Should You Make Speaking Engagements Part of Your Solopreneur Strategy?

Do you remember the very first time you spoke in public?

For most of you, I bet it was probably back in elementary school. I remember each member of my class going up to the chalkboard and, one by one, delivering a short talk about whatever topic they liked. For some, it was utterly terrifying and embarrassing. For others, they took to it like a duck to water!

As adults, things aren’t all that different now. Some people are still scared of public speaking, and some people love it. But it can’t be denied that doing speaking engagements can be a smart move for the savvy solopreneur looking to advance their profile and brand. However, there’s something important to keep in mind when you take on a speaking engagement:

Don’t Think of it as a Marketing Opportunity

A speaking engagement isn’t the time for self-promotion or marketing. Wait, what? Isn’t that why you wanted to speak in the first place? Well sure! But gaining new clients should be a byproduct of the networking that comes with public speaking, not the primary objective. It’s a great way to create goodwill that can lead to more business and opportunities, but your primary goal should be to deliver value to your audience.

When you speak at an event, you’ve been invited to share your expert knowledge with a group of people, so it’s crucial that you stick to the facts in your speech. Constantly talking about your business and how great of a solution you offer will only distract from that, weakening your presentation.

A speaking engagement is an opportunity to make a much deeper connection with a large group of people. You don’t need to promote yourself because, by sharing your knowledge in an engaging and interactive way, your audience will naturally want to know more about you and your business. After finishing your talk, share the name of your business and let people know that you’d be happy to connect with them again in the future.

Position Yourself as an Expert

As a solopreneur and business owner, you always want to position yourself as an expert in your field. There are a ton of ways to do this, from creating content like blogs to cultivating strong third-party testimonials. But nothing quite says “expert” like getting up in front of a crowd and speaking passionately about your field of expertise.

One significant advantage of public speaking is that it shows off a high level of confidence. Many people are terrified by public speaking, so just the fact that you’re able to stand up and deliver a speech can be impressive to a crowd. More importantly, taking a speaking engagement shows that you have a solid command of the facts. Writing a blog is one thing, as you constantly check your notes and reference other sources. But when you’re delivering a talk, it’s just you and whatever notes you took up there with you. In other words, it’s flying without a net. And that’s impressive!

What is Your Field of Expertise?

If you want to do more speaking engagements, you’re going to need something to speak about! And not just anything. You need to get specific. When first figuring out what areas of your expertise you wish to address in a public presentation, you should first take a look at your entire industry and your place in it. What are the areas of your job where you excel? What topics could you talk about for hours on end? What will an audience also be eager to hear about? Obviously, you want to focus on your areas of strength for your speaking engagements while considering the value you can give to an audience.

As you prepare to speak about a specific topic, you need to organize your presentation as much as possible so that you can stick to the point without getting off track. Your knowledge should be as complete as possible with a command of all the facts and a passion for the material.

After you’ve gotten your feet wet in the world of speaking, a little later on in your speaking career you can add more topics to diversify your personal brand. But when you’re first getting started, my advice would be to start strong by developing a single excellent talk that you can deliver again and again to crowds of any size.

Publicity is Golden

Doing a speaking engagement can be a great way to get your name out there! Generally, unless you were the organizer, you won’t be responsible for the publicity of a speaking engagement. (Though it’s always nice to support the event organizer by sharing the event on your social media channels and in your newsletter.) Speaking opportunities get your name put up online (hopefully with a link to your website) and increases your brand visibility exponentially.

Also, unless you’re a headline speaker, it’s likely that there will be others doing presentations at the same event. If they’re already established as experts, then having your name alongside them is a fantastic way to gain credibility in your field!

By the way, a speaking engagement is a great chance to do some active networking. Reach out to other speakers and organizers on LinkedIn and give them a shoutout on Twitter while also sharing and retweeting information about the event. Don’t forget to check if there’s an event hashtag and use it generously in your social sharing.

Be Sure to Thank The Crowd

If you watch professional performers, they always treat their audience with reverence. They know that, if it wasn’t for the audience, they wouldn’t be standing up there. Whether it be other public speakers, actors during a curtain call, or musicians during an encore, they’re continually thanking the audience for their attention and presence.

As a public speaker, you must do the same. Before your talk, directly address the audience and thank them for being there. This can create a personal connection with them right off the bat. Then, at the end of your speech, genuinely thank them for their time and attention. If you’re appreciative of your audience, your authenticity will show and speak volumes about your character.

You Need to Practice

You know the old joke, “How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice.” It’s completely true!

You might already be a pro when it comes to the information in your talk, but presenting it is something completely different. If you want to become a great public speaker and gain more speaking engagements in the process, you’re going to need practice. And I don’t just mean mumbling your talk in the mirror the night before the event.

Micheal Port from Heroic Public Speaking says “You should know your content so well that you can intentionally forget it all and still have it come back automatically when you’re on stage.”

If you have loved ones, enlist them! Make them sit down and deliver your talk to them. Chances are they’ll tell you that you did a great job! But… they love you, so don’t believe them! Next, ask one of your trusted friends if you can deliver the talk to them. Permit them to be as brutal a critic as possible since you want to know exactly where the weaknesses are in your presentation so you can improve them. Finally, set up your cell phone camera and record yourself doing your talk. Yes, watching it back can be painful—really, who likes hearing the sound of their own voice?!—but you’ll be able to see what you look like delivering it and how your talk sounds out loud.

Pro tip: If you have the means, higher a pro to coach you. Investing a bit of money now can garner huge returns.

Practice makes perfect. The nice thing about doing speaking engagements is that the more of them you do, the better you get! Then, the more practice you get delivering your presentations in front of people, the more speaking gigs you’ll land. It’s a positive feedback loop! But it will only happen if you take the time to practice your presentation right from the start.

Side note: If you want to do public speaking but aren’t ready for the stage yet – start small. Join a local Toastmasters group. They’ll help you get comfortable speaking in a small group so you can work your way up to something larger.

My own Toastmasters experience was invaluable. I went from tearing up in small team meetings at work to speaking on the fly to a crowd of 150 inside of a year. If you’d rather be in the coffin than giving the eulogy – give Toastmasters a try.

Whether or not you enjoy public speaking, it can’t be denied that it’s a fantastic way to get yourself out there as a part of your overall solopreneur marketing strategy. So, if the opportunity to deliver a presentation comes up, it could be the opportunity you’ve been waiting for. You might just learn something new about yourself and build deeper connections in your industry.

If you want to learn more about public speaking and how you can use your speaking engagements to build your brand and get new business, I highly recommend a course by Laura Valvasori. Her Speakers Business Development Toolkit will give you everything you need to start becoming a successful speaker!

Have you ever done a speaking engagement? Do you love them? Do they terrify you? Tell us all about it in the comments below!

Meet your host

Sandra Booker, Founder of Changemaker Inc. (home to Sidekick COO and The VA Studio) and creator of Scale Society and The Advisory Board, is a mentor, Fractional COO  and growth strategist. She specializes in helping overworked, overwhelmed, multi-hatted entrepreneurs become the CEOs of sustainably scalable, and powerfully profitable businesses. 

After helping local businesses thrive, and receiving accolades in her community (like the 40 Under 40 award) Sandra turned her attention to the world of online service providers, and her clients include familiar names like Chanti Zak, Tarzan Kay, and Laura Belgray.

In her (efficiently used) spare time, she teaches others how to build and grow their own 6-figure virtual assistant practices and is on a mission to create a million jobs by helping her clients and students scale their businesses.

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