We are frequently asked to guide novice speakers – both younger people and more mature people who haven’t previously gotten on the speaking circuit – we decided it was time to revisit “How to get started in public speaking”. We’re going to kick off this series with seven questions to ask yourself on your way to public speaking success.
1. What are your goals? Why do you want to get onstage? Answers vary from “I have something to promote” (myself, my business or maybe a book) to “I have a special story or skill or experience I want to share,” to “My boss or mentor or friend is urging me to do it.” Knowing why you want to speak is important and can help you make many decisions during this process. It can also help you measure your success in the end. Are you achieving your goals?
2. Who do you want to speak to? Visualize your perfect audience. If you are speaking to promote your business, who is your perfect customer? Are they younger? Older? Working in a certain field? Do they have a certain title? Or do they have a specific question you can answer? Where do you find this audience?
3. Know thyself. What’s your natural comfort level with public speaking? Some people are naturally more out-spoken than others but it is our firm belief that almost anyone can do this with the right situation and enough practice. Maybe you are shy and so solo speaking engagements feel like too much (especially right out of the gate). You’ll want to stick with panels or round-tables, or maybe be a moderator to start off. How much experience have you had speaking? (Side note: While giving the webinar this week, I was asked how I handle the physical “tells” of nervousness, red-face, blushing, sweating, etc. I talked about how audiences don’t want you to fail and how they tend to overlook small issues like these. However, now, I will say that the perfect “venue” for you if you have these challenges is a webinar!)
4. Do you need help or speaker training? There are lots of great programs for beginning speakers and programs for moving more experienced speakers to the next level. If you need help, get it. How do you know if you need help? Video yourself! (Or have a friend do it.) Give a presentation and then watch the recording. Do you seem at ease? Are you able to get your ideas across? Are you easily understood? Still uncertain? Take a class. It never hurts and can give you the confidence you need to move this project forward.
5. What kind of a speaker are you? Are you a storyteller or a motivational speaker? Are you imparting deep knowledge or technical expertise? Knowing what kind of a speaker you are will help guide you to the right kind of events. Conferences and trade shows have vastly different kinds of speakers than those who come in to the community centers and town rotary meetings.
6. What does your audience want to hear about? Go to your industry’s conferences and events and see which sessions are crowded and which ones aren’t. Look at Eventbrite and Meetup, and check out what the topics there. While you know what your goals are, it’s the audience’s needs you should be considering. Meanwhile, the gatekeepers, the event managers, are also looking at what the audience wants. It’s not uncommon to see “What kind of topics do you want to hear addressed?” at the bottom of an event exit survey.
7. What’s your topic, identity or expertise? While it makes perfect sense to look to your work identity for your speaking identity, this isn’t always the best or only option. What are you an expert in? What experiences have you had? What lessons learned? Or, what’s your passion? Instead of looking inward, can you look outward for a topic? What does the future hold? What are the topics or issues that everyone in the industry needs to know about? Create speaking abstracts based on your topics. You’ll need a title, a brief description of the talk and a brief list of takeaways. What will your audience learn from listening to you? Then you need to be able to start building talks and presentations. Many speakers have slides and handouts. Do you? (Note: In addition, it’s good for all speakers to have a biography and a professional photo. A video of you speaking goes a long way to helping event managers understand how well you speak.)
Now you are ready to start looking for speaking engagements. So where do we find speaking engagements?