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Speaking Opportunities for Physicians

(Tips to develop a side gig as a physician speaker)

Many doctors are natural teachers and leaders, and often enjoy the opportunity to share their experience and knowledge through lectures and other forms of public speaking. Speaking engagements vary considerably both in scope and in compensation, and can range from being unpaid honors to incredibly lucrative. It's important to establish goals for your speaking engagements so that you can then be strategic about how you approach developing out this side gig.  The path to being asked to speak varies from person to person, but if you want to get paid, will usually require more intentional networking, contracts, and branding. 

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What You Should Include In Your Speaker Contract

Check out our page on getting started with your side gig to learn more ways to brand and market your speaking side gig.

Tips to Develop a Side Gig as a Physician Speaker

If you are actively trying to be sought out as a speaker, here are some tips based on my (Nisha Mehta, MD) experience:

1.  Establish what your goals are from the speaking.  Is it to build your reputation/further your existing career?  Is it as a source of side income?  Is it to spread a message or further a cause that means a lot to you?  Are you using it to build a stronger network, or as a way to achieve a bigger, separate project?  It may be a combination of these things, but knowing your WHY matters.  Also, make sure you really want to develop a speaking career.  It's not for everyone - you have to enjoy being on stage, and you have to be willing to travel and have the bandwidth, among other things. 


2.  First figure out what your niche topic will be, and who your target audience is.  Don't pick something just because it's a 'hot' topic - for one, if it's en vogue, it's likely saturated, and will be harder to break into.  If you happen to be interested in one of those topics, develop your particular spin on it.  Make sure that you are passionate about it, and knowledgable about it - I can not emphasize this enough.  You are very unlikely to give a good talk unless these things are true.  You also don't want to spend a lot of time developing talks and building a brand, only to find that you hate it and drop it.  In terms of deciding target audience: Do you want to speak for a pharmaceutical company?  Do you want to speak to physicians?  Do you want to speak to patients?  Or, do you want to speak about non-medically related topics?

Dive deeper into speaking opportunities for pharmaceutical or medical device companies as a physician side hustle.

3.  Figure out how people will find you.  Of course, use your networks and word of mouth to let people know you're interested in speaking more.  Also consider putting it in to your LinkedIn profile.  Create a website and brand yourself with good content and focus on increasing SEO on the terms related to your topic of interest (this is a huge topic which warrants its own post).  Make sure it's very clear what you're about, what your experience is, and that you offer speaking services - this is how event planners will know whether to reach out to you, and will also save you a lot of time not having to answer questions on leads that won't materialize.  If you are experienced, consider joining a Speaker's Bureau (but don't count on that to supply you all of your leads).  If there are particular things you know you want to speak about, consider putting together a media kit or a speaker's CV, and sending it over to people who are having events that you think you would be a good contribution to.

4.  Figure out what you're going to charge.  If you don't know how much to charge, ask other people on the Physician Side Gigs group, or other people in your network who are doing similar things to get a ballpark --- that being said, realize that speaking fees vary widely, even for the same person.  Some points here:

  • When I do my pricing, it depends on so many things - number of days I have to take off of work, whether it's completely new content or I can reuse or reframe portions of a previous talk, what kind of setting it is (society meeting, corporate event, CME, retreat, residency program or grand rounds, etc), how many people are expected at the event, the location (whether I can make a getaway out of it or it's purely business, if the flight there is a direct flight or requires a connection), the number of events they need me to attend and how active a role it is), time of year (opportunity cost of saying no to other things at the same time if it's a busy event time, school holidays), whether I have childcare available, etc, etc, etc.  So my speaking fees over the next 12 months range from free to 5 figure amounts.  It really just depends. 

  • Research the opportunity prior to getting on the phone.  It's easy to be really excited about something when you hear about it, but take a breath, look up the venue, check the dates against your calendar so you know what the obstacles to you going are, figure out who past speakers for their event have been so you have an idea of what their budget is, and what the event will do for your brand and visibility.  This will help you to know how badly you want it when you go to the negotiating table.

  • People will want to know a range when they first speak to you though, so you should be prepared for the question depending on the engagement. 

  • At first, if there is an event that has good reach amongst your target audience, don't worry about doing it for free.  The experience and the CV building will be worth it.   

  • At the end of the day, your fee should be a balance of what your expertise is (#knowyourworth), what the opportunity cost of the opportunity is, and what makes it worth your time.  If you have a book you're trying to promote, or something else that you're trying to sell, it may be worth it to take less on the speaking fee end but have more opportunities to promote yourself.  Everything is a negotiation, and if you really want to do something but they can't pay more, find a way to make it worth it.

5.  Put together your talks well ahead of time, and practice, practice, practice.  This speaks for itself.

6.  Try and get some media from each talk that you do.  Pictures are great, but bigger planners really like having video to be able to ensure that you are an engaging, polished speaker.  This is worth the investment - and some events are videotaping anyways -- so don't be afraid to ask them for a copy!  If you have the ability to get testimonials (especially video testimonials), try and get them. 

7.  Network at each event.  This will build your brand, and open up new opportunities.  People who go to conferences tend to be networkers, or have their own events.  You'd be surprised how many things will open up.  If possible, don't go to an event, just show up for your talk, and then leave.  You'd be missing out on valuable opportunities.

8.  Be smart about your finances.  Always have a contract.  Make sure you invoice promptly, and if possible get paid at least a portion of your fees ahead of time.  Keep in mind, some of these events will only go if they get enough registration, and in general, things happen.  The last thing you want to do is take days off work or make accommodations related to the gig (in my case, sometimes flying my mom out to help with my children), pay for hotels or flights, or turn down other speaking gigs, and then a month prior to the event find out that it's not happening anymore and all those costs fall on you.  I make sure my deposit covers these things.  If you want to be financially savvy about things, consider setting up a solo401k for your 1099 earnings, and making sure you learn about self-employed finances and other tax benefits/deductions related to 1099 income.

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