How to Boost Your Brand and Succeed as a Public Speaker

Find the right opportunities to make an impression.

How to Succeed as a Public Speaker Hero Illustration

As a public relations tool, public speaking can help build brand awareness, create connections, and drive new business. But it doesn’t have to mean standing in front of massive international crowds. As business networking becomes more popular—and the number of small business owners, freelancers, side hustlers continues to grow—demand for professional advice increases. This opens up more opportunities for speakers to share their wisdom and tips, like conferences, hack-a-thons, workshops, and guest talks.

If you’re interested in taking advantage of those business-boosting speaking opportunities, you’ll first need to figure out where, how, and what to pitch. Then, it’s just a matter of preparing—and delivering—a memorable talk. Here’s how to do it.

Find the right events to pitch

Pitching a talk begins with research. Start identifying organizations that are soliciting guest speakers and determine whether or not you might be a fit for their event.

  • Search for events that accept guests for panels. If you dig around on event websites, you’ll find that most have clear guidelines for guest panelists—or at least a contact email address or submission form for potential speakers. Take a close look at their required pitching process.
  • Sign up to receive conference details. Many conferences issue a call for speakers, which they’ll typically share on social media and in newsletters. Be sure to follow the conferences you’re interested in and take the steps they suggest to pitch your talk. You can also search “Call for speakers” and include your field and the topics you’d like to discuss.
  • Practice, practice, practice. Nobody minds a slightly jittery speaker if the content is good, but robotic speaking gets boring. Consider investing in some public speaking training and practice at every opportunity you can.
  • Start small. If you’re brand new to public speaking, consider starting with skill-sharing events in your local community. Practice by getting on stage (or even just in front of other people) and polishing your delivery. Try to get video footage of yourself speaking to review your own performance and demonstrate your experience.
  • But dream big. Start in your community, but be sure to create a list of dream events, even if they seem too ambitious right now. Aim high—any goal can be broken down into doable steps.
  • Join networking groups and attend events. By attending different events and listening to other speakers, you’ll learn what works and what you can do better. This on-the-ground research can give you ideas about the type of content you might like to prepare.
  • Work ahead for big conferences. Within 1 or 2 months of a large international conference’s end, they’ll likely open registration for the next. Be sure you sign up for reminders from these events so you can submit your pitch on time.

Send a pitch that gets noticed

Before you start drafting your pitch, it’s a good idea to seek out some additional information about the platform or event that interests you. Do they have a revolving theme or format? If so, do you know what they’re looking for in upcoming talks? Be careful not to pitch an idea that doesn’t fit the specific event’s format or theme, and try to come up with a topic that hasn’t already been featured. Your idea should expand the conversation and inspire the audience that attends the event, so be creative and present something new.

Also, make sure that your pitches offer value to a future audience. It’s not all about sharing your expertise—it’s just as important to give your audience what they're looking for. Focus less on what you want to say and more on what the audience needs to know. Make it clear in your pitches that you can give colorful anecdotes to support your points.

Whether you send a pitch via email or through a submission portal, make it concise and interesting. Describe each topic idea in no more than 3 short sentences, unless the organizers have asked for more detail. To cover all the information the event planner needs, you can follow this format:

Dear [insert name, spell it correctly],

I am [your name and professional title]. I’m an expert in [your field]. My credentials for speaking include [add relevant speaking experience]. I’m looking for the opportunity to speak at [event or organization name]. Here are a few topics I’d love to speak about:

  • Idea 1
  • Idea 2
  • Idea 3

To demonstrate my speaking abilities, here are a few links to previous talks I’ve given [link to footage of you speaking in public or on social media].

If none of these ideas are a fit for your event, please let me know how I can adapt them to suit your needs.

Thanks,

Name
Email address
Phone number

If you’re contacting someone who’s never seen you speak in public, emphasize your experience and expertise. Provide evidence of your abilities—if you have any videos or practical examples of your work, link to them so it’s easier for the booker to imagine you in front of their audience.

Build relationships with people who book events

Based on your target audience and who you want to reach, create a short list of the top 5 or 10 events, panels, or conferences where you’d like to speak. Then use this focused list to connect with the people who book speakers for them.

If possible, connect with talent and event bookers across social media channels. Engage with their content to show your interest. Post content that’s along the lines of what you’d like to speak about to show your expertise. Of course, use good judgment—don’t come on too strong, and keep interactions professional.

And when you launch a new product or service, speak at an event, or have any other major business milestone where you’ll address an audience, invite the event producers to attend. They’re likely to be working on a whole range of events and are always looking for new talent. Even if they don’t attend, the invitation will remind them of your interest and availability.

What to do if you don’t get booked

Getting on the speaker circuit can take momentum—and several months of consistent pitching. If you’re struggling to secure your first booking, consider hosting your own panel event. Not only will that allow you to showcase your expertise and practice your public speaking techniques, but it will give you another example that you can share across your platforms—and include in future pitches.

5 tips for a great talk

  1. Be prepared. Nothing will calm your nerves like preparation and practice. Whether you plan to speak from notecards or speak freely, rehearse, rehearse, and then rehearse again. Ideally, you won’t have to read from your notes—but have them in hand just in case. You know your business inside and out. Talking about it should feel natural!
  2. Give actionable takeaways. What do you want people to remember after your talk? Remember that you’re not there to talk for yourself; you’re there to share something you know. So give your audience as many useful takeaways as possible.
  3. Make it visual. Enhance your talk with a visual presentation that brings your story to life. Edit any visual copy carefully for typos and ensure the images are high resolution. Practice your talk with the visuals so you know what’s coming up next. You’re also part of the visual presentation—look sharp and professional. Plan what you’re going to wear and have a backup outfit just in case. (It’s unlikely that you’re going to spill coffee on your shirt and need to change, but this step will help calm your nerves.)
  4. Take deep breaths. Don’t forget to breathe while you speak. When you feel nervous, take a few long, deep breaths, smile, and then take a few more. A pause while speaking can feel excruciating, but it actually makes the talk easier for listeners and speakers alike. It’s like the start of a new paragraph. When you watch a stand-up comedian, the first thing they do is wave and smile. They always pause before they start. It warms up the room. So breathe. Pause. Breathe and smile.
  5. Be ready to pivot. No matter how much you rehearse, you can’t prepare for everything—like technical issues, a tough audience, or people who ask questions you didn’t anticipate. Consider checking in with a few audience members before your presentation to get a feel for what they’re looking for in your talk. This could be an enlightening exercise that not only gives you advocates in the audience, but also provides a reference point for your talk or a cue to take it in a different direction.

Many people find public speaking daunting. But with research, preparation, and a lot of practice, this skill can help promote your business and connect you with new people. This, in turn, can build new business leads, partnerships, and other revenue-driving opportunities.

Written by Lucy Werner for Mailchimp. Lucy is an expert in PR for small businesses.

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