How I Booked Over 40 Speaking Engagements in Less Than a Year
My relentless drive for writing my first book and becoming a published author was fueled by wanting my story to become a catalyst of inspiration for those enduring similar, yet different life challenges. My life story had been a burden, waiting to be unleashed for almost a decade. With the intention to bring life’s challenging chapters to light, predominantly during the traditional “coming of age” years, I knew I wanted to target my focus on speaking in front of youth groups, high schools and universities. This goal resonated with this target audience because I would provide them the insightful wisdom that I learned when I was in their shoes, making the content more relatable, current, and meaningful for young adults.
When crafting a list of potential organizations, schools, and groups in my intended audience to reach out to, I first identified a specific area or region as the main focus for my search. Being purposeful about the locations you choose to target can play a huge role in the audiences you reach and the image of expertise you create for yourself. For memoir writers like myself, it could be your hometown, where most of your story takes place, etc. For nonfiction writers, if you are speaking about politics, you could start your search in our nation’s capital; if you are writing about climate change, look for places that have been profoundly impacted by this.
Since my stories take place in my hometown of Pittsburgh and there are a few chapters covering my time at university in Cleveland, I decided to narrow my search down to those two cities. I crafted a list of major high schools, universities, student clubs, young adult programs/organizations, and major local news outlets. Eventually incorporating it into a spreadsheet, I added several other columns that included additional information such as contact information, dates when I sent initial email, follow-up email, etc. I followed a similar approach with podcasts, focusing on specific themes or main ideas in my book and searched for podcasts that aligned with those.
Regardless whether it was a podcast, newspaper interview, a virtual conference panel, or a guest speaker in an English Honors class, when it was time to reach out, I started by identifying my key points of my talk, discussion, interest, etc. I usually have about three to four key points I included as an overview in my email. These key talking points can be directly related to the themes, lessons, or mindset embedded in your book; they also can be about your larger interest in writing, your publishing journey, what it is like to be an author, and your future aspirations related to writing and publishing more stories! I included several examples below in my speaking engagement reach-out email template.
Here’s what I sent as my initial outreach for my target audience when it came to scheduling speaking gigs:
Dear _____ or To whom it may concern,
My name is Nicole Spindler. I am a Pittsburgh native who graduated from Peters Township High School in 2015. I graduated from John Carroll University in 2019 with a double major in Human Resources & Management and a minor in Spanish Language & Culture. I currently reside in the South Hills of Pittsburgh and work for BNY Mellon in Talent Acquisition.
As of December 2020, I published my debut novel, Beyond Life’s Moments: An Empowering Outlook on Transcending Unexpected Setbacks with New Degree Press; as of April 2022, my second book, The Reason Why, will be released.
Over the course of the past eight months doing a score of speaking engagements, I’ve been sharing some of the key lessons, insights, and moments from the book as well as my overall writing and publishing journey. I’d love to share this with the (insert name of institution/organization) and inspire fellow members of my local community, students, survivors, those striving towards recovery, future writers, storytellers, and authors — here are a couple topics I could cover that might benefit your audience:
- The triumphs and trials of the book writing process
- My book writing journey (how it took almost a decade to finally tell and cherish my own story)
- How, for me, writing evolved from private journals to a passion project
- Finding positive and healing ways to overcome battles with one’s mental and emotional imbalances, recovery after a traumatic event, living with anxiety and depression, etc.
- How writing can transcend beyond its pages to help heal after, grow from and enjoy life’s moments
- Vulnerability, Resilience, Gratitude, Gaining Perspectives, and Prioritizing Self-Love
I would love to schedule a phone call with you to talk more about this and possibly plan a speaking and/or programming event at the (insert name of institution/organization). I am flexible to whichever format you prefer to host my speaking engagement; I have already prepared both virtual and in-person presentation styles. Of course, I’m more than willing to adhere to any and all necessary public health protocol to ensure that all participants can engage in a safe and fun way.
I have included a one-pager that goes in depth on the topics, themes, and stories embedded in my book and provided links to a PDF copy of Beyond Life’s Moments and article publications on Medium. You can reach me at email@example.com.
I look forward to hearing from you!
I usually waited about two weeks after sending the initial outreach email before sending a follow-up, keeping track of it all on one spreadsheet, and updating as more information was received (ex: point of contact changes, looking to schedule my event in the next semester, etc.). Overall, even with the ebbs and flows of an ongoing pandemic, I was blown away with the interest and enthusiasm that my target audience had — all saying “how much they really needed to hear from, listen to, embody my story.”
The two biggest realizations I had going through the process of booking and having my first round of speaking engagements were:
1) How important in today’s world to be flexible/accommodating upfront about the format of your speaking event
In with the ever-changing state of the pandemic and the uncertain future, by explicitly stating that I’m prepared to do my presentation in person and virtual, while adhering to all necessary health protocols, I saw how schools and universities positively replied. They would often say something on the lines of “we can have the event in the next few weeks in person, however if if necessary, we can switch it to being virtual.” Flexibility, adaptability and transparency will become valuable assets when booking speaking events.
2) The importance of reaching out and connecting with student leaders over the heads of departments, board of directors, etc. at universities
Most student organizations at universities already have an established social media accounts and reply more quickly than university staff and professors. Almost all student organizations are required to have about 2–3 speaking events each semester for their members. In other words, they are activating looking for speakers and will be very responsive to those who express interest. Universities, on the other hand, usually have larger events and speakers lined up months or even a year out, many of them being more well-known figures or subject-matter experts in particular fields of interest.
As I myself prepare for round two of speaking engagements, I am definitely making sure I am more cognizant of the time of year and specific audience, because it has shaped how I present my subject matter. For instance, if I want to speak in the spring, reach out in the late fall; colleges wrap up the year in late April/early May, etc. Businesses have open enrollment and performance review seasons; organizations and nonprofits have annual/yearly events; and conference panels are booked at least six months to a year in advance!
Additionally, I am continuing to grow by expanding my target audience to libraries and other universities in close proximity to Pittsburgh. Word of mouth certainty has played a huge role, not just for getting more speaking events lined up but by building a solid reputation. After speaking and getting originally only one gig at a local high school, two weeks later without my follow-up, I had three more high schools comment in their emails “we heard that you were a fantastic speaker at this high school and would love for you to give a similar talk.”
Having the opportunities to speak to young adults in my hometown gives me all the satisfaction in the world to continue to write, instill hope and tell my story.