How to get started in public speaking and find opportunities

person speaking in meeting

Public speaking can be a quick and effective way to power up your business and your brand. Here’s how to get started in public speaking and find your first gig.

Why spend time learning public speaking?

Public speaking is a skill that comes in handy in almost every profession, from traditional business to start-ups to artisan trades.

Being able to speak confidently and effectively in front of an audience will pay dividends in a whole range of situations. For example, you might be supplementing your income or drumming up new business by taking to the stage regularly on a busy events circuit. Or maybe you’re a leader who needs to be able to inspire and motivate your staff during company Town Hall meetings.

If that’s not enough, there’s a new world of digital potential that opens up for confident public speakers.

You could find yourself presenting engaging and useful YouTube tutorials that gain great traction, putting together think-piece videos to share on LinkedIn or Twitter, or recording webinars that mark you out as a thought-leader in your field.

If things go really well, you could even market your webinars or tutorials as a paid-for product or service.

So whatever your goals, public speaking is a useful skill to add to your portfolio. Here’s how to make it happen.

Part 1: Getting ready – be prepared when opportunity knocks

Before you sign up for your first public speaking event, there are a few things you can do to get yourself stage-ready.

1. Develop your presentation style

Whatever you want to do with your public speaking skills, it all begins with developing a strong presentation style.

How you speak, move, stand and hold yourself while in front of an audience is just as important as the content of your speech – maybe even more so. Your stance and style can affect the way you feel as well, and could even boost your sense of well-being during a talk.

  • Adopt a dominant stance
    As we learned from TED speaker Amy Cuddy, it turns out that simply standing in a ‘dominant’ pose can boost your confidence hormone, testosterone, and reduce the stress-inducing hormone cortisol. Spend a couple of minutes before you go on stage standing up straight with your shoulders back and you’ll feel the benefit almost straight away.
  • Dress for comfort as well as impact
    Your clothes speak volumes before you even open your mouth – but you want them to say ‘confident and relaxed’, not ‘just bought this outfit and really not sure it fits’.

Choose clothes that give you freedom of movement to move around the stage, point to your slides and gesture to emphasise your points. It’s a good idea to choose an outfit you’ve worn before and know you feel good in.

  • Pace your speech
    Many of us tend to speak quickly when we feel nervous, and this can be amplified when you’re in front of an audience with nothing to slow you down.

To prevent your words running away with you, practice building pauses into your speech. A brief pause after you’ve made a point gives your audience time to think about what you’ve said, and gives you time to gather your thoughts too.

Get lots more confidence-boosting public speaking tips and tricks here

2. Construct your speech

So you’re going to be speaking in public – but what exactly are you going to say? Here are some ideas for getting your first speech just right.

  • Pick your passion
    When you’re first developing material for public speaking, work with what you know best and choose topics you feel real enthusiasm and passion for. Your positive emotions will come over in your talk and help make it more powerful and engaging.

    Choosing subjects that are within your comfort zone will also help reduce your anxiety before a talk, because you’ll be in familiar territory. Your knowledge will allow you to negotiate audience questions with ease, too.
  • Find a topical hook for your material
    See if you can find a news story or popular topic that you can weave into the theme of your talk. For example, ‘Ways to succeed in digital marketing’ could become ‘How to be the Taylor Swift of digital marketing’.

This will help make your speech feel up-to-date and interesting. It could also pique the interest of audiences who see your speech title on a programme, and encourage them to choose your speech over other attractions on the schedule.

  • Make it modular
    However much you love public speaking, it’s no fun reconstructing your speech material to fit a longer or shorter time frame every time you get a gig. Use this tip to save yourself work right from the get-go.

Make a modular speech out of self-contained topic ‘blocks’, each with its own set of slides. For example, you might have an introductory block that’s helpful for audiences not familiar with your subject matter. You can remove it for an audience that already knows a bit about your topic. Or you could have a block that goes into detail about a particular method or technique, which can be removed if time is tight

As well as removing or adding blocks, you can shuffle them around to rejig your speech’s emphasis and focus.

It’s an easy way to adjust your subject matter for different events and audiences without re-writing the whole speech from scratch.

