Is there any true value in public speaking?
It's a question that I get asked all of the time. Most entrepreneurs and marketers want to speak as a way to create a platform and put some thought leadership out into the world. They see the stage as an alluring space to have ones "name in lights." Lately, it seems like more and more people are selling themselves as a professional speaker as a way to make noise in a very crowded marketplace. Earlier this week, I was interviewed for a piece in The Globe & Mail about why so many entrepreneurs are now speakers. The article was titled, The podium is getting crowded with entrepreneurs, and here's what it said: "Toronto-based Speakerfile, an online engine created to give entrepreneurs and others a platform to market their expertise to and connect with event organizers and the media... notes that, since Speakerfile's launch in 2011, almost 10,000 users in 90 countries have posted their profiles to its website using 14,000 topic tags."
The true value in speaking.
Speaking has been one of the best professional development initiatives in my career, but that's just me. When people hear that I give about sixty presentations a year, they wonder when I have time to do any work. What they fail to realize is this: speaking is an integral component of the work that I do at Twist Image. I am not a solopreneuer. Our agency employs over one hundred full-time employees in two offices. I own this digital marketing agency equally with three other partners and we have a management team of over ten people (including the four partners) who handle how the business flows. My main role is business development. Over a decade ago, we made a choice to leverage some social media platforms (namely this blog and podcast) along with be a contributing writer to other publications (Harvard Business Review and Huffington Post) as a way to generate interest in how we think about business, marketing and communications. Once that took hold, we realized that the power of public speaking was profound. Instead of having to knock - door to door - on one company's door, one public speaking event would get our message and thinking out to hundreds (and sometimes thousands) of people. These people are connected to others, and it became a profoundly powerful way to generate interest and buzz in the agency. After a couple of speaking events, I was approached by Speaker's Spotlight who became a talent agent for me. That relationship has given me access to many more incredible brands. The combination of blogging, podcasting, solid agency work/growth and speaking led to a book deal in 2008 (Six Pixels of Separation - the book came out in 2009). That global book deal secured me representation with Greater Talent Network (another amazing speaking bureau that represents me in the US and abroad) that opened up other opportunities. As my next business book gets released on May 21st (it's called, CTRL ALT Delete), you can see how Twist Image has built a substantive platform to increase business development opportunities.
When speaking is a distraction.
There is no doubt that speaking - in and of itself - can be a very lucrative career if it's something that you're good at. It's easy to get lured into gig after gig and it came be a distraction if speaking isn't the core of the work that you do. The reason the article in the Globe & Mail had a whiff of sounding like it may be more of a distraction that opportunity for many is because, the average entrepreneur or marketer has a full time job already... and it's not about being a professional speaker. The decision to speak at an event is not one to be taken lightly. There may be over 10,000 speakers registered at just that one website mentioned above, but how many of those speakers do you think will get a five-star rating from the audience after they speak?
Speaking is a commitment.
It's not something to take lightly. Sure, sitting on a panel or giving a concurrent session is one thing, but being asked to give a keynote presentation or if you're considering using speaking as an ongoing platform, is something that you need to take a step back from, analyze and figure out how it complements and adds to your current business model. My guess is that the Globe & Mail article is correct: it probably is a distraction for a vast majority. That being said, if it's something that interests you, here are a couple of steps you can take to get started and figure out if it makes sense:
- Read this blog post: How To Market Yourself As A Speaker.
- Pick up these books:
- Give Your Speech, Change The World by Nick Morgan.
- Presentation Zen by Garr Reynolds.
- Slide-ology by Nancy Duarte.
- Resonate by Nancy Duarte.
- Figure out what your story is. Is it something worth telling? Can you deliver it in a compelling way? Will it drive business or help you achieve your business goals in a more effective way?
- Test it out. Speak at your local chamber or commerce. Ask you industry association if you can speak. Offer to give a lunch n' learn for a client. Find smaller audiences where you can road test your content, learn it and get more comfortable with it.
- Be honest. Decide if you're doing this because it adds value to your business or if it's for vanity. Focus is everything.
Public speaking is only a waste of time and a distraction when you haven't baked in the business outcomes before taking the stage.