So, You Want to Become a Social Media Speaker?

how do i become a social media speaker

I get asked by a lot of other social media professionals as to how to become a paid social media speaker, so I thought I would spend a minute to respond to a friend in blog post form so that I could share my thoughts with all of my blog readers.

Being able to speak at conferences or in front of large numbers of people depends on a variety of factors. Describing my own journey in becoming a social media speaker is a good way at breaking down each of these factors for you to learn from.

1. (Local) Networking

My first speaking “engagements” were from people who found me or heard about me from my local networking activities. Although I don’t get out as much as I’d like to now, before the advent of social media I was a very active networker here locally in Orange County, California, attending professional networking events on a weekly basis and even creating a LinkedIn Group with monthly sushi lunches to spur on my networking activities.

Your first speaking engagements will more than likely come from local associations or companies, so you need to get out and network and let your core skill set be known. I wasn’t looking for speaking opportunities when I was networking, but because I was perceived as an expert in social media, the opportunities came my way.

2. Social Media Speaking without Compensation

When opportunities came my way, I wasn’t looking to monetize them: I was looking for a way to spread the word about my skill set and knowledge. Therefore, I never asked to get paid to speak. In fact, if you’re just getting started speaking, don’t expect to get paid for your first several events, although you might be lucky to get an honorarium. At this stage of the game, you’re looking to build up a track record, experience under your belt, and start word-of-mouth referrals to work in your favor.

3. Starting to Become a Paid Social Media Speaker

This is the challenging beginning for most speakers. How do you start to get paid speaking engagements? How and when do you ask to be paid? There are plenty of people out there who will speak for free, so until you have a reputation, it’s going to be hard to get to ask to be paid outside of the, “Do you offer a speaker’s honorarium?” question. However, as a professional, your time is your money, and if you are offering value to your audience, you should be confident in asking for a speaker’s fee at some point and potentially turning down business if they don’t accept your offer. Obviously you want to be flexible in your business terms, and you need to have a solid track record first, but if you can speak with confidence and are not afraid to turn away free or inexpensive honorariums, you’ve probably reached the stage where you can and should be asking for a nominal fee to cover your time and value.

4. Increasing Your Social Media Speaker Fees with Books

I published Windmill Networking: Understanding, Leveraging & Maximizing LinkedIn shortly after my first few speeches. Having a book in distribution not only attracts more people to want to hire you, but it also gives you leverage in asking for more speaker’s fees for the following reason: You can now offer (free) copies of your book in lieu of the speaker’s fee. From your perspective it might hurt your profit margin as there is a cost in sourcing your books, but there is much to be gained in asking for higher rates – and ensuring that your attendees walk away with your business card (your book) which can help spur future business, both for your book and for you as a speaker.

“Will the book help me get speaking gigs?” “Do I need a book in order to become a paid social media speaker?” These are questions I often get asked, and as you can see I began my speaking before I even had a book, and so can you. A book is a serious investment in time, and then there are also the sometimes confusing options of either self-publishing or working with a major publisher (I have experience in both, but my first book was self-published). From my experience, it is going to be hard to sign with a major book publisher unless you have already done – and are doing – a LOT of social media speaking. Many don’t want to go the self-publishing route for fear of not being able to work with a major publisher in the future, but I am confident that if your content is good and you have a large platform, you will always be able to work with publishers in the future.

If your objective is becoming a social media speaker and not an author, I would seriously consider self-publishing your content at the beginning so that you have a book ready to use to help you land higher speaker fees – and profit more per book sale because of the higher royalties you can receive. Period. When I published my first book back in 2009, self-publishing was still in its infancy, but in 2014 it is a mature market with its own ecosystem of vendors who can provide you help and make it easy for you to create, assuming you have the content, of course.

5. Becoming a Professional Social Media Speaker

As you speak more, you gain more confidence in your abilities and also realize the incredible amount of time that go into preparing presentations, the logistical communications that occur with organizers before the event, and the travel time needed to attend the event itself. I treat every event that I speak at with a passion to educate every person in the room and answer every unanswered question that they might have about social media. It is the experiences that I have consulting, coaching and training with all sorts of companies large and small that provide not only invaluable anecdotes (adhering to existing client NDAs, of course), but also the confidence in being able to answer any question thrown at me. I strive to get a perfect score on speaker’s evaluation forms, yet am humble in taking any criticism and see it as a way to further improve my skills.

In such a way, I have evolved into a professional social media speaker and over time have been able to ask for higher rates for my services provided because of this. True, there have been some speaking engagements that I have not been invited to because my rates were too high, but becoming a professional social media speaker comes with a confidence that you are the best choice for your customer and that they are doing a dis-service to their community if they hire someone else just because they are cheaper than you. Once you have enough business under your belt and begin to see your speaking comprise a major revenue source for you, you, too, will acquire this same mindset that I have and be well on your way to becoming a professional social media speaker yourself.

There are other things involved in becoming a social media speakers, such as submitting speaker proposals for conferences, whether or not you should join the National Speakers Association, the branding of your slide deck, whether or not you should sell books in the back of the room (I personally don’t), choice of content matter, the differences between speaking at corporations, professional associations, and industry conferences, et. al., but hopefully this gives you some food for thought if you were considering becoming a social media speaker.

Did I answer all of your questions you might have had when you read this blog post title? Please do tell if I didn’t!


  1. says

    Hii Neal,
    According to me, Speaking at conferences or in front of large numbers of audience is on of the most difficult task. Although, I haven’t still faced huge amount of people but it really scared me a lot.

    Here you have explained some fruitful tips and tricks, factors that are so much helpful for me. This article is so much important and valuable for me. Thanks Neal for sharing this amazing post with us.

  2. says

    This absolutely helps. It’s that book I need to get to! I have been speaking locally (and actually got paid a few times) and I spoke at a conference in another state. Now I am looking to take the next step(s). Book, free speaking and submitting proposals… :) I will get there and I do enjoy it so much.

  3. says

    I am finally at the stage where I am able to charge a speaker’s fee. The next stage – writing a book – is a daunting one, but seems logical. I’ll entertain the idea; I’m encouraged by your idea of self-publishing.

    In the meantime, I’ll consider each of my presentations as a “chapter” in my book . . . and see where that leads me.

    BTW – your post satisfied my expectations based on the title. Thank you!

  4. says

    Awesome post Neal. I have been fortunate to speak at some awesome conferences in the last 2 years but this is great advice for me moving forward, and will be sharing with friends who ask the same question. Thanks for taking the time to leverage your answer for all of us!

  5. says

    Excellent job Neal. I do a lot of local speaking and have started traveling to other area. It is great to hear your perspective as I often thought I was undercharging and I was! Thanks again!

  6. says

    These are good, concise tips, Neal. I’ve wanted to expand my audience, and pay, as a Social Media Speaker, and this helps enormously. I’m picking up at tip #3, which is the tricky part, but you’ve given me good direction here, thanks!

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