The speaking industry is similar to Hollywood. Actors either audition or send in their videos and a group of people, the casting director, director, and producer, all have to come to a mutual decision about who they cast in a film, TV show or theater production. I’ve been on both sides of the process, and I must say that being on the casting end is much less stressful. A lot of variables go into the decision, and most of them are totally out of your control. So never take it personally. That’s easy to say, but when you think you’re perfect for a speaking job it can become baffling.

Why speakers don’t get the job

Here are some of the reasons why speakers don’t get the job:

Committee voted on another speaker 

A committee can be anywhere from a few people to a couple of dozen. Most speaker decisions are made by committee these days, which means a lot of people have to like you and think you’re the right person for the job. If you don’t get the majority of the vote, you probably won’t get the job. If your topic doesn’t fit in with the conference theme and the theme is already set in stone, you probably won’t get the job. And, If there really isn’t a theme, but they like your topic, they could pick you and create the rest of the conference to fit around you.

Went with another topic  

If some other speaker knocked their socks off, they could take the conference in a different direction to fit that speaker. The only thing to do about this one is to be the speaker that knocks their socks off. Have a unique topic that only you can provide, and have a great angle on it.

Already used your topic or similar speaker 

If they used your topic for their last conference, they probably won’t be using it again, which means having to wait until that topic and theme comes around again. They like to keep things fresh for their members or clients.

Decision maker used someone they knew 

This would happen all the time when we were casting films. We would go through the casting process, and in the end, the producer decided to hire someone’s girlfriend, boyfriend, cousin, etc. This is another thing you have no control over. Even when we would find the best talent for the part, if the director, producer or financier said they wanted their mistress in the lead role, there was nothing we could do.

Not ready for primetime  

If you’re planning to speak to a small, local library for free, the bar will be much lower than for a bigger paid job. Anyone who is going to be writing you a large check has to make sure you’re ready to play in the big leagues. The only way to get over this one is by constantly working and proving yourself. People need to know who you are and that you’re good and reliable. This is why Hollywood and the speaking industry can both feel like a closed club until you are able to make your way in. You can’t buy your way in or bribe your way in. You simply have to be incredibly good at your craft, be responsible, easy to work with, and prove that you are worthy of their trust.

They decided not to use speakers  

Sometimes conference meeting planners like to shake things up and not always put on the same conference. They may decide to have panel discussions or no speakers at all.

They want industry only 

Some conferences don’t use outside speakers at all. So unless you’re actively working in their industry, they won’t be looking for outside speakers.

The speaking industry is about the long game. There are many reasons why speakers don’t get the job, just like there are many reasons actors don’t get the job. You simply have to keep getting better and keep working. Along the way you will lose a LOT of jobs. It’s just the nature of the business. So, like I said, don’t take it personally. Eventually that perfect opportunity will come along and you will be just the right speaker for it.






I talked to a speaker recently who was contemplating taking a speaking job where he would have to fly ‘cross country. He would make very little money. Was asked to do a keynote speaking job and a breakout session, for a boring conference in a boring city, in the dead of winter.

Speaking job

I said, “maybe you shouldn’t do it”. “But I really need the money”, he said.

It reminded me of the days I used to do casting for actors. I mostly worked on low budget films. Some of them were very low budget. I happen to love the world of B movies, but we would always get actors who auditioned for us because they were either just getting started as an actor, weren’t getting any roles in big films, had their TV show canceled, were running out of unemployment, or worse.

I could tell they really didn’t want to be there, and would rather be at Cannes promoting their lead role in a studio film rather than auditioning in a dingy theater rental space for “Beach Bunny Zombies, Part 6”.

Actors who wanted to work

And then there were the actors who just wanted to work. It didn’t matter if it was a B movie, a bit part on a TV show, or a medical industrial film. They were happy to be getting paid money for doing something they loved to do.

Public speaking isn’t that different from acting. You’re on a stage communicating to an audience. And that audience can tell if you really don’t want to be there. No matter how hard you try to hide it, there’s just something the audience will pick up on that they may not quite be able to put their finger on. And it’s hard to get them to like you if they suspect you would rather not take the speaking job.

Do what you love as a speaker

Whenever I catch myself copping an attitude about a speaking job that’s not as good as I’d like it to be, I remind myself of my grandmother, slaving away in a dirty, noisy factory her whole life, making little money, or my grandfather who worked in a dark, dangerous coal mine. Then suddenly any kind of job where I actually get paid to do what I love, sounds absolutely awesome.