Stand before the people you fear and speak your mind — even if your voice shakes.
-Maggie Kuhn, American activist
Back in high school, I was quite shy and introverted; as a result, having to occasionally get up in front of the classroom and present a homework assignment filled me with absolute dread. One time, I became so flustered during a classroom speech that I forgot to breathe as I spoke, resulting in me “running out of voice” towards the end of my short talk.
Am I any less flustered now, over 20 years later? No. Public speaking is not my forte, and I suspect it never will be. However, when presented with the opportunity to be a public speaker, I readily volunteer. Why?
Because public speaking is one of the few remaining opportunities I have to get in front of people and have their undivided attention. In this modern world that keeps getting busier and increasingly filled with ADHD-causing distractions, public speaking still offers the speaker a chance to gain unparalleled time and focus from an audience.
This time and focus can translate into sales leads, customers, job offers, and even new associates and friends. If you’re an affiliate marketer, you can use public speaking to give live product demos. If you’re a freelancer, you can use your speeches as a way to showcase your talents. Finally, public speaking can become your ticket to attending conferences and trade shows for free.
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How do you become a public speaker?
You don’t need a degree in public speaking or even a college speech class to get started in public speaking. This activity is more of a trade that you learn hands-on by actually doing.
To this end, you are well advised to join a local Toastmasters group- these clubs are located all over the world and help people become better public speakers. In Toastmasters, you will be given actual speech assignments and then critiqued afterwards. While it does take some work, regularly attending and participating in Toastmasters will not only improve your public speaking ability, it may even provide insight on how you can best present your products and/or skills.
Of course, if you just want to research the different approaches to and techniques in public speaking, nothing beats checking out Coursera, Udacity or Khan Academy for tips. Even better, many of the classes offered through these educational sites are free.
Once you have some techniques and theories in place, it’s time to hit the road.
Where can you do public speaking?
This is the easy part of the program. Believe it or not, there are numerous clubs, schools, companies, churches, non-profits, libraries, stores and events in chronic need of public speakers. Find out what past speakers have discussed at these organizations and what kind of commercial leeway they were given. The websites and/or social media pages of most organizations list events like speaker engagements; start looking at these places. Also, visit the physical location of the business or social entity you are wooing- there’s nothing better than seeing the actual location and chatting with the organizer directly.
Things you should definitely examine before committing to speaking to any organization include the following: Were the speakers allowed to talk about their businesses or products during their presentations? Were they allowed to hand out flyers or sign-up sheets to the audience? Were the speakers’ businesses or products acknowledged by the organization?
Knowing such information ahead of time can help you select those organizations that will be more fruitful (i.e., profitable) for you.
Selling your public speaking
Next, think about how you can sell yourself and your message. Don’t assume that, just because you are speaking for free (at least at this point), that every social and corporate organization will welcome you. Club presidents and conference organizers have their reputations to consider, and they don’t want to bring in a speaker who will bore the audience.
With this in mind, generate several value propositions for your talk/s and bring them up when pitching. For example, if you want to target a grocery store and showcase an affiliate product that you happen to sell, explain that your audience will learn 10 different ways to prepare the same batch of ingredients, or they’ll find out how to salvage ruined meals, or they’ll learn important tips on food safety that could prevent 95% of food poisonings.
To overcome outside hesitation that you might sound monotone or dull, provide the organizer with a demo of you in top form and giving a talk. Even if all you can muster is a simple homemade recording of yourself, providing such an item to the organizer helps her understand where to place you in the program and how to introduce you.
Don’t get so caught up in public speaking that you forget why you’re doing it in the first place. For starters, unless you’re being paid to speak, you need to creatively plug yourself and/or your products into your talk.
If you don’t have actual physical products, think about what services you offer and how your audience could use them. Maybe your prospects are small business owners who could benefit from outsourcing their blog content creation. If you’re a freelance writer, you could talk about outsourcing as a handy time saver, then casually mention how your own (ahem, freelance writing) business was helped by outsourcing its X needs to Y freelancer. See how you quietly promoted your own business without being too obvious?
Become the expert
It’s difficult to get hired as a public speaker on topic X if you have no credentials to prove your expertise. To address this problem, start producing content on the subject matter at hand. Create a website based solely on what you wish to discuss with your audience. Or, better yet, write and publish an e-book on the topic. Publish your interviews with other bloggers and/or website owners. Don’t forget to use social media to syndicate your content.
Once you have a few sources “proving” your expertise, accept any and all public speaking engagements to get your name out into the crowd. In time, you can whittle down these engagements and accept only those that generate lots of sign-ups and/or sales. Or at least those that fly you out to tropical islands and provide you with tickets to exclusive conferences.
In time, you might gain the best of both worlds as a public speaker: getting paid to speak in public, and using your speaking engagements to sell your products and drum up your business.