I have been meaning to write on this topic for a while now, and have finally gotten around to putting some of my thoughts on public speaking into a post.
About 6 months ago, I realized just how much of a positive impact that my public speaking has had on my company. I always knew public speaking was a good thing for any organization, but I recently did a quick analysis to see exactly what some of the “net” measurable results were of my attendance and participation at conferences, events, etc. For the past 2 years, I have been very focused on where and what I spend my time on, and how those efforts impact my company.
About a year and a half ago, I made a conscious decision to get out there, do more public speaking and attend more industry events. What I had come to realize was, like a lot of people, the thought of public speaking was a little unsettling to me, but at the same time I knew in my gut that the more I spoke at events (the right events), that good things would come. Given the situation, I figured that in order to conquer the nerves I was feeling at the time, the quickest solution would be for me to sign up to speak at as many events as possible (that made sense of course). And with that, the old, “just do it” mantra kicked in full force.
I used to get wired out before the events I was speaking at, even as recent as earlier this past summer. I would focus intensely on my presentation decks, combing over them again and again, rehearsing my points over and over, losing sleep, editing slides to the last minute (I still do that), and rarely ever getting a good nights sleep ever the night before an event. That said, I still trudged forward knowing that eventually it will get better.
Sitting here now, in the end of November 2007, and coming off my 5th speaking engagement in the past 8 weeks, I am happy to report that YES, it does get easier, and is a lot more fun (for me at least), the more you get out and do it. I pushed myself, and went out and spoke at 13 events in the past 16 months. I also pushed myself by NOT speaking on the same topic every time, which meant I was almost always out of my comfort zone (within reason). It made it so that almost every event was on a different topic. That meant a new presentation, new research, new format and flow, etc.. I started out slow, then increased my commitments and shortened the intervals in between them. You can check out my speaking schedule here to see my ramp up.
So, let me tell you a little about why I chose to get actively involved in public speaking, and looking back after a solid year, what it has done for me as both a person and as an entrepreneur, and why I think you should do the same:
The Power of the Personal Brand:
It should be no surprise that by participating in public speaking it will lead to more personal brand awareness. When people read your blog, know your company, connect with you online, and then see you speak and meet you in person, you build your brand. The brand that is you. By adding the human side to the marketing, outreach and education mix ,i.e. speaking in public, you build your own presence and awareness, and assuming that your not a jerk, there are people who remember you, and often will want to connect with you after the event. I have gained numerous newsletter subscribers, Facebook friends, RSS subscribers, Twitter followers, etc as a direct result of getting out there. Additionally, by building your brand through public speaking, it can lead to other speaking opportunities. As an example, this past year I was asked to speak at three of the events I participated in, and next year I have already been invited to speak at three.
There has been a lot written on the power of personal branding. Check out Chris Brogan’s recent post on the “Elements of a Personal Brand”. Of course, I should point out that speaking is just one component of the personal brand. This fits into an entire ecosystem that makes up a persons perception of your brand. As example, check out Mitch Joel’s post on how your blog fits into your personal brand’s long tail.
The Corporate Brand
As you would expect, if you are out there building the personal brand, and also representing a company (which is more often the case than not), then your organization is also getting incredible exposure through your public speaking engagements. One of the main reasons that I chose to speak more occurred last fall when I spoke at a Click Z email marketing conference in NYC. I realized that after, at the time, almost 6 years of Blue Sky Factory being in business, that most of the attendees, and worse, my other industry colleagues who were also speaking, hadn’t heard of my company, only a handful of people had.
I was determined to get the company name out there and brand ourselves better. One of the main tactics in the plan was layering in a solid schedule of speaking events, in geographically diverse locations, from February – November of this year. As a result, I have increased the exposure of my company’s name and brand exponentially. Think about it, your name and your company’s name is all over the web when you speak at an event. Your bio, your company’s boiler, information on a session your giving, etc. All of these elements are brand builders. Again, speaking is just one spoke on the corporate branding wheel, but its a powerful one.
Lead Generation & New Sales
One of the best by-products of public speaking is the sheer amount of new prospective customers that you meet and connect with. Whats even more impressive is that I can’t tell you how many times a simple question from an attendee after my session has lead to five figure annual accounts. Events are an incredible opportunity to meet and connect with many people at once, and get them into your universe. These events are some of the strongest network builders. In my own experience, getting out there and getting the company and the brand in a brighter public eye, has lead to numerous opportunities and very respectable growth for us.
This is an important one. First we should ask, what is a thought leader? Lets not over-complicate it, the dictionary defines a thought leader as “one whose views on a subject are taken as authoritative and influential.” Sounds about right to me. And simply put, public speaking breeds thought leadership. Thought leadership is also something that once you establish yourself, you need to continue to keep up and build momentum around your perspective on the industry and space you are in. When you are out “on the circuit,” talking about interesting topics, presenting case studies and your perspective, and answer questions, people listen and they often respect your opinion. And at the same time some good debate is always healthy as well.
Establishing yourself as a thought leader in your industry, or area of expertise by public speaking, your thoughts on trends and insights will most likely have an affect on the way people think of things. Thats influence, or thought leadership.
Key Take Away’s
Public speaking is one spoke on the marketing and PR wheel, but is a very powerful medium to get your name, your company’s name out there and to brand yourself and your organization as thought leaders. In 2008 at Blue Sky Factory, more of us will be getting out there and speaking so we can cover even more ground. I am looking forward to having my team participate at events and watching the same results apply.
If you are nervous about public speaking, try to start out in small groups, even at the community level. I assure you the more you do it the more comfortable you will become. The reality is, if you know your subject and have a good understanding of the flow and format you want to present, it will get easier every time you get out there.
Don’t let anything stop you. If you have the opportunity to get in front of people and have knowledge, insight and wisdom around a particular subject matter thats important in your industry, don’t pass it up. The benefits of public speaking far outweigh the negatives.
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