HUGH CULVER

So, you want to be a speaker…

Updated to Speaking on May 3, 2023.

There’s an old story of a man walking down a country road. He comes across a farmer, who’s repairing a fence.

“Excuse me, sir” says the traveller “I’m curious what the folks are like in the town up ahead?”

“Well…” the farmer replies, as he turns to face the stranger. “What were they like in the town you just came from?”

“Oh they were wonderful,” replies the traveller “generous and friendly. Why do you ask?”

“Well…” the farmer says “I suspect the folks in the town up ahead will be pretty much the same.”

It’s like that in life.

If you think the future is bright and you have what it takes to overcome hurdles that come your way—well, you’re probably right. And if you think it’s going to be an uphill battle where only the toughest survive—well, you’re probably right as well.

It’s the same with public speaking.

Every week I speak with wonderful people who want to become speakers – most with unique history and skills.In every case, what I’m looking for is outlook and resilience – hard to develop; essential to excel.

What it really takes

It’s taken many miles, taxi rides, and audiences before I felt I could dissect the public speaking profession.

And if I’ve learned anything after some 1,500 presentations – ranging from 10 people in the back of church to sold-out ballrooms, it’s these 3 lessons:

  1. the thrill of helping people never gets old,
  2. the better you get the more you get,
  3. you can’t do it on your own.

Sure, there’s lots of other lessons, like use breath mints and wear clean underwear, but those are my 3 top ones for aspiring public speakers.

Bear with me as a I dig in a bit deeper –

Helping people

The first time someone tells you your message rocked their world is life-changing. In an instant, all the nights sweating over your speech, acting out stories in front of the mirror (am I the only one?), the 3 hour flight with the child crying in 11C, smelly taxis and blasé hotel breakfasts are worth it.

And you want more. More chance to connect with audiences, more opportunities to experiment with a slightly different message and more chances to change lives.

When public speaking becomes about fees and selling books is when you should get out. Actually, you need to get out.

Not sure you have what it takes? Ask yourself these questions:

  1. does your message solve a problem faster and better than people can on their own?
  2. are people already paying for the types of solutions you offer? Competition means there’s a ready-made market waiting for your special gifts (no direct competition is NOT a good sign).

The better you get the more you get

The first time I saw a professional speaker on stage I thought they were overpaid. His performance seemed effortless, stories rehearsed and the lessons, while important, weren’t earth-shattering.

He got a standing ovation.

And I got humble pie.

Once I put my ego in check the real truth revealed itself…

There’s nothing accidental or easy about being good on stage. It takes a lot of work to build a speech worth charging money for and many long days and nights to shape it into something an audience can benefit from.

Not sure you’ve got what it takes? Ask yourself these 2 questions:

  1. are you prepared to throw away your material and start again?
  2. are you willing to take less-than-wonderful feedback and turn it into a better speech?

You can’t do it on your own

This might sound self-serving – after all, our third BOSS (Business Of Speaking School) is open for registration as I write this – regardless, any speaker worth their lavaliere will admit they had help. It could be a mentor, a coach, an agent or they enrolled in a course (like BOSS, nudge, nudge), but they had help.

I don’t care if it’s your first time in front of an audience, or you just finished a 21-city tour, everyone can benefit from an objective mind to spot lame content, half-hearted marketing and good-old procrastination. All the better if they speak from experience.

An inordinate chunk of the BOSS program content is about what not to do—how to save time, effort, and money on rabbit trails that I know from experience are, just that: rabbit trails.

Not sure if you need help? Ask yourself these 2 questions:

  1. are there areas of the public speaking business you have no desire to learn? (like marketing, social media, copywriting, speech writing, administration, etc.)
  2. are you prepared to invest some money to accelerate the growth of your business?

I’m writing this in an airport, about to fly to my next speaking engagement. And as I reflect on how many times I’ve been here: laptop open on my lap, a Chai tea beside me about to go meet my next audience, I realize this business and the challenge of delivering the most relevant, helpful, uplifting 60 minutes possible never gets old.

And on those rare days when I’ve had one too many flights, I remind myself to not make this about me and my petty needs—my job is to help people. And that never gets old.

Here are those 6 questions again:

  1. does your message solve a problem faster and better than people can on their own?
  2. are people already paying for the types of solutions you offer? Competition means there’s a ready-made market waiting for your special gifts (no competition is NOT a good sign).
  3. are you prepared to throw away your material and start again?
  4. can you use less-than-wonderful feedback as fuel to make your speech better?
  5. are there areas of the public speaking business you have no desire to learn? (like marketing, social media, copywriting, speech writing, administration, etc.)
  6. are you prepared to invest some money to accelerate the growth of your business?