Being Intentional with Your Speaking Business with Savannah Peterson

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How did Savannah Peterson get to speak on stage at AARP and the World Economic Forum’s future of work events, alongside the likes of Madeleine Albright and Adam Grant? It all started 6 years ago with intention. 

Savannah Peterson looked for the lowest hanging fruit. She was a woman in technology and only about 18% of people in this industry were women. When it came to speakers on stage, it was something like 6 to 9% were women at the time. She didn’t look at this as an obstacle, but did see a real opportunity. A chance to sneak in and to make some noise in that space a bit out the gate, with intention.

What other lessons did Savannah Peterson share? 

  • Use crowdsourcing for your speaking topics, and more
  • Create a website with topics you talk about, some content and testimonials
  • The company you work for or the words you write, don’t make you a good speaker
  • Even being very confident on stage, fear can still strike
  • Create video to let people see you speak, even if it’s not in front of a live audience
  • It’s much easier to get excited on stage when you talk about what you want to talk about
  • When you ask questions about how you can add value, you may find yourself on more stages
  • When you discount your work, you discount your worth 
  • If you are just started out, document your speaking


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Who is Savannah Peterson?

Savannah Peterson is the Founder of SavvyMillennial, an all-remote team that makes the future less scary by building community around new technology. Her specialties include community management, content strategy, thought leadership, presentation/video support, and earned media.

A Forbes 30 Under 30 in Consumer Technology Alum, Savannah has been taking products to market around the world for over a decade. Savvy thrives when adding value to consumer lives, and is passionate about helping your business grow. Before re-launching Savvy in 2016, she was the Director of Innovation Strategy at Speck Design. And as longtime lover of hardware, she was previously the Director of Global Community at Shapeways, the world’s largest 3D Printing platform, where she empowered makers ranging from Bronies to drone enthusiasts.

Savannah guest teaches at Stanford, NYU, and UCLA. She has been featured in/on the Today Show, NBC Nightly News, the BBC, The Wall Street Journal, CNBC, The New Zealand Herald, CNET, The Verge, and enjoys the opportunity to travel as an international public speaker. She lives her life on the hype curve, hosts The WTF Club, and when not on an airplane, loves to enjoy the great outdoors and fine wine with her dog Martini. 

You can with Savannah Peterson on YouTube, LinkedIn, Twitter,  Facebook, and Instagram , and check out her website for speaking and testimonials as well as her and sites. 


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Title card for Savannah Peterson on The Business of Speaking Show

Below is the full transcript from the show with Savannah Peterson. Please note that there may be some errors as it was auto transcribed using (referral link that provides us with a 1-month Premium Pass

Tim McDonald 0:03
All right. Well welcome everybody to the business of speaking show. I am your host, Tim McDonald. And I am joined by a very good friend of mine, Savannah Peterson, how you doing Savannah?

Savannah Peterson 0:14
doing so good. Tim, I am absolutely delighted to be here and to be talking about speaking something that we both love. Thanks for having me.

Tim McDonald 0:24
Oh, well. And I know we also share a joy and passion for community as well. So it’s a, that’s how we first met. So it’s so I’m really looking forward to this conversation. But for those of people who might be tuning in for the first time, the business is speaking show really doesn’t focus necessarily on what speakers talk about on the stage. But it’s really about how they got started. And their journey to getting up on the stage. And then what they’ve learned along the way. So if you are thinking about becoming a speaker, if you are just getting started in you’re speaking, or if 2020 hasn’t taught us anything, regardless of where you are on the journey, surprise, we never know what to expect. So with that, I would invite anybody who’s in the speaking industry, or thinking of getting involved in speaking industry to really tune in and listen to all of our guests and what they had to say. So with that being said, Before we get into like where you started, Savannah, I’d really like to know, you know, what have been some of the just so our audience can have some context. What kind of speaking Have you done now? You know, where are you and what is your business look like as a speaker now?

Savannah Peterson 1:33
Yes, I was very intentional about my speaker journey. So it’s super fun to share it with y’all today. So you can find me on NBC Nightly News, and on today’s show periodically is one of their consumer technology experts. I’ve spoken at South by Southwest for the last five years, including South by Southwest virtual this year. I’ve been on stage in Paris, Italy, Denmark, London, all over New Zealand. I’m one of the New Zealand high tech award judges and do a lot of speaking all over that country. And my favorite event, last year was speaking at AARP and the World Economic Forum’s future of work events, alongside the likes of Madeleine Albright and Adam Grant.

Tim McDonald 2:22
Well, fantastic. Well, let’s dive right into, because that is so impressive. How did this all start for you?

