By Adelyn Zhou, CMO of TOPBOTS.
In the past few years, I've been invited to speak internationally at popular conferences on the topics of marketing, bots and artificial intelligence. As CMO of a strategy and research firm for applied AI, I advise executive teams at Fortune 500 companies on emerging technologies. These are the steps I took to advance from being an unknown expert to a leader in emerging technologies:
Practice in Front of a Group
To speak publicly, you must master presenting before an audience. If you're prone to stage fright, find places to practice. Improv classes can teach you how to think spontaneously on your feet and are a playful and fun way to develop your impromptu communication style. Toastmasters is a famous organization that helps people learn how to give speeches: Different members rotate giving speeches and receiving feedback from the group.
Hustle for Your First Gig
Do whatever it takes to nab your first few speaking gigs. If you've reached major milestone or deliverables, ask to present to a wider group internally to colleagues. Not only will you get more visibility at your company, you might even get a promotion! Look up Meetup groups and local organizations that hold events and pitch your talk.
You can even consider organizing your own meetups, or convince your company to sponsor an event in exchange for a coveted speaking slot. Ask your network for opportunities, letting them know you're available for speaking gigs. If you know someone speaking at a conference, ask them for an introduction to the event organizers.
Sound the Part
Inexperienced speakers often make three common mistakes when presenting:
1. Upspeak, where sentences end in a higher pitch and sounds like a question;
2. Vocal fry, a guttural type of speech that reduces your perceived clarity; and
3. Filler words such as "um," "like," and "you know." If you're truly serious about your speaking career, invest in an executive communications coach. Subscribe to podcasts and note what you like. I personally love Radio Lab, Planet Money and Gimlet Media shows. Search for YouTube for free educational content on how to present. Presenters on TED are all phenomenal. One of my favorite presentations is "How to Sound Smart In Your TEDx Talk."
Prepare Your Assets
Most events will ask you for a high-quality headshot to use in their promotional materials, so get a professional headshot. Update LinkedIn, because event organizers actively use the tool to find speakers and validate your credentials. Finally, you can go a step beyond and create a personal website.
Understand the Audience and Format
Obtain this information to tailor your presentation accordingly:
- Who is the audience (size, functions, levels of expertise)?
- How long is your session? Is time for Q&A included?
- What are other speakers presenting on?
- What is the screen size?)
- What is the slide format? (e.g. PowerPoint, Keynote, PDF)
A great presentation has visuals that the listener in the last row can see. Resist the temptation to cram as much as possible on each slide and instead focus on one major point per slide. Finally, if you're talking in a professional setting, be sure to run your content by your PR team first.
Invest in Tools
Technology varies from venue to venue, so invest in your own presentation tools. Consider purchasing your own presentation clicker or bring a versatile display adapter with you.
Be Gracious to Organizers
Be responsive, patient, and helpful to conference organizers and you'll be asked to speak repeatedly. Also, don't cancel unless absolutely necessary. If you do have to cancel, suggest another excellent speaker to take your spot.
Capture Photo and Video
Get a recording of your presentations. You can use the content to review and improve your speaking style, but also as a demo reel for future conferences.
Connect With Speaker Groups
As you progress, you can join a speaker bureau and even get an agent. For female speakers, I recommend Smiley Poswolsky's Women's Speaker Initiative. Consider these tips before preparing for your next public speaking opportunity -- and share any other tips that have worked for you in the comments.
Adelyn Zhou is the CMO of TOPBOTS, a research and strategy firm focused on applied artificial intelligence for Fortune 500 companies.