So you want to speak at HR conferences? Advice for the journey

One of the key parts of what I do in my job is speaking. Webinars. Conferences. Seminars. I’ll talk to pretty much anyone about anything related to HR.

speakingAnd I LOVE it.

This is pretty funny for anyone that knows me well, because I’m fairly shy and introverted. If I show up to the pre-conference party myself, I’ll eat quickly and leave for the safety of my hotel room and a good book. Ideally I’ll have a friend or someone meeting me so at least I have a person to connect with when I arrive. Better still if they introduce me to one or two people so I am not flying solo (or my “return to home” alert kicks in and I’m out of there in a flash).

Anyway, I have been speaking over 10 years now. The very first event was actually pushed on me (kindly) by a friend that thought I had important things to say. I was early in my career, but I had lots of experience already using social media, building a strong network, and developing myself outside of work. That formed the core presentation called “HR Sponge,” which was aptly named because the friend called me her sponge for new information. :-)

Fast forward to today, and I’ve spoken to tens of thousands of HR, talent, and learning professionals across the world. Spring and fall are heavy HR conference seasons, so I spend a fair amount of time on the road during those times. It balances out, because summer and winter are family time! With the new book that came out late last year, I’ve been speaking a lot more on the topic of artificial intelligence and how it can help us make HR more human, not less.

(Don’t tell my wife but I’m already thinking about the next book.) :-) 

In addition to the talks on AI and HR technology, I’m also talking about other topics regularly:

  • performance management (based on the research our team has done at Lighthouse)
  • internal mobility, career pathing, and employee development
  • recruiting trends, technologies, and case studies
  • employee retention strategies
  • evidence-based HR, data-based decision making, etc.
  • and more!

Note: if you’re running an event and want a speaker, ping me!

It’s great to have some areas of specialty. Hint: I will not come and talk about compliance. If you want an ADA presentation, talk to an attorney. But if you want the latest research, case studies, and practical ideas on how to improve HR, there’s a good chance I have the data on hand to make that happen.

How to start speaking

If you’re interested in speaking some here or there, here are some suggestions for getting started.

  • Find a DisruptHR event near you. These are five minute presentations to help you cut your teeth on speaking to an audience that is willing to give you some grace as long as you bring a topic that’s interesting and informative.
  • Get on a podcast as a guest. I’m interviewing a recruiting leader in a few weeks that wants to do more public speaking as a way to help her practice her story and get “out there” in a more public way.
  • Offer to speak on a webinar as a co-host or guest. My team runs webinars all the time and we’re always looking for interesting stories, case studies, and guests to join and offer a practical view of the topic we are discussing.
  • Find a conference and offer to be on a panel. Panels typically have 2-4 participants and are much easier than solo speaking events because they do not require slides or extensive preparation.

Tips for first timers

When you get that first shot, regardless of the venue, it can be a bit nerve-wracking. Here’s what I always suggest:

  • Be passionate about your topic. If you’re not excited about it, how can your audience be?
  • Use Powerpoint sparingly. If you’re reading off the slides, you’re doing it wrong. Have an image or a phrase that reminds of you of the story or example that slide is about, then talk from that. The audience will appreciate it and listen better, too!
  • The audience remembers the first thing and the last thing more so than anything else you say. Decide what your key message is and share it at the beginning, middle, and end so they don’t forget.

You will get better with practice, so go for it and don’t give up! :-)