where you should go to speak, they're just like “Wow! I am so flattered you thought of me. Ask, and I'll keep an eye out for you.”


Absolutely. I just went through an exercise on my own advice at the beginning of the year in 2016. I went through a bit of a rebrand in 2017. I wanted to really start reaching out, and I reached out to a lot of people in my LinkedIn network. A lot of people that I didn't know really well, kind of like that next tier, if you will. There's a couple hundred people that I felt good enough to go out and talk to. The number of people that respond with, as you said, “Thank you for thinking of me,” was shocking to me even. I am asking them for help and they are saying thank you for thinking of me to ask help from. It's a little weird but also human beings like to feel needed. I know I'm this way, you are probably this way, I want people to ask me for help. I can't go out and help you until you say “Hey David, can you introduce me to somebody in this field?” I'm like “Yeah, I know people. Sure I'd love to connect you,” but I can't do it until I am asked.

How to Use LinkedIN to Find Your Next Speaking Gig


Exactly. Do tell me a little bit about the LinkedIn strategy because I know you and I had a conversation earlier this year that you were getting your pipeline up and going for speaking. So has LinkedIn been helpful with that?


Absolutely, and you know I am a big LinkedIn guy. I wrote a book on it, so I got to be somewhat of a believer.

What I really think LinkedIn did, by the way is, it actually helps outsource some of our relationship building. There's actually a lot of research on this. Human beings can only manage about 150 relationships in any given time. It's called Dunbar's Number, but obviously most of us have more than 150 people in our Linkedin networks so you have to recognize that you can't have strong relationships with all those people, and that's okay. In the beginning of the year I looked at my network and split it up into three categories and called them  A, B and C.

It wasn't about the quality of person- they're all fantastic people. I look at the A category and these are people that I engage with, interact with, on a  consistent basis, so that means like at least once every six months.

I look at the C class people and I think  they're probably not a good connector. They probably aren't in the right field that I need right now, or I really don't know them well. Maybe they saw me at a event ten years ago and I don't want to start there.

And finally,  what I call the B connections, which are people that I've had some engagement with  in the last couple of years. I don't think they would have been surprised to see an email from me and be like, “Who's D. Fish?” but they might not know exactly what I am doing.   

I haven't been leveraging that relationship so to them I would send a quick email and say “Hey, just want to let you know this is what I am doing. I want to ask for some help with somebody you know who who runs a conference. I do a lot of speaking for sales groups who run annual meetings, who's a sales leader that you  know, or who works with entrepreneurs and what not . I'd love an introduction.” and I got a lot of, “I don't, but I'll keep my eyes open for you.”

We talk about planting seeds. I know one of those will send me an email in three months, or in six months. “Hey I just came from an association meeting and we had a great speaker but I know you will be great for it next year, and so I wanted to introduce you,” and I have had, five or six people have set up introductions or meetings with me. So great, and that's right. It's just from reaching out and asking, so it's kind of my January 2017 LinkedIn strategy. Nothing complex.


Yeah well I love how you broke it down for us because you have your A-list of people that you think will be able to connect you, and then you have the Bs which are the weaker ties where you can start building relationships more with, and the Cs who are so fantastic, but just probably not your right market. If you are a speaker and you're on LinkedIn, and you've done nothing with LinkedIn, then this is a great strategy to start with, so that you can start finding people who can connect you to others that might have you speak


Absolutely, and it’s  about starting the conversation right, – I didn't reach out to these people trying to sell them. I didn't reach out saying, “Hey, I need this,”or  “I need you to do this.” It's just like, let me throw it out there, and you know you can pick it up if he wants it. They'll email me back and that's fine. I don't take it personally- everybody's busy, it's fine.

How to Start Building Relationship with the People You Want to Hire You to Speak


I think as a speaker you have to get used to not hearing back every time you send out an email. Which brings me to the next question, when you have found a place where you want to speak, or you feel like you have something to offer that audience, that organization, how do you start building the relationships with the people who have hired you?


