You might have noticed that we’ve just put out our annual call for Conference speakers – but don’t just hit delete! Jo Whitworth, Comms Manager, explains why putting yourself forward as a speaker might not be as scary as it sounds, and could be the best career move you’ve ever made.

Picture the scene… you and your team have recently completed a new project – a money spinning initiative that’s attracted new audiences, or maybe you’ve overcome a big commercial challenge. You’re proud of your team’s achievements, eager to shout about it – but would anyone else want to hear about it?

Yes, absolutely!

Think of all the times you’ve been inspired by hearing about a successful initiative at another venue and come away with a notebook full of ideas. Our members love hearing about real life experience with all its highs and lows – helping each other to grow and develop is what makes our community so unique.  

Emma Thompson, Retail Officer at National Museums NI, spoke at the 2022 Conference in Glasgow. “The biggest tip I can give any budding speaker is to pick something you are passionate about that you feel others could really benefit from. Even if it’s the most niche topic that you believe only applies to your place of work, you will be amazed how many people are dealing with the same thing and will greatly appreciate your insight or be inspired by it.”

Preparing a talk is in itself a useful exercise. Thinking about how you’ll present your experience forces you to take a fresh look at what can be learnt from it. You might find yourself looking at some stats that you hadn’t examined before, or realising a new benefit that hadn’t occurred to you previously. It will help you get under the skin of your subject in a new way.

Emma Thompson, National Museums Northern Ireland, delivering a session on sustainable retail at the Cultural Enterprises Conference 2022 in Glasgow
But you only want the big names, right?

Wrong. Sure, we like hearing from Directors (see View from the Top) but most of all we love hearing from the people on the ground, those who are creating and implementing, doing the hard graft and learning from the experience. We want to hear from all levels, all areas and all types and sizes of organisations, wherever you are and whatever stage you’re at in your career.

Tackling the Nerves

Now let’s talk about the biggest barrier of all: The Fear. If the thought of standing up in front of a roomful of people brings you out in a cold sweat, you’re not alone. Public speaking is not something that comes naturally to most of us, but when it comes to the Conference there are two really important things in your favour.

  1. You’re amongst friends! This is the most friendly and supportive sector I’ve ever worked in. Everyone is rooting for you – they want to hear what you have to say. They won’t care if you stumble over a few words – in fact you can bet most of them will simply admire you for having the courage to be up there at all!
  2. You’re passionate about your subject. You know it inside out. I bet you could easily talk about it to a friend for ages – so why should presenting it to an audience be any different? Okay you need to prepare and you need a bit of structure, but have confidence in your knowledge and your passion – they will see you through.
Feel the Buzz

There are so many benefits to taking the plunge and putting yourself forward as a speaker. For one thing, it’s a huge confidence boost – yes it’s nerve-wracking, but just think how you’ll feel when it’s over. Honestly, speaking can be a real buzz, especially when the audience respond positively – which I can promise you is a given at the Cultural Enterprises Conference!

You’ll find yourself making new contacts, and ‘networking’ (yes, I went there) will automatically become easier as people recognise you around the Conference – your talk is the perfect icebreaker! Presenting a Conference session can really open up new opportunities for you, as Emma has discovered:

“Speaking at the Conference in Glasgow was an amazing experience, not only for the opportunity to speak on topics I’m passionate about, but also for my personal and career growth. I made many connections across the sector and gained great confidence in myself and my work. Since then I’ve had the confidence to put myself forward for more opportunities which have allowed me to get involved with a range of projects and gain experience in other roles inside my organisation.”

Speaking is a great way to raise not only your own profile but also that of your venue. You’re becoming an ambassador for your organisation and showcasing your team’s entrepreneurial skills and achievements, as Matthew Henderson, Head of Commercial Operations and Development at Beamish Museum explains:

“Showcasing some of our projects, products and development on a world stage allowed us to make connections from across the sector and reflect on the work we’d done, learning from others and sharing information.”

Matthew says he would absolutely encourage anyone to put themselves forward as a speaker. “The creative ways you drive income at your venue will be of huge use to others and you’ll be amazed at the connections you make and knowledge you gain.”

Matthew Henderson, Beamish Museum, delivering a Showcase Session at the Cultural Enterprises Conference 2022 in Glasgow
Top Tips for Success

Hopefully by now you’re starting to think that maybe you could get on board with this, so to seal the deal here are my top five tips for successful speaking:

  1. Remember to breathe! Sounds simple, but when you’re focussed on getting your points across it can be very easy to talk and talk, and before you know it you’re completely out of breath. This happens to me all the time! Don’t be afraid to slow things down – pause between sentences and take a breath.
  2. Try not to look at your notes. This may sound scary but remember you know your subject inside out. Try practising without your notes and you’ll soon realise you don’t need them – you know what you want to say, your slides will act as a prompt anyway, and it’s so much more engaging for the audience when you speak naturally and from the heart.
  3. Don’t attempt unplanned jokes! Unless you’re an accomplished stand-up comedian, you’re likely to tie yourself up in knots as the tumbleweed descends. I speak from mortifying experience – unplanned comedy is best avoided.
  4. If you do find yourself going off on a tangent while one part of your brain quietly screams, “Why am I saying this?”, don’t panic. Simply stop, take a breath and move on to your next (planned) point.
  5. Don’t be put off by a sea of blank faces! There is little to choose between the expression of someone who’s listening intently, and someone who’s thinking about what they’ll have for tea tonight. Just remember, in 99% of cases it will be the former, as you’ll see when all the hands go up for questions followed by rapturous applause!
Go For It!

So if you’ve got a topic in mind, why not submit a proposal for next year’s Conference in Harrogate. Speakers get a free day at the Conference, so that’s one more reason to do it! If you’re not sure about your proposal by all means get in touch for a chat, and remember that we’ll support you all the way to ensure that you can deliver your best possible presentation on the day.

One final tip – get someone to take a photo of you in action and share it on your socials afterwards. Heck, make it your LinkedIn profile pic! You did it – be proud of yourself.

Find out more and apply

Joanne Whitworth
By Joanne Whitworth
Jo is Communications & Media Manager at the Association for Cultural Enterprises.
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