What I Learned After Delivering 100 Talks In 1 Year?
Working a corporate job all your life, you eventually might realize that it’s time to switch gears and build a new career. For me, the Aha-moment happened sitting in my former job’s cubicle. I caught myself thinking about what would make me smile every morning. The answer didn’t come easy; there were a lot of deep internal insights and thinking. Then there was a lot of studying market opportunities and talking to friends and colleagues to understand market needs.
After 6 months, I realized that my calling was to start exploring the freelance world, especially in small and medium business marketing training. This might sound a bit obvious in this time and age, as consultants and coaches for this niche are everywhere. However, five years ago, it still seemed like a far-fetched idea to live a safe company job move forward to an unknown adventure in the thriving economy of five years ago.
Becoming a speaker
It took deep analysis to define what I wanted to do, as with any critical career change. Marketing was my area of expertise, and this gave me a broad playing field. At that time, all the economic indicators talked about the importance of strengthening small and medium businesses. Marketing seemed like an essential part of this.
However, the road to truly understanding what I would be was going to do was paved with big questions and elusive answers. I decided I would become a professional speaker.
First Step: Self Assessment
The first step towards becoming a professional speaker required me to carefully assess my capabilities, knowledge, strengths, and fears. My keen interest in public speaking was getting stronger every day. I would do presentations for marketing trends, deliver masterclasses, and even do the occasional keynote at an event. Even though some of these talks would not be so populated, and most of them were smaller crowds, they provided me some of the basic training I need to take it to the next level.
One of the critical steps I took was hiring a career coach, who would guide me in understanding my own SWOT analysis. I wanted to make sure I was not driving my career in the wrong direction, so it was essential to do very strong self-assessments that will take me to ask myself important questions:
- What can I share with others?
- How can I bring value to small-medium companies?
- How evil am I transmitting information?
- What resources do I have access to?
The answers I got were extensive and full of excitement, but they also required me to do a lot of additional research. During this process of finding out if my skills were essential in the market, I also learned of some different market needs that had to be covered. For example, business owners needed to understand how they could apply digital marketing without disrupting their day-to-day tasks.
Know the Basics of Public Speaking
As a secondary step in my self-assessment, I also analyzed how comfortable I felt in public speaking and what skills I needed to improve. I had taken some classes some time ago and had learned about posture and voice. However, I took advantage of some online resources to learn and read more about managing the tempo, understanding when pauses were necessary, and topic building.
Another part of this was interviewing people I considered great speakers, studying famous speakers like Nancy Duarte and the TED method. I did the whole research on this, read the books, the blogs, and surged through all the info that could be helpful for me in building my public speaker persona.
Now, make yourself visible
One afternoon while driving, I listened to a podcast, and the woman speaking there shared how one year she went to three networking events per week. She explained in a straightforward way how this was incredibly effective for her to get clients, even if that would mean that she would have to spend almost 70% or 80% of her time making herself visible or events.
Even though this seemed a little far-fetched, I understood the logic of the process and thought to myself, how can I make myself visible locally? The first steps had to do with the personal brand: I bought a domain under my name, got name cards printed (at the time, it was still a thing), and started browsing through my contacts on LinkedIn. An important next step was creating several emails that I would send out to almost everybody I knew. This way, I would tell them that I was open to speaking work. Also, I got some portraits taken, and I recorded some of videos on YouTube. It might sound like a lot, but actually, it takes it took me a couple of weeks, and I was ready to get cracking.
The first big break
From the emails I sent out, the people who answered were the organizer of a social media day, a pretty big event locally. They would have a crowd of over 1000 people coming to the event, and they required speakers in my area. I was also running a bloggers club with 600 members, so I got invited to speak about the basics of blogging.
The excitement was high; some of my most crucial industry colleagues would be there, and yes, it was time to impress them. I had plenty of time to prepare, created an in-depth talk, and got ready for the day. Perhaps it was my passion, maybe it was my research, but it was voted the best presentation of the day by all the assistants.
100 Events in 1 Year
Reaching out to colleges and speaking at one big event opened several doors; however, for me, what worked to attract a real audience was a format I made up. I would deliver 1–2 short 90 min talks per month in a popular coworking location. With this format, I could keep events short; I would repeat some talk topics and do them in different sections of town so different audiences would come to see them.
Sometimes per event, I could have an average of 10 people in the room, though I had terrible days when no one came versus crazy days when I would have to turn down people because I already had a room full of 30–40 people. This format worked in 2 ways: People would come to the talk and eventually also recommend me or hire me to speak at their events or business.
The more I would speak, the more I would get invited and hired to speak at events. Being 100% honest not all the speaking engagements were paid, but the one’s who were would cover the costs of the pro bono one’s. Suddenly, I realized my planner was complete for months of speaking events, and every week I would have speaking gigs.
