During my life I have addressed crowds in cities around the world and even spoken to audiences overseas. I have shared a platform with Donald Trump, now the 45th president of the United States. I’ve also had the privilege of speaking next to Sir Richard Branson, the owner of Virgin Airlines. But becoming a sought-after public speaker did not happen overnight, it took work. If you are interested in becoming a paid public speaker, here are a few tips I learnt along the way.
Say something worth listening to
To become a respected public speaker, you have to say something worth listening to. That might seem self-evident, but a lot of people think public speaking is akin to stand-up comedy – you are there to entertain. They think you can get up on stage and tell a funny story about what happened to you on the way home from work last Wednesday. That would be a mistake. A story like that would go down a treat at a dinner-party, but if you were a public speaker and told this story to an audience, the crowd would be left wondering what on earth it has to do with them. People listen to public speakers in the hope they will learn something – perhaps get some tips on how to live better lives. As a public speaker you can tell a funny story, but you need to be able to deduce a lesson from your misadventures.
You always speak on a subject that is close to your heart, something you genuinely care about, but it also needs to be a subject other people care about. Essentially, you need to be an ‘expert’ in a field to be taken seriously as a public speaker. If you believe you are an expert in life that is fine, however it can help to have an accreditation.
Always tell a story from your own life to illustrate key points. Yes, it is fine to tell a funny or unusual story but, as I just explained, make sure you extrapolate a lesson from the humorous yarn. The story is basically a fable – it needs to teach a lesson. Also have a couple of one-liners up your sleeve that summarise life lessons. Can you condense your lesson into one sentence? Look to everyday sayings for inspiration on great one-liners, such as “life is not about the destination, it’s about the journey”. A good speech usually only covers one key theme or lesson, but include two or three practical examples of how people can carry out that lesson. For example if you are encouraging people to be more altruistic and generous, suggest donating money, donating their time and donating goods.
Don’t wait for the paycheque
Many public speakers begin their careers speaking unpaid at different community forums. Does your local Rotary or Probus club need a guest speaker? Start speaking in your local neighbourhood or inside your own industry. Offer your services unpaid to being with. Unpaid bookings provide a great forum for you to practise the art of public speaking.
Eventually there will come a time when you want to be paid to speak. Perhaps someone has enjoyed one of your unpaid speeches so much they will ask if you can address a workplace or another organisation. Be ready to quote your fee on this occasion. Don’t charge an exorbitant fee for your first engagement and be prepared to bring the fee down if your first customer finds it too expensive. It is more important to be engaged professionally than paid a fortune. You need to slowly build up a reputation as a sought-after public speaker.
Naturally before getting up on a stage, you will have practiced the speech to friends and family. It’s also a good idea to give it a go in front of a mirror. Organisations like Toast Masters can help you develop your public speaking skills. Amateur theatre is also a good place to master the skill of addressing an audience. Most amateur theatre groups are crying out for new actors, and they are also lots of fun to be involved with and very social.
Dress for success
Dress well when speaking to a crowd. Ideally you will visit the venue ahead of the engagement so you can dress to compliment the surrounds. For example, if the walls are green, don’t wear green – you will disappear into the background. Wear red and stand out from the crowd and the walls. You want the speech to be visually appealing, however I don’t always use slides, as they can be distracting. A good public speaker will engage the room without the use of visual props.
End on a high
Your speech must end strongly. Sign post that you are winding up, for example “I will conclude by saying” or “finally, I want to …” You don’t want the audience to clap you half-heartedly because they are unsure if you have actually finished.
Build your profile
In previous blogs I’ve looked at how to raise your public profile. In a nutshell you need an online presence. You need a blog (a webpage). It needs to be professional, informative and engaging. You need a photo of yourself, a biography, and summaries of your areas of expertise. Ideally you should also have video footage of yourself addressing your audience and telling them what you can do. This must look professional and not be shaky or badly shot or produced. A poor video will undermine your reputation.
You always want to have testimonials from people who’ve heard you speak and enjoyed what you had to say. Every time you speak at an unpaid community forum and you receive a compliment from a member of the public, ask that person if they’d mind writing a testimonial. Grab their email address and contact them after you’ve set your blog up. Once you start getting some speaking engagements you should also include a calendar on your website of your schedule for the year.
Be generous with audience members you meet after engagements. You may find that strangers approach you after your speech and divulge personal information. Remember they have just heard you on stage telling stories about your life. Always be polite, but professional and humble. Standing on a stage does not make you a super star. Treat audience members with the utmost respect. One of the most enjoyable aspects of public speaking is meeting new people and learning about their lives.