6 Ways to be a Human Resources Conference Speaker


One of the bloggers over at FOT asked me how she could become a paid speaker and stop being exploited by conference organizers for her youth, boobs and good looks.

I believe in supporting other women, but I said, “Speak on what? What do you know? Why should you get paid? Who are you? Why are you different from anyone else?”

Someone once asked those questions of me. And yes I had an aneurysm of rage and blacked out. When I woke up, I responded with a big F__K YOU and went to work mapping out a plan to earn between $10,000-$15,000 a keynote without working too hard or writing a book.

The plan looked like this.

  1. Speak locally. I took every opportunity to speak at places near my house. I went to job loss support groups, professional associations, marketing meetings and HR student chapters. I once spoke in a tile store to a local business group. That is true. And the tile was gorgeous.
  2. Speak on panels. At the beginning, I was lucky to get paid for my travel. But a panel gives you all the credibility of speaking at an event without the work.
  3. Kiss ass. Whenever I had a chance to be nice to someone who could help me, I was nice. Conference organizers. Event planners. Your mom. Didn’t matter. You can only be Punk Rock HR if you’ve built good relationships on the back end of your destructive, cynical path.
  4. Do webinars. You don’t do webinars for the joy of staring at a computer and talking to yourself. You do webinars to test out ideas and theories. And to practice speaking, yo.
  5. Calculate your worth. Very early in 2009, I started a spreadsheet. I listed where I spoke and how many people were in the audience. I kept track of how much was charged per ticket. It was a crude way to calculate the cost and value per lead, but it worked to justify my rate.
  6. Have something to say. It’s not about being entertaining, although that is important. You have to have a wholly differentiated point of view. You have to be unique and interesting. You don’t have to inspire but you have to encourage people to think.

I told the young blogger to do some free speaking and we would catch up in the fall. I meant it. There is no reason why she can’t achieve her goals. She has youth, good looks and boobs on her side — as well as her brilliant mind.

But my plan takes 18 months, minimum, and requires additional work. You must think about yourself as a product. And that’s exhausting in and of itself. Do I need an agent to secure speaking agreements? Do I eventually write a book? How do I create and monetize an email list? How do I monetize the LFR experience beyond the keynote itself?

In my case, I just decided that it was easier to be LFR without all of this nonsense.

But you can do it, though. I believe in all of you who want to follow this path and speak. There is one additional thing you must do in order to be a successful HR conference speaker: You must openly thank people for your success.

I stand on the shoulders of men and women who are talented, smarter and will never get a chance to be on stage. It is unfair, so I try to generate referrals for people who don’t always have a tremendous amount of visibility.

Humility and graciousness always guarantees repeat business in any industry. This is especially true on the HR conference circuit.

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