Ashley Dudarenok isn’t what you picture when you think of a Chinese businessperson, but there she is. Born near China’s border, she went on to study there during a crucial time in the country’s economic history and observed the freewheeling business dealings in a booming Chongqing. She took these formative experiences with her when she moved to Hong Kong and started her digital marketing agency and a corporate training enterprise specializing in digital transformation. She’s now a naturalized Chinese citizen.
So she wasn’t in training to be a public speaker. How did that all come about?
After moving to Hong Kong she began her journey as an entrepreneur and established her digital marketing business. It was clear to her that with ever-present digital and social media, she needed to stake her claim as a thought leader. In addition to creating a presence on the internet, on social media and in the press, she started speaking at events. This helped connect with audiences, aided networking and was a vital part of marketing. Later, this turned into being paid as a professional speaker at events and for corporate training. It helped her business as another revenue stream and in other ways as well.
So what is a professional speaker?
“When I was younger, I didn’t realize that there was such a thing as a professional speaker. I thought the only people who did that sort of thing were celebrities or politicians. Then I discovered that there was space for highly qualified experts too.”
When she was just starting to build her reputation as a thought leader, had done some speaking events and had published a book about Chinese e-commerce, she got the opportunity to do a TedX Talk.
“I learned a lot and really enjoyed it. With that under my belt, I started doing more speaking engagements and it just blossomed from there.”
At first she treated it as a marketing platform since that’s how most event organizers presented opportunities. With increasing demands on her time and more and more invitations, she had to change her approach.
“One year I spoke at over 54 events. That’s when I started to say no and introduced a speaking fee.”
To her surprise at the time, companies were willing to pay. She started doing research on professional speakers to find out more and incorporate some best practices.
“I got together with a vocal coach to get better control of my energy and my instrument. I joined speaker associations and before long I was delivering tailored keynotes to corporate clients and at large scale industry events.”
Ashley now specializes in China-related topics rooted in her work and hands-on experience like how to be truly customer-centric, the future of retail, and what entrepreneurs can learn from China, which she sees as the world’s most competitive market.
It soon became a big chunk of her business. And it did more than that. It helped to bring in clients who were looking for speakers or for tailored training about China and digital marketing. She soon developed a training and education brand that specialized in training enterprises through tailored materials. Her business also developed digital products like video courses and masterclasses with thousands of paying students.
Does she think everyone can be a professional speaker?
“I think it comes more naturally to some people than others and everyone has their own style but I think if you work at it and get good advice, anyone can do it.”
So what is Ashley’s advice to business owners who want to do more speaking engagements for marketing or other reasons?
Everyone has experience and expertise of some kind. She advises people to choose an area you’re interested in and develop your knowledge. Make sure it’s something that an audience would find valuable and don’t make it too general.
“You can’t just say ‘I’m an expert on India.’ That’s too general and broad and no one is an expert on everything about India. I chose the topic of helping organizations shorten their digital transformation learning curve. Choose a special area like Indian textiles or the street food in your city or logistics in India. Something like that.”
Next, she recommends that you get a mentor, pay an expert or join your local professional speakers association. If you don’t have any extra funds to pay for coaching, watch video tutorials or take notes on what the speakers you pay attention to do to get and keep people’s attention.
“It’s not just speaking like the speaking we do each day with our friends and family. It’s a performance, communication and storytelling all blended into one with your topic expertise as the cherry on top.”
When you first start out, she recommends booking directly with clients in your network. Then reach out beyond that. When your profile reaches a certain level, then it’s time to collaborate with speaker bureaus who can bring you to new markets and new audiences.
“If you reach the stage of contacting speaker bureaus, help them sell your skills by being very clear on your expertise and the value you bring. Make sure they know your credentials.”
Can anyone take this route or only people who are looking for long-term clients?
“You can do it even if you’re not looking for long-term clients. You can do individual events from time to time to bring in extra revenue and do it as a solo entrepreneur or with a small team. You can also add it as another pillar in your current business that is part of your lead generation process and business funnel.”
It’s a lot to ask of a small business owner.
“It is a lot of work to set it up and get yourself ready but, in the end, it’s worth it.”