Speaking gigs (on-site workshops/conferences) are nice for a resume, which generally helps you get more speaking gigs, but aside from that, unless you have a booth at the conference, most don’t have a high rate of return. If you are strictly a speaker and your income comes from the actual speaking event only and you are not hoping to get residual leads after the event, then speaking as your main way to reach an audience may still be your best path. If you hire speakers for your events, you may want to consider the cost of bringing them in and the value vs. tapping into their audiences by creating a podcast series that appeals to their audience and yours that can. You could also do both as the event host.

The reasons keynote speaking may not be not lead to a lot of growth for the effort are many and varied. Let’s look at a few of the most important issues now that the podcast realm is well-established as a replacement for live conference speaking, including virtual conferences.

The chart above shows typical conference audiences and what happens after the initial event. On the other side is the one-year view of a typical podcast episode. No matter how popular your podcast is, the growth rate is about the same if you publish regularly. It’s cumulative growth, even if you only publish an episode twice a month without additional promotions of the episodes. Speaking events have the initial exposure, possibly replays if the conference permits it, those who may have purchased a pass to watch replays if they didn’t attend live, and then perhaps an email recapping the event to a smaller audience. That last option is typically only an extract, or teaser to show people highlights of what they missed to help promote the next big conference.

I’ve been a speaker at events. I see the pluses, but I’ve also seen how limited the opportunity for that 3-5 day effort returned. The biggest benefit is strengthening the relationship with the organization that invited me to speak to its members. Most of my speaking is to private professional organizations, so nothing is recorded and definitely not published. Adding these events to my portfolio of speaking can be problematic as I usually speak on proprietary topics specific to the audience.  I’ve also spoken on behalf of my non-profit to large ballrooms, and conferences. It made a memorable event, but rarely outside that event led to much more than a few compliments. Even when the carrot to speak at the event was access to the list, the attendees were rarely decision makers, so they would read the subject, and typically, that was that. Let’s continue comparing the two.

First, the conference speaking gig:

  • Most conference speaking gigs are workshops, with an average attendance of 50-100 people.
  • Keynotes speeches that address a full convention body of a few hundred to several thousand are rare, even when it is a virtual event.
  • There are probably 25 workshops for every keynote.
  • Workshops are not typically fully paid gigs, you pay for transportation, hotel, meals, etc. with the promise of receiving the list for follow-up.
  • Keynotes may be paid in some form (transportation is common), and large speaking fees are rare unless you are a celebrity or known author.
  • Workshops and keynotes take time to prepare, 8 to 16 hours of prep time is not rare.
  • The subject matter for workshops is often tangential to a subject the speaker knows about, but not centered around the speaker or his or her product. Blatant product references/pitches are forbidden.
  • The conference chooses the subjects (there are exceptions when the speaker has keynote address).
  • The audience is limited to those attending live, with limited “replay” options for those who didn’t make it for the live session.
  • Both workshops and keynotes take 2-3 days out of your work week for a 1 hour appearance
  • If you are able to mingle at a meal or two, or on the floor between sessions to speak to specific people you seek, this may open up opportunities for future speaking, or to allow you to present your companies products or services in the near future – live connections with handshakes are still irreplaceable.
  • There may be opportunities for new business but most people who speak to speakers at the end of the event say, “Thanks”, “Can you give me some advice”, “Can we sell you something”, “Maybe I need you or your product”.
  • If the speaking is a blatant product presentation/comparison, the cost and opportunity cost may be worth it.
  • There is no guarantee that the people in the audience are potential buyers (not the right title or company).
  • If is a conference with booths and you have a booth and speak, great. You will be able to mingle more with attendees, even if they missed your live session.

Speaking gigs have out-of-pocket expenses of $1000 to $2500. They are not free opportunities to speak to a group of people. You are out of the office, not leading people, or not in front of customers this time is called opportunity cost which can run $800 to $1500 per hour for an executive. If you have to bring any team members with you, you have those additional expenses, as well. “Oh, but it’s a write off!” Yes, but you still have to spend it up front, you just won’t have to pay taxes on it in most cases – marketing/advertising category.

The audience for speakers who engage in on-the-road conferences certainly raises the awareness level of the speaker and also on occasion the company he or she works for. Do this 6-8 times a year and you probably have spoken before several hundred/thousand people. But the cost is high.

I contend that road-trip multi-conference speaking is yesterday’s method of  most effectively reaching out and getting in front of potential buyers; conference speaking builds egos and resumes and sometimes but not often, customers. Tracking the ROI is critical.

Enter the Podcast.

Podcasts which are hosted and controlled by the speaker or their company have substantial advantages over conference speaking:

  • The topic of the podcast is controlled. It can be problem solving, interviews with satisfied customers, and carry your commercials (which aren’t allowed at conferences).
  • It can be more time-sensitive to changes in the industry and more responsive to pull from multiple guests’ perspectives on the same current topic.
  • Topics can be problems solved by your product or services.
  • People who listen have chosen the podcast subjects they want information about right then, which makes them more likely to be potential buyers.
  • Podcasts do not require travel time, hotels, or transportation expenses.
  • The time for the speaker and/or their guest to perform is an hour rather than days.
  • Podcast episode listeners range from 50 to 75 people for new podcasts to 500 to 2000 listeners for well-known podcasts (listener-ship builds over time as social media exposure presents topics).
  • The cost producing an episode of the podcast can be from $300 to $1500 each episode depending how many ways you want to continue to use the episodes.
  • Podcasts ring the frequency bell as most are at least twice per month; and it keeps ringing month after month. This is how initial relationships can be built, even though they are one-sided, they are intimate because you are being invited into their office, their car, their home rather than your attending a large one time event.
  • Podcast subjects reach listeners over several years not just a one-time speech. Through social media, a podcast can continue to deliver listeners at 50 to several hundred a month.
  • Podcast content can be used in at least another dozen ways. One episode: 2-3 video clips for several social venues, 1 audio episode for all podcast apps, 2 blog posts, an email drip campaign/newsletter, recap review, topic playlist.
  • Because podcasts are typically free to listen to, they can easily be shared, past episodes can still hold value years after airing and may lend themselves to revisiting topics and guests for updates.
  • Through guests and their audiences, you continue to build new followers and people listening to your messages, your voice and allowing you to build trust.

Podcasts establish leadership for speakers and companies at the lowest cost in expenses and opportunity hours devoted to an event. Where can you spend an hour and get 500 to 1,000 people listening to your message for a very small sum?

This isn’t to say an occasional conference gig isn’t worthwhile in meeting new people and being exposed to a new audience, but the cost is high and the return is not what it was even a few years ago. We are seeing a hybrid version of live/virtual events and podcasting as being the most effective to build and establish trust, as well as loyal advocates because they feel they have a relationship with you, rather than you entertained them on a stage that one time.

I was drawing a comparison to attending church services. You can show up for the services, sit, pay attention, remember a point or two. But right after you scoot out to get back home, and go to the next thing on the day’s agenda. You may have also only arrived just in time to grab a seat. As a speaker at a conference, unless you show up early, mingle, sign up for additional events to engage with more people, and then stay after to meet and engage more people, you are simply preparing, showing up and then scooting out the door before you’ve had a chance to talk about what you just heard and experienced. How much time to you have to invest? There is no wrong answer, but you need to be realistic with your expectations of these speaking gigs, vs. regular conversations that will continue to bring value to audiences for years with less effort.