How to successfully prepare for a speaking gig

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I LOVE speaking as a part of my career. I intentionally build it into my work because storytelling and connecting with an audience comes from my soul; I miss it when I don’t do it. We need more people to speak up with conviction, clarity, and truth. It connects us instead of speaking over each other.

Now is exactly the time to find your voice and use it.

This year I took a hiatus from gigs, but from 2013-2016 I spoke at every business, leadership, and women’s conference I could. I created a kick-ass system with a spreadsheet of conferences, email templates, phone scripts, and a formal How to Pitch method. Even hired my brother out of college to be Vincent Graves, speaking “liaison.” Worked like gangbusters till he signed an email “Virat Gupta.” Good thing he had a corporate lawyer job as a backup. :)

When Jeff asked me to speak at Tribe Conference next month, I said “100% Yep.” I’m excited to get back on stage. My prep for the talk inspired today’s post; if you want to speak as part of your career, you’ll discover your process; my process helps me get in front of the right audience and boosts my confidence. I prep internally first, for myself, then I prep content and language for the actual talk.

I start by asking myself the 7 questions below first, then I ask the creator of the event a few months before the event. These questions help me understand why I’m there and why the event exists in the first place.

Who is the primary audience?
If you want your stories to land powerfully for the audience, get into their world first. Impact means you know: Who is she? What does she love? What’s she here to learn? Is he here to be entertained? Does he need permission? What’s he afraid of? Before you design your talk, do this to make the audience real, not just people en masse. Personally, I care way more about the audience and feel closer to them on the day of the talk if I do this; it calms my nerves and lets my real self shine. Seth once told me, “Give them love, Ishita.” Thinking about who they are starts me loving them weeks before the actual gig, which they can feel day of.

Who knocked it out of the park?
I always like to know which speakers or talks left an impression with the audience at previous events, not to replicate what worked, but to find out what makes a particular audience tick and why. When you know that, you can use it in your own message, put on your own spin, or do something different that ups the ante. The way I feel, if I can’t delight people, why bother!

What speakers or items fell short?
Equally important is knowing what went wrong. I’ve seen speakers go completely off topic or not prepare for a formal talk, only to do Q&A instead, bombing. Unless you’re practiced at off-the-cuff impromptu Q&A, it’s not worth the risk. Simply being famous does NOT cut it. I’ve seen well-known people bomb and the audience felt it. Arianna Huffington’s 2014 Thrive event had an impressive roster of speakers, but the presentations were so awkward that I didn’t remember a bit of content.

Knowing what didn’t work gives you creative freedom to do YOUR thing and do it well.

What topics are already covered by experts?
People usually hire speakers based on their expertise and expect them to share that with the audience. Malcolm Gladwell is popular for his ruminations in social science, Brene Brown for the science of vulnerability; this is what people are used to hearing them talk about in public.

Knowing what other speakers will talk about helps you in two ways: You can use it to stay in your lane and talk about your zone of knowledge. Or you can use it to inform your talk and help you take creative risks.

You don’t have to stay in a particular lane to rock it out, you can challenge yourself to take a content risk or find a new insight within your topic,

At Tribe Conference, I know digital experts will talk about Amazon and publishing platforms, so I’ll be relevant with marketing and storytelling.

What is the overall conference and speaker schedule?
If possible, my preference is to speak on the morning of the first day. That’s when my performance hat is on and the audience is attentive. YOU set the tone for the conference then. It causes more anxiety because day one has high expectations, but I still prefer it to speaking in the afternoon, when you compete with food comas and lagging attention. Obviously, I also enjoy the event much more when I don’t have to worry about giving my talk.

Knowing the speaker lineup helps you switch up a joke or story, or piggyback off something someone said. When I spoke at the Philadelphia Conference for Women, Madeleine Albright and Hillary Clinton spoke. Ms. Albright was the morning keynote speaker. Obviously, I referenced them when I began because I was genuinely giddy! I felt my energy increase and felt more connected to my topic of female leadership. People could feel it! Knowing the flow of speakers can amplify your content if you do it right.

What do you *most* want them to walk away with?
I asked Jeff, “What’s the ONE thing you want people to walk away with?” “Permission,” he said fast. I was impressed; most people don’t have an answer; it requires thinking beyond spewing information to what will really impact an audience – and it’s not “20 ways to market your book.” Help her confront a hard reality. Tell the truth about the world she wants to be in. Don’t sugarcoat. Share what really happened to you. Help him see why he’s stuck. Show your road map…how can he find his own? Instill confidence because you were there a few years ago.

Why me?
People laugh when I ask this but isn’t it obvious? I’m all for an ego boost! Seriously though, it’s useful to know why someone wants you specifically at their event because it gives you a sense of who you are that already compels the world. You see how your style and personality leave an impression and how you’re perceived. You may not * do* anything with the information, but knowing it can help your talk and it boosts your confidence, so why not!

If you’ve got an upcoming gig or presentation, try this process. Personally, this helps me get a real understanding of the audience and helps me trust myself.

Speaking is about feeling confident in YOU first.

Once you’re comfortable with yourself inside, the talk itself gets easier.

Using our voice is a privilege, let’s make the most of it in a way that UNITES.

xx Ishita

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