Tips for Launching Yourself as a Speaker

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A couple weeks from now, I’ll begin a crazy – but loads of fun – schedule of speaking engagements. I’m traveling to Charlotte, N.C., then Charleston, S.C. In July, I head to Dallas for a tech summit and Las Vegas for a business summit. In September, I’m back in Tampa to talk with the Working Women of Florida. After that I go to Seattle, Vancouver and Ohio.

While you know I’m a big proponent of using traditional and social media to get your message out, I believe even more in the value of speaking to a live audience. Speaking engagements offer the best opportunity for both speaker and audience members to make emotional connections – an experience that truly enriches both of you. If you can share information that really helps someone, if you can inspire them, they’ll likely remember you for a long time.

And there’s nothing nicer than having someone come up to you after your presentation and say, “Thank you so much. You told me exactly what I needed to know!”

Speaking engagements are also an important step in “celebritizing” yourself – developing your brand as an expert in your field – and they’re much easier to get than you’d expect. Look around your hometown and neighboring communities; how many civic and hobby groups meet every day? These groups often feature special speakers at their meetings, and there’s usually a volunteer scrambling to fill the “program” segment with someone new and different.

While you may not get paid for speaking at first, neither will you have to pay to appear – beyond the costs of getting yourself there.

So, how do you get these speaking engagements? First, check to see whether your community has one or more volunteer speakers’ bureaus; they’re often run through a community booster organization. In the Tampa Bay area, an example of this is the Tampa Bay & Co. Speaker’s Bureau. It promotes the hospitality and tourism industries and offers groups free experts on all manner of related topics, from cooking to boating.

You can also look for clubs and other groups for whom you can give your topic a relevant spin. A dentist, for instance, could give helpful talks to parents’ groups about preventing cavities and other problems to watch for; to seniors about problems associated with aging; to schoolchildren about proper brushing; to aspiring actors and models about cosmetic techniques. You get the idea.

Now that you’re lined up as the “special program” for a group’s monthly meeting, what do you do? I’ll give you the same advice I give anyone planning a stint as a radio or TV guest.

  • Be entertaining. Remember, you weren’t invited because the audience wanted to hear a sales pitch. They want to be entertained and to learn something. So relax, be authentic and likeable. Talk to your audience as you would your family, friends and co-workers. Engage them. Smile a lot – it makes your voice sound richer and happier. Enthusiasm is contagious, so don’t hold back on your passion for your topic. If you’ve learned any of the group members’ names, use them when you answer their questions or if you chat with them afterward. People feel special when you address them by their name.
  • Be informative. It’s important to entertain but it’s equally important to give the audience something they didn’t walk in with – some new useful or helpful information relevant to their interests. Two or three key take-away points are enough for a 20-minute presentation; data overload will just leave them dazed and glazed. Don’t try to impress with lots of technical terms and jargon. Your audience won’t appreciate what they can’t understand, and you won’t be thought of as a great communicator. Finally, tell your audience how the information applies to them. It’s a good way to involve them in the discussion and keep them tuned in.
  • Motivate with your message. If what you offer – be it your company, product or book – will solve a problem for people or otherwise benefit them, instill your message with a sense of urgency. For example, a nutritionist might speak on “The five worst foods you can eat,” and describe the consequences of eating them before delving into the list. A banker might talk about the “three ways you can prevent identity theft” after discussing the morass of problems identity theft victims experience. When you motivate your audience, they will often want to learn more.

I enjoy speaking to groups of people. The instant feedback and the warmth you get from a nice round of applause are rewarding. If you haven’t done a lot of public speaking, remember, if you know your topic – and you do! – you’ll feel confident and comfortable talking about it.

And the more often you speak, the more confident, relaxed and better you’ll get.

– Marsha

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