The first step is reaching out to them, finding out who runs the conference, who is in charge of booking speakers … this is actually a place where I really love LinkedIn as well because you can use it as an easy search- who do I know in my network that knows somebody at that company, and sometimes it might be great if you could be recommended to the conference organizer.

You want staff, which you might be able to, but even if it's just “Hey, I know somebody who could introduce me to somebody at that company,” and then if I can get that conversation and then ask them if they can introduce me to the next person, it's kind of a chain.

Do a little research. The one nice thing about being a speaker these days is so much information is available to us. Going online and just doing a search about  what kind of organization it is. Their event probably has a webpage. This is my approach. If there is some place I would want to speak, I'll just do some research, if I can find a webpage. Organizations with associations for larger conferences typically have a speakers' sign-up page or a contact right there. But even if they don't, just send an email to that company, or if there's a question section, or a contact phone number, call her up. Say, “Hey, I am looking for who works with the speaker for your events. Am I talking to the right person? Could you point me in the right direction?” It's kind of simple, and it works. Sometimes it doesn't, but that's sales, right?


I know. I think that's where people get nervous. The picking up the phone, or the emailing and the asking “Hey, are you this person,” “Are you hiring speakers?” “Do you bring speakers in?” and when just having that first conversation can be really intimidating for people. I think it's necessary, but many people think,”God, I don't want to do it.”


I got my start as a sales trainer, so I've really been doing this for 20 years, and you know fear of rejection is ingrained in the human being.  There's no trick to get away from that and once you must realize that you can pick up the phone you can talk to somebody, that they could even say no, or that they're not interested; and you're still alive!  You know that's a really powerful thing, because there is actually no other way of getting speaking gigs.

Should You Find a Speakers Bureau?

You have  probably had some people ask you, I know I've had people ask me, “Why? Just get a Speakers Bureau,” and I am always like, here's the deal. The best way of not ever speaking, is to just sit by a phone, and wait for somebody to call you, like a Speakers Bureau.

The analogy I always make is that going to a Speakers Bureau for gigs is kind of like going to the bank for a loan. The best way to get a loan from a bank is to prove that you don't need it and then, they'll give you all the money in the world. The best way to get a Speakers Bureau to want to work with you is to prove you don't need them, then they want a piece of you.


I know. I get so many questions about Speakers Bureaus “Well, should I find a Speakers Bureau?” and I'm like “They're not going to want you because they'd have to work too hard to sell you.” When you don't need a Speakers Bureau, that's when they're going to say, “Hey, we'll book speaking gigs for you and take 25%.”


“You're charging ten grand a pop, we'll take that cut and try to get you a gig.”


“We'll take twenty five hundred of that right off the top.” “Sure, no problem!”  I tell my speakers when they're pitching or even if they're in the negotiation and they lose the speaking gig, they should still celebrate the no like -Woo-hoo! I got to no!! Because at least they responded and at least it made it that far.


Right and there's the old adage, Sales is a Numbers Game, and there's actually some truth to that. If it wasn't a numbers game, if it was a sure thing, it wouldn't be selling. It would be order-taking and that would be great but there will be no money in it. In the end, nobody's going to sell you as well as you can sell you.

You Can’t Outsource You Speaking Income

I think that's a really important thing to remember. There's a lie you can outsource as a speaker and maybe that you should, but I don't think I will ever outsource my salary. I can be in a conversation with a conference organizer, I work with sales teams and sales leaders, they're going to ask me, “Why should we hire you?” “What are you going to do for our team?” “What's the ROI of bringing you in?” and nobody's going to be able to share that as well as I can, because I am the one who is going to be there.


I feel like if you're a big time speaker, I think about Sally Hogshead, I know her husband actually does the selling for her now but she is proven, right? They know what bringing her in means, and what the company gets, so it's an easier sales conversation that she doesn't necessarily have to be present for.

