How to start public speaking?
For the author who has just published his or her first non-fiction book, a question that often comes next on this adventure that is making a life and a business from your expertise, is how to start public speaking.
It can seem like the pinnacle of success as an author and expert. To be in demand on a stage.
And ideally being paid for our expertise.
But we step into the terrain, searching for places to talk, and making contacts with people who can book us, we need to cover some basics.
The main question to answer before you take action, is
What kind of speaker are you going to be?
And there are two different models you can follow when you move into public speaking after writing a book.
Firstly, it can be used purely as a form of marketing for your business and book. You speak on a topic of interest to your audience before directing them to your book or your courses or paid seminars to learn more, or to other services that you offer. Word of mouth (your word of mouth) can be the most effective and least expensive way to market your business. And, as an author, you have instant credibility because you are the person who ‘wrote the book.’ Literally.
2. Paid Speaking
Or, alternatively, you may want to actually use your book and business as a launch pad for a paid speaking career. Although the multiple-tens-of-thousands of dollars pay cheques are for the very few (and often the right person who was were there at the right time), it can still be a lucrative career move for someone who does it the right way.
The right way
Once you’ve decided which way you want to take your speaker career, you have to approach it in exactly the same way you approached writing your book:
- Develop your style and learn how to be a good speaker;
- Build up your credibility and reputation as a speaker; and finally,
- Get booked and get paid.
1. Develop your speaking style
Jurgen Appelo is a creative networker, and was named a ‘Great Leadership Speaker’ early in 2015. According to Appelo, the three things someone has to do to become a great public speaker, are to ‘learn, pay, and then repeat‘.
The learn and repeat pieces probably come naturally to you as a writer. You’re naturally curious and always eager to learn more; and you understand that to succeed you have to put in the hours.
You love to learn…
Appelo recommends you absorb everything you can about the topic — reading, watching, reviewing, all you can find that has anything to do with the craft of speaking (and there is a lot out there!). And do this before you even start speaking yourself (in public).
Observe, and note down what you like about a particular person’s gestures, analyse how the speech patterns of a keynote speaker made you feel.
In the same way you might have done with writing exercises, emulate different styles as part of the path to finding your own.
Some things that you’ve copied from others will feel quite natural, while others that you thought worked for someone else, will fall flat for you. So, practice, and develop, review, and repeat.
…And then repeat it again
And the other critical piece of advice is to make sure you always practice in front of people.
Whether it’s just repeating stories you want to tell in your speech to a group of friends, or testing out some new ideas before a small crowd before you hit the bigger stage, that live human interaction you get is the only way to know whether something works.
Memorizing cues in front of the mirror is one thing, but that feeling for, and feedback from, your audience; the way the energy moves, isn’t something that can be faked.
2. Build your credibility
Chris Brogan is a journalist, author and marketing consultant who speaks on social media marketing. And speaks (and writes) on speaking. Needless to say, he has a lot of ideas about how to get your skills as a speaker out there.
Network, back up and deliver.
Which, translated, means meet people, follow-up with them, and then get out there speaking. The way to start public speaking (as a career) is, simply, to do it.
The foot in the door approach
The best way to get started is to meet people who can give you a stage, no matter how small. Attend events that will connect you with an audience that you want to speak in front of.
You’re already an expert and mostly likely you’re also an author, so you’re bound to meet people who are interested in your ideas. Just be interested in them and start the relationship — and inevitably this leads to the right people wanting to know more about what you do.
And, once you’ve piqued someone’s interest, back up your credentials online.
Brogan suggests that you shoot a video of you speaking, use LinkedIn for endorsements, and create a speaking page, which outlines what you do, how and why.
So the visitor following-up from your meeting can see that you have what it takes, and that you’re serious and genuine about your speaking aspirations.
Potential connections who might be open to a booking, can see you speak, they can read what others think about your speaking, and they know exactly what you can talk about (and maybe even an idea of your fee rates).
Ask to be paid
Assuming all of these goes well, Brogan’s next piece of advice is to ask to be paid — if the event has a budget for it. There are no hard and fast rules about who gets paid and who doesn’t, and if you offer to speak for free, chances are someone will take you up on it. Don’t assume they are doing you a favour.
Be bold and go for the ask.
Having said that, you shouldn’t disregard speaking opportunities that are not paid, if the potential to network will bring its own reward.
When you’re starting out, you want exposure, experience, and endorsements. And as an expert and an author you always have more to offer — whether that’s book sales, or the potential to find new clients and customers.
As you advance in your career, you will expand both the size of the stage you can access, and the amount of money you get paid to be there.
And with speaking, a strong reputation is just as important as a sizeable pay cheque, for the success and longevity of your career.
3. Get booked and get paid
Sarah Lloyd-Hughes, author of, How To Be Brilliant At Public Speaking, warns that perfecting your speech and purpose is the easy part, while getting booked, paid and requested for a repeat performance, is the part that takes a lot of time and patience.
Again — that network, even a local one, can be very valuable to you. You can source events that fit your topic, and be pro-active about contacting the organisers to ask whether they are looking for speakers.
Better yet, let your contacts, online and offline, know that you are available and open to speaking engagements. Be specific about what you want and what you can offer, and your colleagues and friends are usually more than happy to give you the helping hand of a referral or an informal recommendation.
How to handle free
It’s not always ideal but, if you’re just started out and have no paid bookings, then be willing to talk for free, or for a lower fee.
Always tell the organisers that this is a one-off concession, (and make sure you stick to it!), otherwise you can get caught in a cycle of free speeches that are adding to your portfolio and reputation, but that can be hard to break out of.
Most important, Lloyd-Hughes suggests, is to have patience. Much like starting your business or writing your book, getting your toe onto the stage can be a long process with many twists and turns.
And you have to be committed.
The moment you decide you want to start public speaking, you need to accept that it isn’t something to do in your spare time when you have a minute. It’s something that needs to be at the front of your mind during every conversation you’re having.
Always be looking for opportunities, always be analysing other people’s performance, and always review your own to look for ways to improve.
Mastery and commitment. As they worked for your writing and your book, so will they work for your new speaking career.
Success may come slowly, but you have all the foundations in place.
You’re already good at what you do and, if you continue to market yourself well, and take every opportunity that comes your way – then come it will.
To the stage!