Wired PR Works by Barbara Rozgonyi

Real-izing Your Virtual Identity

BlogHer’07 | Business of You Breakout Session | Speaker Training

Posted by barbararozgonyi on July 27, 2007

Note: Notes lightly edited and are not the official BlogHer ’07 Conference notes.

Speaker Training
Lots of BlogHers point out the lack of women on conference speaking rosters. We not only have to address the demand side, but we can each create the supply. Speaking publicly is an excellent way to make connections, enhance your personal brand and drive business. This session will be a crash course for all BlogHers on how to find gigs, how to submit for gigs, and how to do a good job once you get there. The session will be appropriate for people looking to break into speaking, and those looking to improve the quality of their speaking engagements and their speaking skills. Featuring frequent speakers and speaker trainers Susan Mernit and Mary Jo Manzanares.

 Session Notes

The first thing to do when you’re looking at speaking is to create a niche: voice, depth of topic knowledge, special experience, unique approach or focus, really important to identify what you have and what you need to get to get gigs

Find a mentor who will review your speeches and give you feedback on verbal and non-verbal. Videotape each other as kind of a peer group. For example, break yourself from saying “umm” all the day. Find out what your verbal ticks are and don’t use too many excessive hand gestures. 

Plan out how much time you’re going to give. How do you create a niche topic. How to make yourself an expert. If you want to be heard, you need to focus in. Does your brand reflect your persona? If you have a passion or a career, look at whether you need to focus on one area. Ask what I am good at and where is there a hole to fill? For example, you could be the woman who is reviewing sex toys. Look for where is a missing voice – either in the market or from a woman’s voice. Identifying the topic is really crucial.

Be able to think about what you speak on like communication and leadership skills. Have a short, concise answer. www.confabb.com does a good job of reporting on conferences. Look to see who’s talking and what they’re talking about. BlogHer has a speaker’s wiki. Check out www.shesource.org, trying to get more female voices on the air and into print. 

Part of what you have to do is put it out there. Women are a lot more comfortable listing themselves somewhere than to go out and what you want. Look for regional meet ups on www.meetup.com and smaller things that are happening close to you, maybe even a state away.

It has to be worth it to you to speak in terms of time and exposure. One thing leads to another. I want to speak at bigger conferences. If very much is a ladder. Looking for local events is a great way to do it. Don’t dismiss your own backyard.

 In terms of being a speaker, one of the ways she arms herself is to over prepare and to really relax. Write a script and act really casual when you get up. Don’t get up there and look like you’re delivering a school paper.

 One person tends to be a fire hose and answers questions in too much detail. Here’s the short answer. How do not answer too fully. Answer really shortly and see me after the session. Most people can’t handle a river of info. Always remember your audience. You’re doing a disservice to your audience if you keep going.

How technical should you get? Use humor a lot, interacts and engage. The book Make it Stick suggests using metaphors: forums are quilting bees. Using visuals really helps, Post-it Note makes a cute packet with a built-in pen.  In the beginning, she asks about level of knowledge and she gets their permission to speak down to them. Use storytelling, metaphors and analogies to frame things.

How as a panelist can we make a panel better? Try to make panel sessions more interactive. Recognizing what other people have to share can be a really good way to go. Try to be a little subversive. The talking heads thing is so old and so boring.


How do you manage powerful speakers? Obtaining emcee skills is very marketable. Have a strong emcee and ask them to enforce them. The right thing to do is to really be merciless. Ideally, we will rehearse.

Walking around the room is common sense, but you can engage the audience. Good for the speaker, too. 

How do you start to get on the circuit? Three years ago, BlogHer got started when they decided to have a conference for women that men could come to, but only women can speak. Looks at the Unconference model to get people together to have a topic you want to discuss. Is there something I think we should be talking about? How do I get that going? Women’s Salons are a great way to get yourself known. Have a monthly dinner with speaker and make sure you’re one of them.

Another way to get involved is to volunteer in a conference in that category. Help with organization and planning. Often the first year you don’t get anything, but it’s a great way to get credibility with that organization. Trust your intuition you have a voice and share your experience. Holding back can cost in a very, very large. We need to be able to trust ourselves and speak loudly and boldly. 

Is there a downside to contacting trade associations and alumni groups to ask them if you can talk about your subject? Not being paid or having enough time is a downside. But, having a workshop is a good idea.

Move on and make a couple other points . . . how do you get into bigger conferences and get national exposure? The real trick there is be aggressive and ask for what you want. Be prepared to check the conferences you like, check to see when the proposals go out and then submit yours. Don’t know anyone? Suggest a panel with speakers they’ve had before. Build that relationship. If those processes don’t exist, don’t be shy about contacting the conference organizers and telling them what you want. When you have your next conference, you should a speaker on X and a panel on X. And by the way, I want to be that speaker. Follow up. If you don’t hear from them, try someone else.

 It’s like thinking for a date. When you’re single, you tell all of your friends what you’re looking for. Tell all of your contacts what kind of speaking engagements you’re looking for. It’s about taking ownership and making it happen for yourself. The difference between success and failure is persistent. Get on the path of least resistance list.

How do you talk about your fees? Don’t sell yourself short. Make your decisions on where and when you want to speak for free. The number one way to improve your fees is to say: I’m sorry I won’t be able to do that. Are you interested in exposure or compensation? As a consultant, you can speak for free and get tons of business – and trips! Other people, if you want to speak on instruction, clean up a sidebar section on your blog, with speaking information.


How do you keep track of the leads – panel presentation to colleges? Use Basecamp.  Check out Jeff Bars Wiki in Wet Paint. Resources will be listed online on the BlogHer blog.


Your local public access television station is one of your best forms of publicity. Then when you go to an organization you get a tape and they can see you.


A great resource for speakers is www.speakernetnews.com.


How do you choose what medium you use for back-up? Too many time PowerPoint can be useful tool, it becomes a crutch. Use PowerPoint when the presentation is heavily: image-driven or data-driven.  Download Seth Godin’s free 7-page PowerPoint booklet for ideas.


Submit op-ed pieces to get speaking engagements and book deals. Also approach websites and blogs. Think about what the editor is looking for.


Having a good LinkedIn profile is indispensable for technology, business or services professional. Put your speaking experience in your profile. Contact organizers of any conference.

Think of this as a multi-year process. A lot of this is about networking.

Look at what’s missing on the program and look a good distance out before the program is planned out. 

They can’t say yes unless you ask them. So will, some won’t, so what.

Susan Mernit is looking for single online daters who blog for Yahoo’s advice group.


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