Many studies reveal that people’s top fear is public speaking. Their second is death.

Although I find that shocking, it’s also unfortunate. Like it or not, if you’re trying to build a name for yourself or for your business, you’ll benefit from sharing your insights and expertise in a public forum. It can help position you as an expert with your target audiences, especially if you speak in an articulate and polished way.

Some people have found a different way to do this. They speak to audiences, but from behind their computers by hosting online conferences, videos, or podcasts. This is also a good way to build awareness, but it doesn’t establish rapport or build strong relationships.

Instead, you need to get out there and both inspire and engage audiences with a persuasive presentation that informs, inspires, entertains and hopefully educates. Some of the direct benefits of public speaking, if done right, include:

  • It can help you sell your services and/or products
  • It can help you showcase your expertise on a particular topic or in a particular field
  • It can help you build connections and increase your network of potential clients and partners

Earlier this week, I attended a fantastic event in Toronto called The Art of Small Business. Sponsored by Visa and KPMG Enterprise, this event showcased a wide range of expert speaker who have honed their public speaking skills including Brett Wilson (entrepreneur, philanthropist and former star of CBC TV’s the Dragons’ Den), Mitch Joel (author and CEO of Twist Image), and Michael Gerber (small business guru and author of the bestseller E-Myth Revisited).

But what if you haven’t written a book or been on Dragons’ Den? What if no one is knocking on your door to speak at their next event? Here are a few tips to start positioning yourself as a thought leader and expert:

1. Create a short list of your areas of expertise: Identify the topics you know best and focus on those you can speak on with authority. Find a niche that will help you differentiate from others.

2. Start attending events: Do your homework by attending events that you’d like to speak at. Pay attention to the people who speak. Notice what they say and how they deliver their content. Take note of the event format and topics. Start thinking about how you can fit onto the agenda next time around and then develop a solid pitch that will get on the radar of event organizers.

3. Engage with influencers and event organizers on social media: Use social media to connect with influencers and event organizers who are responsible for finding guest speakers. If you can get in front of them before an event and demonstrate the value you would provide as a speaker, there’s a greater chance you’ll be asked to speak.

4. Start blogging: Start up a blog, share your posts on social media channels, and send them to your network. Pitch your posts to online publications and ask them to link back to your original post if they publish them. All of this will also help improve your site’s SEO.

5. Showcase your expertise online: To make the most of your speaking engagements, share as much content as you feel comfortable on your website, YouTube, SlideShare, or Vimeo

After all this hard work, and once you’ve delivered your first few speaking opportunities, the hardest part will be behind you. And with any luck, any fears you had of public speaking will be gone. But if you still need guidance or coaching, think about working with a PR firm that will position you as an expert and help you polish your presentation skills along the way.

Are you leveraging public speaking to catapult your career? Tell us by leaving a comment below.