Written by Lauren Fleming
There’s a secret about being a speaker—anyone can do it. You don’t have to be Oprah or Warren Buffett to stand in front of an audience and have a message. Anyone with something to say can be a speaker, and with that, gain the publicity, credibility and buzz that comes with it.
Maybe you’re a CEO or founder of a company. Maybe you’ve spent your whole career in a specific field and you have a unique insight. Maybe your industry is part of a tight knit community that ranks its key players by visibility. If you’re looking to promote yourself or your business, speaking is a great way to do that.
So how do you make it happen? What’s the nitty-gritty that gets you from audience member to the person at the front of the room?
1. Make a Speaker Sheet: A Speaker Sheet is one page that describes who you are and what you do. This is a good time for you to clarify what your message is and what makes you unique. What kind of practical knowledge do you have? What’s the list of topics you can speak about? Why should they book you and not someone else? Put together a nice PDF, use colors and pictures, and include your contact info and website. After you’ve done a little speaking you may want to add quotes (“We had Bob speak at our event and he was phenomenal!”).
As you organize your sheet, think about your own goals and how you should best portray yourself to achieve them. Do you want new business? To make your name recognizable? To promote yourself as a cutting-edge thinker in your field?
2. Be Free: In 2006, Bill Clinton earned $10 million in speaking fees…but few of us are former Presidents. So unless you’re Jimmy Carter, you should be thinking much smaller. In fact, the best way to begin speaking is for free. Being a free speaker will get you exposure and experience. Keep in mind; there are other, less tangible things you’re getting out of being a speaker. How do you measure the value of “getting your name out there?” As you become better known you may be able to command small fees, or at least have your travel costs covered. But the people who make a living as a speaker are few and far between.
3. Start Small: Look at your local Chamber of Commerce or seek out networking groups in your field. Rotary Clubs, which meet weekly, are always looking for speakers for their meetings. Groups like this will probably be small (5 to 20 people), and will probably not be terribly invested in what you’re saying (they come for the scheduled meeting whether they’re interested in the speaker or not). This is actually a good thing! It gives you a chance to get comfortable in front of a real audience, but with low stakes. It’s not hard to track down an e-mail for these organizations, shoot them your speaker sheet.
4. Promote Yourself: Add “Speaker” to the list of things you do on your resume and Linked-In pages. If you or your business has a website, add a page that is totally dedicated to you as a speaker and have a downloadable copy of your speaker sheet. Have someone film you speaking and make yourself a YouTube account. Every time you speak, post the when/where on your Facebook, blog or send it out to your e-mail list. Then after you speak, follow up with a recap. These are all free (or almost free) ways to promote yourself on the internet, in ways that can reach both people you know and people you don’t.
5.Network: Attend the kind of events that you’d like to speak at and let your friends and colleagues know you’re available. This sounds simple, but it comes with a few caveats. First, make sure you’re in the right place. Do a little research ahead of time so you can be the right fish in the right pond. Find meetings where people are actually in a position to hire you. You also can’t over promote yourself. People resent feeling like networking cogs and overly vigorous networking can actually backfire. Help other people get what they want and they’ll be more willing to help you in the future.
6. Team Up: Is there someone in your field who is already a speaker? Even better, do you have a colleague who speaks? Give them a call. Offer to open for them at an event. Or, hold a conference where you and a few others speak and they are the headlining speaker. Use a better-known speaker’s fan base to build your own and gain credibility by being associated with someone who is already respected. It’s a win-win situation; they get another opportunity to speak and a chance to promote themselves as top rung. This also follows the rules of networking— don’t pester someone who isn’t interested, and don’t make them feel used.
7. Be Consistent: The more speaking you do the better you will get at it. You will become more attuned to your audiences and be able to refine your material. You’ll get better at adapting to different kinds of crowds. You’ll need fewer notes. Your material will stay current. You’ll become more at ease answering questions. You’ll learn the skill of bouncing back after a flub. As your speaking improves, you’ll gain more opportunities and you’ll keep yourself as part of the conversation. Don’t speak once or twice a year; set a reasonable goal for yourself—maybe every month or every other month, and stick to it. Even if you’re only speaking at small venues or networking groups it will keep your skills sharp.
Public speaking ranks as the number one fear in America— beating out shark attacks, natural disasters, and, yes, death itself. But it’s a skill just like anything else, it’s something you can learn and excel at. It’s also something that can set you apart from the pack, since many don’t have the gumption to get up there.
If you’re hesitant, remember Mark Twain’s thoughts on public speaking: “There are two types of speakers. Those who get nervous and those who are liars.”
These seven tips will help you on your way to building your reputation as a speaker, and as a leader in your field. So pick your topic, and get going!
About the Author: Lauren Fleming is a Publishing Specialist at Emerson Consulting Group, Inc. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org