How I Accidentally Became a Public Speaker

At times, simply taking opportunities that life gives you can open doors you might not have thought possible. This can be particularly true when it comes to creating content. First, you might simply want to understand something more clearly, then as you explain it, people begin to take notice—and from that, other opportunities can happen.

This article is about one of those odd stories.

Step 1. Get a break

A friend of mine was short a speaker for an event on how to freelance. Since I was available, I stepped into the panel as a last minute replacement. For the next hour or so, I answered questions and shared my experience with hiring freelancers as well as being one. The good, the bad and the ugly. I did not think that much about it at the time—for me it was just helping out a friend.

As it happened, one of the people in the audience liked my presentation. When this person was hired by General Assembly to look for speakers, he asked me to speak about growth hacking. Having no prior teaching experience, I agreed and put together a slide deck. In order to get the students more involved, I made sure there was plenty of time for audience participation and exercises.

With 5–6 people in the room, I had my first class as a teacher. For some reason I had no nerves, and I had a lot of fun interacting with the audience. It felt like I had done this several times before.

Step 2. Take a risk

With favourable feedback from the students, I was contacted again by General Assembly. They wanted to know if I knew anyone that could speak about Google Analytics. Halfway hesitant, I put my name forward. I thought I could turn the presentation into a talk about sales, so I could focus on my strengths. I do not know every aspect of Google Analytics, but I know what I use every day to help clients get sales. I thought that could help me make the content simple.

The room was packed. The room could hold 35 seats and they had to put in extra chairs. To start a conversation, and better target the presentation, I asked the group what they wanted to learn. That started a discussion, and it became clear that they did not come to learn Google Analytics. They wanted to learn how to get more sales. So I asked if it was ok to speak about growth hacking, even though it was not what I had originally planned.

After doing both presentations,  I got a room full of applause—which felt very odd. At the same time I became aware that I had found something I could do really well, which came natural to me, and that I could still improve on.

Step 3. Say yes to new opportunities

As it so happened, one of the attendees was a teacher at Victoria University. She contacted me a few days later and asked me to help teach her students. So I took all the questions her students had and created a follow-up course. Now I could say that I had taught university students, which I felt gave me a lot more credibility.

At the same time, General Assembly asked me to create a full-day event focused on growth hacking. Again, I asked the audience what they wanted to learn and used that as an opening to test some material on conversion optimisation that I had just created for another presentation. This helped me a lot because I finished early, 2 hours before the workshop was about to close, but I was able to talk about conversion optimization to add more value.

Step 4. Make the content visible

General Assembly gave me full ownership of the material I created. This gave me the opportunity to put the material up on my LinkedIn profile. When you do that on LinkedIn, it automatically gets shared on SlideShare. This gave me even more visibility. Then people started to contact me because of the content I had created.

Udemy, an online university, contacted me to create a course on Google Analytics. Since I already had material from the two courses I had created, I said yes. And to make the course better, I added the material I had created on conversion optimisation as well as some information on growth hacking. It became 3 hours of recorded material.

Since Udemy also gave me full ownership of the material, I sold the rights to resell the course to someone building his own learning website. That paid for the laptop I am writing this on.

SEM Rush, a web analytics company, also contacted me about doing a webinar on conversion optimisation. Since I already had the content, it gave me the opportunity to just reuse the same material I had presented before. Around the same time, General Assembly asked me create a presentation for a number of Uber drivers. This put me in front of 80 people (and allowed me to get a nice picture of me with the sign interpreter hired to work with me and the audience which I posted on my LinkedIn profile).

Step 5. Create a learning and teaching habit

I started to realise that ongoing, faster learning was vital to teaching. So to keep up, I had to increase my learning speed. I decided to try and read every day in order to finish a book a month. By putting Kindle on my phone and using spare moments on trains, trams and buses to read, I was able to learn many new things.(Thanks to the Melbourne public transport system. I enjoy every delay!) My simple daily goal is to read 5% of any book, a rule I now teach regularly to my students.

Whenever I speak, there is an opportunity or two that comes from it. Last Saturday, I spoke for a full day about digital marketing and I was asked by one of the attendees to speak at a start-up incubator. The time before that, I was asked to pitch my services to the company of one of the attendees. Today, I chatted with a company called 360training who contacted me about creating another course. Passively, I am also building a following from people who connect with me on LinkedIn after each event.

Closing thoughts

I am writing this on the way to another paid speaking event in the city. Getting paid feels a little weird because I spend a lot of time working with digital marketing and could talk about it for hours without earning a cent. Yet I am starting to. Every morning, I check how many new students have enrolled in my course on Udemy, and I am also working on creating my own teaching system while I am teaching.

This is not without hard work, but it is the most effective free way I know of both helping people and getting a reputation. At every event, I offer free consultations and web analyses to give more value. Getting a sale might be in the back of my mind, but I am never pitching it because that is not the way I would like to be treated myself.

The biggest change I have experienced so far is an increase in confidence, often fueled by those that come up to me after each presentation to thank me. It is also incredibly rewarding to feel I am making a difference and inspiring people. Therefore, I often ask what I can do better, so that next event can be more fun to experience.


About the author: Bjarne Viken

Bjarne Viken 2

Bjarne is a conversion optimisation strategist, who works with marketing managers and business owners to scale up their businesses by analysing how they can improve their online conversion rates.

He has worked extensively with many growing companies, helping them drive customer acquisition, push conversions and increase sales.”

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This article was first published by Bjarne Viken