Actually, you are an expert.As it turns out, no one knows everything. To be an expert, you only need to know more than the other people in the room. This may mean that you are only 45 minutes ahead of the curve or that you're speaking to children, but the point is that right now, at this very minute, you have more knowledge about something than someone else does. Presto: you're an expert.
What's in it for you?There are lots of good reasons to speak in public, before committing, always know what you want to get out of the experience. Prepping for a presentation takes time and energy. What you get out of giving the presentation should be worth the effort. Practice is as good a reason as any, but there's also building your reputation/personal brand, enhancing your leadership skills, exposure to potential clients, or working your way towards a better job. Knowing what's in it for you, will ensure you are spending your time wisely and help you to choose the right audience, event, and topic.
Finding an audience.Baby steps
You don't need to jump directly into speaking in front of a large audience. Take small steps to practice by asking for opportunities to present at work or to local groups, such as a user groups, trade associations, the girl scouts, PTA, or neighborhood association. Look for an "unconference" for a low-pressure environment. For additional practice and support, consider joining a local chapter of Toastmasters International.
When you're ready to make the jump to the conference circuit, consider local/regional conferences to get your foot in the door. Are there conferences you already attend or would like to attend? Which conferences and events do your role models and mentors attend or present?
Be sure to look for conferences that embrace women. Are there women on the planning boards? What percentage of the speakers at past events were women.
Check out Lanyrd, the social conference directory. You can track conferences and events, set up a speaker profile, and see which events your friends are attending.
Preparing your talk.Now that you've found ad audience, how do you draft a killer presentation? Make sure you tailor your talk specifically for your audience.
If you are speaking at a planned event, the event organizers should provide some information on their expectations. In addition, you should research your audience to understand their needs, experience level, and expectations. Are you speaking to a group who require a review of the basics or are you speaking to a group of your peers?
When speaking to peers, assume that everyone in the room will be at least as smart and knowledgeable as you are. From that perspective, think about what topics you are interested in personally, what do you want to know more about? If you write the presentation that you want to hear, you will be truly passionate about the topic, and this is what translates into a good experience for the audience.
If you're not sure, kick off your talk with some questions that will gauge the level of expertise in the room. For example, the answer to: How many of you actively participate in Twitter? will indicate whether or not you begin with a definition of the social web or jump into advanced material.
The big event.Yep, it takes nerve to stand in front of an audience and speak as an authority on any topic. But just like any gutsy move, you just take a deep breath, jump in, and let it roll. It's unlikely that you'll flop completely, but even if you do, you've learned a little bit about what not to do next time.
Go into your talk knowing how you'll begin and how you'll finish, with a few points you'd like to make in between. Then, let the presentation unfold. If you get flustered, return to your points to get back on track and stay confident that you can close at any time to start taking questions. Watch the time. It's OK to end early and not OK to go over.
You may be challenged during your presentation by a tough question or by someone in the audience with their own agenda. Don't get flustered. Be yourself. Own both what you know and what you don't. If you try to fake being an expert, you will definitely fail. Keep in mind that - just like you - nobody knows everything, there's just too much in the world to know.
So what do you do? If you don't know, say so, and ask the audience to participate. If someone interrupts, it's up to you to shut down the interruption for the benefit of everyone else.
Leave your ego at home
Your job as a speaker is not to make yourself look good or smart. Your role is to make sure everyone in the room is learning and having a good time. Ultimately, set your own standards and don't worry about what other people think.
Your audience is not invisible, you can see who is engaged and you can feel the energy in the room. If you're losing your audience, change things up. After the event, you can check out the back channel conversation and an organized event usually provides comment forms from the audience.
Why you, why now?Some women actively choose to start a speaking career, others get pushed into speaking as part of their jobs or other responsibilities. However you get started, remember that leadership is a performing art and the ability to present well is a great tool to have in your kit, regardless of what you do for a living.
The audience at tech conference tends to be divided evenly between men and women, but that is not the case for presenters, where men generally far outnumbering the women. As a presenter of any gender, you are giving back to a community that supports your own personal and professional growth. As a woman presenter, you are a role model for other women and an advocate for diversity and inclusivity.
You have something to share, so get out there and get talking. We are always looking for speakers for Geek Girl Dinners, drop us a line if you want to volunteer.