Savannah Peterson 2:32
So I’ll, I’ll be really transparent about this out the gate, I’ve always been a little bit of a ham, I enjoy sage, I understand many people are afraid of stage, I am terrified only in the 45 seconds when someone’s reading my bio, and I am walking out onto that stage. That’s when the fear hits me. But once I start talking, I’m usually usually All right. So I’m very lucky, I was not born with the stage fright gene. And for me, it came from a place of going to events and like you loving community, I wanted to engage with the technology community and meet my peers. And I gotta be honest with you, and I suspect you’ve had this experience as well. Some of the speakers I saw on stage, they weren’t that good. And I think a lot of the reason that they were put on that stage was because they worked for a very famous company, like one of the Fang companies, or they had written a book that had gotten a lot of press and or subscriber buy in or whatever. But none of those things actually indicate that someone’s going to be a good speaker. And when I looked at those stages, I thought Hold on a second, I don’t see anyone who looks like me. And I think I can do better than they’re doing. So I very intentionally, just started knocking on doors and banging my way through and pretty much telling everyone I knew even though I didn’t really know what that meant that I was a speaker and that I would be happy to speak at your event. And and one by one, they slowly come together.

Tim McDonald 4:04
So I know You make it sound so easy and so simple that you just knock on doors and telling people that that’s what happened. But I know it’s never that easy. So what was it like for you? And what doors did you know to knock on? And who are you telling your speaker? How are you telling them and you know, share a little bit more about that so we can understand what that process was like.

Savannah Peterson 4:30
I did just say I’m glad to call that I was certainly not quite that easy and lots of no’s and lots of silence in the beginning. So a couple things to do out the gate. I wasn’t necessarily good at this. I really just blanketed everything but I think you figure out what you’re what you’re passionate about when you when you have a really unique voice in and it doesn’t matter if you’re an expert. What matters is that you can talk about it and tell a story about it. Whatever that is. And for me, I looked at the lowest hanging fruit. So as a woman in technology, only about 18% of people in this industry are women on stages, it’s something like six to 9% are actually end up translating. It’s gotten a little bit better the last few years. But I saw that was a real opportunity. Now, I’m not necessarily saying that the only reason I’m good as because I’m a woman. But I saw that there was a chance to sneak in and to make some noise in that space a bit out the gate. Something else that has also been a huge asset for me at any stage in my journey, is the amount of videos that I have out with my face. If you do not have a video up right now, it’s very hard for someone to trust that you’re going to become an excellent speaker. And guess what it doesn’t have to be fancy or produced, it can be like this, I’m sitting in my living room right now. And you can share a story with you can even have a friend interview like Tim’s interviewing me and, and having that content out there. It doesn’t have to be a perfect reel. But you do need to have a website that lists the things that you speak about with a little bit of content. And ideally, a testimonial. Honestly, even if it’s from a friend, or from a colleague who’s seen you speak in the office that will validate that you’ll add value to that and and I really, I took every opportunity I within my job at the time I had a job I wasn’t a solopreneur then and I was working for Shapeways 3d printing company. And I really took every opportunity to be the spokesperson for that company. So if you’re working for a company right now, and you think it could be doing more evangelism, whether that’s IRL kind of tricky right now, but depending on when you’re watching this video, it could be easier. It could also be doing weekly video shows or hosting happy hours for groups and just getting comfortable being on stage and talking to people or owning that stage. by yourself. It’s very true that the more people see you, the more they’ll book you. And the only way to get out there, especially right now is is to create a portfolio that shows off the type of stuff that you’d like to be doing, even if you’re not on those stages yet. And since we’re talking about the past, moving into the future, I just want to be really transparent about this, making money speaking is extremely hard. There is a small group of people at the top who make a lot of money, then there’s a group in the middle, which I sort of consider myself in where some years are really great. And some years are kind of up and down pandemics really thrown a wrench in all of that I lost a lot of money very quickly back in March. And but the the amount of time and the energy that you’re going to put into each talk is a lot. So in the beginning, I had a full time job, I was in a position to be able to dedicate a ton of time, it basically all of my personal time to developing some of my talks, some of the talks I was doing for work, but make sure that you’re balancing that out. Right now in particular, if you’re getting started speaking great opportunity to connect with organizers and folks through virtual conferences. On the flip side, you’re not getting the same exposure. If a conference organizer tells you 5000 people are gonna watch your virtual talk. They’re lying to you right now, I just went to an event with 15,000 people. And I had 11 show up to my live chat. Now that’s lovely, I’m happy to do this. But since this was for free, the ton of work that I put into that presentation, brand new presentation of mine, to reach 11 people tricky. So definitely make sure that when you’re when you’re starting out here, know that a lot of us don’t make money. Even when we’re at the top, I take on significant number of pro bono gigs for nonprofits every year or just things that I think would increase my visibility, but also know what your time is worth, because people will really take advantage of it. And until I started talking with some of the men that I know, in the industry, I was getting severely underpaid. And no one cares. No one cares. So no one’s going to look out for your speaking career besides you and and definitely the smartest thing I did out the gate was tell everyone that I wanted to be a speaker, because friends of mine who have never seen me speak knows that I’m a speaker. They don’t know what I do as a consultant, but they know that that’s the thing that I do. And they’ve seen a photo of me on stage. So tell you tell your friends, tell everyone you want to be doing it just like Tim’s doing right now.

