8 Ways to Impress as a Guest Speaker

Many of today’s influencers got their first break as guest speakers. Speaking is a sign that you’re a recognised expert in your field. It’s a proven way to quickly build your personal brand and grow your credibility. Yet, not all speakers are created equal. Attend any event and, after the polite applause, delegates will have a strong opinion of whose talk delivered the greatest value. (And it’s often not the keynote speaker). This is your opportunity to make a lasting impression in the minds of your target audience but you need to know how to deliver.

Simple steps to deliver an impressive talk

Here are some steps you should take to deliver impactful talks when approached to be a guest speaker.

  1. Learn the purpose of the event. What is the ultimate goal of the conference/workshop/meetup? What does the organiser want to deliver? And what new knowledge do delegates want to walk away with?
  2. What is the audience struggling with? Once you know the audience, put yourself in their shoes. What do they need to know to make their jobs easier? What can you teach to help them perform better? Ask yourself, “What is this audience struggling with?” You need empathy because sometimes your audience doesn’t know what it doesn’t know. That’s when you, as an expert, need to guide, advise and notify them of threats and opportunities in their field.
  3. Build your talk around a story. Is there an engaging story you can use to get your point across? A story could be a lesson learned from dealing with a customer; how you overcame a difficult problem; a change that affects your industry and how you prepared for it. Storytelling is simply sharing an experience with your audience. But don’t overdo it. Some talks are nothing more than story after story. It’s like listening to the party bore. Choose one story and build on that, sharing as many lessons and insights as possible along the way.
  4. What would you want to sit through? Put yourself in the audience. What would you want to hear? What type of presentation would impress you? What would leave you underwhelmed?
  5. Share a secret. Do you have a “secret” or valuable, little-known information you can share with your audience? (We’re speaking figuratively – please don’t start sharing information given to you in confidence.) We all love secrets and it’s a sure way to keep your audience hooked to what you’re saying. There is powerful  psychology behind divulging a “secret”. We like to feel we have an unfair advantage, the inside track. An audience who feels they have been told little-known information automatically rates your talk more favourably.
  6. What outcome are you promising? What benefit will your audience get from listening to your talk? What new knowledge can they now apply? Don’t just deliver theory – give your audience actionable steps they can take away and apply in their own lives or careers.
  7. Offer talk notes for download. Clear this with the organiser first but offer talk notes for download. You can keep this low-key and avoid cheap on-stage promotion by saying, “If you want a copy of the talk notes, please speak to me afterwards” then direct enquiries to a landing page on your website to collect emails.
  8. Mingle. Make a point of speaking with attendees after your talk. It’s a great opportunity to make new contacts and leave a lasting positive impression on your potential target audience. Be approachable, be helpful, be enthusiastic. One tip is to always try to give something useful to everyone you speak to: a contact name, a supplier, a lead, a book recommendation.

Takeaway points

  1. Ask the event organiser what is the purpose of the event and what they want the audience to leave with after listening to your talk.
  2. Take your role as a guest speaker seriously. Do your homework. Being a good guest speaker is one of the quickest ways to grow your authority, your profile and your audience.
  3. Treat your talk like a saleable product, i.e. identify something your audience is struggling with and deliver the solution.

Action steps

  1. If you do not have past examples of you speaking, make a short video of you delivering a presentation. This is your “test reel” and gives potential event organisers an idea of your speaking ability. Many organisers will not book you without such a video or proof of past speaking gigs.
  2. What is your secret sauce? Think of some advice you would normally charge for and build a talk around that.
  3. Contact event organisers in your field and apply as a guest speaker for their next event.

Photo credit: JohnDiew0107 via Flickr.com / CC BY-NC 2.0

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