Entrepreneurs are in increasing demand – and facing increasing competition – for positions at the podiums of events for business audiences.
Public-speaking engagements can provide opportunities to share expertise, promote company brands, network with other influential people, develop new business connections and make some extra money.
"The good news is that there's never been a better time to be an entrepreneur if you're looking to develop a platform of perspectives that you want to share with business prospects," says Peter Evans, founder and chief executive officer of Toronto-based Speakerfile, an online engine created to give entrepreneurs and others a platform to market their expertise to and connect with event organizers and the media.
"The bad news is that there's never been a better time. Everybody else is trying to do the same thing," adds Mr. Evans, who notes that, since Speakerfile's launch in 2011, almost 10,000 users in 90 countries have posted their profiles to its website using 14,000 topic tags.
Mitch Joel, president of Montreal-based digital marketing agency Twist Image, estimates that he delivers 50 to 60 speeches a year.
"The reason why I think entrepreneurs are asked to speak is because they each have a unique story," he says. "If everyone were saying the same thing, you wouldn't need anyone but the one person to do it. So it's ultimately uniqueness and originality – a story that people would want to act on."
Mr. Joel says speaking engagements offer opportunities to "network with other speakers who are thought leaders and people we all know and respect." They also can lead to opportunities for new business relationships with audience members.
When speaking in front of an audience of 300, for instance, he estimates he will usually get one or two calls from those who listened, leading to new business connections. Gaining one or two clients that way "is a pretty big deal…it's actually an amazing ratio," he says.
However, being at the podium doesn't come without challenges. Aside from the growing competition for engagements, entrepreneurs also have to consider the time it will take away from their regular business commitments, knowing what to share and how best to share it, and stage fright as other reasons to give serious thought to whether they ought to approach the podium.
Not everyone is cut out to be a speaker, says David Lavin, president and CEO of The Lavin Agency Ltd., a Toronto-based speakers bureau. "There's no shortage of people who want to make $10,000 an hour giving speeches, but there's a substantial shortage of people who should," he says.
While speaking engagements are a great opportunity to find new business leads and create brand awareness, they also have the potential to distract entrepreneurs from their main focus, says David Chilton, author of The Wealthy Barber and The Wealthy Barber Returns.
He recognizes the upsides, but points out that regular speaking appearances, and the resulting absences from work, can "absolutely" have a negative effect on a company. That "doesn't mean that you shouldn't do it, because speaking is a lot of fun, it can be impactful, it can be lucrative, there's all kinds of upsides to speaking," he says.
Mr. Joel says he is fortunate to be one of four owners of Twist Image, allowing him to lean on the other three while he's absent on the speaking circuit.
Brian Scudamore, founder and chief executive officer of Vancouver-based 1-800-Got-Junk? LLC, advises entrepreneurs to be selective about speaking opportunities. With only enough time in his schedule to accept about eight speaking engagements a year, he carefully considers which events to make time for.
"By saying 'no' to an opportunity, you're making room for the bigger opportunities that present themselves," he says. "I try and select an audience …that I know will actually benefit from my story and have it resonate with their story."
Mr. Joel admits that some speaking opportunities are too lucrative to turn down, but for the rest, he has a system for determining the potential benefit.
"You look at the date, the time of year, where you're at in business, how things are going, and who's attending, what type of level seniority it is, if it's a vertical that we have opened in the business, if it's an opportunity," he says.
Mr. Joel says that a good speaker combines sound content with an ability to deliver. While he now has plenty of experience in front of audiences, he admits that it took some time to get comfortable on stage.
He says there are a number of helpful resources available to entrepreneurs interested in improving their public-speaking skills, and suggests those interested in getting into making speeches "start locally. You start doing things like speaking at your local Chamber of Commerce and your local entrepreneurship help centres."
Organizations such as Toastmasters International are also helpful to "get the chops you need to get really good at it," he adds.