Where I Get Booked As A Keynote Speaker

The following two tabs change content below.
Motivational Speaker Kelly Swanson is an award-winning storyteller, author, and comedian who teaches you how to harness the power of your story to connect, engage, and get results. In this blog, Kelly focuses on the business of professional speaking. Kelly’s post day is Friday. If you aren't sure how to comment on this story, click here.

Latest posts by Kelly Swanson (see all)


How do we find bookings as a motivational keynote speaker?

It’s the most commonly asked question in the speaking business, even among seasoned speakers. Where do we find the gigs?  Every speaker you ask will tell you a different answer, and be convinced their answer is the right way, even if they aren’t really getting that much business themselves.  While there are some answers that do fit all – most of them don’t.  This can put us in a vulnerable position as speakers, taking advice that might not really apply to us or fit our business model.

For example, if someone hears your speech/business idea and says, “Corporate won’t buy that.” You might be tempted to change it. Right? Which might not be the smartest move if you want to speak to teenagers.

See my point?

When getting advice on where to find those bookings, you need to have a firm grasp of what you do, how you do it, who is looking for that, and WHY they choose you.

Knowing who will book me isn’t half as important as WHY they will book me.

Today I want to share with you who books me and why. This is not to give you a list of places to contact. If you do, you’re not getting my message. This is to show you that who hires you will depend on why they’re hiring you and what they are looking for.

While I get a lot of different types of clients, most of them tend to fall into the same general category and reason for booking. Here is how it plays out for me.

State Association Conferences who are looking for something different to open/close their state conference – to break up the monotony of all the breakout sessions filled with industry specific (boring) topics – to attract attendees with an interesting keynote speaker – who has as much entertainment as content – to have people leave remembering that conference for years – someone they feel confident will hit it out of the park.  These state associations may have smaller budgets but the ability to pass my name to the other state chapters. Often the attendees and vendors become opportunities for more speaking business.

These clients are not looking for an expert on customer service, or they wouldn’t pick me, they would search for an expert.

National Association Conferences who are looking for “rock stars” to fill those general session slots. Emphasis is on speakers who can really bring an amazing experience.  Looking for someone most of their people haven’t seen.  Looking for something different. Like humor.  Want everyone talking about that conference speaker. Want a message that their people can use at work on Monday. Content is important, but the experience is more important.

Reminder:  Not every national association is looking for this – but every one who books me, is.

Companies , Government Groups, Non-Profit Orgs, who want to motivate their people and create lasting changes in attitude.  I’m not brought in to help their people close more sales or get 100 tips on customer service.  They’re going to hire someone else (probably a trainer) for that. They want me to remind these people how much they matter to the organization, inspire them to work harder, help them deal with stress and change. I’m often the fun motivating start/end to a day of training.

Women’s Health Events Sponsored by a Hospital.  These groups need to fill seats and draw a crowd. They are bringing women in from all different walks, so they aren’t interested in a business message. They want a message of interest to women in general, that pertains to health and wellness.

These groups didn’t go out seeking a content expert. They went out seeking a speaker who is entertaining, has a great reputation, creates an amazing experience on stage, and has people talking about that event as they leave and tell their friends. If they can get a big name on their budget, then they will. If not, they come to me. Audiences love to laugh, so they prefer a funny speaker. The success of their event depends on how good that speaker is. It’s not just about the content. Besides, many of them have panels of doctors speaking. That’s their content. They know it’s not enough for the big keynote slot.

These people, like the others, didn’t come to me looking for training. And they won’t go to trainers when they’re looking for a fabulous keynote speaker.

Community Fundraisers who need to fill seats with a great speaker who can justify the price of the ticket they paid to come. They usually come to me because I can craft a message that fits their cause. This audience is broad and diverse. They don’t want a business message. They want more of a life message. They want the heart strings of the audience plucked. They want their audience moved enough to feel led to help the cause. Entertainment is very important here.

Chamber Events who are bringing in people from the business community for a big event. They want a topic that draws people in, or a speaker that draws them in. They hire me when they want as much show as content – maybe even more show since these tend to be luncheon or after-dinner events. People aren’t coming to take lots of notes. They are coming to be moved, inspired, entertained, and made to laugh.

Women’s Business Conferences who are looking for a dynamic woman with an impressive body of work, name, or reputation – to come open or close the conference in a BIG way.  They often have many breakout sessions scheduled on many different topics of interest to their audience. The keynote must bring something bigger to the game. The experience. The reputation of this conference depends in a large part on who the keynote speakers are. They can’t afford to have someone bomb or it will affect their attendance next year.

End User Conferences where a company is sponsoring an event for their clients. The intent here is not to train their clients. It’s to connect with their clients, give them something of value, give them an experience they love. It’s an attempt to create a connection between customer and brand company. They are more interested in a phenomenal speech/presentation than they are in giving enough tips for work on Monday. They want their clients to feel like they are getting something special. Almost like a gift of appreciation. They want my message to be of value, but they care more about how everybody feels.

Again…not all clients are looking for someone like me – just the ones that find me and book me.


I’m not going to list anymore because I think you’re probably getting the point. People hire speakers for very different reasons depending on the event and their objectives. I’ve had clients tell me I’m not a good fit for their event, and then book me for a different event where I fit their objectives. Same client, different events, different reasons for booking. That’s my point.

When you really understand why people book you, you will become better at attracting that business.

Don’t know why they book you?

Then ask.

I ask every client how they found me, what made them call me, and what made them decide to book me. After asking that for years, I have become quite grounded in where my business will be coming from. So it no longer bothers me when someone says, “Corporate won’t buy that.”   They will. And they have. Just not for the reason YOU think., and not for the reason they book you.

As you create a business plan to get booked, make sure you have a good solid idea of who books you and why. The more laser focused you get on your tribe, the more you will attract your tribe.