I just finished writing my first book and have been working on building a social media presence. I’m excited about these things, but I’d also really like to have the opportunity to speak at events. However, I’m not sure how to get started or how you go about building a speaking business. If you have any suggestions on where to begin, I value any input you can give me. -Jenny
Such a great question, Jenny! Congratulations on finishing your first book — how exciting!
I never set out to become a public speaker. In fact, as I shared in this post, it was truly one of the last things I would have ever seen myself doing. However, as the opportunities began coming my way and I realized this was something that God was calling me to do, I’ve sought to be intentional and strategic in developing myself as a public speaker.
Here are some suggestions I’d have for you:
1. Define Your Market
Before you even start down the journey of becoming a public speaker, I think it’s important to define your market. What audiences do you see yourself speaking to? Are you a comedian, a corporate speaker, a Christian women’s speaker, etc?
Do you see yourself giving workshops and training seminars? Or do you picture yourself being up on a keynote stage giving inspirational messages? Or are you something entirely different or somewhere in between?
Take a long hard look at what audiences you want to reach. It could be multiple types of audiences, but from the get-go, don’t just say, “I’ll be happy to speak to anyone, anywhere.” Otherwise, you’re probably setting yourself up for frustration, exhaustion, or failure.
For instance, I have three topics that I speak on: intentional finance, intentional family, and intentional business. All of my presentations fall under one of these headings. If an audience of car mechanics asked me to come in and talk on how to fix your car, I’m not their girl.
Defining what I’m about has helped me to be selective on what speaking opportunities I’ll accept. And it also helps me and my team to be able to clearly communicate what I’m about when events are interested in having me come speak.
2. Practice Your Presentations
If there is one huge mistake you can make when preparing for an event, it’s to not prepare enough. I cannot stress enough how import it is to practice your talks over and over again when you are first starting out.
In fact, I’d encourage you to practice them standing up exactly as you plan to deliver them, including using your slide presentation and any props, at least 3 full times before you ever deliver a talk on stage. If possible, ask a few family members or friends to watch these practices and give their feedback.
Yes, this takes a LOT of time upfront, but it’s SO worth it. Why? Because not only does practice allow you to familiarize yourself with the material, but you’ll also likely find places you want to rework and refine. Each practice session will make the talk just a little bit better, helping you to then deliver it with confidence and ease once you’re up on stage.
In addition, when you practice your talk multiple times, you become really comfortable with it. When the inevitable mishap occurs — such as the mic not working right or the slides not working or some other tech issue (it seems there’s always something!) — you aren’t thrown off track because you know your material well.
One final note on practicing: I’ve become a big fan of giving the same presentations over and over again to different groups. Right now, I only have 10 talks that I give. If an event asks me to come speak, those are the talks I offer.
I always tweak my talks for the specific audience and always update them so that they are relevant and fresh, but for the most part, the bones of the talk stay the same once I get them to a place where I feel like they are really strong. I’ve found that by giving the same talks again and again, they just get better with time as I learn what works best with multiple audiences.
My favorite part of traveling & speaking is getting to meet readers face-to-face!
3. Offer Your Services
Once you’ve defined who your ideal audience is and you’ve created and practiced some talks, it’s time to get out there and start speaking! For many people, this can be the hardest part.
But here’s the thing: it doesn’t have to be really difficult to find audiences to speak to if you’re not too picky about who your audience is. There are many community centers, libraries, and even nursing homes that will allow you to come in and speak. All you have to do is call and offer!
Sure, there might only be a handful of people who show up, but speaking to just a small room of people can be great practice in the beginning. Plus, if you mess up or struggle through sections, you’ve only embarrassed yourself in front of a small group!
These small audiences might not be your long-term ideal audiences, but don’t be discouraged by that. Realize that every small opportunity is practice and preparation for the bigger opportunities. You usually have to do a lot of small things well before you are ready for the bigger opportunities. So give your very best to each audience, no matter the size!
As you become more comfortable with speaking, seek out other opportunities. Maybe offer to give a workshop at a local conference or church, offer to speak at schools or other community groups. You probably won’t get paid for these opportunities, but take them anyway. When you’re starting out, just be grateful for any opportunity to practice your presentations in front of a live audience!
4. Refine Your Speaking
After you’ve had 5-10 speaking opportunities, go back to the drawing board. Consider what’s working and what’s not.
When I first started speaking, I was just so grateful for any opportunity that I would speak on pretty much whatever I was asked to, within reason. I quickly learned what kinds of talks and subjects worked for me and what didn’t. I wouldn’t have known, though, had I not gone out there and tried.
Go back to step number one and see if you need to re-define your market at all. Start deciding which 3-5 talks are your favorites and really working on refining and tweaking those.
If possible, I wholeheartedly encourage you to hire a speaking coach. If you’re interested in hearing more about this, read this post on how my speaking coach, Michele, has completely changed my entire approach to speech preparation.
I also highly, highly, highly recommend attending the SCORRE conference. I went last year — mostly dragging my feet — and the whole process and training transformed me from the inside out.
Not only have I become a much more dynamic speaker as a result of SCORRE, but I’m all-around more confident in who I am, what I am about, and the message I’m called to share. If you want to improve as a communicator in any field — speaking, writing, blogging, and more — do yourself a huge favor and attend SCORRE.
For more tips on improving as a speaker, read my post on how I got over my lifelong fear of public speaking.