If you don’t have much speaking experience, don’t expect paid opportunities to present themselves right off the bat. You may have to work your way up to the big leagues by accepting some smaller, unpaid opportunities first. Don’t be discouraged, though – small venues can be a great way to connect with an audience and build your reputation so you’ll become a desirable candidate for a keynote.
Start local. A great place to start is within your own firm (offering a lunch and learn) or with local chapters of larger national organizations such as AIA, ACEC or NAIOP. Not only will you be speaking to an audience that is part of your local community, but it can be a step toward finding your place in the organization on a regional or national level.
Hone your skills. As you develop your new role as a speaker, take the time to reflect and hone your skills. You may even consider having a colleague or mentor attend one of your events to give you feedback. Remember, strengthening your skills as a speaker on a smaller stage will serve you well as you transition to bigger events and audiences. Consider joining an organization like Toastmasters to help you gain practice.
Choose the right topics. Though this should go without saying, make sure you choose to speak about topics that are relevant to your target audience, addressing the challenges they face. Think carefully about your purpose and direction so you can make the best impression possible. As you speak about topics more frequently, adapt your approach slightly to discover what is most interesting and relevant to your target audience.
Think big. Once you gain traction and build your speaking resume with smaller local or regional events, begin branching out and applying for large speaking opportunities. Figure out where your competitors will be speaking (typically easily accessed on their website) or make a list of events your target audience is likely to frequent. Even if your proposal isn’t accepted this year, you can always reapply for annual events and spend the interim increasing your appeal as a speaker. Along the way, it’s important to keep track of organizations and titles of past presentations, you’ll need those along the way to demonstrate your own speaking experience.
Eventually, you’ll rack up enough speaking engagements to create a speaker bio page on your website with a press kit. As your visibility increases, don’t be surprised if events start seeking you out to appear.
Adding speaking engagements to your marketing strategy can seem like an intimidating task – especially if you’re starting from scratch. However, starting small and taking the time to hone your skills can put you on the path to becoming a desirable Visible Expert in AEC.
It’s worth mentioning that online speaking engagements are also a great place to start. Granted the face-to-face networking aspect is not there, you can build your audience on a digital platform and gain material and credibility for future in-person events.
Most importantly, stick with it. Every year, there are thousands of breakfast / lunch time seminars, one-day summits or weeklong retreats and each of these need speakers. The lessons you learn as you build your speaking portfolio will be invaluable as you become a sought after featured speaker. Remember: all keynote speakers have to start somewhere.