How to Start Your Public Speaking Career

David recently asked,

“Would you be able to share some advice on how I can get started speaking about digital marketing strategy?”

This is a great question with a clear, defined process.

Preparing to Speak Publicly

First, we must have something worth speaking about. A great speaking career begins with a clear, powerful presentation about a topic we have expertise and a unique point of view on. No one wants to hear yet another talk about the best time to tweet. What’s different about our perspective?

Measure your talk by the 3L test. If it doesn’t pass with flying colors, hire a public speaking coach to help you tune your presentation. I recommend Tamsen Webster’s Red Thread workshops for this.

Build a Speaking Video

Once you’ve built an excellent presentation, demonstrate your speaking abilities with video. This can be as simple as recording your talk with a smartphone (with a high quality camera) in a conference room or stage at a local community college. With the pandemic changing the speaking industry, it’d even be acceptable to shoot something against a neutral background in your residence, as long as it looks nice. Show that you can speak clearly, lucidly, and powerfully about your topic.

The video capture is vital: you need video evidence of your nascent speaking skills.

Post the video on YouTube. Here’s an example of what it might look like:

Practice Like Crazy

Like all forms of created media, your first talks will be awful. You’ll look back later in life and cringe at how nervous you were. Practice extensively! Practice so much that by the time you hit the stage for the first time as a professional public speaker, you’ve spoken to empty rooms and stuffed animals at least a hundred times.

First Talks

Time to take your show on the road. Look for events asking for speakers. Search Google for your industry and the term “call for speakers” or “call for papers” to find events looking for a speaker. In an era when working from home and speaking via Zoom are the standard, the gates are down for new speakers to enter the space.

Respond to these events; in the beginning of your speaking career, you will speak for free – even at your expense – to start building your reputation. Again, in an era of remote speaking, the costs to you will be minimal (compared to paying for travel etc.), so say yes to pretty much anything in the beginning.

Have handouts and supporting materials ready so that your talks, even if they’re with the local Rotary club on a Zoom call of 10 people, are perceived as professional and experienced.

Obvious Tips

  • Always show up. No commitment is optional once you’ve made it, no matter how big or small.
  • Always be early. Something inevitably goes wrong during sound check/technology check.
  • if you must cancel, cancel after finding a replacement.
  • Always promote your talk on your social media channels. Show organizers you’re working to benefit their event.
  • Always thank the conference organizers from the stage.
  • Always thank the conference organizers after the event, both privately and publicly.

Be sure to ask for video of your talk; if the event doesn’t capture video, ask permission to record your own talk, and do so. With things like Zoom calls, recording can be built in, so it should be trivial to capture the video.

Collect Testimonials

As you perform, ask your audience to submit questions and followups by Twitter. Collect testimonials via social media.

Post them to your LinkedIn profile for each talk you give:

Edit_Profile___LinkedIn.jpg

Speaking Page

You’ve spoken a few times. You’ve earned great reviews. You’ve collected testimonials, videos, and other third party evidence of your skills. I encourage you to set up a special page on your personal professional website exclusively for speaking content, such as topics, testimonials, videos, etc.

Write a clear, powerful biography and take a decent headshot photo of yourself. Again, it doesn’t have to be something you paid thousands of dollars for in the beginning – just good enough to look professional.

These materials make conference organizers’ lives easier; the more you can give up front, the more confidence you’ll instill that you’re a polished, experienced speaker.

Asking for Compensation

At this point, you should start asking for travel and expense reimbursement – your first step towards a paying speaking career.

Establish a business bank account, get your taxes in order, and if your speaking career trajectory looks strong, consider establishing a corporation of some kind to provide additional legal protection. As an individual, you can be sued; if you aren’t established as a legal corporation, an expensive lawsuit can cost you personal assets like your home.

Once you start earning money, consult an attorney to develop a speaking contract for additional legal protection.

Conclusion

If you truly enjoy speaking and performing in the public eye, following these steps will speed your journey. Good luck!

This post has been revised and updated over the years. It was most recently updated to reflect speaking in the pandemic world.


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