As a communications and PR practitioner, you might be responsible for identifying and securing speaking opportunities for your nonprofit’s leaders.

For a nonprofit to be highly regarded, its CEO or Executive Director needs to be engaged with and visible before its many audiences. From panel discussions to auditorium-filled presentations, top leaders leverage these opportunities to increase brand visibility and generate new fundraising revenue.

And while the speaking circuit offers a broad range of events, the challenge for you lies in determining which ones make the most sense.

Here are my top tips on how to evaluate speaking opportunities to get the most out of each one:

Assess the audience

Whether you have been asked to present to a small group of 50 or a large group of 500, you must first identify your purpose and the overall strategy.

In an ideal world, every speaking opportunity would put you in front of your target audience, but in reality that is unlikely to happen. Try to gauge the number of potential prospects and decide whether you feel it is worth the time out of the office. If the opportunity has the potential of a positive return on investment, find ways to add your point of view on issues of importance to the audience. Focus on the needs of your audience and your message will be amplified.

I worked with a CEO of a nonprofit organization who leveraged his business background to target (and successfully secure) speaking opportunities at business conferences. His keynote speeches were uniquely relevant to both the business community and the humanitarian sector. His commitment to be of service to others and deliver value is what contributed to his success on the speaking circuit.

Leaders, take note: be prepared to be a part of a larger conversation, rather than just focusing on landing your own messages. You will quickly lose your audience if they think they are on the receiving end of a sales pitch.

Determine fit with your organization’s goals

The central question every decision maker should ask when an invitation comes in is, “How can we use this platform to get our message out?” Be specific about whether a speaking opportunity can help you achieve a number of key goals. These can include the opportunity to:

  • highlight your prominence in the industry,
  • collect competitive intelligence,
  • demonstrate thought leadership, and
  • gain new donors and partnerships.

Assess potential reach/exposure

Another important factor to consider is whether the event will be covered by traditional and social media. Will there be a media sponsor of the event? And if so, what control will the sponsor have on the overall media coverage?

Focus more on giving your audience valuable content to tweet about versus getting them to tweet. If you do the first, the second will take care of itself.

Review the expenses involved

If the speaking opportunity is in a region where you want to establish or strengthen your organization’s presence, you’ll need to think about speaking fees and expenses. It can be difficult to get your travel expenses refunded after an event. I worked with a marketing executive who was never paid because an event lost money. Make sure to create a set fee for travel, and invoice for a deposit in advance.


Behind every great speech are legions of support staff, and an awful lot of planning that goes into making it a success.

Before committing corporate resources, be sure to address any concerns with the inviting organization and consider what can be done to make the request a better fit. Perhaps you can negotiate a better speaker placement in the program or offer another executive if the one requested has a calendar conflict. Ask for what you want, and be prepared to get it.

Evaluate risk

Lastly, when evaluating speaking opportunities, remember to also think about any reputational risks the forum may pose to the organization.

A regional director from a national cancer charity was once invited to a health and beauty expo to give a talk on sun safety. The speaker declined the opportunity after learning that a large number of vendors at the event belonged to the indoor tanning industry. The organization has a strong stance against indoor tanning, and you can see why accepting the invitation would have posed a reputational risk to the organization.

Always do your homework, ask lots of questions, and consider the pearls of wisdom from Benjamin Franklin:

“It takes many good deeds to build a good reputation, and only one bad one to lose it.”

Now it’s your turn. How do you get the most value out of a speaking gig? Share your thoughts on how to evaluate speaking opportunities in the comments below.

Maja Begovic

Maja Begovic

Maja Begovic is a Toronto-based communications consultant with more than ten years of experience in the field. She works with nonprofit leaders to transform their subject matter expertise into thought leadership content that adds value to their target audience. She also supports organizations from various industries in areas of communications strategy and planning, along with message development, and media engagement.
Maja Begovic

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