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How to Get Started with Public Speaking as an Entrepreneur

If you're an entrepreneur, you're already a perfect fit for public speaking. Here's why.

You’re an entrepreneur. If you’ve thought about public speaking and you’re nervous at all, we want you to think back to when you first thought about starting a company. You probably talked it over – with your partner, your best friend, your mentor, and every random person you met. (We KNOW what it’s like to be passionate about a business idea.) Maybe it’s time for the next step for your enterprise. It’s time to grow the company. It’s time to use public speaking to amplify your message as an entrepreneur. You can be seen as a thought leader and increase your overall visibility. Don’t hesitate.

Today, you have a thriving business. You persuaded all those stakeholders to take part in your venture, buy your product or just believe in you. In other words, you’re probably already a pretty good speaker. You verbalized your business dream, and it became a reality. Speaking propelled the early stages of your success, and it can help with the next step too.

Why public speaking?

A surefire way to promote yourself and your business is to get out there and talk about it. Founders are usually the best person to share the company’s vision. Conference and event attendees have a vested interest in the subject – otherwise, why would they be there? This is a concentrated group of prospective customers, partners or investors. Additionally, if you speak to an audience of 50 people and they all have only one conversation about you, that’s 100 people you’ve reached. They might spread your story to more than one person. And with social media and video streaming, the potential audience is far greater than the number of people sitting in the room.

Consider the big picture

Are you tired of seeing the same group of speakers, usually men, at every event you attend? Does each group wheel out the same dusty talking points? These all-male panels have a name: “MANel.” Conferences have a gender balance problem. We have to get more women to help demonstrate that women can be thought leaders, visionaries and experts. When you decide to start public speaking as a female entrepreneur, there’s a larger group that wins: the community as a whole.

According to the World Economic Forum’s 2021 report on the Global Gender Gap, if things don’t change, it will take almost 136 YEARS to end disparities in pay and employment opportunities. Because public speaking can lead to business and economic success, it could lead to more gender equity in the future, and a generation that see more inclusive conferences as the norm. Be that change and encourage other women to do the same.

But how do you get on stage?

Here are steps that could lead you to your first – or should we say next – speaking gig.

1) Maximize your online profile for speaking

Today, most people have some sort of online presence. Whether it’s your own website or on social media platforms like LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, use it to your advantage. Let people know you are an entrepreneur and that you are available for public speaking. Does your website have a page for you as a speaker? If you are trying to target a specific industry, tailor your online presence to demonstrate that. What are the top keywords? Are you discussing industry-specific topics? Make sure all your online channels are consistent. Additionally, you can:

  • Connect online with other entrepreneurs and experts in your industry. They could be great resources, potential co-presenters or a source of referrals.
  • Follow your industry’s top organizations and associations. These are often the organizations producing events and conferences and looking for speakers.
  • Research popular speakers in your industry. What events are they attending? What topics do they speak on? Who is interviewing them? What are they doing that you could also be doing?

When finding a potential speaker, event organizers have a long list to review. If you give them all the information they need in one place, you’re making their job easier and increasing your chances of getting picked.

2) Settle on your primary topic(s) and document it

Create a signature topic. Start with what you know, like and feel comfortable speaking about. Create some sort of foundational information on your chosen topic, like a blog, podcast, book, submitted article, social media post (LinkedIn or Medium are great for substantial content) or open dialogue with others on your chosen topic. When someone searches for content on that topic, you want to be a top result.

Every sector has an expert with a book, or a TED talk, or that one person that the networks always bring in to talk about that subject. Don’t try to be them. Be yourself. As an entrepreneur, the experience you bring to public speaking is yours alone.

3) Video yourself!

A written description in an application, no matter how well written, can’t completely communicate who you are and how you speak. A sample video of you speaking is a KEY tool for event managers. It doesn’t have to be long or fancy. A quick five-minute video will help show event managers how you speak.

Today, most of us have basic video tools on our smartphones. Have a friend sit in the front row of your next presentation with your phone or set up a tripod and let it roll. Even if you don’t have a huge audience, or any at all, a video is a key tool for any speaker. When the pandemic hit, Innovation Women helped its speakers demonstrate how they looked as online speakers. The company partnered with an app called AnswerStage to produce short speaker videos to help event managers envision speakers, not on stage but on the screen.

4) Types of speaking opportunities

It is good to start smaller when it comes to speaking. Not every speaking opportunity is a lone speaker on stage in front of 500 people. How about being a member of a panel? Or participating in a fireside chat? A roundtable or a question-and-answer session? There are many kinds of speaking opportunities.

5) Who do you know? Think local.

Think local. There are 92,000 professional and business organizations in the US alone. You can find most of them online with a simple search. Which of these organizations focus on your area of expertise and are in your backyard? Remember those flyers or emails you receive asking you to attend events? Why not ask to speak instead?

Other opportunities can be found at service clubs, chambers of commerce, colleges, universities, corporations and vendor events. Contact local organizations and ask who books speakers.

6) Submit an awesome speaker proposal

Some conferences will ask for proposals. This is often called a call for speakers or a call for proposals. When writing this, pay attention to the requirements and characteristics of the event without losing sight of your expertise and chosen topic. Often, event managers will provide specific instructions, right down to a word limit.

Understanding the size of the audience and the tone of the conference is also important. Remember that you will be one of many submitting a proposal. Make sure your proposal is unique and consistent with the needs of the audience. Many people focus too much on what they want to say and forget that they need to communicate what the audience and the event managers (the gatekeepers) want to hear.

7) The “P” word

It takes preparation, persistence and here comes the Catch-22 – practice. The more speaking you do, the better you become at speaking and the more often you will get asked to speak. It’s like learning how to ride a bike.  

And last but not least…

8) The “L” word

Leverage. As an entrepreneur, you want to ensure you are doing everything you can to leverage your speaking engagements. Speaking helps drive thought leadership status and helps you connect with potential customers, partners and maybe even investors. When you are selected to speak at an event, fire up social media. Help promote the event (and your role). Use the show’s hashtag and encourage people to connect with you at the event. Share it in your newsletter. And, when you are at the event, remember to share how people can learn more about you.

Make speaking work for you, and your business.

Lioness Magazine is owned by Innovation Women, an online speaker bureau that directly connects event managers and speakers. Find more public speaking resources for entrepreneurs on the Innovation Women website.

Looking for more advice on how to start public speaking as an entrepreneur? Read this article on the top five public speaking mistakes.

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