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The old adage that most people are more afraid of speaking in public than they are of snakes and even of dying is most likely true, judging by what I have seen and heard from even the most experienced and well versed speakers today. If you can swallow your nerves enough to speak in public, you will go a long way in establishing your expert status and building your profile.
Many business owners mistakenly think that only professional speakers should or do speak. They assume that because speaking is not their main form of income, it is not something for them, and there is no reason to do it.
The truth is that only a very small percentage of people who are actively speaking at large and small events locally and around the world are professional speakers and do it to get paid. Many more speak for a token appearance fee, or for nothing at all, to simply raise their profile, get themselves known among their target client group or among their peers, and ultimately to sell their product/service.
Firstly, it is automatically assumed by the general public that anyone who is invited to speak, especially at a well-attended and well-respected event or function, is going to know what they are talking about. This is before they have even opened their mouth. Providing they actually give an acceptable talk as well, they are going to be in a good position to take on that much desired expert status in their industry or field.
When you attend a networking event, you are likely to have a decent conversation with only a handful of the other people in the room simply due to time constraints. There are usually too many people to engage with meaningfully on a one-on-one basis. On the other hand, when you speak, you have a captive audience of everyone who is attending. This is a much more effective use of your time.
When you are speaking, you are concurrently doing a number of things. You are building your expert profile by providing useful information on your topic of expertise to an audience who is already interested in it (or they wouldn’t have chosen to attend), and you are also effectively selling your product/service and generating income for your business.
It goes without saying that the impact of your speaking at an event depends on what it is. To what extent you are able to build your profile and increase your influence definitely depends on the type of event, the other speakers and the people attending it.
You may already have an idea about the type of event you would like to address. Perhaps you have already attended a few in your area that appeal, and that normally attracts speakers of a high caliber. These events are more likely to attract the type of audience that match your ideal clientele demographic. Industry conferences, business networking events and gatherings may be perfect for you to address. If you are not sure whether they are suitable, I would suggest attending a few as a participant to gauge the quality of speaker and type of audience it attracts to see whether they would be beneficial to you.
Depending on your budget and time constraints, and obviously the type of client your business attracts, you may even decide to apply to speak at events that are in different parts of the country or indeed overseas. This will serve to raise your profile outside of your normal geographical area.
Once you have decided where you would like to speak, think about your topic. This should be relevant to the event, audience and of course, your area of expertise.
As a public relations professional, I am very much against people speaking on a topic other than what they are trying to build their profile in. Obviously, if you already have an established profile and thriving business in your field, then feel free to be more adventurous in what you may like to speak on. However, if you are still trying to build your profile in your area of expertise, don’t confuse the issue among your prospective clients by speaking on something entirely different. Not only does this dilute all your efforts to date, but it results in lost opportunity for you to really cement your reputation in your chosen field.
While your talk will depend on what guidelines you are given by the event organizer, make sure you give the audience enough information for you to really shine as an expert in your field. If you are simply covering material that is already widely known, you are not giving the audience anything new and they are less likely to be impressed by your knowledge. If they want to know more, they can then choose to engage your products or services, however remember that you are also importantly establishing your reputation so you need to be impressive.
Depending on guidelines given to you by the organizer of the event, there may or may not be an opportunity to briefly sell your products or services to the audience. If you have products, such as books or audio-visual material, ask about the possibility of selling it at the back of the room. If you draw attention to it during your talk, chances are most of the audience will make a purchase, particularly if you present a special offer for that day only.
You may also choose to sell a workshop or consultation for audience members at a special price. Provide forms for them to complete if they are interested and collect payment details that day.
If it is appropriate to promote your products or services during the presentation, just make sure that the entire presentation is not a hard sell. Nobody will be impressed if all you do is try to sell to them.
During high school, presentations in front of the class were common place and an important part of our mandatory assessment. I absolutely loathed public speaking. In fact, I was so painfully shy and intimidated by it, I begged my parents to take me to a hypnotherapist to change how I felt. I did attend counseling but I am not sure it really made a difference.
I guess in the end I just grew out of my fear of public speaking. For one of my positions, as the National Communications Manager for an international real estate company, I had to provide workshops for business owners within the group on public relations, and I just got used to it. In fact, I even started to enjoy doing it.
Now, I regularly give talks and presentations in my field of expertise – public relations, profile building and gaining exposure, for local business networking groups. On Tuesday February 15th, I will be presenting “Branding YOU and getting exposure for it” at a local networking event aimed at women in business (men are welcome too!): Brisbane Woman. This is an important part of my business plan for my new business, Stratosphere Me. At the Brisbane Woman event, I will be promoting the first of a series of workshops I am rolling out across Brisbane from March.
If you are local, by all means book in and get an idea about how it’s done: