One of the defining moments in building a speaking career is the very first time you book a gig. You’ve put a lot of work into creating a platform, finding the right fit and pitching yourself and your hard work has paid off. However, while you may think the hard work is behind you, it’s really just beginning.
The fact of the matter is that the quality of your speaking engagement can really make or break the future, so it’s important to get into the mindset that your job as a speaker is of equal importance and focus as that of being a planner.
So, what are the tools you need before stepping on the stage?
First, you’ll want to connect with the people who booked you to ensure that you have a full understanding of what is expected of you. You’ll need to know the length of your session, the makeup of attendees, and the point in the event’s timeline when you are speaking. Also, make sure that you fully understand the goal of the event and what they want to accomplish. This way, you are setting yourself up for success by being able to tailor your presentation to the audience.
Your next move should be to outline and create a flow for your presentation. Typically, when I’m tackling a new topic, I start with a brainstorm session. Whether it’s by myself, with a colleague or a team member, I write out everything I want to cover in the topic and piece everything together. From there, after the initial brainstorm, a flow will come together organically. It’s up to you to connect all of those pieces and ask yourself: How do I grab their attention? What deliverables do I want this to produce? Ideally, this will turn into the actual outline that you will put on paper.
Next, translate it to presentation software. I’m partial to Prezi, but Keynote and PowerPoint tend to be popular standard options as well. Google Slides is also being used with more frequency as well.
Remember too that your brand show follow you all the way through to your presentation slides. In fact, I would also highly recommend using a program such as Canva to create a personalized background that will best represent your company.
Practice Makes Perfect
At this point, it’s time to practice to your heart’s content. According to Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Outliers, in order to perfect something, you have to practice for ten thousand hours. Of course, that number isn’t realistic for most of us, but the point is that it takes dedication. The most successful speakers build time to practice into their daily workflow, whether it’s getting up early or stealing a moment after the kids go to bed. As a general rule of thumb, you should be practicing at least 60 days before the main event. That way, you’ve given yourself more than enough time to work out the kinks and garner your confidence.
Every event is different, so be sure that you have the right equipment, your laptop is reliable and that you have the correct hookups. Extra cords and cables don’t hurt either and I always bring my own pointer in the off chance there isn’t one available. This is also the ideal time to firm everything up with the host and get any lingering questions answered.
Make sure you’ve given the event all the resources they need- a headshot, logo, bio (100 words or less) and an intro for them to read before you go on stage. Book your travel as early as possible, and make sure you know your schedule (e.g., when to get there, check-in time). If you arrive before the event, you’re going to want to refresh, so call ahead to see if there will be a room for you to do so.
Speaking of freshening up, create a list of what you will need before you start packing your suitcase. Personally, I have a checklist on my phone so that I don’t forget a thing. Bonus tip: Don’t check your equipment at the airport! It’s one thing to lose your favorite speaking outfit. It’s another to lose your laptop and your presentation to boot!
The Promotion and the Follow-Up
Even though the event will also be promoting your speaking engagement, you should also be using social media and your blog to build excitement. The conference may have logos and verbiage you can use to promote as well, so consider reaching out to request any deliverables.
One of the most important tips I can give for professional speaking is simply to have a plan for following up after the event. Make sure there is a way for people to get in touch with you. Bring business cards to hand out (trust me, people will want them) and consider a giveaway so you can collect attendee cards as well. Once the event has taken place, don’t forget the power of gratitude by writing a thank you note to the hosts.
So, remember: outline and organize your ideas, practice as if your life depended on it, and make sure you have all your ducks in a row in terms of what to bring and when to arrive. Don’t worry, you’re going to be great and this could be the beginning of a great endeavor!