How to become a speaker: Tips for beginners

Embarking on a journey as a speaker at events can be both exhilarating and nerve-wracking, but armed with the right advice, you can confidently step onto the stage

There are so many benefits of speaking at events and conferences that it's not even a question of whether you should do it – yes, you should! It's a fantastic way of sharing your experience and expertise, as well as building a professional reputation, meeting new people with similar interests, further expanding your knowledge, and striking new business deals. Events are excellent networking opportunities, even more so when you're participating as a speaker. Last but not least, speaking at events is fun!

Instead of trying to convince you that speaking at events is beneficial, in this article, we'll tackle a slightly different yet entirely related matter: how to take your first steps in the seemingly scary world of public speaking.

First steps

Let's be honest; there are bad, good, and downright fantastic speakers. For some, it's a natural talent – they can stand in front of any audience and speak confidently without the slightest trace of anxiousness. However, even if you're not one of the lucky ones, public speaking is a skill that can be taught, practiced, and honed to (near) perfection. With that in mind, you shouldn't let your lack of speaking experience, or the fact that you're dreading the very thought of opening your mouth in front of an audience of your peers, stand in the way of your future event speaking endeavors.

Here are some tried and tested tips to set you on the right path.

Stick to what you know

This probably goes without saying: when deciding what your session will be about, select a topic you're very knowledgeable or passionate about. If it's a well-known topic in your area of expertise, aim to approach it from an interesting, less obvious perspective so that your session remains relevant even to those familiar with the topic. If you share a personal story, stay on point and make your message easy to understand.

Most events are organized around a mutual topic, so if your talk is related to that topic, your audience will likely have some level of knowledge on the said topic. Keep that in mind when deciding how many basics (and in what detail) you want to cover in your talk. Striking a good balance will keep your audience interested and engaged. Let's put it this way: if you're speaking about sourdough croissants at an artisanal baker meetup, you probably don't need to waste time explaining what flour is.

Prepare a nice presentation

Did you ever sit through a presentation where the speaker simply read a mountain of text from their slides? Don't be that person. Your slides aren't what the audience came to learn from; you are. Use your presentation as a visual aid, something that helps you to get your message across in a more impactful and memorable way, rather than a list of everything you want to say. Keep your slides uncluttered and visually appealing. Don't be afraid to use charts when needed, but don't completely rely on them; if your audience has to read tiny numbers and complicated lines to understand what you're trying to say, you should probably pick a more appropriate way of illustrating your point.

Use speaker notes, which you can add to your Powerpoint presentation, to help guide you through your slides if you get stuck. There's little point in writing long and elaborate speaker notes, though; simply list your key talking points for the slide. That will be more than enough to remember what you wanted to say, assuming your presentation is well-rehearsed. 

Do keep in mind you could find yourself in a situation where the technical staff at an event didn't arrange a way for your to see your speaker notes. This is something worth checking with the organizer and the main reason why it's important not to be completely dependent on your speaker notes.

Practice, practice, practice

Practicing your talk seems fairly obvious, but the importance of this step cannot be stressed enough. It's what will make you relaxed during your talk and, consequentially, enable you to present yourself in your best light.

When practicing, don't just skim over your slides using your inner voice. Stand up and talk out loud, even if there's nobody there to listen. Rehearse your delivery, gestures, and even your jokes. This is the best way to get a sense of what works and what doesn't, what parts of your talk need to be simplified, which jokes are too elaborate to use, and if some topical transitions feel off and need to be improved. You will also get a clear idea of the duration of your talk, which is essential once you start applying for events, as almost all of them have strictly defined time slots.

A well-rehearsed presentation will feel fluid to your audience. You will seem confident even if public speaking isn't your second nature. This is particularly important for introverts among us; with enough practice, nobody will ever know you're secretly dying on the inside.

Start small

Another excellent way of honing your speaking confidence and skills is to attend meetups and local user group events. These gatherings are very casual in nature but still provide you with a platform where you can share your thoughts and ideas in front of your peers. Equally important, you can get valuable feedback, which you can then use to improve your presentation further.

One additional, less obvious thing worth noting is that meetups and user group events are often attended by organizers of large events. They use meetups to scout for promising speakers, which they then invite to their events. With that in mind, don't lean into the somewhat informal nature of meetups too heavily; if you're speaking, you still need to have a compelling and well-rehearsed presentation.

Ask for feedback (and respond well to it)

Nobody likes to be criticized, but it's the only way to improve. After your talk is over, use the opportunity to ask the attendees for their honest opinion. You'll get better results if you ask specific questions rather than go with a general “Did you like my talk?”.

