Public speaking is hard. Typically we focus on the difficulty (terror) of the 30 - 45 minutes that we spend in front of the audience without thinking about the hours spent in preparation for getting up to speak. If you’re a freelancer or creative professional you have to get past the fear of speaking and look at the opportunities presented by getting up in front of a crowd of strangers, opening your mouth and letting your expertise fill the silence.
I recently gave a talk on search engine optimization (SEO). I didn’t feel great about how the talk went, primarily due to the technical nature of SEO and what I felt was my inability to properly gear it to the audience. I would consider the talk to be a little too technical for a general audience but not specific enough for a technically savvy audience. All in all, I felt like I had failed.
An Educated Client
A couple months later, I got a call from one of the attendees asking if we could meet to discuss building a website for their organization. While I had some previous interactions with the organization, none of them would have led to them requesting that I work on their web project. This opportunity was a direct result of that talk.
In speaking to them about the project, they demonstrated a good understanding of the SEO points that I made, through research that had been done prior to the start of the project and plans to implement what had been found once the site launched. While I may have felt like a failure in the days following the presentation, I can count it as a success that I had created a more educated client.
This is making me evaluate how talks should be developed and the content that should be covered.
Free vs Paid
There are generally two types of speaking engagements - free and paid. Generally, I approach the development of a talk the same way whether I am being paid or not but this may change a bit for me in the future. I’m starting to feel that the goal of a free gig should be to cover the topic in a way that accomplishes the following:
- provides a basic level of understanding of the topic at hand
- provides enough information and resources for the listener to explore the topic in more detail
- encourages listeners to seek me out as someone who can implement the techniques or topic covered
- create an educated client
As a speaker, if I do my job well, then the listener will have a better understanding of not only the topic but also what to look for in a professional to implement it once it becomes too advanced for them.
Conclusions and Caveats
Public speaking is one of the best ways that a freelancer, sole-proprietor or creative professional can differentiate themselves from the competition. It allows you to present yourself as an authority on whatever topic you choose, which is a great way to get new business. It’s also pretty exhilarating, that is after the nausea goes away.
Due to the amount of time that it takes to prepare a talk, I wouldn’t recommend taking every speaking engagement that comes your way. Make sure that the audience is right for your talk and that you have enough time to properly deliver your talk. If you have a 50 minute talk but are only given 30 minutes then you’ll feel terrible for having cut important content or because you had to rush through it and the audience was left with their head spinning trying to make sense of your warp speed delivery.
Take risks and opportunities when they come but also protect your brand / image.
Photo Credit: https://flic.kr/p/6WV5mk