From time to time Speaker Sponsor will be featuring a Speaker Spotlight profile from professional speakers. If you’re new to speaking you will benefit from their inside knowledge of how the speaking industry works. And even if you’ve been around a while there is always something you can learn from the learning curve of other speakers.

Networking expert Diane Darling didn’t plan her career as a public speaker. She tells Speaker Sponsor how she became an “accidental” speaker who learned from trial and error how to constantly improve her skills as a speaker.

Why did you decide to become a speaker?

It was a total accident …. I was asked by a women’s group to explain how I got meetings with key decision makers. I innocently didn’t think I did anything unique or special. So I gave a talk and people in the audience told their friends/colleagues and it went from there.

Do you remember your first speaking engagement?

Do I ever! I was TERRIFIED. I prepared a grid with 3 boxes to help my nerves.

  • Copy of the slide
  • Bullet points of my remarks
  • Words that would help me relax – e.g SMILE, WHEW, It’s almost over (I usually had that first to help my nerves)

I had JUST started, I put the papers on a clipboard because my hands were shaking. A few minutes into my talk a woman spoke up and said, “I’m sorry to interrupt. I’m concerned you’ve eaten something you’re allergic to. You’re neck has red blotches.”

I was mortified. I continued and everyone empathized with my nerves. I went and bought a bunch of red turtlenecks and wore them for a long time.

How have you changed as a speaker?

I’m much more relaxed for sure. I also realize that I can’t possibly share EVERYTHING I know – no matter how long the talk. Editing what I’m not going to say is difficult, but I’m getting better.

How have you seen the speaking industry change?

It seems that everyone wants to be a speaker but maybe that’s just because it’s the business I’m in. People glamorize it. Others seem attracted to it as a way to vent or get attention.

What’s the best advice you would give someone who is just entering the speaking business?

Start with top content. Just being funny or good in front of an audience doesn’t mean you have something people will want to hear. Then work on your delivery. I closely watch comedians. The best have something to say – they write, practice, rewrite, practice again. It’s hard work.

What methods do you use to get speaking engagements? Cold calling, inbound marketing, speaker’s bureaus, direct mail, all of the above, or something else?

I’m not enough of a celebrity to be of interest to speaker’s bureaus. Or at least that’s what they’ve told me – directly or indirectly. Most of my work comes from referrals from people who have seen me speak before. Rarely, but on occasions, someone will find me on the web.

Where do you expect to be as a speaker in 5 years?

I’d like to find someone who gets the clients and I can focus on writing more talks. In due time, I’d like to have time mentoring others but that’s a ways off. I have a variety of talks I’d like to give outside of my current topics and I’d like to be delivering more of them. I guess I’d like to be known as a good speaker – no matter the topic. Not just an expert on networking.