Tim McDonald 9:17
So I, early on, in what you just said, you brought up something that was so interesting to me that you know, you knew and identified that kind of main bucket that you wanted to put yourself in. But then you also said about your website about putting the topics that you’re going to speak about. And I know personally, like that has been one of the biggest struggles for me starting out is knowing what should I put on there? You know, sometimes it’s just figuring out the bucket. And then more importantly, it’s like, what are those topics that I’m going to focus on? And how did you know because you just sounded so confident about just putting them in And I’m just wondering if you could share a little bit about that process that you went through for that?

Savannah Peterson 10:05
Absolutely, I do have a process behind it. And that’s probably why it’s more comfortable for me even some folks, and I bet you’ve seen me do this on the internet. So I’m a huge fan of crowdsourcing. And I asked my community regularly, what do you want to learn from me? What What can I help you learn? How can I help you? Quite frankly, and a lot of the time, that’s what informs my talks. I also asked folks, you know, what do you what do you trust me with and that can be, I realized, this sound, this might sound like, well, it’s easy for you to say you have an audience and you have a following. I didn’t when I started doing all of this. And it was really just a close group of friends, I call them my nest, who were there to inform me in the beginning. And they said, you know, Sav, you do a really great job of taking super complex technological concepts, and translating them into something that anyone that any audience can can interpret. So I realized that kind of translation generalist role was going to be my role. And I would encourage you to ask your friends and ask people, ask people who have booked you ask people who have hired you, ask an old boss, ask people what they think you’re really good at articulating about and it may totally surprise you, I, I have spoken about everything from from blockchain to gender diversity to mental and emotional health in entrepreneurs. And I have spoken at DevOps conferences to New Zealand planning conferences is quite quite all over the map. I think for me, it’s one of the themes that get me excited, because I’ll be transparent about this too. You’re going to talk to a lot of speakers who do two to five talks a year. I’m not one of those speakers, I do a bespoke presentation, every single time I get up and talk. I’ve never delivered the same talk twice. I don’t believe that’s what you’re paying me as a speaker, if you could watch the talk I’m about to give you online. Yeah, maybe there’s some value in me coming to wherever you are in the country to deliver that talk. But I don’t think that’s me bringing optimum value to the table. I actually think this is why I get rebooked more than a lot more than some of the other people I know. And some people who are even paid better or more famous than I am, is they know, every single time they booked me, they’re gonna get a totally new presentation. And so I suppose when I said when I talked about topics and things, I found my website, I’m really putting up buckets and large umbrella themes. It’s less specifically, what is remote work mean in 2020? I mean, I could do that. But what I what I would say instead, right now, as I talk about remote work, that could mean a lot of different things. I talk about community building, I talk about future technology and internal culture. But you can, you don’t have to have the speech written before you say it’s something that you talk about. And you know what I changed those words on my website every couple of years, based on I mean, I tend to speak on the hype curve. So my subject matter is often changing. But I’m not afraid to edit that. And I think remember that, like whatever you put up on that website to begin with, or whatever you have up in the pandemic, you could give it a complete and total makeover in in six months or two years. It doesn’t have to be what you talk about. I don’t actually, there’s only two stories that I still tell on stage today that I started telling on stage when I consider my pro career starting formally about six years ago, at South by Southwest. So and those are stories that are embedded into other talks. So you’re going to really iterate through a lot. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself with that, what do you end Oh, my gosh, most important thing that I did not say and if you take nothing from this, talk about what you want to talk about, it is so much easier to get excited on stage, or virtual land when you when you want to be talking about something and just because you’re good at something or you’re like a senior x or whatever at your job. But if you want to talk about flower arrangements or crochet, I’m looking at my art supplies to my left here, you can see them, do it, do whatever it is do that thing. Like what’s so awesome is my speaking and my source of income are not always aligned. And that’s kind of gorgeous. I like that I have this different thing that I get to do that is a different expression of myself.

