The Five Ws (and 1H) to Successful Public Speaking


Speaking at tradeshows, conferences, webinars, podcasts and other events provides many opportunities for thought leaders to showcase their expertise. By sharing engaging, empowering and authentic stories, speakers gain name recognition and credibility with prospects, customers and other influencers. Not only does public speaking build brand awareness, but it’s also a direct way to create a good first impression, build trust and establish opportunities to develop ongoing relationships.

While opportunities abound, booking speaking engagements isn’t always a breeze. Vickie Sullivan, market strategist for thought leaders, says that, especially in a post-pandemic world, it isn’t enough to simply have something to say. “If everyone is being inspirational, why is your inspirational message any different? This is where market strategy comes in,” Sullivan says. “Too often, people think their strong background will generate enough interest from buyers. They believe their passion for a topic and their style will get rave reviews. Nope. Speakers need to stand out in a sea of talent and insights. And that requires hard work and planning.”

The 5 Fundamentals of Public Speaking


Before standing in front of an audience, take some time and effort to explore the five Ws and one H of public speaking:

  1. Who: conduct a self-evaluation. Not everyone has the skill, charisma, expertise and passion required to be a successful speaker. While some are naturals at the podium, others require practice, coaching and specialized training. To get started, take stock of your strengths. Are you a gifted storyteller? Are people drawn to your humor? Also, consider what traits might be lacking in your presentations and find ways to overcome or circumvent those shortcomings. Without an authentic assessment of who you are and what your capability is to captivate audiences, your messages might fall flat.
  1. What: develop the message. While speakers require specific traits and qualities, what they have to say is equally important. When developing your messages, consider what experiences have led to your unique insights. What vision powers your thought leadership? What lessons can you share that can benefit audiences in a powerful way? Focus on providing value and avoid anything too self-promotional. A well-crafted message that is unique, controversial or forward-thinking will resonate with audiences and event planners alike.
  1. Why: highlight your uniqueness. Sullivan reminds speakers they have stiff competition. “When your market is crowded, you must do more. Compelling stories are everywhere, and good speaking skills are ubiquitous. What you have is often good, but it isn’t always compelling. Unless you stand out in the sea of competing speakers, you will fade into the background.” To separate yourself from the masses, you need to toot your own horn and show event planners what makes you special. Develop a professional speaker’s kit that showcases the value you bring. Be sure to include a “sizzle reel” of you speaking in front of live audiences, an overview of speaking topics, a list of past engagements, testimonials, a bio and a professional headshot. If you have demonstrated thought leadership in the form of books, articles, blogs and white papers, include those as well.
  1. When: leverage relevance. When choosing a topic to speak about, it is natural to talk about something you know well. While expertise is important, the topic needs to be relevant and meaningful to your audience. Seasoned speakers often have one or two “canned” presentations ready, but the real magic happens when speeches are tailored to each and every audience. The first step is to identify the nature of the event and the purpose behind it. Then find out about the audience. The more you know about who will be listening to your talk, the easier it is to make sure the content is relevant and compelling. At the same time, be prepared to adapt to the needs of different event planners, audiences and settings.
  1. Where: meet audiences where they are. When it comes to the “where” for speaking engagements, there are several questions to answer: Virtual or in-person? Venue size, type? Professional association or charity event? The list goes on. In the end, however, the real issue is where do your audiences hang out? Do they attend association meetings, conferences and conventions? Are they more likely to participate in virtual events? What about hosting your own speaking opportunities through podcasts, workshops or webinars? Decide on the location or platform that resonates most with those you want to reach.
  1. How: do the work. Securing speaking engagements is not a simple task. It takes time, effort, connections, follow-up and follow-through. It’s rare for a speaker to book a big (and paid) event right out of the gate. Be willing to start small and plan to speak for free, at least at first. As you build your resume as a speaker, you can start looking for larger and more lucrative gigs. To ensure success along the way, approach speaking just like any other goal. Research, prepare, practice, ask for feedback, be open to criticism, analyze performance and always strive for improvement. The most successful speakers are always hustling, developing new topics, promoting themselves and building relationships. It’s hard work, but worth it when your efforts pay off.

Value Above All


Whether you’re a seasoned professional speaker or just taking your thought leadership to a new platform, speaking engagements enable you to connect with audiences in a personal and meaningful way. To be effective, keep a pulse on the marketplace to know what’s top of mind with your target audiences. Armed with this knowledge, you can deliver value that will help audiences improve performance and help them become more effective in their roles. That’s the way successful speakers demonstrate credibility and earn new business.