If the person you're talking to gets the impression that you're truly interested in hearing their impressions of your talk, they likely won't hesitate to tell you what they really think. When that happens, it's important that you take the criticism well, even when you disagree with it. Stay composed and listen without interrupting. If the criticism strikes you as vague, don't be afraid to politely ask for concrete examples and further clarification. In the end, thank them for their feedback and take some time to reflect on it.

Constructive criticism should be viewed as an opportunity for learning and personal development. It does need to be separated from personal attacks, though - if that's where the criticism originates from, the best thing you can do is to discard it while maintaining your composure and professional demeanor.

Speaking at larger events

Once you feel ready to start speaking at larger events, your next step should be to research and select events that interest you and are a good match with the theme of your talk. Most events go through a similar, predictable process. Here's a quick breakdown of what that process looks like and what's expected from you.

Call for Speakers

A call for speakers (regularly called “call for papers”) page is launched by event organizers several weeks, or, more commonly, months ahead of the event, and typically includes information about the theme or focus of the event, the types of sessions or presentations that are being looked for, and the deadline for submitting proposals. It may also include information about the selection process, the benefits of speaking at the event, and any other relevant details.

What you should do

This is your time to shine. First and foremost, carefully read the call for speakers request. Your goal is to write an honest, interesting, and informative submission of your talk, where you should explain why it's relevant and what makes it a great fit for the event in question while also addressing everything mentioned in the call for speakers request. For example, if event organizers want to know the estimated duration of your talk, make sure you include that information in your submission, as it could otherwise be discarded without consideration.

Check the deadline of the call for speakers and make sure to respect it. It's a good idea to send your submission as soon as possible, as you'll avoid getting bunched together with late senders and get more visibility with the event organizer. You might even find yourself added to the event before the call for speakers ends.



Evaluations usually start after the call for speakers has ended. This is a process where the event organizers and their internal teams comb through the submitted sessions and decide which ones they'll accept or decline. There are no rules about notifying speakers whose sessions have been declined, but any remotely decent organizer will inform you about your session being declined; better ones will even offer useful feedback.

What you should do

Sit tight and wait patiently. Don't harass organizers to hurry up with the evaluation process or to give any kind of priority to your submission. If your session has been declined, shrug it off and move on with your life. While you can certainly politely ask for constructive feedback, you won't achieve anything by assaulting organizers and aggressively demanding answers. Many experienced event speakers have a secret: their submissions have been rejected more times than not. It's completely normal and to be expected. Simply try again at a different event, and if your rejection came with useful feedback, use that feedback to better your next submission.


Your requirements and preferences

If your session is accepted, you'll be contacted by the organizers with further information about your participation and details such as schedule, travel plans, and similar. This is the final stage of your participation in an event, but also a very important one for everything to go as smoothly as possible.

What you should do

Use the opportunity to express anything that might be relevant to your participation in the event, such as special technical requirements. Do you need a table to display your product? Or Wi-Fi access for a live demo? Tell that to the organizer instead of assuming it will be available at the venue.

Once the event schedule has been created, check your allocated time slot and make sure to respect it. Do you know how to get to the venue to be there in time? If not, that's another topic to discuss with the organizer. Asking for a different time slot should generally be avoided, as it creates many problems for the organizer. Do so only if there's absolutely no way you can honor the allocated time slot.


Tips for organizers

While we fully understand event organizers tend to opt for sessions that they think will attract the biggest audience, there are certainly some things you can do to help expand the speaker pool.

Encourage new speakers

Probably the most direct way to encourage new and less experienced speakers to submit their sessions for your event is to mention them in your call for speakers proposal. If you're unwilling to mix them with veterans, consider creating a separate track with shorter sessions (so-called “lightning talks”). Shorter time slots seem less daunting but provide new speakers with invaluable experience.

Organize a public speaking course

Organizing a public speaking course will somewhat increase the expense of your event, but it will give participating speakers a fantastic opportunity to get a bit of professional training in the art of public speaking. Those who attend and come out of it as better, more confident speakers will remember your kind gesture forever.

Assign mentors to new speakers

If your event has a combination of seasoned and new speakers, think about asking veterans to mentor the less experienced speakers. Their mentorship doesn't have to be very demanding or time-consuming; new speakers will benefit even from someone more experienced going through their presentation and giving them constructive feedback. Such an informal mentorship program can be used to boost your event, as it sends a message that you're an event organizer that truly cares about the speaker community.

Sessionize lets you easily create and manage your speaker profile. Use your speaker profile to quickly submit your sessions for events, and to publicly display your biography, professional experience, areas of expertise, and other relevant information.


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