Lessons from My Debut as a Public Speaker

Be careful what you wish for because it just might happen.

This is something I’ve been repeating to myself ever since I started on this journey. Setting your intentions and letting the universe know about those intentions lead to results.

Before we go any further, you should know that I have intense stage fright. I’m an introverted writer, and the second you put me in front of people, I get tongue-tied. Or worse, I get overly chatty, and not always in a delightful way. (I even snort).

At the end of 2016, I told a few close friends that I wanted to add “Speaker” to my list of titles. I submitted proposals to a couple of conferences. I received a few lovely rejections, which I fully expected. Thanks to the incredible group of people who have been my support system this past year, I got my first speaking opportunity at this year’s Content Marketing World as part of a panel for a session on Leveraging Content to Elevate Community.

I was going to be a speaker at my favorite conference!


*cue panic*

Then, as if that wasn’t exciting enough, the CMI team reached out to ask me if I’d be interested in being part of Joe Pulizzi’s Content Inc. lab on Friday after the conference. Without hesitating, I responded with a resounding “YES!”

Wait. Why in the world would they ask me?

I kept waiting for them to email me back and say “Oh, sorry. Our mistake. We meant to ask someone else.” They didn’t. Instead, we started planning the workshop.

Had I ever done a workshop like that before? No.

Did I have any idea what I was getting myself into? No.

Would I give it my all? Absolutely.

On September 7, I sat on stage with five incredible professionals and earned my Speaker title during our first session. On September 8, I led a workshop on using content to scale an audience to a room full of small business professionals where I felt in my element.

Here are a few of the lessons I learned during my debut as a conference speaker.

Lesson one: Slow down and be mindful of your time.

My most prominent nervous tick when it comes to public speaking is the way I speed up. Speaking fast is beneficial if I’m giving an Ignite talk but not so much when I’m breaking down content marketing principles in a workshop. During my Content Inc. workshop, I sped through my hour long presentation in about 30 minutes. Now when I talk fast, I still enunciate. This is something I’m intensely self-aware of due to my accent.

It still doesn’t slow me down. In this particular instance, it did give us a lot of opportunities for people to ask me questions, but it also meant that I plowed through my content.

Note to self: Practice. Practice. Practice. No matter how well you know the topic, practicing will help calm your nerves.

Lesson two: Know your weaknesses and ask for help.

Presentations are my Achilles heel. I have a hard time visualizing flow and don’t even get me started on Powerpoint. In hindsight, I should’ve asked for help when working on the slides for my Content Inc. workshop. It wasn’t awful, but it also wasn’t the best it could’ve been.

The good thing is that this was the first time I gave this presentation, and I have the opportunity to improve.

Note to self: Reach out to people to give you feedback on your presentation.

Lesson three: Recognize your stress triggers.

My nerves finally got to me Wednesday morning, 24 hours before my first time on stage at Content Marketing World. I woke up at 4 am and let’s just say that I couldn’t hold any food or liquids down the entire day on Wednesday. This left me quite weak until I was able to eat a burger at dinner.

When I’m extra stressed, I lose my appetite and tend to gorge on caffeine. This doesn’t bode well when I’m traveling to a weeklong conference where I’m already expelling energy as an introvert.

Note to self: Hydrate, don’t rely on conference food, and take it easy on the coffee the day of your speaking engagement. 

Lesson four: Own yourself

One of my favorite speakers is fellow introvert and writer, Ann Handley. Every single person who has seen her on stage walks away feeling delighted and inspired.

Ann owns who she is. Her personality shines through with every word, every gesture, the way her presentation flows. Although I wish I could be just like Ann, there’s only one Ann Handley.

So, I embraced what makes her so great as a speaker: She owns herself and everything about her personality when she’s on stage.

That’s what I did. I began my Content Inc. lab workshop by introducing myself.

Owning who I am from the start made me feel a lot more comfortable, and it set the mood for my audience.

Bonus: We all bonded over our love for the Oxford comma.

Lesson five: Leave your life at the door

From the minute I set foot in the room where I was speaking, I closed the door on everything happening in the outside world, including my life. The second I’m commanding the attention of my audience, they deserve my full attention in return.

I was present in that room, and the only notifications that mattered were the questions coming from the individuals in front of me.

The more engaged I am with my audience, the more invested they’ll be in what I’m saying.


What are some of your favorite tips for being a successful speaker?

Introvert’s Guide to Surviving Content Marketing World

It’s that time of year again – the orange takes over, excitement fills the air, and we all descend on to Cleveland to attend Content Marketing World.

It’s no secret that Content Marketing World has a special place in my heart, along with the entire CMI team, and the incredible people I’ve met over the past three years.

But it can also be overwhelming. I’m an ambivert and conferences where I am “on” all the time for 4 days straight can take a lot out of me. My energy gets zapped once the adrenaline wears off, especially if I’m not practicing self-care throughout the conference. Over the past few years, I’ve gotten a lot better at preserving my energy in order to survive the week as an introvert.

I want to share a few of those tricks with you. I also reached out to the #CMWorld Slack Community to get their input.

So, here are a few ways you can survive Content Marketing World as an introvert.

Planning is crucial.

From the second you pick up your badge at registration, it’s going to feel nonstop. It’s easy to get overwhelmed if you don’t have a game plan for sessions, networking, and “me” time. Before you arrive at the convention center for the first day of sessions, have a plan in place.

