Speaking for fun and profit

I recently spoke at an AIIP virtual event with Marydee Ojala on “Public Speaking For Introverts: From No Way to Speaking for Pay”. (AIIP members can watch the recording here.) The questions that we discussed got me thinking, so I’m taking this chance to expand a bit on my thoughts. And keep in mind that public speaking need not be in person, although it’s a lot more powerful that way; my answers below apply to virtual presentations as well.

What do you wish you knew when you first started speaking publicly? It took me several years to realize that it’s not about me… it’s about the audience and the event organizer. My goal is to give people a tangible skill or insight that they didn’t have before. If the audience feels that they learned something that they could put into practice immediately, then they’ll be happy they attended my talk and the event organizer will be happy that the participants are happy. And, remember that the ultimate client in a speaking engagement isn’t the audience—it’s the person putting on the event.

When did you first start charging for your speaking? For the first three or four years, I spoke for free or, when the engagement was out of town, I would just be reimbursed for my travel expenses. My goal was to get people to know me, to see that I’m generous with what I know and committed to sharing what I’ve learned with others, and to build my leads by offering valuable information and then inviting them to subscribe to my (then) email newsletter. I wanted as much exposure as possible, so I tried to always find a way to say yes.

I finally started charging when I was getting more unpaid engagements than I could afford to do; at that point, I realized that I had the chops to speak for pay. And as soon as I started charging, I resolved that I would lose at least a quarter of my speaking invitations because I was too expensive. The only way I could determine the upper end of my speaking fees was to keep raising them until I started to get push-back and, as much as I enjoy travel, I’d rather make more money doing fewer speaking gigs.

What helped you get over the jitters? I take two approaches to that surge of adrenaline that always hits me 10 or 15 minutes before I get up to speak. First, I remind myself that adrenaline is my friend; it sharpens my brain and will help me while I speak to think quickly and clearly. And then I take a few deep breaths and remind myself that the people in the audience are on my side. They aren’t waiting to catch me making a grammatical error or to smirk if I lose my train of thought. Rather, they are sitting there assuming that I will engage them, teach them something they didn’t know, and leave them with a fresh perspective. They’re actually all silently rooting for me to succeed. So as soon as I get to the podium, I smile, make eye contact with three or four people in the room, and then focus on just talking to those friendly faces. It works every time.

Any tips to help introverts get started speaking? As a fellow introvert, I’ll let you in on a secret—many of the best public speakers are introverts. Think about it… instead of having to make small talk, you’re free to talk about what you’re passionate about. You get to share what you know with people who are interested in learning. And afterward, instead of having to start yet another awkward conversation, people come up to you with comments about your presentation. In fact, a pro tip I picked up from Marcy Phelps was to include an invitation at the end of my presentation for people to talk with me afterward and share their favorite technique / experience/ idea—whatever I want to prompt my audience with that will give them something to come up to me and talk about after my presentation is over.

Yes, my first four or five public speaking engagements were nerve-wracking, and I still worry whether my audience is going to find my presentation useful, but I have learned to accept my worries as simply part of the process. As with anything that moves me outside my comfort zone, it’s both challenging and really gratifying to effectively share my knowledge and enthusiasm with others.

One comment on “Speaking for fun and profit

  1. Mary Ellen, I attended one of your 2 1/2 day presentations in D.C. years ago and I appreciated the info you shared! Thank you also for your newsletter that to which I used to subscribe.

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