In today’s world of business, one of the greatest keys to your success will undoubtedly be: public speaking.

Believe it or not, there was a time in my career when I didn’t know how to speak publically to large or even small crowds. In fact, I remember my first day of school, I was so nervous when they ask me to say my name. Just saying my name out loud caused me such crippling fear.

When I was just 16 years old, I embarrassed myself at African Party Day Celebration in Spain and I wasn’t able to recite a poem named “Bisila” (honoring the Virgin Bisila who is the mother of the bubi Tribe in Equatorial Guinea). I had memorized the poem for days and when I walked out onto the stage, I went blank. I was so ashamed in front of my family and friends.

The fear of public speaking followed me even as I got older. In law school I avoided all oral exams and I postponed them so my professors let me complete the exams in writing. I just couldn’t do it!

When I started my career, the first time I had to speak in public for my job was when the President of Valencia Region visited New York. I was hosting a delegation and all I needed to do was read from a pamphlet. Still, I became so nervous  I started to shake that my boss gave me a relaxation pill in order for me to calm down.

When I became Executive Director of the Spain-US Chamber of Commerce, public speaking was a requirement. I had to give reports at the Board of Directors meetings and annual membership meetings. I also started to get inquiries from different Chambers of Commerce to participate on panels or to give conferences in the area of international business.

I wasn’t comfortable with any of it but it was part of my job and I couldn’t avoid it any longer. It seemed that I was continuously being pushed into that spaces that made me feel so uncomfortable so I knew I had to do something to conquer my public speaking fear.

To date, I have spoken in over 20 countries around the world in the past 7+ years and I’ve have performed as emcee in 5 countries.

Public speaking can do wonders for one’s career in terms of positioning yourself as a thought leader within your industry and gaining exposure to countless people in the audience. However, the journey to becoming a public speaker isn’t one that comes overnight. Like anything else, it requires years of hard work, mastery of a topic or topics, and a lot of patience.

Over the years, I’ve stuck my neck out, faced my fears, and conquered the stage. I know what it takes to build a speaking career and today I want to share some of the lessons I learned towards becoming a public speaker with ease and grace .

1. Be Able to Teach and Share by Experience

Conference and event organizers are always looking for subject matter experts or thought leaders on a particular topic who have performed the work previously and are able to teach an audience how to do it themselves.

Conference organizers are hypersensitive to the fact that attendees often pay large quantities of money to hear experts, which is why you should be sure that you really have walked the walk before applying to speak at an event. Ask yourself, what subject matter are you most  qualified to speak on?

2. Gain Experience in Your Community

Before speaking in front of thousands, I spoke at smaller events and about topics that I knew with my eyes closed. Sure, it’s not as sexy as headlining a stage at a major industry event but it’s where you realistically need to start to gain experience speaking in front of savvy professionals.

Get started within your company, Colleges & Universities or at a Chamber of Commerce where you can speak easily about a topic.

3. Attend Conferences

Attend as many conferences as possible as a guest or observer so that you can meet the conference organizers. Get to know them and explain your area of expertise to them to see how can you contribute at their next event.

4. Email Event & Conference Organizers

Identify the industry events that you want to speak at over the next year and send an email to the committee or individual responsible for selecting speakers and make your pitch.

5. Hire a Speaker Coach

I have worked with several speaker coaches privately and I benefited greatly from the experience. If you are really serious about growing your speaking career, it is a worthy investment. Another option is to become part of Toastmasters. Toastmasters is an international organization with chapters around the world where you can  improve your speaking skills.

5. Gather Testimonials and Speaking Examples

Having testimonials and examples of your work on stage is a key to success for any speaker. When I interviewed to be represented by Speakers bureaus it was a must and I had since 2006 tons of evidence of events and conferences that I spoke at. In 2015, I officially became represented by several speakers bureaus internationally, including Madrid, London, Mexico, Turkey and the US. Be sure to have videos that showcase your work including testimonials from prior speaking engagements. Also, and  I can’t stress this enough — make sure that you have a strong personal brand and a following of your work. Remember, your audience are your best agents!

6. Practice, Read and Learn

Practice, practice, practice. Read, Read, Read, Learn, Learn, Learn. The more you practice the better you get. The best part of your talk is the Q&A and you need to have resources and be well versed in your industry. You can’t only rely on the presentation that you have prepared. Keep learning and expand your knowledge beyond your area of expertise — do not take it for granted.

7.Speak for free

Accepting non-paying speaking gigs early on is a rite of passage. We’ve all been there. It took me about 6 years before I got paid to speak and today my fees are mandatory. The key with unpaid events is to focus on honing your skills and improve. Unpaid speaking gigs are  also a great way to start building evidence of your speaking abilities and grow an audience that will enhance your personal brand.

8. Just be yourself

Event coordinators are looking for interesting and unique people. They want people who have their own stories and their own talks. If you copy other people, you’re not going to stand out. Figure out what sets you apart, and embrace that!

What I love about public speaking is the feeling that you are making an impact on at least one person’s life. It brings me so much joy and satisfaction to interact with members of the audience afterwards and get their feedback. I have made so many friends around the world through these experiences and I have learned so much from fellow speakers that I shared the stage with!

If there is one thing you take from all of this let it be this: If you  decide to speak publically, do it from your heart and don’t expect immediate results.  Just focus on your audience and not what you will get out of it. Simply Enjoy the experience and have fun and know that the money will eventually come.

Even after my many years of being on stage,  if you were to ask me if I was able to reduce my anxiety from public speaking. My answer would be no, not really. Even still, I discovered  my greatest secret weapon to becoming a public speaker with ease and grace, always smile.


Article originally published in Bisila Bokoko’s LinkedIn profile.