Professional speaking is becoming a popular bolt-on career choice for coaches, consultants, authors and subject specialists, but what does it really take to get the gigs? Here’s why it’s important to buck the trend and start bringing authenticity back…
WHAT does it take to become a professional speaker? You need an audience, a stage, a story… and a character?
Wait. What? You think you need to adopt a ‘character’ when you leap up onto that stage? You think it’s about playing a role? Honey, that ain’t speaking — that’s acting, and it’s a whole different ballgame.
Developing your speaker skills can be an absolute no-brainer. When it comes to visibility and building your personal brand, creating opportunities to speak in front of relevant audiences can be massively powerful. It’s a way to get your message to sometimes, hundreds, thousands of people in the same room at the same time.
Do that well and you’ll also be growing your tribe — people will be interested to find out more and want to delve deeper into your story and, perhaps, buy into your products and services.
I’ve been speaking professionally — and getting gigs, and getting paid — for a number of years now, and some of the crazy ideas I’ve heard on my travels have made me cringe.
Without a doubt, though, at the very top of that list is the notion that we need to step into character before we step out in front of an audience.
I don’t know about you, but when I hear ‘character’, my mind goes to the world of fiction, literature, TV, movies.
Homer Simpson. Joey Tribbiani. Luke Skywalker. Katniss Everdeen. The Night King. Harry Potter. Wonder Woman. David Brent.
It sure as hell doesn’t conjure up images of a real-life speaker — and nor should it.
Newsflash: event organisers aren’t paying for some flashy stage speaking persona you’ve made up — they’re paying for YOU.
In the interests of transparency, I should make it absolutely clear here that I run award-winning speaker training retreats and provide 1–2–1 coaching and training for people wanting to up their speaking game too, but that’s not why I’m writing this article.
My speaker training programmes are pretty exclusive and I want to reach a larger audience with this message — I want everyone exploring the possibility of becoming a speaker to know about one of the WORST practices in the speaking industry; I want you to realise before you start taking that path and then wonder why you’re not getting the gigs.
Of course, this is all subjective. I’m sharing my opinion here, as well as the benefit of experience. Whether you take it, or leave it, is entirely up to you.
What makes a professional speaker?
Let’s start with a bit of myth busting. Firstly, you do not need to learn to act and speak in a particular way to become a professional speaker.
What makes you a professional speaker is getting to the level where you’re being paid for your gigs and speaking makes up a chunk of your career. It’s nothing to do with the clothes you wear, your accent or the amount of deliberate pauses and NLP you work into your over-rehearsed speeches.
I’m not going to namedrop here, but there’s a well-known group that lots of people think of when they want to be a speaker. Frequently, people will ask me whether I think they should join, and my advice is always a big, fat ‘NO’.
Why? Because it’s too formulaic and, in my opinion, people end up being moulded into Stepford speakers.
Why do I call them that?
Remember the Stepford movies (and book, and series), where people disappeared to be replaced by ‘perfect’ robots? That’s why.
In real life, as a speaker, there’s no traffic light system to tell you when your time’s about to run out, there’s nobody counting your ‘umms’ and ‘errms’ and you don’t need to blend in that special mix of NLP.
Follow those exacting rules of public speaking and, pretty soon, the essence of YOU will be diluted and you’ll act, and sound, like every other speaker they’ve churned out.
It’s sausage factory speaking and praise within a bubble. Follow those exacting rules of public speaking and, pretty soon, the essence of YOU will be diluted and you’ll act, and sound, like every other speaker they’ve churned out.
Keep it real
We’re in the age of authenticity — we’re all sick and tired of having slick, self-proclaimed gurus selling us success blueprints and millionaire lifestyles, and most of us can smell BS from 50 paces.
So, if you walk out onto that stage and ‘act’ as you believe a speaker should, you’re giving your audience an immediate turn off. There’s a bizarre speech pattern. An odd way of standing, complete with steepled fingers and furrowed brow. There’s a far too deliberate pause, where the Stepford speaker hams up making eye contact with everyone in the room. And then, they open their mouth and their oh-so-practised ‘speaker voice’ flows into the room like a balm.
Except it’s not a balm. It’s more like Kool Aid. That level of plastic perfection has a much bigger chance of killing off your popularity than creating advocacy.
Be more YOU
You don’t have to sound ‘like a speaker’. You have to sound like YOU.
Believe it or not, it’s far from unusual for an audience to complain that a speaker was ‘too perfect’ or ‘overly rehearsed’.
When we rehearse to that degree, know our speech word for word and deliver it parrot fashion, there can be a head/heart disconnect that your listeners will feel. You might think you’re trying to deliver your absolute best speech; they’ll feel like they’re listening to a robot.
If someone’s booked you to speak on their stage, chances are they’ve seen your website, or been following you on social media, maybe read one of your books if you’re an author. They want your personality, your expertise, your energy. They’re not expecting you to go all schizophrenic and become someone else when you adopt your ‘speaker persona’.
Just as your personal brand should be absolutely aligned to the truth of who you are — should reflect YOU — so should your speaking.
You shouldn’t even HAVE a ‘speaker persona’. Just as your personal brand should be absolutely aligned to the truth of who you are — should reflect YOU — so should your speaking.
Break those moulds
Whether you’re thinking of getting some training or coaching to hone your speaker skills, or just deciding to get out there and learn by doing, please, please remember who you are. Please, please, do not allow anyone to dull your thunder or try to mould you into their idea of what a speaker should be.
In a similar vein, if anyone ever advises you to lie on stage or embellish your story, turn around and walk swiftly in the opposite direction.
Embroidering the truth is a sure fire way to send your credibility crashing through the floor. It only takes one person in that room to know how things really went down and you’re done for. Getting caught out on one little white lie means your audience won’t believe a single word that leaves your lips — your entire presentation will be trashed.
And, finally, please, please (have an extra one!), PLEASE, do not fall into the trap of believing you need to get into ‘character’ before you get on that stage.
You might want to take a few moments to run through the points you want to get across, maybe turn your energy levels up a tad and make sure your voice is oiled and ready to go, but just remember there’s a big difference between boosting your volume and becoming someone else.
Play yourself — that’s your A-game!
If anything, it’s about becoming even more YOU. Your story. Your expertise. Your experience. Your stage presence. Your voice. Whatever it is that people buy into and love about you when you’re not on that platform, that’s what they want more of when you speak.
Learn. Grow. Develop. Just always remember the truth of who you are.
Until next time,
Taz Thornton is the author of Awesome Sauce — a free, weekly positive life and business round-up, with good news stories, positivity tips and visibility hacks for your brand. In a few minutes each week, you get a dose of optimism and some awesome advice to get seen and stay happy.
Taz is also a best-selling author, inspirational business speaker and consultant on confidence, personal brand and visibility, award-winning coach (UK’s Best Female Coach 2018 — Best Business Woman Awards), consultant and creator of the #UnleashYourAwesome and #BrandMastery personal and business development programmes, as well as #UNLEASHED — an affordable confidence, content and cashflow building programme for coaches, healers and therapists.
She has been featured on BBC, ITV, in HuffPost, Diva and countless other newspapers, magazines and podcasts. Taz is also a regular columnist for the America Out Loud talkshow network.