I can’t tell you how many people over the years have asked me, “How do I become a public speaker?” Often the question is quickly followed with, “…but I’m really not sure whether I’m cut out for it. The thought of speaking in front of an audience scares me!”
I’ve been public speaking for over 6 years now and my career has taken me all over the world – The Caribbean, Asia, North America and Australia. But the way my professional speaking career started might surprise you…
In 2006 I was at an industry networking event – I was there to make some connections since I had just started a new job in a new industry. Half way through the event I heard my name being called out by the event’s MC. “Lara, please come up to the stage and introduce yourself. You have been selected for our New Member Moment!” Shocked, dismayed, terrified, I could feel the heat rising in my face, my cheeks burning and my palms getting sweaty. I had spent my career up until this point presenting ideas to senior executives at Fortune 500 companies, but the idea of talking about myself to a room full of people made me want to run for the door.
I stood up on the stage, spotlight on my face, with everyone in the room staring at me and waiting for me to speak. I stumbled, lost all the moisture in my mouth and barely made it through my name, my company and what we did. I felt humiliated. That was my moment to shine. That was my moment to tell everyone in the room how proud I was of my new company and convince them why we should be on their radar. But I failed.
The moment I left the event I made a pact with myself. In order to be where I saw myself, I needed to conquer my fear of public speaking. The following day, I submitted a speaking proposal to an industry conference, was accepted and had 3 short months to prepare.
I spoke at that conference and delivered my very first seminar. No word of a lie, when I finished, I got a standing ovation. From that day I knew I was hooked.
Legend has it that in the early 1500s Hernán Cortés, a Spanish conquest commander, ordered his men to burn their boats when they invaded a new land. The idea was that it would remove any thoughts of mutiny and give them only one option…move forward.
In essence, when I signed up to speak at my first industry conference, I was burning my boat. I was removing an opportunity to retreat and presenting myself with one option…speak.
My best piece of advice for getting started with speaking is to, ahem, get started. You can’t learn public speaking from a book, you have to do it. So, contact your local business associations, industry association chapter or clubs. Get out there, start small, and get speaking.
One of the most important things on your journey through public speaking is to define who you are and why people should care. There are millions of speakers, but only you have your specific experiences and expertise. Start by asking yourself, “what do I want to be known for 5 years from now?” and build everything you do from there.
Get known as an expert by showing you’re an expert. Blogging is a great way to do this. Not only does it hone your skills, focus your thinking and keep your finger on the pulse of what’s important, but it highlights your knowledge to others. Also submit articles to industry publications and host your own webinars or teleseminars or partner with associations and publications that have their own.
Bring surveys with you to every speaking event and give them to both attendees and the organizer. These are helpful for two reasons. First, you need to learn from every event – both what you did well and what you need to improve. Second, your survey should also be used to get testimonials.
Invite a friend to your speaking event. Give them a video and still camera and ask them to capture your session. Watch the video and learn from it. The only way to critique your own performance is to see yourself on film. And, if you’ve done a great job, you’re now creating a library of footage you can use to sell your speaking to event organizers, which you can add to a Speakers Page.
What would you add?