How to get yourself ready for your first ever speaking gig

No matter how long you’ve been working in the digital marketing industry, you can always find something to push you that bit harder. For some, this may mean a new role or specialism, but for others, the lure of speaking at a conference can be an attractive one. Or at least one to debate as you mull over the following thoughts:

“Do I know enough?”

“Is it too scary to get up on stage?”

“What if people hate my talk?”

These are all natural questions, but at some point, you’ll know whether you’re brave enough to go for it. Even after this point you’ll likely consider changing your mind to remain one of the people in the audience, but I want to convince you to take a chance on your first ever speaking gig if there is even just a tiny part of you that’s interested.

If I can do it, you can too!

I first took to the stage in 2014 at the Content Marketing Show. I’m a total introvert and at no point in the past did I think I’d ever get up on stage to do something like that. I didn’t even put my hand up in school to answer questions, something which my teachers noted heavily in my report cards. I’m speaking more about this at the next BrightonSEO if you’re interested in the full story.

But I can guarantee that I had all the same thoughts that I’ve listed above. I couldn’t even eat or speak in full sentences to anyone the morning that the talk was taking place. Despite this, I did it, and survived! The bonus was having some nice feedback to read on Twitter once I was through the talk and off the stage.

I’m of the opinion that every person in the industry has something valuable to share with others; you’ll always know something that someone else doesn’t, or you can help someone to understand something better. You don’t need to speak to EVERY person out there, just those who would benefit from what you know and can share.

If you’re up for the challenge, here are some next steps to help you on your way:

Find somewhere to speak

First things first: you’re going to need to find a stage where there is a suitable digital marketing audience ready and waiting.

Luckily, Bas published a post late in 2016 named “The Complete Digital Marketing Events and Conferences list 2017”. This is an excellent place to start hunting for the perfect speaking opportunity that suits your job role and niche in the industry.

Each event will have its own unique criteria for selecting speakers, but it’s worth connecting with some organisers through social media, or by email, to express your interest. With any luck, you’ll be provided with a form where you can provide some more details, or at least find out how you can apply for their next event if you’ve missed out this time.

As it’s coming up soon, it’s worth noting that the team behind BrightonSEO is currently gathering interest for future events, including September’s conference and beyond. You can fill out this form if you’re interested, as there will be plenty of other first or second-time speakers alongside you.

Identify a topic

When it comes to filling out forms and sending emails, you’ll quickly find that you need to get a bit more specific with the event organisers when it comes to details. This is because they’ll need to assess how different your talk will be to the other ones they’re scheduling in, as well as where your session might fit best in the agenda.

This does mean that you’ll need to spend some time thrashing out some ideas; it’s always helpful to get feedback on these from your industry peers and colleagues, but ultimately try and go with the topic you feel most confident speaking about (especially for your first ever speaking gig!).

If you need some inspiration, have a look at the types of talks that have been done previously, or at conversations that are taking place on social media or on websites such as this one.

Choose a title

From here you’re making further refinements to your talk idea, and nailing it down to one simple line: the title. You may be able to agree on a working title until the full agenda is released, but at some point you’re going to have to make the decision on how your talk is advertised.

Look through published conference agendas and see which talk names shout out to you the most; try and identify any themes that you can borrow. A session that asks a question can be a powerful tool, or you could include something quirky which still provides enough context for your audience.

Here are a couple of examples from the upcoming BrightonSEO agenda:

  • Question based title: “How can Google Data Studio help me?” by Al Wightman
  • Quirky title: “Don’t be awesome! Just be alright at everything!” by Zak Edwards

Remember that you’ll also need to provide a talk summary to go along with the title, which can be helpful if you’re concerned about fitting all of the vital details into one line.

Get your slides ready

Depending on how far in advance you agree your speaking slot, you’ll either enjoy a fair chunk of time to get your slides together, or it might have to be a rushed job if you’re stepping in for someone at the last minute.

Either way, preparing slides can feel a bit overwhelming, but focus on what you want to get across to your audience FIRST, and the slides themselves will follow. Any great speaker will tell you that the magic of a good speaking gig comes down to storytelling.

I recently attended a speaker training session with conference regular Kelvin Newman, and Dolly May from Working With Voice, and it reminded me just how important it was to consider the opener and ending of a presentation. If you’re able to work these in as early as possible, you’ll be able to shape the middle part of your talk around these bookends.

When it comes to slide design, you’ll want your deck to look consistent and visually appealing. Simple tricks are to limit the amount of text you use, to choose colours that aren’t painful to look at, and fonts that are clear to read. Check out this TED blog post for some more tips.

Build your confidence

Once all the other boxes have been ticked, it basically comes down to practice, practice, practice. And yes, it can seem strange at first to talk out loud to yourself for 10, 20 or even 60 minutes, but it’s worth it.

It will help you to identify areas of your talk that need more work, a bit more context, or just don’t make sense in the flow of everything else you want to say. Plus, it will get you over the fear of hearing your own voice, something that many of us seem to shy away from.

Don’t stop there though; you can recruit a small group of colleagues (or rely on your friends and family) to listen to you go through your talk a couple of times. Ask for constructive feedback so you can pay close attention to the areas that they didn’t quite follow, or where they had questions that you didn’t answer with your voice or slides.

If you’re after some professional help to get you feeling conference-ready, don’t forget that you can register for training sessions too. In fact, State of Digital has a little sister called Speak With Persuasion which could be of particular interest to you if you’re getting ready for your first talk. There are also plenty of books available which cover presentation delivery tips, so get reading well ahead of the event if you want to benefit from these.

Are you looking to speak at your first event in 2017 or 2018? Let me know in the comments below. If you’ve presented at a conference before, it’d be great if you could leave your own tips here too, as they could be helpful for a first-timer!

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Hannah Butcher

About Hannah Butcher

Hannah has been working in the digital marketing industry since 2009, specialising in content and outreach. Hannah is the Lead Influencer Marketing Strategist at Melt Content, and will be speaking at BrightonSEO in April 2017.