Giving speeches and participating in panels at conferences or webinars are common ways for small business owners to gather attention for their business and market their skills. But with so many business owners and others clamoring for public-speaking opportunities these days, how can make your speaking pitch stand out from the crowd?
With the right research and preparation, finding speaking opportunities—and even becoming an expert public speaker—isn’t as tough as it may seem. Here are five strategies to help you get there:
1. Have a Niche and a Story to Tell
You can’t just go out and try to speak about anything. (Or you can try, but it could ultimately hurt your credibility, if you’re not careful.) Instead, it’s important to assess your expertise and experience, because that’s the product that you are offering as a speaker.
First, do some “market research” and figure out what types of audiences could benefit most from your knowledge and experience as a business owner—and could ultimately become your customers or clients. Do you have a personal story and set of lessons learned that will appeal to them?
Determining your niche audience is crucial, author and entrepreneur Brian Horn writes in The Huffington Post.
“This is an important consideration because you can better make your presence felt and establish your relevance in the lives of those who actually care about the information that you hold and can share,” Horn says. “If you make it known that you’re an authority and a good repository of knowledge, they will seek you out, and then you can offer to present all the information you have through a speaking gig.”
When you pitch yourself to an event promoter, you will need to focus on your personal expertise and experience—and how it fits in with the event. (Researching the event beforehand is critical.) You will need to be able to tell a story about why you are different from other potential speakers, and you will need to have credentials to play up.
2. Start Local—and Small
Once you’ve determined your niche and your story, you need to bootstrap up your speaking activities.
One way to start is to look into speaking opportunities at local Rotary Club and Chamber of Commerce meetings, Kimanzi Constable, a Kihei, Hawaii–based author, international speaker and business coach, writes in Entrepreneur.
“While the event may not be paid, the opportunity is there,” Constable writes. “These meetings are for business owners and executives, who have their own events. One good presentation can create a full speaking or consulting schedule for you.”
Landing gigs as an outside consultant is another strategy, according to Constable. The room that you’re speaking to may not be crowded, but you can still make a difference and earn a little extra money, he says. “In 2012, I booked my first consulting contract at a local McDonald’s franchise. Last year I booked contracts at companies in London, Japan, Paris and Kenya. This strategy works.”
3. Improve Your Public Speaking Skills
You can have valuable expertise. You can land a few initial speaking opportunities. But your efforts will go nowhere if you lack the ability to effectively connect with a crowd and reach them with your story.
Luckily, there are free resources out there to help you brush up your speaking skills, according to Inc. Toastmasters International’s website, for example, is full of free resources and training videos, and your local Toastmasters club will let you check out local meetings for free before deciding whether to pay the group’s small membership fee.
In addition to these online resources, try to learn exercises that can help you develop good public speaking skills, including trying to explain your idea to a child, practicing small talk and working on your posture.
Having good stories to tell also helps, speech and presentation coach Sims Wyeth says in Inc. “They should be your own stories, not borrowed from another source,” Wyeth says. “Your own stories have a sterling ring of truth.”
4. Networking and Social Media
A strong network and social media presence helps, too, when it comes to pitching and winning speaking gigs, says Lisa Grimm, who is now associate director of social media at Whole Foods Market.
It is important to do good work, celebrate the good work of others, and participate in the conversation both in person and online, Grimm writes on the blog of Duluth, Minnesota–based marketing agency Aimclear.
“I can’t tell you how many times a casual interaction, where I’ve demonstrated knowledge about my work, has turned into a speaking opportunity, a quote in the newspaper about emerging media/tech or even a job opportunity,” Grimm says. “When you do good work, word gets around and you may not even need to pitch a conference—they might call you. Those are always exciting emails, tweets and phone calls to receive.”
5. Leverage Videos
Another great way to promote your speaking abilities is to go onto YouTube and other sites and post videos of yourself.
It worked out well for Ryan Ballow, founder of mobile device rescue business iMobileRescue of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. A financial services company brought him in to speak about personal development because of the many videos he was posting online about the brain, performance and personal development, Ballow recounted on business author and speaker Carol Roth’s blog.
Says Ballow: “The key for me was being real, being uncensored, and putting out as many videos as possible!”
Have sections on your website or blog with video that demonstrates you doing what you do best, Ben Baker, now president of Your Brand Marketing in Richmond, British Columbia, said in the same blog post. “The more people can see snippets of the quality of your work, the more confidence they will have to invest in you as a speaker,” Baker says. “Invest the time and money to have them done right, and edit for length. It will get you noticed!”
If you want to land awesome speaking gigs, determine your niche, hone your skills, fearlessly promote yourself—and don’t forget to shoot some video. It will take some time and effort, but you can turn public speaking into an important part of your business’s marketing strategy.