Advance your business through public speaking

By Michelle Van Schouwen

Speaking to relevant groups can go a long way in building your reputation, visibility and business opportunities. Over the years, I’ve relished the chance to speak to business, government and non-profit groups; entrepreneurs; students from high school through graduate school; and others, and have formed many great relationships along the way. I’ve had the good fortune to change minds about issues important to me, develop new client relationships and pass along hard-won wisdom.

It’s all too easy to dismiss this worthwhile and often even enjoyable communications medium. “I am terrified of public speaking” or “I have nothing interesting to say” are two common excuses. But people who overcome these and other show-stoppers have a personal and business advantage over the silent majority.

How you can get started:

-If you are not confident about the mechanics of public speaking, tackle that problem first! Join a local Toastmasters club or check out other free or low-cost training options. Then practice – in front of the mirror, with a webcam and for tolerant family or friends.

-Consider your content and desired audience. Even if your primary motivation is to promote your business, be aware that you won’t, generally, be directly “hawking your wares” in front of an audience, unless you are the next Steve Jobs or Elon Musk. But you will be sharing a taste of what you know. For example, I’ve talked with audiences about how to plan a marketing launch for new products. This is work my company did, but I wasn’t selling services when I spoke, but instead was sharing information on how to succeed. Another topic I addressed for a few years was how to take your business past the death of a partner, which was a topic that resonated across industries. In your case, think about the story or stories that you can tell that will be interesting and valuable to the people you want to address.

-Prepare base presentations and visual aids, such as slides or video. Plan to use these aids for illumination, not as a crutch. It’s way too easy to end up reading your slide content to an audience, which, we must presume, can read already. Admittedly, it’s helpful to glance at your next slide to keep from going off-topic! You will adapt your presentations to fit the needs and interests of each audience and desired length of each presentation. (Time your presentation before you speak in public, because running overtime or running out of content are both common problems.)

-Find and develop opportunities to speak. This should be an ongoing effort. You can start by reaching out to local organizations – Chambers of Commerce, Rotaries, industry clubs, local Meetup events, and schools. Colleges and universities often enjoy using a one-time guest lecturer for a particular topic in a class. Local radio and TV shows may be looking for expertise, as are podcast and webinar producers. Expanding beyond the local, explore industry events – trade shows, conferences and other get-togethers – and offer your services. Family and small business organizations across the nation host conferences and seek out speakers on relevant topics. The larger the event, the further in advance it may plan. Consider also, creating your own events – in-person gatherings, webinars or podcasts of your own.  Many opportunities are unpaid, but others will offer a stipend.

-Let people know you are available to speak, to elicit incoming opportunities. LinkedIn offers tools to share your speaking availability and connect with your industry. Use your company website and social media pages to describe the value you bring as a speaker. Create a speaker bio and share it online. (If you get really good, you may work with a speakers bureau.)

-Get out there and do it. I’ll admit that I’ve never had a real fear of public speaking. My acting “career” in high school and speaking to a crowd of 2,000 at graduation cured me of all that. But I still harbor some anxiety. Will I hold the group’s attention? Is my content strong enough? My delivery? I can attest that the only way through this is just that – through it. Get out there, speak, respond, learn, and improve. One way I’ve kept myself going is to say, “What are they going to do? Throw rotten tomatoes?” That hasn’t happened, at least not yet.

The rewards you will yield from public speaking will be many, starting with increased confidence and potentially culminating with new business opportunities. Public speaking is not always a route to immediate sales, but I’ve gained new clients more times than I can remember as a short- or long-term result of having spoken to a group. Plus, conquering the hesitation to talk to many people in one room is a boost to your communication skills in smaller groups, including around a table with your customers, vendors and stakeholders.

Get out there and start talking.


Michelle van Schouwen enjoys an “Act 2” career as principal of Q5 Analytics, providing advocacy and communications for climate change mitigation and adaptation. See For 32 years, Michelle was president of van Schouwen Associates, LLC (vSA), a B2B marketing company. In 2017, van Schouwen Associates was acquired by Six-Point Creative Works, Inc. of Springfield, MA. Michelle is available for speaking engagements on topics including her new work on climate change mitigation and Florida coastal water issues. She speaks to business and student groups about marketing launches and entrepreneurship.

Leave a Reply

The Self-Employment Survival Guide can help you succeed. Learn all about it here.

Self-Employment Survival Guide book cover