Since many speaking gigs are often unpaid and even require that you spend your hard-earned money to fly yourself in to the event, you want to at least be able to get an impressive name on your roster for the trouble. Everyone–even the guy who lives under the rock in the Geico commercial–has heard of Harvard and thinks of it as a pretty legit place to be a speaker, so hopefully you can put these tips to use and impress your fans and friends with a fancy speaking gig at “Hahhhvahd”.
Here’s what you need to know and do to land yourself a speaking gig at Harvard:
1. Know this: Harvard does not usually pay its speakers. While I was a graduate student there, inviting others to come speak and now as someone who has spoken several times at the school, my understanding is that Harvard does not pay its speakers–most of the time. The exception is if you are coming to teach the students a career-related skill like the networking tips I’ve taught there. However, for the most part, it doesn’t matter if you’re an up and coming entrepreneur like all of us in the Dash community or the CEO of Disney; the honor (and I say this half seriously, half jokingly) of being able to speak at America’s oldest university is compensation enough.
2. There are TONS of opportunities to speak at Harvard–and you don’t need to come to Boston. Between Harvard College, its many graduate schools, and the hundreds of alumni organizations all over the world, there are thousands of opportunities to speak at Harvard or at least to an all-Harvard audience in your area every year. You could present at a conference, visit as a speaker for a class, be a guest presenter for a student club on campus, or even present during one of the many webinars the various graduate schools’ career developments host. The sheer number of programs that Harvard puts on every year is actually a little overwhelming for me as an alumna, because it always feels like I’m missing out on something great!
3. Harvard folks like to keep it in the family. I don’t think there’s any official rule posted anywhere, but I’ve noticed that the vast majority of speakers at Harvard events are Harvard alumni. Don’t let this discourage you though. Harvard welcomes speakers who are successful in their fields regardless of their educational background–and especially speakers who can present a new approach to solving an old problem or a traditional approach adapted for and applied to a new problem. Also, a great way to present yourself as being in the Harvard family is to shamelessly name drop if need be when you are introducing yourself to a prospective programmer. If you don’t directly know someone at Harvard who can point you in the right direction or pass you along to the relevant contact, conduct an advanced people search on LinkedIn and put “Harvard” in the school field. If you have at least 200 connections, I can almost guarantee that you’ll be at least connected by a third degree to a Harvard person. I happily pass on people with whom I’ve worked with directly–whether as clients or in some sort of business collaboration–and I think many of my fellow alumni would do the same for people in their expanded network.
4. Proactively look for opportunities and introduce yourself. There is no one central hub online that outlines all the upcoming events across all schools of Harvard (which would be amazing but also very overwhelming). Also, many student clubs create their own independent websites, so you’re going to have to do some sleuthing to find just the right opportunity. Lucky for you, I’ll include a link at the end of this post to all of the conferences run by the student clubs at Harvard Business School, so you already have at least 10 conferences to consider. (If you’re reading this several years from now, and the link doesn’t work, just google “Harvard Business School conferences” and it will come right up.) Whether it’s these conferences or other events that you are pitching to, don’t wait for an official “call for proposals” announcement. Often, these events are programmed by groups of students who stack their panels with speakers who they’ve heard of, that are available, and have agreed to come. Make that person be you!
5. Pitch several ideas. Pitching 2-3 ideas at the same time has been my secret weapon for landing speaking gigs at Harvard and elsewhere. This gives the programmer more choices to consider as well as conveys a certain level of expertise in your field. You can speak about more than just one thing because you are just that knowledgeable about your subject.
6. Follow up. Everyone’s busy, but Harvard students have made an art out of multitasking and over-committing themselves. Don’t assume that just because you didn’t hear back from a contact that they are purposefully brushing you off. You likely just fell below the first page of their inbox and got drowned out amidst the hundreds of other emails. After you send a pitch, follow up two weeks later to see if they received it, and then two weeks after that. If you still haven’t heard anything, you should try emailing a different contact. It’s very likely that the contact listed has graduated or passed the duty on to someone else. You could save yourself some trouble by asking the person to pass your email on to the relevant contact in your initial pitch email.
Because there are so many different schools, conferences, and other events held by Harvard every year, you could almost say it’s easier to speak at Harvard than at less prestigious or lesser funded institutions that have less programming. Basically, I’ve given you an amazing speaking hack: Pitch yourself to speak at Harvard, snagging the prestigious name to add to your speaking roster without having to be the CEO of a Fortune 500 company. Boom. Make it happen.