When I was starting out, I identified the areas that excited me most and built a brand around them. I had a passion for litigation, diversity, and business development, and I felt extremely comfortable leveraging social media, which allowed me to distinguish myself from my competitors. Eager to work with and learn from a wide array of people, I dove in headfirst and capitalized on my pre-existing strengths.
Likewise, it’s pivotal that you ask yourself, What do I care about most? What do I have to offer that others don’t? Answering these questions will require self-reflection and exploration. You may have to conduct online research, read a few books, or hire a business/life coach to hammer out what moves you and what you’re truly passionate about. Once you have selected the topics that you enjoy the most, determine which ones you feel most qualified to speak on, then devise a plan to generate qualified and appropriate leads.
Understandably, most people will want to know why you’re considered an authority on a given subject matter and why your opinion matters. The easiest way to establish credibility is to demonstrate your prowess in three ways:
Write: In your authentic voice, write short (500-750 words) articles on your selected topics in a “non-salesman” way and pitch them to relevant publications. Remember, always share information about products and services as if you were talking to your peers, not a faceless customer. Publications are desperate for fresh content and, if they can get it for free, they are especially likely to bite. If you do not have success pitching at first because you haven’t yet established your credibility, start a blog and point editors to your previous work there.
Be written about: Pitch your ideas to news outlets, bloggers, reporters on Twitter, etc., and hope that someone seeks to feature you or quote you in an article on which he or she is working.
Network: Join relevant organizations and attend conferences and networking events in order to make as many connections as you can. As people get to know you, they will become a passive referral source.
It’s important to set realistic expectations. You most likely will not become Zig Zigler, Les Brown, or Joel Osteen overnight — and that’s okay. Start locally. As you hear about upcoming events and conferences in your area, contact the organizers to see if they have all of their speakers scheduled yet and, if not, offer to contribute for free. Your goal is to achieve name recognition and gain legitimacy. Then, post about each and every gig on all of your social media outlets. When I was starting out, I publicized all my speaking engagements, even those at churches or schools. Slowly, I began to gain traction. To generate further awareness, keep track of all of the events where you speak on the press page of your website. (It’s a good idea to use your name as the URL.)
What you’re known for determines your brand. Create a solid social media engagement strategy by developing a presence on LinkedIn, Quora, Facebook, and Twitter, and regularly share relevant content. Liking, sharing, and commenting on other people’s posts is equally valuable, because it shows others your interests, thoughts, and opinions. Make sure that your participation is authentic, consistent, and appropriate reading for your parents or someone you respect greatly. When I was building my brand, I developed legitimacy by moderating two successful LinkedIn groups. I leveraged the opportunity with LinkedIn to begin hosting small gatherings and speaking engagements, and things grew from there. Ultimately, LinkedIn featured me on its home page for three years. Remember, these platforms are designed to help you promote your initiatives. Take advantage of that opportunity.
The best way to develop business is via word of mouth, so you have to tell your network that you’re interested in obtaining speaking engagements. I am a firm believer that asking for what you want enables others to act on your behalf. Most people want to help, but they often don’t know how. You can make it easier by telling them. One time, I did a favor for a college professor by speaking to her class. Afterward, I told her what speaking opportunities I was interested in, and she's since referred at least three engagements for me. One was a talk at LinkedIn's new San Francisco office, which was on my bucket list.
It’s difficult for people to go out on a limb for those who they do not know very well, so it’s up to you to mitigate their risk by creating an atmosphere of legitimacy and credibility. The best speakers are passionate about what they talk about, exude charisma, and are incredibly engaging. Master this – I know it’s easier said than done – and you’re well on your way to sharing your voice, and talent, and treasure with the world.