You’ve attended the Chamber lunches or the Rotary meetings and you’ve sat enraptured by the speaker (OK, so maybe sometimes it wasn’t quite that fascinating). You may have noticed how many people wanted to talk with her afterward and thought “What a great way to network. I wish I could take advantage of that.”

Well, you can — and you don’t necessarily have to be a great speaker.

There are actually two ways to make use of speaking engagements in networking. The first one is the obvious: Find a venue and make a presentation. Unfortunately, this one does require that you be a good speaker. Believe it or not, many groups are desperate to find speakers.  Remember, they often have monthly or even weekly meetings. Given that most people are more afraid of public speaking than they are of death, this can often lead to a “seller’s market”.

Now, to be clear, most of these speaking engagements will be unpaid, but that’s not why you are doing it.  You are making the presentation to extend your network. That being the case, you not only should be comfortable speaking in front of a group, but should also have a plan in place to interact with the audience members either before or after. One timing issue to be aware of:  If you speak at the end of an event (quite often the case), you won’t have much time to network after you wow them with your oratorical prowess. Can you prepare for your presentation and network at the same time beforehand?

If you are uncomfortable at public speaking, there are numerous groups which can help you prepare and refine your skills. I’ve heard many people tout the benefits of Toastmasters International. For me, the last seven years teaching Karate to small children has helped me to get over any nervousness.

One final caveat. This presentation is not an advertisement for your products or services. You are drawing on your knowledge and experience in order to provide value to your audience, not sell to a captive group. At the end, the main goal of your presentation is to get them to like you and want to continue the relationship. After that it’s up to you to continue to develop that connection.

Tomorrow, the other way to make use of speech in networking.