4 Steps to Ace Your Next Speaking Engagement

With the return of in-person events and the rise of social audio platforms, there are more ways to connect via voice than ever before. These four steps will help you take advantage of these opportunities no matter what form they take.

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If you’re as tired of Zoom meetings as everyone else, you’ll be excited to hear that 80% of event planners expect to host in-person events this year. At the same time, digital audio appears to be sustaining its pandemic-driven momentum. Podcast listening experienced 8.3% growth in 2020, and the new social audio platform Clubhouse has seen an explosion in popularity with millions of users and a $4 billion valuation.

With so many ways to connect and talk with people from around the world, you will likely have an opportunity to speak on your area of expertise sometime soon. These four steps will ensure your next speaking engagement is a stunning success:

1. Prepare your talking points.

Confidence is everything when it comes to public speaking. Don’t worry if you feel like you don’t have it; confidence is primarily the product of preparation. If you’ve rehearsed what to say and know where to go next, you’ll feel more comfortable. Outline your presentation, rehearse what you’re going to say as many times as possible, and prepare brief notes to help you stay on track.

Once you deliver a successful speech, it can boost your opportunities and benefits. “It can pay off to be well-prepared,” says J.J. Hebert, author and CEO of MindStir Media. “Most likely, the people attending or hosting your event will share their thoughts with others after it concludes. If you hit a home run, word will spread, and you may start getting invites to more engagements before you know it.” If you find yourself getting nervous, try to focus on the audience instead of yourself. This will help you show up prepared to serve.

2. Get to know your audience.

If you’re talking about a specific topic you’re knowledgeable about, Amy Capes recommends taking into account how much the audience knows: “It can be difficult to gauge the right level of detail to provide in your presentation, especially after you have spent years immersed in your specific field of study. If you are talking to a general audience, try practicing your presentation with a friend or colleague from a different field of study. You might find that something that seems obvious to you needs additional explanation.”

Find out as much as you can about who will be attending the event. For general audiences, offer some relevant background info to ensure everyone has the proper context. But if you’re speaking at an industry conference, you can safely dive into the weeds knowing that most of your listeners are on the same page. When deciding who can help workshop your presentation, choose someone who will best represent the audience. For further customization, you can invite audience members to take a survey ahead of the event and use their feedback in the presentation. I typically take this approach ahead of my speaking events.

3. Be deliberate about engaging your audience.

If you take audience attention for granted, you’re sure to lose it. Be intentional about engaging your audience; use techniques such as storytelling, various vocal intensities, and dynamic gestures to add emphasis to your points. The top 25 speakers in Quantified’s database — which includes notable figures like Oprah Winfrey and Ronald Reagan — tell 1.1 times more stories and use 1.3 times more statistics than the average presenter.

Anita Brearton, founder and CEO of CabinetM, recommends eliciting audience participation whenever possible. “You don’t have to do all the talking,” Brearton says. “In a larger audience setting, you can always pose a question and ask for a show of hands to engage your audience.” If you think the audience’s attention is starting to wane, bring everyone back to reality with a quick question. You can also employ an audience engagement tool like Mentimeter, which lets participants give feedback in real time on their mobile devices and see their votes and contributions on the slides in real time. My clients love when I take this approach for in-person keynotes.

4. If you can’t present, identify a spokesperson.

Not everyone has time to devote to speaking engagements, but that doesn’t mean you should let these opportunities pass by. If you’re too busy to give a talk or presentation, suggest someone you trust to represent your business.

David Ciccarelli, founder and CEO of Voices, urges you to look beyond conventional speaking outlets and take advantage of platforms like Clubhouse to start more casual conversations. “You need to find people who can speak authentically on your behalf on Clubhouse,” he says. “Whether these are employees or stakeholders familiar with your brand, they should personify your values and talk confidently about topics that matter to your company.”

Speaking engagements are a great way to connect with people, especially as the shutdowns that personified the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic become a memory. So many of our daily interactions are text-based, but voice inflections help us uncover what other people are thinking and feeling while enabling us to forge deeper and more meaningful connections. Public speaking can be scary, but embracing these opportunities can help propel you and your brand to success.

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