Speaking Out

The power of public speaking

SpeechBack in 1996 I joined a professional women’s networking group in Stavanger, Norway. The group was called WIN, which stood for Women’s International Network. This was the first professional club that I had ever joined and I was very nervous, particularly at the first meeting when I didn’t know a soul.

Today, five years later, I have to admit that I owe everything I have become today to WIN. Not only were there monthly meetings with a motivational speaker, but there was a sub-group for WIN members to join. There was no fee, and members met informally in each other’s homes once a month. I joined the group that called itself ‘Presenters’.

There were usually only four or five of us at ‘Presenters’. Each session we would pick a topic at random out of a hat, take 15 minutes to prepare our speech and then five minutes to speak. The topics could be as crazy as ‘lost socks’, as fascinating as ‘dreams’ or as unusual as ‘ferret-farming.’ One of the other members was chosen to be the heckler, another to be over-enthusiastic, another to be bored. The results were dramatic, humorous and immensely useful.

Six months later I found myself as the guest speaker at a WIN meeting, talking about my pet subject: portable careers. Three months later I was paid to develop and present a three-hour workshop on the same subject to a group of about 20 expatriate women. A year later I presented the same workshop to more than 100 people at the 1998 Women on the Move Conference in Paris. Since then I have presented almost every month at venues all over the world.

It was after the Paris presentation that I came to realize the power of public speaking. My workshop had lasted over two hours, but the queue of people who wanted to ask additional questions or exchange business cards, lasted a further hour. There were several hundred delegates at the conference and it would have been impossible for me to meet them all at the various break times. Now, after a giving a presentation, more than a third of the attendees knew who I was. Thanks to the copious handouts I had passed around they also knew my contact details.

When I returned home I made the effort to contact every single person who had given me her card. I just wrote a short note to thank them for attending and to suggest that they could contact me again at any time if they had further questions.

Sometimes conference speakers are not paid a fee, though, usually, the organizers may underwrite the conference fees and a hotel room for a night or two. Nevertheless, conference organizers rarely have to go begging for speakers. Those speakers with a service or product to sell are often happy to fund their own travel expenses for the opportunity of showing their face, on stage, to a captive audience.

Many of the conference delegates will have traveled alone. While talking to total strangers can be daunting, striking up a conversation with the speaker you have just heard is much easier. Similarly, speakers find it as easy to start chatting to someone they have seen in their session as to a fellow presenter.

Networking can be much simpler and more productive at a conference. After half an hour or so on stage, you are more likely to be remembered than if you had merely chatted to someone for a few minutes during a coffee break.

Since that first presentation at WIN I have now spoken at international events, to organizations and to corporations all over the world. A month does not pass when I do not speak to my target market. Often, these days, I am paid to speak too! But one thing that does not change is the networking potential of these engagements.

When Woman Abroad magazine was first launched on the international market we decided to market it by giving away up to 20,000 copies each issue. In order to do this many publishers would have to buy numerous databases of potential customers. We bought none. Thanks to the exponential effect of contacting all the people I have met along the way and asking them to tap into their own networks, we have accessed hundreds of thousands worldwide.

You may not have a Presenters group near you to kick-start your own speaking career, but you can always start one. Go to a short course; buy a book or practice on your own in front of your video camera. Do not underestimate the power of presenting.

About Joanna Parfitt

Joanna Parfitt is an international journalist, book author, publisher, speaker, career consultant and founder of Career In Your Suitcase. After a decade abroad, Joanna now specializes in expatriate and career issues. For more information visit her website.

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