Building a Reputation as a Thought Leader: Penetrating the Speaker Circuit

A few weeks ago we looked at strategies to get your name in print. This week, we’ll look at another key component of thought leadership: breaking into the speaker circuit. Although public speaking ranks as the number-one fear in the United States, it garners considerable advantages for those who can swallow their anxieties and share a compelling story. Speaking engagements require little financial investment, but can generate countless leads.

Find the Right Crowd

Getting involved in public speaking doesn’t have to be difficult. The key is to carefully target your audience–and work to build relationships that can turn into opportunities for speaking engagements.

  • Avoid “preaching to the choir”: People within your industry won’t need to hire you. Get outside your own industry, and reach out to groups and organizations where ideal clients would be members. In other words, look for a complementary crowd, whose businesses might need your expertise.
  • Remember that no crowd is too small: Don’t expect your first speaking engagement to be in front of hundreds of people. Ease into it, with groups of 20 to 40. These will also be easier to book; you could probably even fill a room with your own professional contacts relatively easily.
  • Get creative with presentation style: Still absolutely mortified of all those eyes, just staring at you? Start out with a webcast, where the only audience is a camera, and you have as many retakes as you’d like. Push out the webcast through your company’s social media channels.
  • Radiate warmth and humor: Great speakers are able to make others feel at ease, even from behind the podium. Maintain that same charisma during every interaction, and people will be more eager to hear your ideas.

Keep the Momentum Going

Once you’ve gotten a few speaking engagements under your belt, it will get less intimidating to get up in front of an audience. Meanwhile, after several successful engagements, you can step it up and start going after larger audiences.

  • Whip that pitch deck into shape: Be sure that as your presentations generate leads, you have a firecracker set of marketing materials to back them up. The pitch deck can also come in handy when you apply for more prestigious speaking engagements, which often require that, along with a sample presentation, for consideration.
  • Keep the presentation fresh: It’s always possible that people might end up in the audience twice, especially as you build a reputation as an excellent speaker. To that end, avoid giving the same presentation twice. Consider the audience, and tailor each presentation accordingly.
  • Tell a great story: What makes a great presentation? An extraordinary story. Approach your presentation like it’s story time for adults, rather than a lecture. Include vignettes that illustrate your points. Pare stories down so they include compelling, relevant details and clearly match your message.
  • Give the crowd stitches: Keep the audience laughing, and you’ll be sure to book more engagements. Stick to safe topics—self-deprecating humor always works as an ice breaker. Steer clear of politics or really strong sarcasm, as these can turn off some people. Remain positive and energetic.

Thought leadership pays when it comes to building a brand and generating referrals. Sharing your perspective as an expert in the field begins with putting your expertise center stage as a public speaker.