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?

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