Public speaking is seldom cited as favourite pastime — around 75 per cent of people struggle with anxiety around the very idea of it. But if you’re a reluctant orator then it’s worth pushing through the pain and challenging your own perceptions because its benefits to your career can be substantial.
There is no better opportunity than public speaking to help build your personal brand, a way of creating and influencing public perception of you that can have powerful impacts on your career and how others respond to you. Speaking engagements give you a way to stand out from the competition and position you as an authoritative figure in the industry — as well as allowing you to be ‘known’ in a field for a particular expertise.
Raising your voice for strategic career advantage doesn’t have to necessarily be about jumping straight into delivering a conference keynote. There are speaking opportunities at all levels internally and externally to help you develop in this area, from panels and webinars to presentations, podcasts, training events and motivational speaking, all of which can contribute to clarifying your values, expertise and interests and raising your visibility at your company and wider industry.
The baseline: people who speak up get attention, and as research and anecdotal evidence show, women do not habitually promote themselves as much as men. Public speaking can be a valuable way to redress the scales. No matter how well you perform your job, if people don’t know what you’ve accomplished it cannot influence your career trajectory. As public speaking expert Kendra Hall says: ‘The front of the room is a position of power, women’s absence is a problem.’
In her work connecting event managers with female experts and speakers, Innovation Women founder Bobbie Carlton has also seen the benefits of leaning in to public speaking first-hand for women — in its ability to accelerate career growth, boost reputation and extend networks. ‘Public speaking helps you demonstrate competence and confidence, both things employers like to see in their employees,’ she says. ‘People who take on public speaking opportunities can also gain added credibility.’
So, how does public speaking enhance your role — and how can you best use it to help you to create and maximise opportunities?
It challenges (and can surprise) you
The first step around public speaking is to realise that we can do it — and it may take less time than you think to become comfortable with your skills as a speaker. The first public event you do will always be the hardest. But once you’ve achieved that first step (taking on board any feedback to improve next time) you might find you’re keen to do more and refine and expand your skillset. Charlie Clarey, European Digital Project Manager at Samsung, recently took a seat on a panel discussion on Imposter Syndrome for everywoman and found the experience unexpectedly exhilarating. ‘I put my name forward through our HR team to get myself out of my comfort zone and although I was nervous, I loved it. Even doing that has raised my profile already because the recording was then sent around the company, and I also put it on my own LinkedIn. The positive reaction has been really motivating.’
If the idea of speaking makes you nervous, start small, looking inside your company for opportunities, from group presentations to hosting a webinar. Clarey, however, suggests being even bolder. ‘I possibly went high too soon and that might scare some people. Before I did the panel, my advice probably would have been to put some things on LinkedIn and maybe just post about an event. But now I’m more, “Go as hard as you can go and volunteer for things straight off”’.
It creates demand for your brand
Once you’ve found your speaking mojo, it’s not just about raising your hand to be considered for opportunities — you have to be strategic and proactive about chasing down the opportunities. It’s key to know what you want to be known for in your brand and in your career and who can facilitate that internal and external visibility. The ultimate aim is to get people to come to you and to be the person they think of when opportunities arise. But that begins with putting yourself out there to be seen and heard, and your company comms or PR team is a good place to start. Volunteer to be a case study, panel member or a speaker or host for internal or external webinars or speaking opportunities. Tell your line manager you are keen to expand your speaking skills, search online on LinkedIn or on sites that specialise in promoting experts in their field as media spokespeople. And don’t forget to publicise your public speaking or hosting on social media and LinkedIn, further amplifying yourself as the go-to person in a given area or around a particular issue.
It allows you to explore an area
Creating a niche for yourself within your wider area of expertise can be a useful way not only to stand out as a speaker or interviewee, but also to highlight and amplify parts of your role that you would like to increase, develop or even just explore. ‘Over the past couple of years, I’ve used my interest in UX to job craft by stealth and raise my profile in the company,’ says Emma Purkis, an account director at a digital transformation agency. ‘I started by hosting a weekly Zoom on best practice which in turn taught me a lot as well as making me a go-to person for UX discussions within the company, and I organised and co-hosted workshops for junior colleagues. As a result, my brand value as an expert in this area has grown to the point that I was recently asked by senior management to speak at a digital transformation conference on behalf of the company.’
It highlights opportunities everywhere
Don’t wait for a big event to show your skills off — start to look for opportunities everywhere to use your voice and presence or proactively create them to raise your visibility in your organisation. These can range from giving presentations to something as simple as offering to do the speech at someone’s leaving do. The more your voice is heard, and your face is seen, the more your personal brand profile becomes one of ‘speaker’, ‘expert’ or ‘someone who enjoys communication’ to those around you. In highlighting these skills, you make it clear that this is something you want more of and by creating these links in people’s minds — be it your line manager or a conference delegate — helps you to be the person they then automatically think of when opportunities arise.
It expands your network
For Clarey, public speaking is a key way to build on networks within her company: ‘I run the Women in Samsung events, but I have always got a speaker in the past — I was so motivated by my panel experience with everywoman I actually hosted our latest one. My boss came for the first time and posted about it on our intranet, and I have also found people emailing me individually afterward, whereas I would have normally been in the background.’ Leveraging your speaking engagements with networking also has benefits for both. Delivering a speech, presentation or hosting a webinar internally or externally gives you a unique vantage point from which to talk to guests and to follow up with people, building on your relationship and expanding your network. And as your network grows, those people in turn can then become your PR machine, spreading the news about your skill and availability as a speaker or host to others.