5 Ways to Optimize Your Speaking Proposal


"Thank you for your speaking proposal! We received so many great submissions. Unfortunately…."

How many times have you received an email reply that started like that, in response to a speaking proposal you submitted for this or that event? You worked like a fiend, hit that send button with AUTHORITY, and ended up disappointed.

Truth, over the past 10+ years working in events, evaluating thousands of speaking proposals, I've had to send that type of email more than I want. It always makes me a little sad (cry for me, Argentina).

I know sometimes the speaking proposal gambit feels a little too much like the Hunger Games (or maybe Willy Wonka is the better metaphor here). Truth-telling, sometimes your talk looks really solid, and there just wasn't enough speaking slots. But sometimes it is the proposal (despite the hours you spent working on it).

Truth, there's no one-size-fits-all-magic-wand-solution to getting your proposal picked - and sometimes it just won't. Events have a lot moving pieces, with as many human variables impacting those decisions. Sometimes you bet on red and the ball lands on black.

BUT, there are definitely some things you can do to ensure the odds are a bit more ever in your favor.

Follow the Proposal Submission Directions

This is a simple one — follow the directions of the event’s submission form. For sure, add your unique expertise on the topic du jour to help you stand out. But you can also run into challenges if you veer too far from they're asking for in the submission guidelines.

  • Are they asking for specific takeaways from your presentation? Go more specific/nuanced and less vague.

  • Thought leadership or inspirational/transformational talk? Leave them with the feels right there in your proposal.

  • Workshop or deep dive? More is more to show the organizer you have the chops and vision to carry a deeper dive into your areas of expertise.

I've seen countless proposals where the person includes the talk description, the speaker's full LinkedIn CV, and a recipe for the perfect honey baked ham. I'm kidding (a little), but sometimes 'more is more' is a TL;DR liability. Unless the event is asking for a manifesto, just get to the good stuff.

Related...Proposal Titles and Descriptions

When you're submitting a speaking proposal to event organizers, you're really also submitting it to the event's marketing team. Many events only list the talk or session titles on their agenda page, so they're relying on a compelling talk title and description to help them sell tickets...to see you speak.

How are you helping the audience be better -- more inspired to change the world, more equipped with kick-ass new tactics, more expert at their craft, etc?

Do your research and know the DNA of the event and its audience when submitting your talk. You're most likely going for a blend of flair and function, but pay attention to who the audience is. If you're submitting to speak in front of a crowd of pipefitters, more pragmatic is probably better than glam fantastique.

Video Video Video

THIS. So much this. It's just a must these days for speakers to include links to video of you in action, to help you stand out among the sea of speaking proposals.

This doesn't mean hiring a professional video crew to film you speaking (although you can do that if you want). You can just as easily get a friend or colleague to film with an SLR camera or higher quality camera phone.

And it generally doesn't matter as much (IMO) if it's video of you speaking in front of 20 people or 20,000. When I'm looking at your reel, I want to know: 1) do you know your topic and 2) are you engaging as a speaker? Do you hold the audience's attention?

Square Peg, Round Hole

It’s always a solid idea to cast a wide net and apply to speak at many different types of events (for a variety of reasons, including just dreaming BIG), but make sure your topic is a fit, or that you can connect the dots for the organizer between your idea and their audience.

Avoid Hype

As event organizers, we love that you're awesome, talented, creative, expert, etc. You may have a personal or company brand with some serious juice. There's a fine line between hyping your expertise and pretentiousness in your speaking proposal -- between usefulness and hyperbole.

Tell me more about how you're going to help people and less about how much of an influencer you are. Tell me about why you're excited about your topic and your unique lens on your expertise, but leave out the fluff.

* * * *

You don't have to sacrifice creativity or those things that make you uniquely you to get noticed. But everything in moderation. A little back-to-basics and human-to-human engagement can go a long way in catching the eye of that event planner or program committee. In a pinch, you can always contact the organizer and ask them for advice or clarity on their preferred tone, flavor, program needs, etc.

If you’re looking an extra set of eyes on your next batch of speaking proposals, Let’s chat. We can help you with that — with a no-strings 30-minute consultation.