You know how working tirelessly with your head down doesn’t get you that promotion, that raise, or that buy-in that you need to move forward in a challenging project?
It’s the same thing with getting opportunities to speak at conferences. It’s impossible to get to that point in your career – where you’re seen as an important part of an industry conversation – without taking a few steps that will open you to speaking opportunities.
That doesn’t mean you can’t start down that path today. In fact, as we have discovered, all of us are already on that path. Getting the opportunity to speak at a conference to an audience who appreciates and respects your knowledge isn’t as far away as you may think.
Samsung’s Entrepreneur in Residence Natalia Burina knows how to maximize the opportunities that your day job provides. She shares here how to leverage your day-to-day work to share your expertise and experience, build your professional reputation and network, and lead others.
In the last 15 years, Natalia Burina has spoken to a full spectrum of audiences, from 2,000 colleagues at Microsoft and product team leaders at eBay, to small groups of high school students, and multiple massive startup summits in Eastern Europe.
Her career has skyrocketed as a result. She’s been at Microsoft, eBay, run her own companies, and is now Samsung’s Entrepreneur in Residence. In addition, she has enjoyed complimentary trips around the world to speak on stage and share her expertise, built a solid international network of important tech and startup professionals, and developed an international reputation as a compelling speaker with insightful Product Management experience. All of this really took hold when she started speaking to others about her expertise.
So, how can you turn your job into an opportunity to move thousands? How can you uncover opportunities at work that allow you to take the stage in the future? What experiences and skills do you already have, that have set you up to be a great presenter? Natalia has the answers to those questions.
1. Ask for Constructive Feedback At Every Opportunity
Natalia wasn’t always interested in speaking to audiences at conferences. The idea made her a little nervous. She wasn’t on the debate team in high school, and she didn’t have speaking in mind when she started her career in tech.
“I never thought to myself, ‘I want to do more talks and more speaking.’ Everything has been accidental,” she explains. “I know people who do so much of this that they make it their career. That was never my goal.”
It’s more than likely not your goal either. But the benefits are real, and the first step is an easy one you’re probably already doing everyday: Gather feedback from your colleagues at work.
Natalia, who worked as a product manager before launching her own company and then joining Samsung, knows that asking for challenges is what set her apart.
As a product manager, “a lot of the job involves getting up in front of the room and talking to your team. Your team starts small, gets bigger, then you have to present to the company.” Getting buy-in throughout that process came down to convincing her colleagues that her ideas were correct.
These colleagues provided the first fertile practice ground for her – they would question her assumptions, challenge her thinking, and taught her how to prepare for tough crowds.
How can you get feedback at work to fuel your speaking skills, regardless of your role?
Ask for opportunities to lead initiatives or pilot programs, take every chance to give a presentation, especially those you’re not sure you can wrap your head around quite yet.
If you’re not ready to lead quite yet, ask your co-workers and managers for feedback on your work at regular intervals. This will help you focus in on your strengths over time.
2. Craft Presentations Carefully
After you’ve created opportunities to give presentations, it’s time to prepare them.
“Put in the work. The more you can run through a talk and prepare, the better,” Natalia says. This is your training ground for bigger and bigger stages, where you can showcase the work you’ve put in.
“Every time I do a presentation, there’s a lot of preparation and work and some amount of anxiety and nervousness before. Preparation is the key to breaking through it.”
Even though routine presentations at work may feel unimportant, they’re an ideal way to develop a process for creating and delivering compelling presentations well outside the walls of your company.
Natalia has found that crafting great presentations – for your team, or an audience of thousands – follows a consistent five-step process:
- Find the right content for your audience;
- Craft and follow a storyline;
- Create a clean and engaging layout;
- Gather feedback; and finally
- Deliver it with enthusiasm and engage with the audience.
Find the Right Content
Who are you speaking to? Why should they care? What are their motivations? Then gather data that convinces them that your proposal or point of view is the smartest one to take.
Follow a Storyline
Find an interesting story to tell.
“If you’re presenting data and facts, they’re meaningless until they tell a story. The more emotion you put into the story, the more interesting it will be.”
Create a Clean and Engaging Presentation Layout
When you go over each slide, ask: “Does it look good? Is it clean, engaging, and easy to understand?”
“Run it by friends and family before you present it. Run it by experts in the field. Get feedback.” And after a presentation at work, don’t be afraid to ask your colleagues directly, preferably immediately after you present so their ideas are fresh.
Deliver in an Engaging Way
“The way you present, it matters. People remember what they see. It’s more important than the content,” Natalia says.
Whether you’re presenting to a meeting of three of your team members or 2,000 people at your global headquarters, these five tips will make sure you’re the one that people cite as the creator of ‘best presentation of the entire event!’.
3. Seek Out Mentors
For almost every single one of Natalia’s most successful speaking gigs, a mentor paved the path toward getting her on stage. This is an extremely common way for people to end up on stage. And remember that mentors can come from anywhere, both inside and outside of your workplace.
Mentors serve as your advocates, presenting opportunities that you would otherwise not have access to.
“I did an entire speaking tour sponsored by the U.S. Department of State. I got that through the recommendation of entrepreneur Gagan Biyani. He’s part of the 500 startups network. I’m a mentor there and he’s also a mentor.” One of the other large events that Natalia spoke at in eastern Europe, Bitspiration, also came out of another professional connection.
If you have mentors, but they haven’t suggested any speaking engagements to you, ask them! They may have some in mind, but unless you indicate interest in some way, they may not suggest them unprompted.
You can also attend events where other speakers take the stage that inspire you (make sure to introduce yourself after the talk).
You’re the Expert, Even If You Don’t Realize It
As Natalia’s experiences show us, the journey to speaking starts small, with the group of people you see and work with every day.
Once you do this work at your day job, a funny thing may start to happen. “Ironically enough, the more people there are in an audience, the easier it is to present. A room of five people who are really critical, that’s a lot scarier to me. It only gets easier from there,” says Natalia.
Underneath all of Natalia’s advice is the knowledge that good work, when shared out loud, begets good opportunities: “If you’re doing good work and you’re really passionate about it and you know your stuff, you have something worth speaking about,” says Natalia.
“When I think about my speaking experience and what I am best at speaking about, it’s the stuff I was promoted for, the things I did that had colleagues saying I did a good job. Take those small successes. That’s the perfect fertile ground to give a talk. That’s where you actually are the expert, even if you don’t realize it yet.”