When I started speaking regularly more than a decade ago, I only had one criterion for saying “yes” to a speaking engagement: an invitation.
I was so thrilled to be wanted that my knee-jerk response to every request was an automatic, over-eager, “Yes!”
My first official speaking season calendar boasted 30 engagements and added 4,500 miles on my trusty Murano, all while I was still teaching full-time.
And while I felt honored to share the message God had placed on my heart and loved my time with each and every group, I ended up utterly exhausted.
Learning when I should say “yes” and “no”
Kathi told me, “You can’t say ‘Yes’ to every invitation. You have to start saying ‘No’ to some groups.”
I knew she was right. But as invitations for the next speaking season started to come in, I found myself saying, “Yes!” to every single one. Not because I couldn’t say “No” but because I didn’t know how to decide “No.”
After enduring a second glorious-but-grueling speaking season that left me burnt out, extra crispy, I realized I needed specific criteria for deciding whether to say “Yes” or “No” to a speaking invitation.
I sat down with a blank piece of paper, drew a line down the middle, and wrote “Yes” at the top of the left column and “No” at the top of the right column. Then, I brainstormed. I jotted down everything that came to mind in one column or the other.
“Long drive” went in the “No” column. “Full speaker fee” went in the “Yes” column.
This exercise gave me a list of desirable and undesirable qualities for a potential speaking engagement. But I knew from experience that every invitation is a mixture of the “Yes” and “No” qualities. And when the “No” qualities greatly outweigh the “Yes,” I’m better off staying home.
Do I speak or stay home?
So, I created a spreadsheet called “Do I Speak or Stay Home?” and developed a point system for rating potential speaking events, based on the following criterion.
1. Prayer. This is the first criterion. When I pray about an event and God clearly convicts me to say “Yes” or “No,” the other criterion become irrelevant. Only obedience matters now.
2. Distance from Home. Driving tires me out even in the best of circumstances. The closer to home, the more points I award an event.
A 30-minute drive might receive 15 points, while a three-hour drive might receive a 0.
3. Overnight Accommodations. If an event is more than an hour-and-a-half from my home, I don’t want to risk showing up stressed from traffic (or, worse, late!) So, I choose to make the drive the night before and stay at a hotel near the event. Unfortunately, I don’t always sleep well away from home.
If I can sleep at home the night before an event, it gets 10 points. If the group will arrange for me to stay at a nice hotel very close to the event, it gets 6 points. If the group will not cover my overnight needs, 0 points.
4. Topic Requested. Some groups just want me and give me the freedom to speak on whatever God has placed on my heart. Other groups are very specific, giving me the exact topic and scripture verses they want my messages based on. While I am happy to do either, being assigned a topic generally requires far more advance work than choosing from my current topics.
If I can choose the message, the event gets 10 points. If the requested topic is one I already need or want to work on, I may give it eight or even 10 points. If it’s one that’s really going to require me to start from scratch, I will give it few, if any, points.
5. Size of Group. Bigger is not automatically better, of course. I’ve had amazing speaking experiences with groups of less than 10 and totally blah experiences with groups in the hundreds. But since one of my goals in speaking is to reach more women to find the few who need the specific message God entrusted to me, size does matter. It’s a mathematical fact that I’ll leave a group of 100 with more sign-ups to my blog than a group of 10. I’ll also sell more books at a larger event than at a smaller event.
The larger the group, the more points I’ll assign. The smaller, the fewer.
6. Product Sales. One way a smaller group mitigates criterion #4 is by committing to pre-orders of my products. I’ve had MOPS groups of 20 commit to buying 50 books and groups of 200-300 balk at me having a resource table at all. If a group commits to selling 50 books, I assign them 10 points. 40 books = 8 points, and so on down.
7. Timing. It took me years to look at the rest of my calendar—the weeks and weekends before and after the new event inquiry. Time is one issue, since I’m an ambivert (part extrovert, part introvert), curating my energy is an even greater concern. I must protect my family time and my own down time.
An event that would become the only major “thing” happening in that week is assigned 10 or more points. If adding the event would make the week “busy,” it’ll get a 2 or even a 0. If the weekends before and after the event are free, it’ll earn another 10 points. If the weekend before or after are booked, 4 points. If both weekends are already booked, it’s a 0.
8. Speaker Fee. Some groups request me to speak for free, citing “no budget.” Others assure me up-front that they will pay whatever is my going rate. While I certainly understand both situations, the amount they’re willing/able to pay is key factor in my decision. A group that pays my full rate is assigned 10 or more points. Half rate, 5 points. No fee, no points.
9. Recording Services. Money isn’t the only form of compensation. A professional audio and/or video recording of my presentation in front of an appreciative, live audience is worth hundreds of dollars. If a group can videotape me, I assign 15 or more points. Audio-only is 10 points.
10. Previous Experience. This is a highly subjective category. Some groups are just a blast to work with and speak for. Others are … not so much.A group I’ve especially enjoyed receives 10 points, possibly more. A group that was difficult or disappointing may receive 0.
11. Prayer. Before totaling up the numbers, I again pray for God’s guidance in interpreting them. Often, the process of assigning points has brought up unexpected issues the Holy Spirit and I need to pray-cess together: hidden motives, self-centered expectations, etc. Typically, the final number points clearly to a “Yes” or a “No,” and the process of reaching the number provides me with much-needed clarity.
Having a process in place to help you answer the question “Do I Speak or Stay Home?” is both empowering and freeing.
Develop your own criteria categories and ranking system for deciding when to say “yes” and when to say “no.”
Test it. Tweak it. Use it.
When you “yes” to only the right speaking invitations for you, you’ll exchange burnout for your sweet spot.
Cheri Gregory is a teacher, speaker, author, and Certified Personality Trainer. Her passion is helping women break free from destructive expectations. She writes and speaks from the conviction that “how to” works best in partnership with “heart, too.” Cheri is the co-author, with Kathi Lipp, of The Cure for the “Perfect” Life and the upcoming Overwhelmed. Cheri has been “wife of my youth” to Daniel, her opposite personality, for twenty-eight years and is “Mom” to Annemarie (25) and Jonathon (23), also opposite personalities. Cheri blogs about perfectionism, people-pleasing, highly sensitive people, and hope at www.cherigregory.com.
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