Creative Leadership

Launching a Career as a Speaker? The 5 Things You Should Know

Speaking to audiences can be terrifying or exhilarating, depending on the event, your preparation, and your skill as a speaker. Because you’re speaking to a group, it’s a fantastic opportunity to cast a vision, enhance your reputation, and make an impact with your message, so doing it well is critical. I’ve been speaking around the world for decades, and recently I was thinking about 5 key ideas I wish I knew when I started my career as a speaker:

1. Respect the Audience:  Perhaps you’re speaking because of a new book you’re written, project you’ve accomplished, or something else you’re passionate about. Whatever the reason, make sure that topic is the subject they’ve come to hear. Too often less experienced speakers try to shoehorn their topic to fit any audience and it simply doesn’t work.

Become almost obsessed with finding out who your audience is ahead of time and focus your topic on that particular group and their expectations. And while you’re at it, be as specific as possible:

– Is the audience made up of students? What age? What interests? Why did they come?
– Is the audience made up of leaders? What kind? What level? What business or nonprofit area?
– Are they professionals? What level? What challenges are they facing?
– Is this a secular or faith-based event?
– Is the audience made up of a mix of attendees? If so, discover as much as you can about the mix.
– And don’t forget the theme of the conference. In most cases, your topic should be in line with the event’s overall theme.

This information will allow you to tailor your content to exactly that audience and when it happens, your chances of being remembered will skyrocket.

2. Be Interesting to Watch:  No matter how great your content, if you spend the time hugging the podium while staring at your notes, you won’t be a compelling speaker. Be physically interesting. Move. Be expressive. Look the audience in the eye. Don’t force it, but be natural like you’d talk to a friend. You wouldn’t sit frozen staring at your coffee cup at Starbucks with a buddy, so don’t do it to an audience.

3. Be careful with jokes:  There are great speakers out there who are funny, and there are just as many great speakers who aren’t. If comedy comes naturally to you great, but if it doesn’t, don’t try to force it. There’s nothing worse than watching someone who isn’t funny try to make a lame joke. There’s no shame in not being a comedian, so don’t feel guilty about it. Just stay in your lane and express the personality God gave you.

4. Never go beyond your time limit:  I generally finish a talk a few minutes early, because I’d rather people want more than be upset because I went too long. At most conferences and events, the clock matters, because the daily schedule features other events after yours. So no matter how important you feel your message is, once you go over your allotted time, it can create all kinds of problems behind the scenes. I know good speakers who rarely get invited anymore because they’ve abused the clock so often in the past.

5. Learn to deal with not being invited to some events:  You’re excited. You enjoy speaking. You have something to say that people need to hear. I get it, but it may take awhile to build your career. I’ve been doing this for decades and there are still events where I haven’t yet been invited to speak. I don’t worry about it – I just focus on the places and events that are interested in me right now. Not being invited isn’t a personal thing or a slight against you – there are many reasons why you may not be right for a particular event – your area of expertise, fitting in with the other speaker’s subjects, the conference theme, timing – and the fact that they simply may not know you, or your area of expertise.

The best way to get on the radar is to re-consider how you position yourself. Perhaps you weren’t invited because they’re confused about your area of expertise, so clearly defining your perception and positioning should be a major priority for you. You’ll become a better speaker when you stop being upset at not being invited to some events, and spend that time working hard to become amazing at the places that invite you.

Have you found other good suggestions for a speakers launching their career?

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  1. Phil, do you think speakers should create a short intro video about themselves that venues like churches can show to their audiences to build interest? If so, what elements should the video contain? Thank you!

    1. Good question Nathan. I’ve never done one myself, but I’ve had a couple of conferences do them for me to match the theme of the events. Sometimes I worry that an introduction video usually has so much hype that it’s a tough act to follow as a speaker! However, if done well, I do think it can be helpful. The thing I would suggest is not to make it all about you. In other words you don’t have to cover your bio and history. After all, your bio is probably listed in the program for the event. I think it would be much more effective to present why you’re the expert on this subject, why the theme of the event matters to you, or something that sets you up to hit a homerun. Another possibility is to highlight a recent award or accomplishment that makes you a perfect speaker for this event. That will help your credibility more than just a standard introduction.

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