All the World’s a Stage: The democratization of speaking and what the future holds for authors and experts

Welcome back to Smith Publicity’s Industry Innovations Series! In this new 12-part blog series, the Smith Publicity team will explore various industry-related topics: from the evolution of self-publishing to the explosion of podcasts to social media and how it’s changed book marketing and much more. Each month, we will discuss how different innovations have evolved and their impact on our work as book publicists and the industry as a whole. Let’s dive in…

In the publishing world, the conversation around the democratization of publishing has continued to evolve over the last few years as more and more niche paths emerge. Today’s authors and experts have more control than ever before in deciding how much control they’d like to maintain around their intellectual property, how it’s presented in book form, and how it gets into the hands of its intended reader. It’s been exciting to see this shift in an industry often criticized for its antiquated processes and mindsets.

Just as exciting as these changes in publishing are, another industry has been running in parallel in terms of change, especially over the last two years. And that industry is the world of speaking.

Long thought to be limited to the likes of bestselling authors, highly-regarded academics, and other well-known public figures, the world of speaking has felt very exclusive and sometimes “gate-kept” by the events planners and speaking agents of this sought-after space. While significant change was happening pre-March 2020, the pandemic and the sudden grinding halt the speaking world felt with the cancellation of in-person conferences and events led to a dramatic pivot in the opportunities and access for those eager to share their ideas and voice with new audiences. Thanks to the surprising success of virtual events – once all of the technological glitches and Zoom bombers were ironed out – both those with established speaking platforms and newer individuals to the space saw many more doors open without the burden of coordinating travel schedules and hotel accommodations.

While a certain caliber of speaker in terms of experience and notoriety continued to have its appeal, events planners were willing to take a “chance” on lesser known speakers through these new channels. And on the other side, those more up-and-coming voices were given the opportunity to further refine their craft without the pressures of standing on the “main stage” in front of tens or hundreds of people (let’s be honest, the nerves kick-in no matter how many faces are staring back at you!). What we’ve seen in the time since this “forced evolution” of the speaking world is that these virtual events are likely here to stay, very much in the mix with the in-person events once again returning to business as usual and often creating a multi-format experience for attendees who can take part in the portion that is most accessible to them.

Now, I’m sure you’re thinking, “But how do I break into this world of speaking and take advantage of these exciting new opportunities?” While the traditional path of securing representation from a large speakers bureau is still an option worth exploring, there are many new or lesser known options to consider as well. Here’s a quick overview of some tactics that have worked well for many of our authors and experts here at Smith Publicity:

  • Start local: While you may have your eyes set on the Davos or SXSW stage at some point in your speaking career, there are many incredible opportunities available to refine your skills and your messaging right in your own backyard. From professional women’s organizations to nonprofits, small business associations, support groups and more, offering up your insights, stories and expertise for both paid and unpaid opportunities with those in your community can be a great place to start. Not only are you getting the practice critical to truly succeeding in the speaking world, but you’ll build new connections that could ultimately lead to future referrals with similar – or bigger – audiences.
  • There’s riches in niches: I first heard this phrase from Michael Port of Heroic Public Speaking (if you don’t know them yet and have speaking aspirations, I HIGHLY recommend you check out their website) and it rings true in every aspect of book publicity, marketing, and the speaking world. It’s unlikely you’ll be able to jump right to a major stage at the start of your speaking career and, instead, will connect with many specialized audiences along the way as you climb the speaking ladder. While speaking to a niche audience like tire manufacturers or the Southeast Association of Tax Administrators (yes, they do exist!) may not initially feel like the far-reaching impact you were hoping to have, the ability to tailor your message to a variety of audiences will open more doors for you in the long-term than if you keep yourself limited to a very specific space. And while a referral from the Southeast arm to speak at the Northwest division of tax administrators would be great, if you start to see a pattern in the same niche audiences emerging, do take a pause and ensure you’re not pushing yourself too far into a niche corner.
  • The power of EAs & VAs: Securing representation as a speaker can often feel like a fool’s errand, especially when you’re just starting out. And in many cases, representation from a speakers bureau or agency may look more like having support from their team in coordinating opportunities as they arise (which is still great!) than having them proactively pitching for new gigs on your behalf. In talking with many of our authors who are currently active in the speaking world, we’ve heard time and time again about the value of maximizing an executive assistant or virtual assistant in searching for and pitching to speaking opportunities. This individual is very likely to have an intimate knowledge of your area of expertise and the work you’re doing on a day-to-day basis and, with the right guidance, can be an excellent advocate for positioning you to those opportunities they uncover. Again, starting with local and/or niche audiences as they get their bearings with this new responsibility will also help them get into a groove as they begin negotiating fees, travel arrangements, and more.

These tips are just the beginning in taking advantage of the many ways through which the speaking world has changed over recent years, and what’s to come for the future of this exciting space. To learn even more about this ever-changing industry, check out our “Becoming a Coveted Speaker” webinar here, where we dive into the benefits of a holistic approach to audience engagement through speaking and other platform services, why it’s important to think beyond the keynote to workshops and fireside chats, and much more!

Written by Marissa Eigenbrood, Senior Vice President