4 Ways to Survive a Crisis as a Public Speaker
The COVID-19 pandemic has not only been difficult from a health perspective. It’s also been really challenging financially for those whose careers largely depend on in-person interactions, like public speakers. In my own case, I’ve lost many great speaking gigs, including an opportunity to speak at SXSW. But that doesn’t mean I have to just wait around, with no income, until conferences and other events can resume.
Public speakers like myself can survive this crisis by focusing on digital opportunities in the short term and looking long term toward future in-person opportunities. Specifically, you can take these four steps:
1. Book events for late 2020 or 2021
While many conferences have been canceled over the next few months, plenty of events are still scheduled for later this year or in 2021. Be proactive and hit up every conference organizer you think could be a potential fit, even if that means going outside your main industries. Many public speakers have valuable lessons to share with essentially any business, so even if you normally only speak at marketing conferences, you might find opportunities to speak about marketing at a finance conference, for example.
If you do book gigs, try to get an upfront deposit so you have some cushion over the next several months. While it’s possible some of these future conferences will need to be canceled too, you could try securing a non-refundable deposit by working out an agreement with the conference organizer to speak at a digital event or providing a digital presentation that the organizer can share with would-be attendees if the conference doesn’t take place. Better yet, if the events can take place in-person, then you’ll be in a good position by putting in the work now to secure these spots.
2. Speak at virtual events
In addition to securing future events, reach out to organizers of virtual events that are taking place in the coming months to book as many spots as you can. In many cases, you can still find events that will pay for speakers online, as money that would have been spent on in-person conferences could still be available for digital events. Likewise, you can offer your own private events online, as would-be conference attendees may have some budget to spend on online learning now.
Keep in mind that you may need to adapt your style a bit. My in-person energy and mix of entertainment with education don’t necessarily translate the same way online, so I have to be flexible to meet the mood of the online event.
3. Teach an online course
Similar to speaking at virtual events, you can earn income by teaching an online course. For example, I use Kajabi as a hosting platform to offer social media courses, and I also teach courses on LinkedIn Learning.
You may be able to find some platforms like these where you can break your keynotes into a few smaller modules and dive a little deeper into each session than you would in-person.
If you can’t find a company to pay you to host a course, put your content behind a paywall. Professionals may have more time now to view this type of content, and some companies may be willing to let employees spend on professional development at a time like this, especially if they have budget left over from canceled conferences. This can be a passive revenue stream for you, as you can create the course once and earn income over time as people purchase access.
4. Build your branding
While putting more time into your branding likely won’t immediately lead to more income, if you have more time now due to canceled events, then you might as well be productive by improving your branding. Doing so can lead to more opportunities in the future, so use your time wisely by updating all of your information online like your social media bios, speaker reels, website, etc., which can help you market yourself well.
If you don’t have resources like a speaker reel yet, now could be a good time to create one so you can show that to conference organizers looking for speakers later this year or in 2021.
The public speaker business largely depends on in-person gigs, so this current situation is uniquely difficult. But there are ways to adapt your business to get online gigs and create a pipeline for future in-person events. And putting in the effort now to diversify your income streams and build your branding can pay off even if the public speaking industry looks very different a year from now due to health and economic concerns.