The business of public speaking is a strange one.
There’s no real “product”, not much to measure – nothing you can put in a box or weigh in your hands. Just you talking.
Your client wants to make the “perfect” decision and will often run you through a gauntlet of proposals, conference calls and interviews. Yet, despite all the scrutiny, few bother to measure results.
Some events are booked months in advance. Other times you find yourself on a red eye flight, exhausted, doing back-to-back events to satisfy a last minute booking you took to pay for that long overdue family vacation, or car payment.
I’ve done well at the game.
Early on, I learned there was a bigger opportunity in corporate training and I jumped in, building a team of enthusiastic trainers, office support and coaches. Contracts got larger, clients gave us repeat business, and over the years I squirrelled money away.
Now I’m done with the game—after 27 years of chasing contracts, late night preparation and trying to impress audiences.
But, I’m getting ahead of myself.
Getting standing ovations
I didn’t plan to be a public speaker. I wasn’t even aware it could be a “business.”
As I remember, a casual invitation led to me leading a weekend workshop on marketing and the kick off to my speaking career.
Since then, I’ve presented in every imaginal type of venue – from the back room of churches to sold out ballrooms. I’ve been put up in the nicest hotels and spent more than my share of nights staring at paint peeling on the ceiling of old motels that smelled of cigarettes.
I’ve received standing ovations followed by a line up of people wanting to buy my book. And – thankfully on rare occasions – I’ve been a complete mismatch for whatever that audience wanted (and it was obvious.)
Every month, I’m asked for advice about the speaking business.
How do I find an audience? (go to a conference, look in the ballroom). What should I charge? (until you’ve done a 100 speeches, less than you want.) Should I have a website (really?)
Of course, as an inveterate teacher, I made a list.
Lessons from the long road
Through all the late nights, airport lobbies, nervous preparation and rewriting of material that didn’t need rewriting I’ve learned a few things about success in this crazy business.
It’s not a long list, but it will serve the aspiring public speaker well.
- Prepare more than you have to. The best speakers know their subject so deeply they can choose the 10% of the iceberg we get to enjoy (they also love their metaphors.)
- Don’t deliver it all. Audiences don’t need everything you know—they need just enough to be motivated to do one thing better.
- One more hour of sleep is more valuable than two hours of late night frantic preparation.
- More PowerPoint slides make you look like an amateur. People came to learn from you, not your slides.
- If you can’t tell a great story or be funny you shouldn’t be presenting.
- Using 20 hashtags on Instagram is neat, but your best marketing is your last speech.
- Connection builds community and makes people feel they belong: remember names, pay attention and follow up. They will love you for it.
Most importantly, strive to create magic.
A certain unmeasurable magic
There’s a certain unmeasurable magic that can happen with any audience. It’s a moment when stage techniques are unnecessary – even unwanted – and everything becomes easy.There’s a certain unmeasurable magic that can happen with any audience. It’s a moment when stage techniques are unnecessary - even unwanted - and everything becomes easy. #keynote Click To Tweet
It’s not easy, of course – it might have taken you 5 or 10 years to get to this point – but you’re no longer “working the audience”.
This is the most memorable part of a movie. The scene when the timing and message are so right, so personal, we lean in. We allow that perfectly placed lesson to carve a small neural pathway to be retrieved later, just when we need it.
This is what they remember – even share with best friends and co-workers. It might be the only part of the 3,600 second-long speech they remember. But it’s a good one.
That’s what I crave—creating those moments. I don’t want to schlep my roll-on half way across the country just to get a laugh. I want more.
So I quit being a “speaker.”
This might not make any sense
If you are new to presenting, this might not make any sense. In fact, your goal should be to get on the road and earn those first 100 speeches. Experience will be your best teacher.
But, if you’ve ever experienced the magic – the synchronicity – between you and your audience, then you know what I’m talking about.
I want more moments like that – less trying to “teach” – more allowing the moment to happen. Naturally.
I have more speeches in me. More audiences—more connection, more opportunities to serve.
That’s what I want for you as well.
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