Public speaking consistently ranks at or near the top of the list of professional and personal phobias, and truth is, it can be kind of scary. Particularly when that public involves HR and recruiting practitioners – a notoriously tough crowd, considering. But even though it might not be your favorite thing to do, leveraging speaking opportunities can be a key way to establish your professional reputation and personal brand.
If you’re an HR professional, there’s no shortage of opportunities for public speaking. The key is knowing when – and where - to suck up your fears and start speaking. The good news: for HR and recruiting professionals, there are a myriad of opportunities to get yourself, and your message, in front of an industry audience.
While we don’t normally think of HR as a profession which requires much public speaking, the fact is that presenting in front of a room full of people is already a big part of HR. From presenting at small departmental meetings to delivering training for hundreds at an all hands meeting to facilitating orientation and onboarding sessions, you’re likely already speaking publically as an HR expert as part of your day to day job.
Transitioning from presenting internally on issues affecting your company to speaking publically about issues affecting the broader industry and world of work isn’t always easy. But for HR professionals, public speaking can pay off big.
Here are 3 tips for getting your public speaking career started.
1. Know Your Stuff: The first key to successful public speaking in HR involves having the professional expertise necessary to establish professional credibility. We’ve all sat through those sessions where some motivational speaker or marketing guru talks about HR in broad brushstrokes, but even their mountains of studies and statistics can’t hide the fact that they don’t know anything about the actual day-to-day realities of working in HR or being a talent leader. But if you can bring real insights and experience, even if it’s anecdotal, to your presentations, then you’re already a step ahead.
Concentrate on topics and themes that directly relate to your professional experience and accomplishments, and how they fit into the bigger picture. When choosing a topic for submitting for speaking opportunities, think of a few key trends, tips or takeaways you can teach attendees. By identifying outcomes and working backwards, you’ll be able to ensure your content not only remains relevant, but adds value.
2. Know Your Audience: There are literally hundreds of different opportunities for speaking to industry audiences, and these are as varied in audience and focus as the HR profession itself.
Since you’ve identified what you’d like to speak about, you’ll next need to know what speaking opportunities are the best fits for that content.
For instance, a presentation on wellness probably won’t play well to a technical recruiting crowd; similarly, talking about advanced candidate sourcing techniques likely won’t resonate with an audience of labor relations managers.
Using tools like the HRMarketer Conference Database or RecruitingConferences.com can give you visibility and background into not only the calendar of industry events, but also information about the size and focus of these speaking opportunities. You can also find speaking opportunities through professional associations like the Society of Human Resources Management (SHRM), the American Staffing Association (ASA) or the Human Resources Outsourcing Association (HROA) to name a few.
You can also use social sharing tools like EventBrite, MeetUp and even Facebook to search for and identify events and, ultimately, opportunities, particularly ones in your area. Make sure you understand exactly who the audience at these events are, why they’ll care about your presentation topic and what kinds of content each organizer is looking for prior to submitting a proposal to speak.
3. Know Your Presentation: The key to being a successful public speaker in HR is the same as mastering any other skill: practice makes perfect. When selecting which speaking opportunities to pursue, consider starting small. Local events like area SHRM chapters or recruiting roundtables are a great place to practice speaking and communicating with confidence.
Attend a few of these events before asking to speak to get familiar with the kinds of presentations and speakers that work (and which don’t). If you don’t have time to attend in person events, consider attending a webinar or watching the live stream of a conference to see the kinds of presentations and speaking styles established industry influencers use when presenting. While you’ll want to develop a unique and authentic style that’s distinctly your own, always remember the expectations of the organizers, audience and your own desired outcomes.
Once you’ve been selected to speak, test your material on colleagues or HR connections you’re comfortable with to get a sense of what they respond to and what just doesn’t work – constructive feedback is key to refining your material and message.