Last October, I took the leap into becoming an entrepreneur, with the passion project of my dreams. Having given my first ‘keynote’ at the age of 4, welcoming all parents to the annual kindergarden function, you might say I got smitten with public speaking quite young. I’d always been involved in stage performances one way or the other, and while studies and creating my career as a project manager took priority in my early twenties, I was keen to return to public speaking. And I got just the opportunity to challenge myself when I joined Leiden Toastmasters in May 2013.
Immediately I dove into my rekindled hobby and started giving regular speeches, finding joy in creating new stories to share, new messages to inspire, new tales to tell. After winning awards at the European public speaking championships in 2013 and 2014, I started getting approached to give speeches and trainings professionally, but I had no idea where to start. It took a lot of internalizing and introspecting; starting a side career on top of a full time job and any semblance of a personal life and relationship wasn’t going to be easy. But most importantly, I realized I’d regret not following my passion for the rest of my life.
Alright, decision made. Professional Public Speaker it is. Now what?
The last six months of my professional speaking career have been a challenging but exhilarating experience. I was cautious when I started, but things took off a lot better than I’d have expected and I owe this a lot to how I strategized my entrepreneurship. Of late, I’m often asked how I started off by speakers who want to go pro themselves, so here are 5 crucial aspects I followed and learned in my journey to my speaking career (not addressing pricing & marketing). These are purely lessons from my journey, I’m sure everyone faces their own unique challenges and lessons.
5 steps to take before your professional speaking career are-
1. WHY WOULD MY AUDIENCE CARE?
We’ve all heard this question before, we all resonate with Simon Sinek’s ‘Starting With Why’. But this time around, ask yourself ‘Why Would My Audience Care?’ One nuance that sets speakers and professional speakers apart is – speakers just like to talk. They like the sound of their voice, and they like the attention on stage. A professional speaker on the other hand, knows the needs of their audience. They are aware of why and how, their words will make an impression to their audience.
The best way to answer this question is to strategize. When I was in the planning stage, I created a chart to create a unique path for myself. The worst thing to do, in my opinion, is to be shooting darts in the dark, taking anything that comes your way. Be specific, and be known for a specific set of skills.
My suggestion: Take a sheet of paper, draw three columns. First column- write down your strengths as a speaker. Third column- write down what you think clients and audiences want to learn from you as a professional speaker-trainer. Middle column- write down where you can bridge the gap. The skill-sets in the second column will establish your unique niche as a professional speaker and trainer. This is what I did when I was in the planning stage, and it helped me create a channel, ignoring the rest. Remember, as a professional speaker, your priority is more than just stage time, you want to be remembered.
Probably the most important point of all 5 mentioned in this post. I took over a year to prepare for my professional speaking, June 2014- September 2015. That helped me out A LOT, because it helped me find my niche from the skill-sets listed in the column technique mentioned above. You don’t start your career and then find your niche, you’ll be out of work for months. You find your niche and then start your career.
Say you want to be a motivational speaker. Great! Next, do your research. What themes do audiences gravitate most towards? What kind of messages and speeches are out there? Then, make sure that your message and your speech is completely unique, completely different from whatever you found. The worst feeling that you can give your audience (aside from plain boredom) is the feeling they’ve read it before, heard it before, seen it before. Whether its a speech or workshop, be creative and be original! Don’t mooch off other’s work, its a small speakers’ world and word travels fast. 🙂
My suggestion: Create Mind Maps for each speech or each training idea you have. Create unique examples to highlight the values/benefit/needs of your topic, if need be google to make sure its not been done before. Use personal anecdotes, relatable yet unique to draw your audience in. Your strength lies in the fact that no one has addressed the content and the structure you offer.
Once you’re done with the preparation, time to test. Go to different organizations and clubs and give your speeches and workshops for free or minimal charge. Use all the audience feedback from one session, modify your content and do it again. Repeat, modify, repeat,modify, repeat, modify. I often repeated speeches thrice at three different locations to prepare for motivational keynotes that I’d use later in my professional speaking. I’ve lost count of how many workshops I did in Toastmasters, but it definitely exceeds 25. Bottom line: Prepare well and test your product before you launch it.
4. THE RIGHT RECOMMENDATIONS:
I’m fortunate to have received wonderful recommendations by fellow speakers and audiences before I started my professional speaking. But when I started creating my professional portfolio, I realized most of them weren’t useful for me. Often you’ll get recommendations such as ‘It was great/I enjoyed it a lot/fun experience’. While the intention of the recommendation is wonderful, it does not give any information on your performance.
My suggestion: When asking for recommendations, ask your audience to recommend you on the basis of certain strengths such as ‘what did you enjoy in my storytelling/ were you motivated and why by my speech/did you find my techniques useful/was I able to hold the group’s attention..’ When you give a speech or workshop that is in line with what you’ll do professionally, ask for specific feedback in recommendations. If done right, they are a huge strength in a speaker’s portfolio.
5. ASKING FOR HELP FROM THE RIGHT PEOPLE:
This was probably the hardest lesson to digest. I was too naive until last year, thinking that people who I helped would be there for me in some way or the other. NOPE. Wake up call, not everyone cares to help you back! Thankfully, this is a very very minor percentage compared to the positivity and support I’ve received from my audience, but it did hurt initially.
Giving help is not about getting help but sharing positivity; gratitude does not cost a thing, does it? There will be people who ask you to review their speeches, help them with their presentations at work, ask for help following your workshop, all pro bono and not even a smile in return. In addition, when approached with a question, they fire back questions which are quite unnecessary and uncomfortable. I realized with time, that this had nothing to do with me, this is how they are in life, but dealing with them cost me precious time and emotion.
My suggestion: Be careful who you choose to approach to help you, whether for a reference, recommendation, business question or contacts. I now have a small but trusted group of people who I know are kind, helpful, positive and approachable. Keep your circle clean and positive.
So there you go! These are 5 steps and lessons I learned before I started my professional speaking career, and it made the start so much easier for me. As I said, not an easy path but its been so fulfilling and rewarding, I’d have it no other way. I wish you success in your path through the 5 points above in your journey towards professional speaking. Remember to be true to yourself and you’ll surely find your niche.