Do you freak the freak out over speaking engagements? If so, here's something to help you relax: They're not only awesome professional development opportunities, but they also can make a valuable impact on your company's bottom line. Here, Estipona Group VP of Strategy Mikalee Byerman offers some tips, tricks and tactical reminders.
I have two speaking engagements happening in the next three weeks — which means I’m currently binge-cleaning my office.
Both my colleagues and my kids love to make fun of me about this quirk: Every time I book an engagement, I’m totally chill about it. Then about two weeks beforehand, I turn into a total stress-case: sleepless, no appetite — and yes, dedicated to entirely cleaning my home office top to bottom in an effort to prolong the inevitable. (Please note: this typically happens somewhere between the hours of 2 and 4 a.m. on multiple days leading up to the engagement.)
You see, here’s the deal: I absolutely love speaking, I love sharing insights, and I love engaging with a live audience. But I’m an introvert, and in my case, the actual doing is fine (because adrenaline) — it’s the lead-up that causes me heartburn.
Turns out, I hate thinking about and prepping for the speaking, the sharing and the engaging.
So why do I do it? Because it’s SO worth it.
I mean: I get a completely clean office for every speaking engagement. Totally worth it, am I right?
But in all reality, speaking to engaged audiences gives me (as the speaker) so much insight into so many facets of my work. And that is one of the many reasons that we (as an agency) often recommend that our clients spend time on the speaking circuit.
Speaking Engagements Matter, Too!
Why do we think recommending speaking engagements is a valuable tactic for many of our clients? Here’s where we count the ways:
Because speaking about topics near and dear to your business heart is akin to a mini version of holding a focus group. During an average speaking engagement, you typically have somewhere between 15 minutes and an hour (depending on the gathering) to talk about something of value to your profession and your audience. But that’s not all of the time you get: You usually have 30 minutes before the event, and you also have however long the venue will let you stay afterward before they kick you out! This is your time to ask questions of those in attendance, to feel them out about your topic, to deep-dive with people who are captive consumers of your information. They are there to hear you, but you get to turn it around and talk to them. Even during the presentation, you can ask them “show of hands” questions about a topic, and you can be continually gaining insight into audience reactions to points you bring up. This is a great time to gauge interest and to collect anecdotal feedback!
Because speaking in public positions you as a thought-leader, which makes you top of mind when other opportunities may arise. We have had many instances where a client spoke to one group, where someone in the audience was part of another group and asked that client to speak to them, and so on and so forth. There tends to be an exponential effect when it comes speaking engagements. People are hungry for valuable information, and good speakers typically get multiple invites just from one engagement.
- Because you get to craft the message. But this point also comes with a caveat: Just make sure your message is free of too much self-promotion! Speaking engagements are not the place for a hard sell. This is not an opportunity to hit people over the head (figuratively, because violence is never the answer) about your goods or services. Instead, you’ll be able to talk in generalities about what you do and how you do it, but you’re mostly there to enlighten the crowd about some audience-friendly benefit that is somehow related to your business. Regardless, that message is yours to craft, start to finish. That kind of control when it comes to messaging is rare — well, in terms of messaging that you’re not directly paying for, like buying ads.
How to Rock Your Next Speaking Engagement
Convinced yet? If so, here are a couple of tactical recommendations for your next speaking engagement:
Have someone record the session. This footage can be invaluable. Sure, it can help you identify quirks you may not know you have, but it also can help you see where you really shine so you can tailor the presentation toward your strengths for your next appearance. Clips from a recording can also be used on your website to further establish your thought leadership credibility. And recordings can help you show your team some of that “focus group” content we addressed above, provided that you were able to include an engaging activity or pose some interesting questions to the audience. And speaking of:
Don’t make it all about you. You have a captive audience — don’t force them to sit through an hour of you, pontificating (however profound you may be!). It’s actually far more comfortable to practice EXACTLY how a speaking engagement will go start-to-finish, which is why some people are tempted to go the scripted route and not include activities or audience questions. But the benefits of asking for input from your audience are far too great to pass up. Gain insights from those in attendance, which will help you with your business and as you evolve your speaking engagement strategies.
Leave something behind. Many functions will allow you to distribute fliers or business cards on tables in advance of your presentation — take this chance to place something into the hands of everyone in attendance so your impact doesn’t end the moment you all leave the room!
- Bring your peeps! See that picture at right? Yup, those are my parents (and, of course, my boss Edward Estipona). While your "peeps" don't necessarily need to translate to "parents" (though I couldn't be more grateful that my folks are frequently in attendance at my speaking events), it is a great idea to bring someone (or many someones) that are part of your team. These are the people you can find in the audience, lock eyes with and know that you'll be ok at the end of all of this!
What to Say — and to Whom?
So now that you know why and what, let’s talk about the how — namely, how to find speaking engagements. Brainstorm topics that have broad appeal yet are uniquely related to your business or product, then consider the best audiences to receive those messages. Locally, we have many business/networking organizations that are constantly seeking presenters, and we also have associations representing more customized niches as well. And don’t forget to expand to regional audiences if your business serves those outside of the area. Make a list of topics/potential audiences, assign a point person to develop a pitch, then go forth and find your next event!
Or allow us to help: Researching, pitching and securing speaking engagements is part of our repertoire on behalf of clients, and we’d love the chance to connect you with your next mini-focus group.
In the meantime, if you have questions and want to chat, feel free to visit me Wednesday, Sept. 25 at the Reno-Sparks Convention Center for a lunchtime NCET session about “training your brain for success”; or come join me for the AAF Western Region Conference in Sacramento on Friday, Oct. 4. I’ll be presenting at 10 a.m. about introversion and extroversion in the creative workplace. I promise you’ll learn something valuable for your business, without the heavy-handed hard sell.
But alas, it’s now time to get back to work: I have a glass-top desk that needs a thorough Windexing, after all.
Mikalee Byerman is the VP of Strategy for the Estipona Group, a passionate public speaker and an award-winning writer. Email her with questions about speaking or with insights about your favorite cleaning products.