So, you want to get started in public speaking?
Well done on embracing the most common phobia in America – with over 25% of us estimated to have a fear of public speaking, or glossophobia. It’s even estimated that fear of public speaking can even cut wages by 10%!
As a professional speaker I often get asked for advice on where to start, which inspired me to share a few things I’ve learnt so far.
Whether you’re looking to make a living as a professional speaker, share your story to anyone who will listen, or simply get more confident when presenting at work – public speaking is an incredibly rewarding skill – not just for you but those who listen to you.
1) What’s your message?
Start ‘with the end in mind’. Simply ‘inspiring’ or ‘motivating’ people is a bit vague when there’s lots of other speakers out there. What’s your story? What will the audience take away?
You can speak on anything you like, and you don’t need to be an Olympic medallist or Polar explorer either. If you haven’t yet got life experiences that people naturally want to hear, then you can research and educate yourself about pretty much anything nowadays. But if you’re not passionate or excited about the content, then find something you are. (Presenting as part of your job might be different.)
Bear in mind that having a strong story or impressive resume of achievements doesn’t necessarily make you a good speaker. Equally, being a polished speaker won’t really compensate for lack of good content or stories, either. It’s a bit like the Kardashians getting their own TV show. And don’t get me started on the recent epidemic of ‘life coaches’…
2) Who’s your audience?
Maybe your story will have appeal to everyone, and getting to speak to a wide variety of people with their own different challenges is what keeps speaking interesting. It’s better to focus on the audiences that you relate to best. Often the only way to find out is to try new things. Businesses will pay for speakers whereas schools or charities often have no budget – but that’s also where you can make a big impact and have the most fun.
3) Learn through feedback
It’s lovely being thanked for a ‘great talk’ but I usually go a bit deeper. What was great about it? Your own intuition is a good time to make adjustments and pull out the tumbleweed jokes. Continual feedback (the good and especially the bad) is vital. I was very lucky to have great coaches and mentors in the early days which massively sped up my development. But you can be proactive and even invest in coaching too.
It’s not really the sort of job you can debate with your mates down the pub (good luck convincing them it’s a ‘job’) but luckily there are clubs such as Toastmasters or the Professional Speaking Association. I attended a conference recently as a guest and after listening to one of the leading business keynote speakers I left full of new ideas and techniques to try.
There’s also heaps of resources available. Two fantastic podcasts I’d recommend are the Voxgig newsletter or Speaking Business podcast.
You can listen to my recent interviews here: https://speakingbusiness.libsyn.com/alex-staniforth-from-stammer-to-stage
and here: https://player.fm/series/fireside-with-voxgig-for-professional-speakers/episode-41-alex-staniforth
4) Speak for free
Maybe you’re not looking to make an income anyway. Unless you’re a high profile and respected figure then you’re going to have to start somewhere, practice speaking in front of audiences, writing your content and getting feedback.
Many organisations will be happy to make a charity donation for your time. As a minimum, always make sure your travel expenses are covered and ask for testimonials. Getting good photos or video is very useful but surprisingly difficult. I’m often so focused on delivering the talk that I forget and end up with poor quality mobile photos from the back of the room.
5) Play the long game
We’re often chasing the summit without realising there’s a mountain at the bottom. Unless you’re already an established figure in the business world or somehow thrust into overnight fame, it takes time to build a speaking career, develop your reputation and charge reasonable fees.
It took about three years to move from part-time work and speak ‘full time’. Even this is alongside writing and my ambassador role at Westgrove Group, and I don’t exactly live in a 3-floor townhouse with three kids to support (though some professional speakers very comfortably do) – but I do live near the Lakes and get to run in the hills whenever I like.
6) Start with small steps
Don’t be afraid to email offering your speaking services. It’s much quicker to start with existing relationships and connections. I gave my first talk aged 16 to my old primary school. But it could be to your employer, club, charity group, etc.
Business networking groups and clubs such as Rotary and 41 Club often need guest speakers each month, offering a friendly crowd and usually a charity donation (plus dinner if you’re lucky). If you want honest feedback, speaking to kids at schools is one sure way to get it.
Every time you speak is self-promotion, and often leads to more bookings. There are agencies, websites and more, which I’ll save for another blog post…
7) Enjoy the journey
Not every talk ends in a standing ovation. That might only happen once. Even if you leave feeling you haven’t connected with the audience, this is usually when the emails, texts and messages emerge with golden nuggets of feedback – people who have been inspired to take action and make positive changes after your talk. Never underestimate the impact you can make. After all, that’s what makes public speaking so incredibly rewarding and worthwhile. Once you start, you won’t want to stop.
Hopefully this has given you food for thought, but I’d love to hear your own tips or questions – please feel free to pop them in the comments below.
I talk more about the peaks and troughs of my speaking journey in my books, Icefall and Another Peak which are available here>
Great advice and a good read. Thanks!