Awhile back, I had the opportunity to speak to a group of about 50 entrepreneurs in Amsterdam. It was roughly five days of travel for nine hours of work, yet the speaking engagement has been one of my favorites so far — and it has nothing to do with the fantastic city, people, and overall destination.
The real reason has everything to do with what the experience taught me.
I was jet-lagged almost the entire time — not the best of circumstances to be at the top of your game. But as much as I wanted to take a hyperextended nap, I was there to do a job. So I had to put on my big-boy pants, take on a different mentality, and be present under even the worst circumstances.
You see, it’s my opinion that a speaking engagement doesn’t start as soon as you hit the stage; it starts as soon as you land.
Preparing for the Conference
Part of your preparation should always take place at the conference. Don’t get me wrong — I’m not saying you should wait to rehearse until then. But I think it’s important to understand your audience firsthand before speaking, so leave room in your schedule to spend time with attendees. You’ll get a deeper feeling for their needs. Mixing and mingling is where the real magic happens.
For example, I was at a conference and chatting with a woman; she was telling me about her golf business and the reasons she started it. At first, she said it was to make more money. But as we talked, she opened up. “I love spending time with my husband, and I love to golf,” she said. “If I have a successful company, then I get to do the things I love with the man I love.”
Her story wasn’t any part of what I had planned to say on stage. But I was all of a sudden able to bring in a firsthand story from someone in the audience. It added an element of realness. It was an unexpected and really cool twist that would never have happened if I hadn’t made a habit of getting to know the attendees.
Speaking at the Conference
Of course, the ultimate reason you’re at the conference or seminar is to speak, and there are a few tricks of the trade that can come in handy when you hit the stage. These tips are all about owning the experience, and they encompass four specific areas:
- Own the fear. It’s OK to be a little scared. Nerves are part of the game. I’d even go so far as to say they make you feel more alive on stage. Embrace the fear, and let it fuel your energy.
- Own yourself. Don’t discount the visual aspect of speaking. You need to dress well, no doubt. But it’s not the fiber of the clothes that make the man (or woman, for that matter); it’s the fiber of yourbeing.Owning yourself has a lot to do with being yourself. Don’t let your nerves cloud who you are when you hit the stage.
- Own your stage. Obviously, owning your stage has a lot to do with body language. What sort of image does your body language portray? It’ll come across in the way you hold and present yourself. Command the audience’s attention. That being said, you need to strike a certain balance. Owning the stage can quickly morph into something else entirely. We’ve all had the pleasure of listening to some annoying speakers in our time. Take care not to be one of them.
- Own your content. Each of us has our own little bucket of experience. It’s usually what we’re asked to speak about on stage, and this is the stuff that’s the easiest to own. It’s your sweet spot. It’s what you practice, rehearse, and get to know. But a time will come when you’ll speak on the fringes of your expertise. It’s here where you need to make a conscious decision to own the content. Don’t go in there thinking, “I’m not really up-to-date on this stuff.” The audience can read it. Own it. Plus, it’s a chance to widen your expertise and bring new knowledge to the table.
Working the Conference
It should come as no surprise that I also believe your speaking engagement doesn’t end as soon as you exit the stage. Though you’re speaking at this conference or seminar, you’re still an attendee just like everyone else. Act like one, and get to know the people.
It’s an opportunity to really connect in a more relaxed state — “connect” being the operative word, here. Now is not the time to network. Make friends with these people. Personally, I’m a situational extrovert, and these events are my time to shine. I’ve made some truly great friends.
After the same conference, I met another woman who owns a tea company in Dallas. We got to know each other and our respective businesses. And when we were launching Biz Academy online, the server went down. It wasn’t our fault; it was a systemwide problem. She sent me an email right away, alerting me an error had occurred.
That’s when you know that it’s not just a network, but it’s also a friendship. Friends are always looking out for you in everything you do.
No matter the event or the circumstances, it’s always important to be present. Your presence can make it not just another speaking engagement, so prepare, own it, and engage. Doing anything otherwise is a waste of an opportunity.
Rick Martinez runs Life Pivot, a company that teaches people to cultivate purpose, passion, and productivity into finding a work-life balance that creates success. Life Pivot is headquartered in San Antonio, Texas. Find out how to work less and make more by subscribing to Rick’s purpose hack.