Are you looking to speak at conferences to share your knowledge of writing, blogging, or brand building?
This month I’ve had not one, not two, but three speaking engagements — including the opportunity to teach a workshop on blogging at the Southern Christian Writers Conference. And in August I’ll be speaking at WordCamp Birmingham.
Today I want to share how I’ve managed to get picked to speak at writing conferences and what I’ve learned along with way.
Let me be honest — I don’t have much experience pitching presentation ideas. Most of the time when I speak at a conference it’s because the organizer asked me to speak. But don’t mistake this as an excuse to sit around and wait for opportunities to land in your lap.
Conference organizers approached me about speaking at their events because I’d already built buzz about myself by hosting events of my own. Plan, promote, and host workshops of your own teaching on your topic of choice and soon you’ll make a name for yourself and your email inbox will be full of speaker invitations.
Pitch Your Potion
If there is a specific conference at which you’d like to speak, be sure to join their email list and follow them on social media so you’ll know when they make a call for speakers. That’s what I did for WordCamp Birmingham. And when it was time I was ready.
When you’re pitching your idea, it’s important to clearly and concisely state the purpose of your talk and the takeaways. What will the audience learn from your workshop and how will it help them? If you can’t answer these questions you aren’t ready to give this talk.
Shoot Your Shot
Sometimes, to get a speaking gig all we have to do is ask. A few years ago a member of the See Jane Write Collective told me she was interested in doing more public speaking. So, she attended a workshop I hosted on how to land and nail speaking engagements. She started applying the tips I taught and soon found herself speaking at several events. She later realized that what she loved most was being an MC for events. But you often can’t find this opportunity listed in a call for speakers.
So, to get her chance to MC more events this See Jane Write member had to really shoot her shot. She had to reach out to event organizers and simply ask if she could MC and convince them that should would be right for the job. And it worked!
The lesson here is this — you will NEVER get the chance to speak at conferences or MC events if you just sit around hoping it will happen. You have to be willing to pitch your workshop ideas, host workshops of your own to build buzz, or simply reach out to the right person and just ask.
But wait! There’s more!
Related Reading: How to Get Picked to Give a TEDx Talk
Once you’ve been picked to speak at a conference you have to make sure you wow the crowd. This will increase the chances of you getting asked to speak at this event again and will often lead to invitations to speak at other events.
How NOT to Prepare for Your First Speaking Engagement
Several years ago I was invited by the University of Alabama at Birmingham to speak at its Innovations in Wellness Social Media Boot Camp. I was asked to speak about using blogging to promote a business or nonprofit organization. I was a part of a lineup that included blogging and social media experts from across the Southeast, so I was very honored and very nervous.
For weeks I did in-depth research so that I could discuss case studies from companies and organizations of various industries and fields. I had facts and figures to back up every point I planned to make. I prepared a PowerPoint presentation with charts and graphs. I typed up every single word of my talk and practiced it over and over and over again.
Then the big day arrived and it was time for me to take my place at the podium.
And my talk was awful.
No one laughed at my jokes. Everyone in the audience looked either bored or completely confused. When it was time for Q&A no one raised their hand and when it was all over the applause I received felt like the audience members were simply celebrating that I was finally leaving the podium.
Fast forward a couple of years later. Once again I’d been invited to give a talk about using blogging to promote a business or brand, this time for Alabama Women in Business.
This time I did no research. My PowerPoint had no charts and graphs. I didn’t type up my entire talk. I just made an outline of my points. I only practiced twice.
The big day arrived. It was time for me to take my place at the podium.
And my talk was a smashing success!
The crowd laughed at my all jokes, gave me the head nods we speakers love to see and they busily took notes throughout my presentation. Afterwards, so many women wanted to ask me questions about blogging and about See Jane Write that a line formed. Some of the women even soon after became official dues-paying members of See Jane Write.
So what changed?
I figured out how to create the content and the confidence I needed to deliver a successful presentation.
4 Elements of a Strong Presentation
The elements of a strong presentation are much like the elements of those five-paragraph essays you wrote in English class in high school.
1. Captivating and Descriptive Title – Your title should be catchy because the organizers of the event at which you’re speaking will use it to promote your talk. But your title should also give potential audience members a good idea of what they will learn from your talk.
Example: Blog Like a Boss: How to Use Blogging to Boost Your Brand or Business
2. Introduction – You need an introduction that will capture your audience’s attention. Starting with a relevant anecdote is always a good idea. At the end of your introduction make clear what your audience will learn from your presentation.
3. Body – This is the meat of your talk. More on this later.
4. Conclusion – Recap what you’ve taught and give your audience a call to action or practical ways they can apply what you’ve learned.
Now let’s talk more about the body of your presentation…
You can improve your public speaking engagements by approaching them as you would approach a blog post. Three are three types of blog posts: the Anecdote Post, the How-To Post, and the List Post.
Writer and blogger Jeff Goins says the secret to the perfect blog post is combining all three of these post types into one post. I have discovered that this is also the secret to the perfect presentation.
You will begin your talk with a story or anecdote that recounts a transformation.
The body of your talk is your how-to as it will explain how you achieved this transformation and how your audience can achieve it, too.
You will organize your how-to section in a list format.
ProTip: Using alliteration in your list will make your points more memorable. In my talk for Alabama Women In Business, I discussed the three Cs of blogging — clarity, content, and community.
How to Boost Your Confidence for Speaking Engagements
Be prepared. Practice your presentation, but not too much. You don’t want your talk to seem too rehearsed. Also, figure out what you’re going to wear. Make sure your outfit makes you feel confident and cute, but be sure you’re comfortable, too.
Be passionate. Center your talk on things you’re passionate about. When I started focusing my talks on my own stories and experiences instead of dry facts and figures and charts and graphs, my public speaking improved drastically. For my Alabama Women In Business talk I didn’t do any research because the case study I used was my own business — See Jane Write! And, obviously, I was passionate about that.
Be personable. Make eye contact. Move around a bit. Use hand gestures. Tell jokes. Be vulnerable by sharing your own struggles and mistakes.
Be patient. Be patient with your audience. Give them time to warm up to you. Be patient with yourself. Give yourself time to get better at this.
What questions do you have about public speaking?
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