How to get on the HR speaking circuit

Public speaking at work
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Paul Carter
HR Writer
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Trying to get on the HR speaking circuit can feel like being at the back of a long queue of a VIP nightclub. If your name’s not on the list, you’re not getting in until you build your professional profile, become a subject expert and attract the attention of event organisers.

It may be a difficult journey, but nobody said life would be easy. I have been a speaker at one CIPD student event after I won an essay contest on the future of HR. I enjoyed it and want to grab the microphone again. I hope this article will help other aspiring speakers hit the stage.

You may feel like a bird without a song, but nothing compares to you. Whether you’re the prince of spin writing the speech, or the talking head delivering it, no one can write or say it the way you can.

Use your HR expertise and business insight to deliver ideas that can be put into practice by the audience. It all starts with writing a great speech.

Making people think

"A great speech will take people from A to B...but you need to know where it is you're going to end up," said former political speechwriter Lord Michael Dobbs when explaining the importance of structure in a speechwriting masterclass.

Do you want to end up as one of those “speakers” who populates unsolicited emails inviting thousands of people to “unmissable conferences”, or a respected speaker who attracts thousands of people to unmissable conferences? Deliver a great speech and the audience will be hanging on every word you say as you become a spokesperson for your profession.

It’s this kind of hyperbole sales talk that promotes style over substance in public speaking gigs and training courses, encouraging you to entertain rather than connect with your audience. While entertaining people is a great skill, as a professional speaker you have to make people think. Your audience has to visualise how your passion, knowledge and ideas connects to their workplace challenges and goals.

This ‘Secret to public speaking’ Ted Talk by Chris Anderson highlights the importance of understanding your listeners’ perspective and using curiosity to give them a reason to care. He says that “if you can reveal a disconnection in someone's worldview, they will feel the need to bridge that knowledge gap in formulating their ideas”.

Know your subject

You have to know about HR to talk about HR. However, getting on the HR speaking circuit may be difficult if you are not perceived as an authoritative voice. My HR Magazine article ‘Is the HR blogosphere on a collision course with HR practice?’ received a comment from a HR professional who said he offers ‘better advice than many who pitch themselves as experts’.

While this may be true, the best way to test your knowledge and expertise is in the workplace. If you can achieve that then test yourself on stage in front of a live audience of HR professionals.

The success of Ted Talks has shown that charismatic speakers with interesting content can engage an audience, but the more engaged people become the more they want an interactive experience with the speaker and audience. How you answer challenging questions, encourage participation and use technology to improve your presentation can help you stay in people’s minds, and influence their approach to employee engagement and improving HR in their organisations.

Final thoughts

You may be the star on stage, but great speakers make everyone feel like the most important person in the room. "To make a speech seem passionate and sincere, something needs to come from within. The greatest successes are those speeches that can get across a message and also touch people at the same time," says Lord Dobbs.

You don’t have to burst into tears when talking about the wonders of HR. But if you can make your audience laugh, cry and think about the past and future, you have done a great job.

Here's the CIPD’s advice on how to get on the HR speaking circuit...

Anton Riolo, Conference Manager at the CIPD, provides some advice on how to get on the HR speaking circuit

Paul Carter: What are the CIPD’s selection criteria for speakers for events/conferences?

Anton Riolo: We have a team of conference producers who research and identify the biggest issues and topic priorities for CIPD members and the wider HR and L&D community. Based on the research insights, which are collected and collated on an event-by-event basis, the producers define the sessions and content that will be covered at the event.

From there, the team actively headhunts, invites and confirms relevant speakers and case studies that are able to meet the content and messaging requirements of the event or session. Some of the key criteria considered when inviting speakers include content relevance, message alignment, professional experience, credibility, non-biased and experience-based view, and ability to deliver the session in engaging and compelling ways. 

Paul Carter: How do you become aware of prominent HR professionals?

​Anton Riolo: We look across at all sources available. From relying on recommendations from our own CIPD research and policy teams, other internal contacts and advisory boards, to keeping up to date with the most recent developments in the industry – this could include recent articles on HR and L&D magazines, or industry-specific awards for instance. Speaker recommendations also come from people interviewed during the topic research.

We also receive a great number of speaker proposals from professionals that feel they have a good story or experience to share with our audience – when they meet the specific event objectives and criteria we can invite them to speak at relevant events.

Paul Carter: Any advice on how HR professionals can make that breakthrough to HR personality?

​Anton Riolo: Get involved and participate – whether it’s through online presence, blogging, contributing to magazines or submitting entries to relevant awards.

Share your experience and expertise, talk about your recent activities, achievements and downfalls. The more your share with your peers and the community, the more your profile will increase.

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