I have worked with hundreds of aspiring speakers over the years, and I have had the pleasure to watch as countless students of mine built up great speaking careers. In that time, I have noticed that there are some aspiring speakers who seem to come charging out of the gate and build their careers rapidly, while there are others who seem to lag behind.
You might be tempted to say it’s because of talent, but I’m here to tell you that’s not the case. Anyone can be a world-class speaker if they want to. I have, however, noticed some distinct differences in the ways they approach their speaking careers.
I have identified 5 critical mistakes that seem to hold aspiring speakers back and get in the way of building their dream careers. These mistakes ultimately cost up-and-coming speakers energy, time and lots of money.
Not picking a topic
Early in their careers, many speakers don’t settle on one specific topic. Often they will ask event organizers what topic would best suit the event and try to craft a speech around that. The problem is, most event organizers aren’t looking for jack-of-all-trades speakers. They want someone who is passionate about their specific topic. They want someone who is known as the go-to expert in their field.
It is difficult to market yourself as someone who speaks about everything, but marketing yourself becomes easy when you can clearly articulate your expertise and identify the value you bring to an audience.
You might be concerned that you will get bored of speaking on one topic all the time, but don’t worry! Later on in your career, after you have developed a reputation as a great speaker, you will get the chance to branch out into different topics, but get specific at first.
I recommend you pick a topic that you are very passionate about, something you find yourself talking about frequently anyway. Try writing down 5 topics that you would speak on even if you weren’t being paid. Now see if one of those 5 topics appeals to you more than the others and you can refine your topics from there.
Not getting training
Just like an elite athlete, a world-class speaker needs great training and coaching. There is a huge variety of speaking workshops a person can choose from out there, but not all speaker training is created equal.
You want to look for training offered by someone who has a wide range of speaking experience and who you feel is a great speaker. I don’t want to sound negative, but I have seen a lot of speaker training taught by people with very limited experience who were very mediocre speakers. If you want to be the best, you have to train with the best.
Great speaker trainers will offer low cost, half or full day workshops that will give you a great foundation to start building your speaking career on. Take advantage of these kinds of events to get to know the trainers before investing in their intensive multi-day workshops.
You want training that actually simulates real-world professional speaking. You might even consider looking for training that you have to travel to attend. As a professional speaker you will be travelling and staying in hotels most of the time when you go to speak, so you may as well get used to it while you are learning!
Get real in-person training with a live trainer and a live audience. Look, the internet is great, and you can get a ton of value out of an online course, but as far as speaker training goes an online course just won’t cut it. Absolutely you can learn some of the basics of building a speaking career that way, but when it comes to proper in-depth professional speaker training, you absolutely must get to practice on a real stage in front of a real live audience.
You have to look at your speaker training as an investment in yourself. When you are a professional speaker you are the product, the more you improve yourself the more your services will be worth. Great speaker training will require you to commit yourself fully, but with that deep commitment you can reap the rewards of an excellent career.
Not Telling Stories
Everyone has been to that event. You know, the one where you sit there listening to a speaker reciting fact after fact after fact, boring you into a trance and making time seem to crawl. Many speakers make the mistake of lecturing their audience and just giving them as much information as possible, but truly great speakers take the audience on a journey in their imagination. They make time seem to speed up and slow down simultaneously. They do that by telling stories.
Stories are the natural language of the human mind. They have the power to engage the senses, invoke emotions, and create experiences for the audience all through the power of the imagination. Stories have the power to engage the audience in a way a lecture never could.
Mastering the art of telling amazing stories while using them to anchor the points you are trying to make will transform you into a speaker who is entertaining, educational and most importantly, memorable. Stories will make people feel, and emotions are the glue that makes information stick.
You might feel like you don’t have any stories to tell—I hear that all the time. The thing is, anything that has ever made you feel was a story. You learned something from it and you can use it to teach that same lesson to your audience.
Not taking practice seriously enough
It’s shocking how many people decide they want to become speakers and then hardly ever practice speaking! Speaking is a fine art and just like painting or learning an instrument, it involves skills that can only develop through regular practice.
To speak at a world-class level, you need to practice like an elite performer. Three or four talks a year just isn’t going to cut it and simply keeping a story journal isn’t enough, you have to look for opportunities to practice.
Look for local speaking clubs and organizations where you can practice on a regular basis. Just show up and tell a story from your story journal as often as you can, tell stories at social events and parties, practice telling jokes… Practice all the time.
When you consciously look for opportunities to practice your storytelling, you will find them everywhere. Try to connect with other high-level speakers who are dedicated to improving their skills and practice with them. Critical feedback is crucial to developing your skills as a speaker. Regular, conscious practice will make you stand out among the speaking world and help you get booked.
There is another reason you want to practice regularly. You never know who is going to be in the audience. If the right person hears you speak, they could open up all kinds of opportunities for you. The more you speak and the better you get, the more opportunities you will have to speak. Eventually, your first paying gigs will come out of those audiences you practiced in front of.
Trying to go at it alone
Life as a professional speaker is challenging and can be lonely. It is important to be an active member of a community of professional speakers that can support you and help you grow in your career as a speaker. Online communities, speakers’ mastermind groups, and high-level speaking clubs are great ways to stay connected with groups of fellow speakers.
In addition to learning and growth opportunities, speakers can help each other find jobs. Speakers know event planners and event planners need speakers. It is worth investing your time and money to be involved with a great speakers’ community just for the networking opportunities.