Tim McDonald 14:27
I love that. You know, when you and I’m just looking at this from somebody who’s thinking of, you know, okay, I got my idea. I know what I want to talk about. Who do I know whose doors to knock on.

Savannah Peterson 14:45
So this is something I’m constantly learning as as I go through. So it’s kind of I think of it in buckets. So I think of it as what are events that I’ve loved in the past or admired in the past and I initially I made a list of about 15 or 20 of those and just threw in my calendar, there’s probably someone who’s done this where you could just download this, I did this manually during a calendar when all of their speaker application dates were due. And when, when their events were going to be each year, apply, even at my level and the sort of top tier level, a lot of us still apply to speak at these bigger events. And it doesn’t mean you can’t still charge. But you’re you’re showing the organization that you care enough to go through the application process, you’re respecting your fellow speakers by going through the same process that they went through. And, and you’re showing how you’re going to customize your content. So think about where you want to be. And that can be anything, right? Like, I wanted to travel the world. So I looked at conferences in Paris, London, and Denmark and New Zealand, because that’s what matters to me, you want to spend more time in Florida, look at every conference that’s near Tim in Florida, you can you can really do whatever you want with that. Second thing to do is and this kind of goes back to telling your friends but look at your friends who are in a leadership position, particularly near a marketing or events function. And you can do that either on LinkedIn or again like I do, I just crowdsource everything and just hope people are seeing my content will engage. But you can ask and say, Hey, who do I know, books speakers? Who do I know who is planning events for, in this case, 2022. I and and and just start asking questions. Rather than shoving yourself at someone, I would start asking to see if you can get interest with those folks, and then see what they’re looking for. In their next event. I’ve I found myself on more rosters by asking questions about how I could add value versus assuming they wanted x talk of mine, on their stage for their audience, then that I have for other things. And then, I mean, last but not least, I actually think this is perhaps the most important of all of them, is get really active on social media, with events and with other speakers, because speakers and events are always talking about speaking in events, we’re usually sharing the call for speakers from all of our favorite stuff. And and and and that also goes for, you know, some of the bigger national stuff but but even for local events, when I started speaking, I was speaking pretty consistently, more locally than anywhere else. I was living in New York City, I took every single chance I can to get in front of people in New York City, and then slowly expanded out from there. And so so do that, you know, follow your local events, coordinators, if they’re doing town halls leading up to the election, you don’t have to be political to be a moderator for something like that. It can be a nonpartisan experience. So look at all the the event folks out there and start shining it on that community because I’m proud of probably booked an equal amount of gigs through my website, as I have through Twitter, if not Twitter, more so. So even, you know, say that you’re a speaker, in your bio, guess what people are doing on LinkedIn, they’re searching for speakers, I probably booked five to 10 gigs through that feature alone.

Tim McDonald 18:01
Yeah. So the, you mentioned it a couple times. You know, I know you said mentioned you did a lot of free speaking early on, and even now you just did recently one for for nothing. You do a lot of nonprofits pro bono? How do you decide which one you’re gonna do for nothing? Or do consider it nothing? And which one do you consider only if you’re gonna get paid?

