Happy Monday! I hope you’re enjoying your week thus far. I’m deep in the trenches with a site development project that is near and dear to my heart. As I’ve grown, I’ve learned to stop being apologetic for not having enough time to be as present as I would like to be. I would feel badly about not being able to churn out content here as often as possible but with everything happening all of the time, it’s hard to make quality content as often as I would like to. I’m sure you’ve noticed the blogging scene has most bloggers being present once or twice every month as opposed to the old three to five times a week. I’m always thinking of ideas and getting involved into something so don’t think I’m not busy. I’m always thinking of ideas for this space.
Speaking of being busy, I’m back from WordCamp Atlanta and I can honestly say I had a blast. I didn’t talk about it too much here but I was one of the many speakers at this amazing event two weekends ago in my hometown of Atlanta. This year, one of my goals was to be more present and active as a public speaker to share my experience with those who are willing to learn. In the tech space, the diversity and inclusion of speakers has been a hot button issue for years as the rise of the tech and creative conference continues. As a woman of color, seeing people who look like me is a rare occurrence on the speaker stage. After making an effort to attend creative conferences in the past few years and having an amazing time, I decided to look into what I could do to contribute. I want to share my experiences as a creative entrepreneur who has jumped into the small-side of public speaking and what you could do as well.
Public Speaking for Introverts
When I talk to my creative friends about taking the stage at conferences or getting in front of even an intimate crowd, I get the push back of how hard public speaking would be for an introvert. I, surprisingly enough, am an introvert myself and three years ago the thought of giving my business card to someone else was terrifying. The first time I spoke to a group of peers, I think I lost my life five times. My palms were sweaty, my voice cracked, and I was very pregnant. I got through it and have taken the stage a few times since then and here are some things that helped me get past my inner INFJ.
- Knowing that I could do it. Some people have very real phobias of public speaking. If the thought of speaking in front of even your closest friends on a stage starts to make your anxiety climb, public speaking may not be for you or maybe it’s not for you right now. If I had gotten on stage right after high school nine years ago, I would have completely passed out. After seeing the ins and outs of what happens behind the scenes and on stage, I knew that maybe I could do it too. I left many a conference or a meetup, practicing what I would say in my head if I were in those situations. I wanted to give it a try which was enough for me to get past the idea of passing out on stage.
- Starting small. I don’t think I would have ever spoken in front of hundreds of people or even a hundred people for my first speaking opportunity. I was offered the opportunity to speak with to our local WordPress meetup about blogging and I was excited to do so. The meetup attendance ranged from very small to filling the room. I was confident in getting a small number of people. Little did I know that I was speaking with an amazing local influencer and she brought the crowds with her. The room was full, even when I spoke at the every end two hours later. Even though the audience was unexpected, I was in a room full of people who I’d become familiar with over time. There were definitely not as many people as I felt it was at the time.
- Getting comfortable. It was important to me to be comfortable with the group I was speaking with. David and I made a a conscious effort to be more involved in the local tech scene which as more than paid off since then. If I weren’t comfortable with the organizers, I don’t think I would have ever given it a shot. Even if I did poorly, I would have gotten honesty which is what I wanted from the crowd. Get comfortable with the people you want to speak with and it will make things a lot easier.
Practice, Practice, Practice
When I said earlier that I would practice what I would talk about after I left events, I wasn’t kidding. There are so many nights that I would lie awake just going over the imaginary speech in my head. Watching other speakers allowed me to find the things that I liked versus the things I didn’t like. I knew the ideal length, style, and small distinct things that speakers who were engaging or unique did. I practiced how to do those things or what about my expertise could I share that would offer me the opportunity to share those things from my point of view. Here are my tips for practicing prior to getting on the stage:
- Talk in front of a mirror. I know it’s insane, but seriously do it. I make terrible faces while I’m in casual conversation. I make weird faces and crazy voices. Speaking in front of a mirror, while making me severely uncomfortable, allowed me to find those things about myself. Also as someone who photographs live events often, I know how hard it can be to get a good shot of someone on stage when they are animated or talk with their hands. Talking in front of a mirror allowed me to get over some of my bad speaking habits very quickly.
- Yes, that’s how you sound. Most people hate hearing the sound of their voice recorded. After speaking a few times, I learned to get over it. Getting past your voice issues sooner rather than later allows for clarity and focus.
Say you’ve done it, you’ve decided you’re ready to pitch for your first speaking opportunity. You want to get on the stage and share your expertise. You know what you want to talk about. How do you get there? How do you find the opportunities? Where do you look and what should you do?
- Develop a signature talk. We had the opportunity to speak with Dr. Michelle Mazur of Communication Rebel a couple of weeks ago who gave us so much great advice. One thing that she shared with us that really resonated with me as the idea of developing a signature talk. While I have and will continue to speak on different topics, I really loved the idea of having one talk, your talk, that was your public speaking brand. It allows you to focus on one thing and really get into the groove of what you have to offer.
- Pitch strongly and smartly. You know what you have to offer and now it’s time to sell yourself. Share with conference organizers what you have to offer to their conference audience and why you would be a valuable asset to their lineup. Please keep in mind to pitch to events that match with what you have to offer. As much as I would love to speak at a yoga conference, I have absolutely no professional experience that would qualify me to take the stage. No one wants to pay money for someone to take the stage and talk about how much they like to nap during savasana. (If they do, please call me.) Be smart about where you pitch and always bring your best. Use good grammar, be authentic, and offer a unique experience.
- You will get rejected. It seems hard to think of, but you will get a no. I applied to speak at a conference that I wasn’t so sure about but seemed to be a good fit earlier this year and got a quick no. It’s not the end of the world and it inspired me to keep applying to speak. You’re not the best fit for every audience and that is OK.
- Keep design in mind. I know this isn’t really super important, but it should be. I really get tuned out if I attend a presentation and the slides are awful. Keynote and PowerPoint are a pain but it’s not impossible to create beautiful presentations. One of the things I fell in love with about Creative South was how unique each presenter’s slides were and how beautiful they were. Don’t let the design of your slides become an afterthought. Having beautiful slides really pays off.
Seriously, this post is way too long. I could go on and on and on but it’s all about experience. Having different experiences with different organizers has been so exciting for me. I really have enjoyed having different platforms this year to share things, especially because the thought of maintaining a video platform sounds exhausting to me. You can see me on stage next at WordCamp Jacksonville which is taking place from April 16 – 17th. Tickets are on sale right now. I will keep you guys updated on where I’ll be speaking and visiting next so I can hopefully meet more of you in your cities!