Part 2: Finding your first public speaking gig

So we’ve covered what you’ll say and how you’ll say it – now let’s explore how to find speaking engagements for your first speech.

  • Community events

Check online and ask around your local community for events like regional festivals or business summits. Even if there’s no obvious route to applying as a speaker, don’t be put off. Find the name of the person organizing the event and drop them an email or phone call introducing yourself, and ask whether they have any guest speaking opportunities.

  • Institutions and associations
    In the US, most states and some towns have a Rotary Club or Chamber of Commerce with a calendar of events you could get involved with. It’s also worth checking with your local Public Library.

For more specialist groups, explore the world of associations to find potential events linked to your professional specialty or area of enthusiasm.

  • Workplace presentations
    If your workplace is above a certain size, there’s bound to be a speaking opportunity or two available, even if it’s only something as routine as giving a health and safety demonstration. It’s a great way to get started if you’re wondering where you can practice public speaking.

If not, you could try setting up a lunchtime seminar group where people give short talks on professional topics over lunch or coffee. Get in touch with your HR department to see if there’s help or funding available for this type of activity.

  • School or college events
    Got knowledge to share about how you developed your career? Or maybe you work in an interesting field that might appeal to young people planning their careers? Get in touch with your old high school or local college to see if you can speak as part of a careers event. They usually don’t just offer speaking opportunities for students.
  • Public speaking groups
    Although public speaking is a big fear for many people, there are many more who actively seek out opportunities to practice. Check out organizations like Toastmasters International where members have the opportunity to hone their skills and practice public speaking in front of an audience.

Part 3: develop your public speaking persona

Once you have a couple of events under your belt and you’ve decided public speaking is for you, it’s time to hone your game plan for a successful public speaking career. Here’s how to get into public speaking “for real”.

1. Be prepared to speak for free

Public speaking is like sports – you can’t expect to make money unless you’ve put in some serious practice, so put any thoughts of speaker fees to one side to begin with.

Offering to speak for free when you’re starting out means you’re a low-risk, low-cost option for event organizers, which should increase your chances of getting public speaking opportunities.

2. Set up a website and social accounts

A digital presence will help build your brand as a speaker, and will help people decide whether to hire you. Your site and socials will also come in handy when organizers are marketing their events, as they’ll be able to link through from their own sites or Flyers to provide more information about you.

Your website should include a short promo video that showcases your public speaking style and the kinds of topics you’ll be talking about. If you can get footage from a gig you’ve previously done, perfect. If not, a short to-camera introduction video will work too.

You can link your public speaking channels to your main business website and social media accounts to give your existing brands some extra traffic. Doing this will also add authenticity to your public speaking brand, so it’s a win-win.

3. Network with other speakers

Public speaking is all about personality, so it’s no surprise that personal connections really matter in this game. Jump on business networking sites like LinkedIn and find people in your local area or within your industry who are already doing public speaking engagements to find more public speaking events and meetups.

You could start the conversation by referencing speeches they’ve done and getting more details on the topics they covered, offer to swap referrals for public speaking opportunities or ask them for their advice on overcoming common issues like stage fright or handling audience questions.

Why not taking it even further and join a public speaking competition once you’re a bit more seasoned?

4. Develop your pitch

To get the best public speaking opportunities, you need a compelling pitch that will convince event organizers you’re the best choice for their audience.

Start off with a punchy elevator pitch that sums you up in a sentence. Then put together a short bio that outlines your business expertise, work history and experience, and what you have to offer the audience. Think about what kinds of questions the audience might want answers to at the gig. For example, will you share tips on getting started in business, or shed light on how to do digital marketing?

Your pitch should finish up with a call to action that includes your website, phone number and email address.

5. Compile a hit-list of events you’d like to speak at

What’s your dream public speaking opportunity? Think about where you’d love to see your name on the bill, and make a list of opportunities.

Maybe you’re not yet ready to pitch these kinds of events, but making the list will help shape your public speaking style and keep you focused on the kind of speaker you want to be. And who knows – opportunity may come knocking sooner than you think.

For more tips, take a look at our guide to creating a winning pitch

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