Updated: May 18, 2020
Last week, I had to honor of speaking at the largest cyber security conference in the world for the second year in a row. An estimated 50,000 people attended this year, and to be selected as a speaker can sometimes feel like trying to get into an IVY league university. Tons of people try, but only a select for make it. A question I get often is, “how did you start speaking at events like this?” Like most things in life, the simple answer is hard work. But, that doesn’t say much so here are 3 things to think about if you eventually want to hit a main stage.
Get comfortable with speaking in public. Early in my career, public speaking was absolutely TERRIFYING. I’m an introvert, and I was super shy growing up. The thought of speaking in front of people made me nauseous, and I would literally shake every time I had to present in my high school speech class. Like any skill, practice is what changed the game for me. I remember my first speech vs. my last speech in that class. I went from shaking like a stripper to a subtle “I feel a breeze and don’t have a jacket” kind of shake. I wasn’t perfect in the end, but I was much better. To continue improving, I joined a local Toast Masters next. It helped to practice, but I was still terrified and started avoiding the meetings. I needed a learning method that I couldn’t escape, and so I started signing up for real speeches – at work, at school, anywhere that would take me. I knew that being under pressure would help me commit and learn.
Determine your unique value proposition. It’s important to think about what you have to offer and why you want to speak in the first place. If you don’t have something to say, it’s kind of hard to book a speech. Think about your experiences, how they are unique, and how others might learn from them. Have you done something in your industry that people could benefit from hearing about? Have you researched a topic and gained new insight? Is there anything you think you can teach a certain audience? If so, share it!
Start somewhere. The first major speech I can remember delivering was during my Ph.D. program. I submitted a research paper for publication in an international journal and ended up getting invited to present it in Rome, Italy. I prepared like a madwoman, and I delivered. From there, I continued to submit papers and that year ended up presenting in Washington, DC, Chicago, and more. Eventually, as people watched me speak in certain places, they invited me to speak at others. Before I knew it, so many people were knocking on my door. Once you deliver a great speech to the right audience, magic happens. A key tip is that no matter how small a speech is, give it your all! You never know who might be in the room. I’ve spent a week preparing for a speech only to see 3 or 4 people show up in the crowd. I was a little disappointed initially, but one of those people came up to me after and asked me to present in London and in other places. No matter what, do your best!