Doing it Like a Pro
The difference between doing something because you like it or even, you are pretty good at it, and being a professional has to do with the method. Once you’ve gotten to speak in front of crowds about many subjects, you start realizing what works and what doesn’t.
Establishing that system did take around 6 months for me, and this is just very personal timing so that I could have my plan, and it was pretty simple. Every week I would have bookings done in advance; I was initially not saying no to any engagements; I would develop a specific theme I was very familiar with and get the PowerPoint Presentation ready.
Quickly I realized a little over one year after that I was doing 2–3 talks per week, and suddenly I had done 100 talks in one year.
My biggest lessons
After looking back, I like to think about what I learned; my first talks were not as nearly as good as my last ones. Therefore I want to share what I started improving to become a better speaker.
1. The More you Talk the Better you Become
This sounds like an awful cliché, but to be honest, it is entirely truthful. Every talk I did, I started catching mistakes, like the amount of time it would take me to reach a concept, answering questions too soon or even just deviating from the main subject. So each time I delivered a talk, I realized some mistakes I made, wrote them down in a notepad, and wrote myself reminders not to do it again.
2. Answering Questions is Optional
Often people like to ask questions, and often they can also deviate you from the original subject. So when the talk needs to be more succinct, it’s good to ask people to write questions down until the end. There are several ways to handle this: you can have a white paper up on a wall and add questions there (this is called a parking lot), have people write questions in post its, or ask for all the questions at the end. I especially recommend this is the time for the talk is short.
3. As long as possible, use visual aids.
People remember concepts better when they hear them and see them; visual memory is an excellent tool in making your presentations more effective.
My personal choice is always PowerPoint presentations, I like to create enticing designs that match every subject and tweaking templates with interesting diagrams or graphics.
Models and infographics commonly exist in my presentations, as I find it easier to explain complex concepts with preestablished graphics. However, I recommend you can through our library with more than 30,000 PowerPoint templates and designs to find what works for you.
A great tip I also like to do is mixing presentations, you can edit colors and designs to make it more cohesive, but use several diagrams to get your point across.
4. Modulate your Voice
If space if very big, don’t shout, seek for amplification like a microphone, if the area is small, use your voice accordingly. Double-check with all the assistants if they can hear you ok in all the sections of the room. If there are any outside noises, music or even an air conditioner that is distracting, ask your audience if they are ok with you turning it down or closing doors to isolate noise.
If you feel you are speaking too loud, you probably are. Make sure your throat doesn’t hurt, and drink water during your presentation.
5. Avoid Irritants
Water is always the best choice of a liquid during drinks; it will keep you hydrated, as when you speak, you spend a lot of energy and saliva. You can feel like falling in the trick of maybe having coffee or a soda, but both of these can create a smell in your mouth or not be hydrating enough. Think about your audience but also think about your health.
6. Do your Own Bookings
Even if you have a personal assistant, at least before you go through a daily threshold or a payment one, meaning you become a very famous speaker, it’s essential to keep track of your plan. Speaking requires a certain kind of unique energy, and it’s important to know that you will be ready for it on the days you will be speaking. Also, when you’re doing customized talks, people might need you to follow some instructions or talk to specific subjects, so you must talk to them about what they need and offer.
7. Bring your Equipment
If you need a laptop, bring it, if you need adaptors, bring them, if you need a projector and you’re not sure they have one get it. I’ve traveled 2 hours with a projector screen across my car for an event and also made the rookie mistake of not having a memory flash card or PDF version of a talk with me. When this happens, you end up getting unnecesarily stressed before your talk. So ask the organizers for the things you need, and if they don’t have it, request it or bring it.
8. Have a Contract
All of the speaking engagements should include a contract or even a rider if you need it. The second is a document generally used for concerts to request specific requests but can also be helpful when you need amplification, screens, or others. In the contract, make sure you state dates and timings of events, the payment you will receive and how you will receive it. Make sure whoever is in charge of your hiring will sign it and leave a copy. This is the backup you have if anything goes wrong on the day of the event and a great way to prevent unexpected cancellations.
9. Work your Nerves
Even after being a seasoned speaker, some talks will get you nervous: Is the subject enticing enough? Will people be able to read through the PowerPoint presentation? Will people like the conference? Some questions might arise, so it’s essential always to define a speaking “persona” or “character” and provide security to it. You can even repeat affirmations to yourself like: “I am a great speaker and will share everything I know in this subject”. Just be careful that claims don’t go on the way of the Dunning-Kruger effect.
Becoming a professional speaker can be a reality, and now that the world seems to be going back to normal after the many changes of the last 2 years, we can expect more speaking events to come up soon. Meanwhile, don’t forget all the knowledge you can share in your talks, even when using online formats like Zoom or Skype.
If you are truly considering becoming a professional speaker, don’t be afraid to do so. Start assessing what you’re good at, which subjects you can master quickly, and start practicing. Then, reach out to colleagues and begin.