Public speaking is always near the top of people’s worst fears. Though even the thought of talking in front of an audience might make your palms sweat and your legs buckle, there are many resources to help get you started and banish the fears and stigmas associated with it (see our “Professional Speaking Resources” post for ideas).
It’s also helpful to remember that public speaking has many advantages. As the featured speaker at an event, conference or meeting, you are perceived as the ultimate authority in the room. Speakers have a tremendous amount of influence with an audience, which removes a great barrier from purchasing your books, products, and services. The best news of all? As an author, it will be far easier for you to land speaking gigs because your book establishes your authority and opens those doors!
Speaking also allows you to reach large numbers of people. For example, a trade association with 600 members may only get 60 people to attend the meeting, but as the speaker your information and bio is promoted to all 600 members.
There are dozens, if not hundreds, of trade organizations in every major city that need speakers for their weekly or monthly meetings. That’s right, they NEED speakers. Speaking as someone who has been in charge of running numerous groups in my community over the years, it is always difficult to find speakers because not enough people make an effort to reach out. That equals opportunity for you!
In addition to trade associations, consider teaching at your local adult learning centers and community education programs. Even if only ten students register for your class, your business is promoted in their catalog – which is often sent to tens of thousands of people. Other potential venues include retirement centers, community centers, churches, schools, and charitable organizations.
Here are the steps to getting on the speaking circuit:
1. Write a brief and interesting description of your presentation and what attendees will learn. If you’re so inclined, you can develop several presentation topics.
2. Add a Speaker Page to your website. Include a description of your topics and any testimonials that you gather from your engagements.
3. Contact local trade associations, groups, schools and organizations that reach your target audience and let them know that you are available to speak.
4. Pack your presentation with useful information. Do not make it a sales pitch for your book! If the audience likes what you have to say, they will want to learn more about you and purchase your book. Make it educational, funny, interesting, and engaging. Use plenty of stories and examples. Practice it several times out loud, even if it’s just in front of your cat, to make sure it flows well.
5. Engage the audience by asking questions and soliciting their participation.
6. Use props, when appropriate, for visual interest. Just don’t use gimmicky props! I once watched a business speaker juggle scarves. It didn’t fit the theme of the presentation, was distracting, and left the entire room looking a little uncomfortable. On the other hand, visual props that illustrate a point can enhance your presentation. I always bring along examples when I speak about information products and pass them around the room.
7. Give attendees something to keep, such as a single-page handout with tips or a booklet. Be sure to include your contact information. Remember, brochures are boring. The goal is to give them something useful to them that they will keep handy to remember you later.
8. Respect the time allotted. It’s better to finish early than late—then you can open the floor for questions. When you run over your time, you risk losing the audience’s attention if they are anticipating a break.
9. Wrap up with a brief pitch for your book and let them know you’ll be available to autograph copies after the presentation.
10. Send the event coordinator a thank-you note!
You might be surprised by how quickly you can sell more books and grow your business as a result of your speaking engagements. Soon, you may find that you don’t have to go looking for speaking opportunities. As you build a reputation, the invitations to speak will come to you. And after you do enough free speaking, you will inevitably find opportunities for paid speaking engagements. These can range from a stipend of fifty dollars up to thousands of dollars once you establish your authority in your field!