But when you're starting out or even you're kind of in that middle stage where you're gaining momentum, having those sales conversations and being able to answer the question … I just did in a podcast episode on this, on why I should I hire you and having an answer that's not “because I have a unique point of view” or “a good story” or “I've authored a book.” Well those are nice, perhaps not the real reason.


Yeah those are all table stakes. That gets to you the conversation, but that's not why we are going to hire you.


Yes, it's all about what you do for them, what challenge they need solved and how you solve it.

I have one final question for you. Let's say you have landed your speaking gig, you knocked it out of the park because I know you would, what do you do to keep that relationship warm afterwards, so that you get referrals or repeat business?

[Tweet “Speakers: Don't outsource your sales! Pick up the phone and build the relationship.”]

What to Do to Get Repeat Speaking Business


The biggest thing you can do is actually just follow-up. Now, we can talk tactics about what is the best way. Just do it. I'm always, to this day, surprised at how few people actually do follow-up. For me personally, some of the pieces in my process, I do write handwritten notes the next week to the organizer, to whoever is my point of contact,  and  I send an email out to everybody who I had some engagement with.  Even that step is so rare. My mum taught me how to send thank you notes. That was in high school and, oh my gosh it's the best thing ever because nobody does it and you want to set yourself apart. Boom! Just like that.

There are lots of great ways of continuing to provide value for the people who were there whether it's follow up emails, follow-up text messages, there's a lot of great technology around this that you should work out with your client beforehand but just stay in touch. Use things like LinkedIn or Twitter, social media, to keep in touch with people.

Having an e-newsletter even if it goes out once a quarter, it's all feeling spoken to. They remember your name and then sometimes it's just a matter of asking. I think right after the gig is good because they love you right then, but also have a trail-in and just saying, “Hey, I love working with people like you and organizations like yours. Who else do you know that's in kind of similar role in an organization like yours that I should talk to?”.


It's so funny to me how many times people are like, “Oh! I've booked a speaking gig. I gave the speech and now that organization is dead to me.” Instead of, “Oh! I need to keep this relationship going,” because there could be other referrals, there can be testimonials they might want to have me back to do something else in the future, so if I just keep in touch and say hey every once in awhile there are going to remember me.”


Absolutely and depending on what kind of speaking you're doing and for what kind of organization, you keep going back and speaking for that organization over and over. Maybe it's a different department, maybe it's a different event, I do a lot of work with Dell, for example, and I speak to  different parts of Dell, because there is a hundred thousand people. T It's a big company, but  you don't even need that. Another example is  Northwest University where I am alumni, I'll do speaking for the alumni association, or sometimes the athletic department, so If you think that you're done after your gig or message, you're missing the boat. You're maybe halfway through that relationship.

[Tweet “Your message is only the middle of the relationship!”]


I love that. Remember that speakers, you are only halfway through your relationships when you have given your message. So D. Fish, this has been an awesome, very actionable interview. I know you have a resource for our audience, so can you tell us where to find you online?


Where to find everything is at, that's my home on the internet. For all your listeners, if you go to, there is a resource specifically about how to build relationships and some really cool tools that take you only five minutes to build a better network. You can also find me of course, on twitter at @dfishrockstar, – on there all the time and I do run a podcast called Beer, Beats and Business, so come hang out.


Yeah check it out and remember you can't outsource your sales speakers so get comfortable, pick up the phone, make the pitch and build the relationships. Thank you so much D. Fish.


Thank you.

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2 responses to “How to Find Speaking Gigs by Building Relationships & Using LinkedIn with David Fisher”

  1. Run Your Speaking Business Like a Machine | Communication Rebel says:

    […] the final task you can outsource to a VA is tracking referrals and testimonials. In my interview with David Fisher, we were talking about that point after you speak being about the mid-point of your […]

  2. ARE YOU TOO HUNG UP ON BOOKING SPEAKING GIGS | Communication Rebel says:

    […] great resource for this is an episode of The Rebel Speaker podcast where I interviewed David Fisher and he talks about how he builds relationships to book speaking gigs and how he uses LinkedIn to do […]

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