A few years ago I found myself in a professional conundrum. The head of a nonprofit agency approached me to lead a workshop – his organization provides services to small business owners, and he wanted me to conduct a talk about branding. Of course! I said, thinking what a great opportunity this was, plus I was flattered to be recognized for my experience in the industry.
Talking in public is a great tool to include in one’s marketing toolbox:
• it positions you as a expert in your field
• audience members sometimes turn into leads
• promotion of the event gets your name out there
But soon I became aware of a big problem. As the time drew nearer to give the workshop, I lay awake each night in a panic at the thought of standing up in front of a room full of people. I tried to dismiss this anxiety, but it became worse, so much so until it became an actual terror. Eventually I was forced to tell my contact that I was unable to follow through with my commitment (although not before I was able to find him a highly-regarded replacement speaker).
I did not feel good at all about my decision to cancel the talk. Not only had I reneged on my commitment, thereby letting someone down who respected my professional expertise (and who could possibly have turned into a prospect), I was well aware that my lifelong phobia of public speaking was having a negative affect on my career by preventing me from growing as a business person.
Apparently I am not alone: three out of every four individuals – 75 percent – suffer from speech anxiety. According to national surveys, fear of performing in public ranks among Americans' top dreads, surpassing fear of illness, flying, spiders, terrorism, and often the fear of death itself. So even though I found myself with lots of company, I knew I had to do something, and I chose to do what many thousands of people before me with similar dread have done: I joined Toastmasters. This organization, with local clubs around the world, helps people become more competent and comfortable in front of an audience.
I found it to be a supportive, un-threatening environment in which to practice getting up and speaking in front of people. At first I was constantly terrified. I would regularly ask myself: Julia, why are you doing this to yourself – voluntarily? Every time I prepared a speech, it felt like I was doomed, like I was walking the plank with a gun held to my head. But somehow I would get through it and the butterflies in my stomach, at first banging around madly in my gut to the point of nausea, would dissipate. After weekly practice, I no longer lay awake at night dreading my pending performance. It really did get easier each time, aided in great part by the supportive evaluations I received from fellow club members, all of whom knew exactly how I was feeling.
I grew to enjoy the Toastmasters structure, which has members giving short speeches with specific objectives, at their own pace and on whatever topic they choose. Eventually I grew confident enough to deliver talks and workshops like the one I had passed up earlier. And most recently – fifteen months after joining the organization – I am proud to announce I recently completed my first paid public speaking gig.
Now here’s the bonus. While honing public speaking skills, the practice of physically writing speeches – a time-consuming process – has also contributed to my marketing efforts. How? As a small business owner, I am naturally interested in the topic of self-promotion, so many of my speech topics revolve around this theme. After a speech is written and delivered, I can re-purpose it – for example, as a blog post, email newsletter topic, or a conversation starter on LinkedIn.
How have you used public speaking as a marketing tool? Do you have any success stories you can share?
Julia is the Principal of Julia Reich Design, a small, award-winning creative brand strategy and graphic design firm. Julia and her creative team help clients— primarily nonprofit organizations, educational institutions, and progressive businesses— with branding, print design, package design, and website design. She has a special passion for working with the food, wine, tourism, environmental and agriculture sectors
In addition to running her graphic design firm, Julia is involved in a leadership capacity for several organizations. She also conducts public speaking engagements on topics including self-promotion for small businesses, branding, and online social media. Connect with her and learn more at Twitter, and LinkedIn.