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Get speaking opportunities

Like any other skill, becoming a great public speaker means first and foremost doing it a lot. Sure, you can read all about the art of public speaking but the main trick is to get in there and overcome your fears and uncertainties.

The crux is that it is not easy becoming a speaker at conferences. This is partly based on the decision of most conference organisers to play it safe and only use well-known speakers. This again is based on the fact that audiences in surveys keep requesting well-known speakers and this is – sadly enough – how we keep the speaker circuit from changing.

There is however a way out, which is to the most part based on getting known and using the great and newer concept of unconferences.

Go to Barcamps

Barcamps are un-conferences, meaning they are gatherings of enthusiasts of networking and presenting. Unlike conferences they are free and one of the really interesting rules of Barcamp is that everybody who attends also has to give a presentation.

These presentations are normally 15 minute slots and can be about anything that gets you excited at the moment. I've seen the full range of technical talks at barcamps but also knitting tips and a very thorough explanation why money is a big scam – which turned out to be very true a few months later.

Barcamps are a great opportunity to get your first experience in public speaking and allow interested people and conference organisers to spot you as an upcoming talent.

Go to Meetups

Meetups are informal gatherings of people in the business to chat about hot topics and generally meet and get to know other local peers. Lately a lot of them have started to have a quick presentation to start the event and this is your chance to get a foot in the door and have an expert audience (or actually an audience of experts that are not the normal conference crowd) to speak to.

Write articles

A lot of conference organisers also run online magazines. Carsonified for example, who run the “Future of...” conference series also run Thinkvitamin as their magazine.

Offer to write articles for magazines and keep a look out for article writing competitions and you'll find yourself invited to speak faster than you think.

Tip: Whilst in the last years magazines were flush with great content, personal blogging has made it harder for publishers to get good content every few weeks, which means that there is an opportunity for you right now.

Offer Brownbags

Brownbag presentations mean that you offer to come to a company during their lunch break and give a presentation. In case you are wondering – that's where the name comes from – as Americans bring their lunch in brown paperbags.

Brownbag presentations are a great opportunity right now:

  • They are not that common yet – so offering them to a company makes the person agreeing to it an innovator.
  • They mean that you reach people that normally don't go to conferences but have quite a big word-of-mouth power.
  • Your presentation is not disruptive to the daily deliveries of the company but adds extra value to a normal break.
  • They don't mean much traveling as you can do them at local companies (granted, living in London makes it easy).
  • You get on the company's blog and extranet and via that known to their clients and partners.

Ask questions at conferences

The final idea to plant in your head is to never be shy to ask questions at any meeting or conference. I am a hundred percent sure that my success in my job had its main breakthrough after I asked detailed technical questions to the speakers at the @media2005 conference.

I had spent four months arguing with my boss to get tickets to the conference and that it is important for my team to go there and wanted to get my money's worth – and everybody going to conferences should do the same.

If you don't ask you don't get an answer – it is as simple as that. If your question is technically valuable and interesting you can be quite sure that the rest of the audience had the same problem, but were too afraid to ask.