Block out “me” time

I cannot get through an entire day of sessions and networking without taking a break. It can be going for a walk outside, or even back to my hotel room to decompress for 30 minutes. The amazing thing about conferences like CMWorld are the ample opportunities to network, which gives you a chance to walk away for a little bit.

“Make sure to schedule some alone time. It’s OK to head back to your room for an hour, or walk offsite for a cup of coffee to recharge your batteries.” – Erika Heald.

Use Twitter to your advantage

I absolutely love Twitter because it allows me to keep connected even when I’m not in the room. Throughout the conference, use a tool like Tweetdeck so you can have a column dedicated to the #CMWorld hashtag. It’ll allow you to engage with others before you even meet them face to face.

As a result, you’ve already made a connection without the awkward small talk that comes from walking up to strangers. I’m personally a prolific tweeter during conferences, both during sessions and networking events. It helps me feel connected and lets my personality shine before I awkwardly stumble over my words in person.

Prepare to take risks.

Last year at Content Marketing World, I challenged myself  to introduce myself to 5 new people every single day. Trust me, it was a daunting task. I tend to stick to my quiet corner or huddle with the people I know. It was a daunting task that I made a little easier by simply going up to people, extending my hand, and saying, “Hi, I challenged myself to meet new people today and you’re one of them. I’m Berrak.”

Sounds a little silly and it definitely felt a little silly but you know what? It worked because it was a straightforward ice breaker. The worst thing that happened were people politely shaking my hand, saying their name, and being uninterested in engaging beyond that. It happens. Even at a networking event, you won’t connect with everyone you talk to but you know what? It’s OK to take that risk.

It goes the other way too. Ben Rome, a CMWorld attendee I met at lunch last year who I’m running a session with this year suggests the following:

Typically a wallflower at networking events? Challenge yourself to talk to 2-3 people. Overly extroverted? Challenge yourself to listen more and engage the conversation, rather than dominate it.

Break the ice.

I know, the idea of striking up a conversation with a stranger can be daunting. The great thing about CMWorld is that our badges have a few key pieces of information that can help break the ice. I just talked about my ice breaker trick, so let me share with you a few suggestions from fellow CMWorld alums.

“What made you want to come to this conference?” and also, “Who was your favorite speaker/who are you most excited to see?” – Jason Schemmel

“Is this your first time seeing Joe’s Orange suit?” – Jeff Renoe

Keep the conversation going

The most important thing about connecting with new people at Content Marketing World (or any other conference) is the follow through. Last year, I was so excited about the conversations and connections I’d made, I started a CMWorld Community Slack (You should join us!)

“Reaching out to the handful of people I connected with at last year’s event and using LinkedIn to email leaders of workshops, sessions and labs I’m considering taking. The latter has a twofold benefit: honing down the wealth of learning opportunities and two, making a human connection.” – Lorraine Thompson

As intimidating and exhausting a conference can feel to an introvert, it is possible to survive it with your energy intact. I have one last tip to share with you before I see you at the opening reception:

There are more of us introverts than you may realize. There’s a good chance the person sitting quietly next to you isn’t sure how to start a conversation, either. Keep it simple, and keep it kind. A welcoming “Hello” can go a long way.

Oh and if you’re at Content Marketing World this week, I would love to see you at our session on Thursday where we’ll put all the pieces into place for you & your community.

Want to connect with me before coming to my session on Thursday? Here’s where you can find me throughout the conference.

See you around Cleveland, content nerds.

Slow Down to Reach Content Marketing Success (and some other CMWorld takeaways)


Disclaimer: There will be more than one post related to CMWorld

Truth be told, I’m still going through my notes from Content Marketing World. The notes I took in addition to all of the tweets I sent out during the week. I may have gone a little overboard on Twitter, but there were so many great insights! As a writer and strategist, I’m naturally planning out content themes around the sessions I attended so look out for those in the upcoming weeks. (Oh and subscribe to my email newsletter!)

For this post, I wanted to focus on the major takeaways from the conference, the ones that haven’t stopped bouncing around my brain. (more…)

7 Reasons CMWorld Is Like Coming Home


There are no shortages of conferences throughout the year. There are small ones. There are huge ones. There are super specialized ones.

Hell, I even cofounded a specialized conference with three amazing people.

Not every conference is created equal.

Good news: The industries and internet are big enough for all of us. Local conferences are great for those with small budgets who don’t have the luxury of traveling on a company/client account.

Bad news: More often than not, quantity sacrifices quality.

As a freelancer-turned-solopreneur, I haven’t had the luxury of having a large conference budget. I’ve been lucky enough to have clients who saw the value proposition in covering my expenses, and other times, I’ve volunteered in exchange for attendance.

For me, the CMWorld conference was like coming home. I was surrounded by like-minded individuals who were passionate about content marketing, making a difference, and genuinely helping their clients/customers. I fell in love with the color orange. I walked away inspired and exhilarated.

After volunteering at this conference last year, even though I had introvert fatigue, I was also exhilarated. I felt connected to every single person there because we all shared the same passion, in varying degrees. Different industries, different backgrounds, but all with a common passion: content and content marketing.

Here are the 7 ways attending CMWorld felt like coming home.