When my second book came out last year, I took the promotional route a bit differently and launched a university speaking tour. Over the course of the 2018-’19 school year, I visited dozens of colleges across the continental United States, including Harvard, Yale and the University of Michigan. I met hundreds of students and sold hundreds of book, and if I could do it, you certainly can, too.
My thought process was all about exposure. I knew that college students (having been one of them just one year prior) were open to learning tactical tools that could help them in the real world or otherwise. I knew that on-campus organizations were always looking for more material and that these organizations had a bit of a budget.
Based on my recent and successful experience, here’s how to start a university speaking tour of your own.
1. Create a talk loosely based on your book.
The key word here is “loosely.” You don’t want to get in front of students and tell them all the core components of your book, because then there will be no incentive for them to buy it afterwards. Knowing that stories are remembered up to 22 times more than facts, I centered the majority of my talk around the stories I found most interesting in my book, which kept the audience engaged. Many of today’s non-fiction books assert frameworks and rules of thumb, which is great, but can easily make eyes glaze over.
Bullet-point key themes and stories from your book, then bring them into a larger narrative. Ideally, students should walk away from the presentation knowing a bit about you and why you wrote the book, but most importantly, how the book’s central stories can apply to their own life.
2. Pitch to your target market within colleges.
The magic question: Who do I pitch to within the colleges? Contrary to popular opinion, your first time doing a tour will not yield immediate access to the entire student body, unless you have a bit of celebrity status and a recognizable name. But that doesn’t mean you can’t have an impact.
Ask yourself which ideal college student would benefit from your book and talk material. Is your book geared toward issues of social justice? The political science department or a social-justice club on campus would be a good place to start. My book was about women’s entrepreneurship, and I was able to broaden that definition to general entrepreneurship so that my talk could appeal to all entrepreneurship groups, independent of gender. But I got creative, too. My talk, with a few adjustments, also worked for a liberal-arts program.
Remember that these campus organizations want to know that your content, should they take the time (and maybe the budget) to bring you in, will greatly benefit the students. If it’s hazy why your content is the perfect fit for their group, you’re unlikely to get a reply.
3. Get crystal clear on how students will benefit.
It’s vital that before you even get on that stage, you have a clear list of all the ways students will benefit from the information you’re offering. A good way to conceptualize this is to start with a burning problem that you can solve. Maybe your book is about interview skills, which would be a great presentation at a career-services event. What is the problem that you’re solving? Perhaps you have a statistic about the number of college students who feel ill-equipped to perform well in an interview. How does your content solve it?
Spelling out this clear problem and solution in your pitch will create the urgency to bring you in, and will also immediately alert students to the importance of your material. If it’s clear how paying attention to your presentation will help them, they’re more likely to take notes, snap pictures of your presentation and purchase your book afterward. And creating material that truly resonates with them and a problem in their lives is more likely to lead to referrals and positive word of mouth.
4. Utilize each speaking engagement to get another.
When you’re first starting a speaking tour, there will be many cold emails. Positioned the right way, with a “problem and solution” pitch, they should yield a high success rate. Still, warm emails are even better. After you speak at one college, ask the organizer if they’d be open to introducing you to someone they know at another college or at another department within the school.
It’s also a good idea to get pictures and testimonials at each school you speak at. This will lend greater credibility to your reputation, and you can include the testimonials in every consecutive pitch you send to another college.
5. Capture the audience.
I used to think that just giving my book a shoutout and putting my Instagram handle on the last slide would do an effective job of capturing the audience. While it did work to an extent, I missed out on capturing audiences in a more effective way: an email list. Pass around a piece of paper and pen so each student can write down their name and email, and immediately enter each into your database when you get home or back to your hotel. That way, if you release other products or services related to your book or talk, you’ll have a group of subscribers who are already interested.
Similarly, don’t just put up your social handles and expect that every student will follow you of their own volition. At some point in my talk, I would announce, “Everyone take out your phones and follow me!” and also tell them to direct message me with questions via Instagram as opposed to emailing me.
6. Don’t be afraid to invest in yourself.
Finally, remember that the beginning of a university speaking tour isn’t going to be lucrative. In fact, I didn’t ask for a single dollar for my first five talks. I invested in my own travel expenses to show up at these schools, which is what you have to do to gain that experience, those testimonials and a list of places you can say you’ve spoken at. Most importantly, it’s what you have to do to get the exposure necessary to sell book copies.
By all means, take advantage of universities within driving distance from where you currently live, but don’t be afraid to take a transcontinental flight to speak at a university on the other side of the country. The fact you traveled shows how much you care about the content, and that matters to students and organizers. I guarantee it will yield a larger audience size and a better experience for everyone.
Students out there want to hear what you have to say, no matter what your content is, how old you are or what your prior speaking experience is. If you feel the call on your heart to launch your own tour, follow these repeatable steps to forever alter your career.