On a ranch outside of Austin, Texas, I kicked up my heels and laughed my way through boot scootin’ dancing, rubbing shoulders with one of the most influential men in IT and presented to 150 influential female entrepreneurs from around the globe.
How did I end up there? I said yes to every single speaking opportunity that came my way in the past few years.
Earlier this month, I was asked to present in Texas at the exclusive DELL Women’s Entrepreneur Network (DWEN) annual conference where 150 hand-picked women from 12 countries forged new connections and inspired each other.
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I have spoken for scones in regional Australia (how could I say no to the Country Women’s Association!), I have crawled out of bed at the crack of dawn to speak at breakfast events, I have run a workshop all day and then jumped in a taxi to go and keynote at an evening event.
You name it, I’ve done it. There is a long way between speaking at the local chamber of commerce to being invited to speak at DELL’s Women’s Entrepreneur Network (DWEN) in Texas, but how I got there all comes back to thought leadership.
Two years ago I made the conscious decision to step into the spotlight and put myself forward as a PR and social media expert and speaker. Instead of only pitching my clients for publicity and speaking opportunities, I swallowed my natural introversion and added myself to that list.
How I got to Texas
I started by joining online and offline networking groups, where I was willing to share my expertise and original ideas. At the same time, I put myself forward as a speaker and expert interviewee for the media.
These free speaking opportunities (including speaking at the CWA annual conference for free scones!) were the perfect way for me to gain confidence in my speaking skills and cut my teeth for the wider business speaking circuit.
While I have been blogging about public relations and social media at Public Relations Sydney since 2006, and I was an early adopter of the two social media networks that helped build thought leadership, Twitter and LinkedIn, I made a concerted effort to throw my media net much wider.
Backing my speaking opportunities up with media coverage on my expert topics meant my face and name became more familiar not only to prospective clients, but also event organisers looking for speakers.
Engage with your audience
Along the way I’ve picked some vital tips to help aspiring speakers. I originally found speaking in public nerve-wracking, but I’ve found I could calm my nerves if I knew the audience (demographics, level of knowledge on the topic and numbers) so I could tailor my presentation and have practiced as much as possible beforehand.
As my reputation and speaking testimonials grew, so did the opportunities that came my way.
Eventually I was invited to speak at bigger events, at times being paid for this expertise. And the invitation to speak at DWEN shows all my hard work has paid off. Not only did I get to speak to an international audience of switched-on women, but I also get to practice what I preach by sharing my knowledge on personal branding.
Here are a few of my tips help you get started with public speaking.
You don’t have to be a professional speaker
You don’t have to be a professional speaker to be able to present at events. Anyone with expert knowledge, the ability to speak clearly and with an engaging presence on stage can be a speaker.
If you feel you don’t have these qualities then you can get public speaking training from a number of organisations. When applying to speak at an event you will need to provide them with previous speaking experience. Start by attending small events to build up your experience and also your confidence.
Pick your area of expertise
Think about the area of expertise you want to build your profile in. This area is usually related to your profession to enable you to promote your business.
For example, if you work in a bank and look after small business banking then you could be an expert in small business banking. Keep in mind you need to have a high level of knowledge about your particular topic.
Where to speak
Think about the events you want to speak at and which events your target audience will attend. Chose events related to your area of expertise and events attended by potential customers.
Start by attending events as a guest to determine if they are appropriate to speak at. Also think about joining business or networking groups that have regular guest speakers. These organisations are usually happy to use their members before asking non-members.
When you start applying to present at an event you may not be accepted straight away but don’t give up. Keep trying and build up your speaking experience at small networking events.
Hanging out with Michael Dell in Texas
Catriona Pollard is director of CP Communications, which merges traditional PR tactics with cutting-edge social media strategies that engage consumers as well as business.