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Selling Books from the Keynote Platform

Chip R. Bell
Thursday, Oct 17, 2019

My grandmother was a great wild game cook.  And, one of my favorite dishes was her rabbit stew (hasenpfeffer).  She used an antique German recipe that had as its first instruction: "First, get a rabbit."  Using the occasion of the delivery of a keynote speech is a wonderful venue for bookselling.  And, I will get to that part in the latter half of this article.  The first instruction in this marketing recipe is, "First, get a keynote."

Keynotes generally come from only a few sources.  The serendipity approach is having some book fan and influencer of a meeting planner read your book and advocate you as a keynote speaker for a future event.  This source suggests the importance of including in your bio the fact that you are a speechmaker, not just a book writer.  It also means giving up on the "hidden, mysterious author" routine and making it easy for meeting planners to reach you.  The crank calls and email spam are not the problems you have been led to believe.

Being Discovered by Meeting Planners

The second source for keynotes is the meeting planner on a search for a speaker.  This recipe is a bit more daunting.  It means placing yourself in the keynote speaker lane.  It starts with driving traffic to your super cool website that can provide visitors with a sneak preview of you on stage in action.  Visit the websites of significant speaker's bureaus and watch videos of their most popular keynote speakers.  You only need a 3-4-minute promo video, but it needs to be a killer! 

Hire a theatre for an hour, invite a bunch of friends to be your audience, contact a film crew from the local college looking for extra credit.  Great visuals (big stage), great sound, featuring you at your best are ingredients that matter.  Your website needs intriguing keynote descriptions.  Again, easy access is crucial.  Don't make a meeting planner fill out a website form in order to reach you.  You are likely one of thirty-five speakers being considered; don't make it so hard.

Courting Top Speakers Bureaus

The third most frequent source for keynotes is speaker's bureaus hired by meeting planners to find a great keynote speaker.  This is the most challenging route as bureaus are inundated every day with wannabe keynote speakers who spoke twice at Rotary or Kiwanis and now think they are for-hire speakers.  Network with speakers already connected with bureaus and solicit an introduction.  Cold calling is about as user-friendly as the acquisition editor at a prominent New York publishing house. 

Put together a great looking package with a one-sheet (Google it), a promo photo, descriptions of your speeches, and links to your promo videos on your YouTube account (that part is easy). Marketing you as a speaker is a lot like promoting your book.  Lace the promotion with humor, intrigue, confidence, and charm.  Let your words create word pictures that are as captivating as you will be as a speaker.

So, You Got the Gig

Let's assume you "caught the rabbit."  How do you promote your new book from the keynote platform?  You don't!  You let your introducer do that work.  Write out exactly what you want that person to say.  The introduction might end with words like, "Dale's newest book is getting amazing reviews.  During our break following the keynote, Dale will be in the back of the room signing copies for sale."  At the end of your speech, your introducer will return to the stage to thank you.  This is another chance to indirectly sell, "And, if you liked Dale's keynote as much as I did, you will love the book on which it is based.  They are selling at the back of the room for $20 cash!"  You don't need a credit card machine.  But, you will need to back your sales tax out of your "round number" book price.

Don't discount your book.  This is an impulse buy and buyers enjoy the added value that they purchased it directly from you.  Make it easy for them to buy.  It is always great to enlist someone to handle the cash part for you so you can sign books and connect with your buyers.  Put your business card in each book; put your book cover photo on your business card!

There is one small challenge with back-of-the-room bookselling.  How many do you ship?  Start by asking the meeting planner.  If previous speakers have sold books, contact them to learn of their experience.  Make plans with someone at the meeting location to ship leftover books back to you.  This can be very important if you are rushing to catch a flight after your keynote.  If book buyers don't have time to stand in line to buy your book, give them a way to contact you.  I use a large punch bowl borrowed from someone at the meeting site to capture business cards.  Always, use a keynote handout that has your contact information at the bottom of the page.

Hand-selling books is a hard way to make it to the top of the best-seller.  But, keynotes give a significant opportunity not found with bookstore appearances.  You get paid to sell your book! 


Chip R. Bell is a renowned keynote speaker and the author of nine national best-selling books.  For the last five years straight, Global Gurus has ranked him in the top three best speakers in the world on customer service.  His newest book is Kaleidoscope:  Delivering Innovative Service That Sparkles.  Contact Executive Speakers Bureau to book him for your next event.


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