Savannah Peterson 18:29
a great question. So I have a personal rule. And this applies to my business as well as my speaking, it’s free or full price. And that’s it. I do not discount my work because there’s nothing cheap about the work that I do. So you’re either gonna get the full price quality of work without having to pay for it. If you’re a nonprofit, or, you know, I’ll I’ll do a cameo at a middle school or something local. I’m a sucker for the kids, I’ll pretty much do anything for free for kids. Although there is a teen program that pays me at Yale every summer so you can get paid to talk to kids do and and that’s actually one of my all time all time favorite programs. But the reason I have this framework is it’s great. Because I know that I’m going in I never think about a presentation as less than any other presentation and not that I would I care about speaking too much. It’s my favorite thing to do. It’s when I’m in flow. It’s honestly one of the things I think I was put on this earth to do. But I, I I never want to compromise myself or my rates or anyone who’s paid me full price either. So to me, I’m really evaluating out the gate before we even initiate our conversation. Do I think you’re going to be able to pay my five to 15 k rate for whatever it is that you need? Or do I think we’re looking at something where there’s not a chance in hell you can pay anywhere near that? And I should be looking to up the perk ante. So free again can also come with other things right. So just because you’re not getting a stipend or money you need to report government. I know you want Both gotten a really great travel out of speaking. And for me that can be, I don’t want to say more valuable, because that really diminishes the value of money and money, it’s necessary to have a business, we’re talking about that. But I, it’s far more valuable and meaningful to me, I think to, to get to go on all these adventures. And something to do when you do get offered some places will give you a per diem, or they’ll give you a travel budget, some of the more budget constrained events, but I really encourage you. And I should have been a little more zealous about this early on, you know, if they are flying you and request that first class ticket, and request that you bring up your partner or a friend if you want or see what they’ll do. And maybe if they can’t, but everyone can fly you in a friend first class around the world, but they might be able to get in business class, they might be able to get you an extension on your hotel room, or whatever it is really make it so that the experience is something that you can immerse in flying in 10,000 miles away for a 48 hour gig and an out sucks, that actually takes all the fun out of it. So don’t do that also. But yeah, I think to me, some people might have more of a structure about it. To me, it’s all in my heart. You know, if I hear that, someone I know is getting paid at to speak at this gig, I’ll be really transparent with you. It’s my goal to make as much as they’re making or more. And if I know for a fact that this is a nonprofit, helping indigenous communities like I work the New Zealand, I mean, come on, I really charge them what I would normally charge a corporate in America. No, absolutely not. So that that sounds now that’s everyone else’s choice.

Tim McDonald 21:38
Well, one final question I have for you is, if you were to take what you know now, and go back to when you first started speaking, what piece of advice would you give yourself that you would do differently?

Savannah Peterson 21:53
I would have documented more. You’re in the moment, and you’re excited, and you spent all this time on a deck. And I really wish I had a short blog post that went along with each one of my decks. And each one of my videos, I have this for maybe five or 10 of my talks. And my talks are pretty I mean, my youtube channel is pretty robust, I did a good job of making sure I was able to share most of my video, but your SEO and the way that you’ll index as a speaker, like I just started showing up you Google San Francisco millennial speaker, they’ll start to find me now. And I think he really could have found me five years ago, if I had, if I had started investing in that. And and it’s awesome how you’ll index I mean, even when it’s if it’s re embedding a YouTube video that you plan on sharing with folks, even if it doesn’t have a lot of views, nobody cares about any of that, just to be clear vanity metrics on your speech, nobody cares. You’re a good speaker. That’s what they’re looking for. It’s for all I know, that was private or gatewayed, or something along those lines. So I would have, I would have completed the circle. So when I think about each event, I’m trying to make an impression in person trying to make an impression online, and then I’m trying to create something that’s evergreen to add value in the future. And I could still do better with that right now. So if you’re in a position where you haven’t spoken a lot, might I actually say you have a very unique opportunity to properly index and maybe even get those talks transcribed. It’s really cheap now it’s like three bucks, five bucks, and you can have that transcribed and guess what each one of those senses does, it boosts your SEO as someone who talks about that particular thing. So now pay attention to the way that the internet finds you.

Tim McDonald 23:43
Thank you so much Savannah for sharing all this with us. So let people know how they can find you and learn more about you.

Savannah Peterson 23:52
Oh, thank you all for joining and to you Tim and most importantly for having me This is always such a pleasure. My name is Savannah Peterson you can find me at to learn about speaking in particular if you want to get some good ideas for how to structure your testimonials. You can also check out all my talks on my YouTube channel I am savissavvy on all of the other platforms like Twitter and Instagram and if you’re curious about the business end of all this and go to Last but not least, you’re feeling like the year is getting you down. Tim is a proud VIP member of my latest community and endeavor, the WTF club, just go to and learn more on that little ditty. And thanks again.

Tim McDonald 24:40
Thank you Savannah and for everybody just watching if you are here for the first time, you might not be aware that we are going to end the youtube broadcast. However, I have a special surprise if you go over to and sign up for our email. email list, we send out a weekly email. And there we have exclusive content because what’s going to happen as soon as we end the youtube broadcast is I’m going to stay on with Savannah and ask her one additional question and that information will only be available to our email subscribers. So we hope you sign up and we look forward to seeing you on the email side of things right now.

Savannah Peterson 25:24

2 thoughts on “Being Intentional with Your Speaking Business with Savannah Peterson

  1. Eric Herberholz Reply

    Tim, I love the formats: the video, bullet points, and transcription. They make the content highly accessible. Thanks!

    • blank
      Tim McDonald Post authorReply

      Thank you, Eric. It’s been a big pivot but that was my hope. Appreciate you taking the time to let me know.

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