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The most common question I’m asked by my peers is, ‘How do you secure speaking engagements?’

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It's a great question but a loaded one, as there are no quick answers and every journey is unique. But I’ve learned a lot over my years of speaking and I wanted to share my insights. I’ll be breaking up my answer into two parts. This article will cover the high-level basics and part two (to come) will cover putting together a good pitch.

So, if you’ve decided that you want to kick off your career or side hustle as a speaker, here are my top tips for getting started:

1. Network, network, network

Never underestimate the importance of having a great network. Before I started speaking, I would go to a bunch of events around my city (I used meetup.com to find them) just to see what was going on and talk to people. Don't just show up – actually speak to folks without expectations. Don’t approach networking as transactional or you'll be disappointed; not everyone has something to offer you, and even if they do, most don't like being approached that way.

2. Know your niche

What are you good at? What value are you adding? What do you have to say and why is it valuable for other people to hear? Why you? What, specifically, are you known for? You’ll be expected to answer these questions on most speaker applications, and you need to make sure other folks understand your brand so they can recommend you for opportunities (almost all of my engagements now come from word of mouth). Figure out your niche and be able to speak to it. And make sure who you say you are matches who you really are (don't let that go over your head!).

3. Start small

My first speaking engagement was at the Google Dev Fest where I gave a quick, ten-minute Ignite talk about being Black in tech. I knew that I wanted to get my feet wet but I didn't want to pitch a full-length talk because I had never done it before. Google Dev Fest may not seem small, but you could start with an internal talk to your company. Run meetings, present new ideas, and get comfortable being in front of large groups of people. Any opportunity you have to speak, volunteer!

4. Get to know the organizers

I always make an effort to reach out to people after I apply for something, and it pays off. But a lot of people overlook this part for some reason. Treat pitching for a conference like applying for a job and reach out to the people you see listed on the websites such as the organizers. If you know friends who may know them, tap into their network. You could even tweet, ’I just applied for Conference X – really hoping to be accepted this year!’. The power of social media is extremely strong. Whatever you do, don’t just apply and close your laptop.

5. Ask yourself, is this the right opportunity for me?

When I first started applying for speaking engagements, I did the same thing most people do when applying for jobs: I applied for everything. At one point, I even found myself, an infrastructure engineer, applying for design conferences…it just didn't make any sense. Remember that everything is not meant for everybody and make sure that when you do pitch, it's targeted to the conference you are applying for.

Reflections

Kicking off your speaking career isn’t easy. It requires significant time and effort but it’s well worth the investment. By following these tips, I hope you can avoid the common obstacles and find some initial success. Good luck, and keep an eye out for part two of this article where I’ll be sharing how to put together a good pitch.