Finding corporate gigs and dealing with gatekeepers

Dave – I’ve taken your comedy workshop and it was a wonderful experience. Okay, now that I’ve saved you the time of promoting it, I did have a question. You recently wrote about using humor to gain corporate gigs. How does one go about finding these speaking opportunities? Who do you contact – event planners, Human Resources or some other person at the corporate office? What is a gatekeeper and how should one approach that gatekeeper? – B.T.

The Gatekeeper

Hey B.T. – Come on… You know me. Just because you plugged my workshop (thank you btw) doesn’t mean I’m not going to plug it again. It’s called promoting, which is what you also need to do if you want to book corporate gigs.

That’s true whether you’re a comedian, humorous speaker, or any type of presenter or entertainer. No one will hire you unless they know you’re out there and available for work.

The article you’re referring to was about using humor during your program at corporate events. It was posted in two parts, April 26 and May 10 in case anyone wants to scroll down for a reminder. But your question has given it a different spin:

How would you use humor to find and schedule corporate gigs? Here’s my take on it…

I go through phases but guess I could admit to being a big cold caller. It sounds miserable (think telemarketer) and was at first. I dreaded those work-related calls. But after much practice and bad experiences, I came up with an idea to make these calls semi-humorous. After all, I talk about humor and it was time to start using it.

The cold caller

In the corporate market you really can’t be a one-liner, class clown or jokester when first contacting a gatekeeper (we’ll get to that term in a moment) by phone. You’ll either get the Rodney Dangerfield treatment (no respect) or treated to an entire symphony of elevator musak when they put your call on hold.

It’s a business call and you have to treat it that way. BUT it’s important to have an opening line that grabs interest. It’s like writing the beginning of a comedy bit or speaker’s presentation. You want to grab your listener’s attention as soon as possible. And since you also work in the humor industry, there’s no reason why you can’t use a fun(ny) opening line as a conversation starter.

Here’s an example that I’ve used, and it’s worked – no BS:

Hello, this is (your name) and I’m calling from “beautiful” or “hot and humid” or “snowy and cold” (name the city closest to you that you know they’ve heard of).”

THEN WAIT.

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More times than not, the person answering the phone will have a comment about the city. They’ve been there; have relatives or friends living there; know something about it (good or bad – doesn’t matter); or will have at least heard of it.

BINGO!!! Conversation starter.

Let them talk and all you have to do is work off of what they’ve just given you. Get it? To continue this random example, they might go with the “weather option” you gave in your opening line or want to talk about the city’s sports teams (I get that one a lot). Then once we have a (hopefully) friendly and/or funny conversation going I ease into my sales pitch.

I have a program that would be great for your company’s next event. Let me tell you about it…

And here’s another secret. If my opener is greeted by silence or a negative reaction, I don’t waste a lot of time on the call. Since I deal with humor, this is obviously not a good fit for what I do. I’ll move onto the next one.

How do you find speaking opportunities?

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Cold calling is just one way – and usually everyone’s least favorite. The best is always in person networking. I talk about this in much more detail in my book How To Be A Working Corporate Comedian, but in a nutshell, every community has business organizations looking for presenters. Play detective and find the person that schedules these meetings and volunteer to speak for FREE.

This is a major source for contacts.

Not only can you showcase in front of potential clients, but they’ll also usually feed you for FREE. Do a meet and greet and liberally hand out your business cards while trying to collect as many as you can. Some audience members might have an event coming up and would be interested in hiring you based on your FREE showcase presentation.

I’ve booked quite a few paying gigs this way and gained a few pounds at the same time.

As far as who you should contact…

You’ll need to play detective again to find out that info for individual corporate events. I’ve learned firsthand it can be just about anyone from an assistant to the head honcho of the company. Go online and learn what you can about the company before calling. You can also ask the gatekeeper

Who??

Life past the gatekeeper!

The gatekeeper is the person that answers the phone during your cold calls and considers it to be his or her personal mission to keep you from talking to the decision maker. And in case you need a refresher, the decision maker is the person that can hire you. You need to convince the gatekeeper that you and (especially) your comedy act or speaking presentation is worthy of personal contact with the decision maker.

Sometimes the above-mentioned creative (humorous) example can be the needed cold call icebreaker. Other times it turns into a longer process. This would involve sending information and promotional videos showing what you can offer to make their event successful – and hope the decision maker sees it. Then you need to follow-up without being a pain in the you-know-what.

How do you do that? It’s in my book How To Be A Working Comic (another plug!) and involves a timely use of phone calls, emails and postcards. There are no guarantees, but gatekeepers, event planners, human resources, assistants and head honchos will never know you’re even out there and available unless you present yourself.

It’s called promoting. And in my opinion, an element of humor can help you stand out from the competition.

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Thanks for reading and as always – keep laughing!!

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