Public speaking, by itself, is already a very interesting career choice. But there are strategic advantages to it beyond the obvious.
When you have interesting things to say, you will never be at a shortage of people willing to listen. Advice, anecdotes, opinions and predictions of the future are all part and parcel in the art of the speech, and those who combine wit, structure and content stand to gain a lot of reward and recognition for their public appearances.
However, for many people the strategy of becoming a public speaker, and then using it to further one’s career, is still mysterious.
The First Step
The first step taken on the road towards becoming a public speaker is always realizing that this is an option, and you have to like it. Whether you’re a sales manager addressing the team in the morning, writing your company’s news or giving regular updates during a project, at some point you have to realize that you like talking as much as you like the response you get from your audience.
If you don’t like being in the spotlight, and don’t care about other people, speeching to crowds may simply not be your thing, and that’s perfectly alright. Not everyone can do it, not everyone wants to.
But you shouldn’t want to be a public speaker just for the money, attention or prestige. Those are side benefits, the real reason to speak is because you have a message for others to hear. Whatever it is that you believe in, that you know for others to become aware of, that is why you need to speak.
So you need to have a strong message, a desire to deliver it, and the heart to accept your audience’s response.
Your Expertise is the Secret
To find out what your message is, look at what you know – really well. Now think about what problems you can solve because you have that knowledge and experience. Then, structure how to deliver that message.
- What is it that you want the audience to take away from your speech?
- What realizations must they come to while you speak?
- What must you tell them for them to realize these things?
As I said before, any good speech is part entertainment, part information and part convincing. If your speech is entertaining, people pay attention. If they are informed, people recognize your expertise and the value of what you are telling them. Then they will be persuaded to try your method, see your way, alter their behavior, and so on.
Say that I realized that my career had taken a lot of turns based on other people’s advocacy of my abilities. In fact, often others saw potential that did not come to the fore until I actually was asked to use it. That makes for a compelling argument for a speech. I have some anecdotes there, and a punchline: “Others’ support of your career is more valuable than your dedication to it.”
Then I could bring to the fore how you can achieve this consciously, rather than by accident, and how others’ awareness of your abilities helps or hinders your career.
Strategy for Career Moves
You will start at small gigs and events, establishing yourself. This phase can easily take a few years as you need to get your name out. Like a musician or comedian, people need to believe that you have what it takes, only then will they book you. Expect a lot of free work in this phase.
Combining a blog or vlog with public speaking is a great way of gaining exposure if you are trying to get a higher-profile job. Make sure to touch a lot of elements for your future career move into your material. Reference companies you’d like to join, speak about the industry they are in, and about the problems they face that you can solve.
Once you’ve gained a measure of publicity and can reliably book paying gigs, find yourself a reliable agency to handle finding gigs, booking and payments. You will spend a lot of time on arranging things before the gig, and you might miss gigs that you simply don’t have knowledge of that they do. Unless you really like making these arrangements, you’re better of spending your time on other things.
There’s also the option of using your reputation to create new career paths for yourself, like creating a new company or foundation, advocating or founding a charity, or government jobs that involve speaking and negotiation. The more you are capable of, the greater the opportunities at the end of the track.
Benefits and Caveats of Public Speaking
For better or worse, putting yourself out there can be scary. You need some measure of confidence in order to work a crowd. Not unlike stand-up comedy, you can’t always predict whether your material strikes gold.
Strategically, public speaking is a career opener just because you are putting yourself out there. Videos will be shared, people talk, your blog gets more visitors – you get exposure. Even unpaid speeches will generate publicity, and this improves your career chances. Between two identical candidates, if one runs a steady blog and does a few speeches a year and the other does not, it is often the more “involved” and “mature” candidate that gets the position. Public speaking evokes a feeling of maturity and credibility. You want that, very much.
Additionally, speaking is its own skill. You can learn the theory all you want, but only practice makes perfect. Speak all you can – offer to speak at the office, at clubs, career fairs, weddings and funerals, public events and so on. Zig Ziglar made 3000 speeches before being paid for the first time, according to Brian Tracy; and he himself suggests to do at least 300. They don’t need to be hour-long monologues; five minutes for a morning team get-together and an occasional meeting to celebrate a big business success goes a long way!
The benefits extend beyond money and reputation, however. Speaking in public also offers its own confidence. Once you’ve spoken to a hundred people at once, answered questions in a conference hall, or survived a verbal stumble or technical failure or two, everything else becomes less intimidating by comparison. You’ve become a veteran, and you will display an easy-going surety which inspires confidence in others.
A great piece of advice from Alex Hunter, on The Art of Manliness, involves this knowledge and credibility. He says “You have to know every slide, every transition, every image. That way you can present without notes or prompts which makes you seem conversational but knowledgeable– which is what all good speakers should be aiming for. ”
One major aspect of being a speaker is that often you will be asked to come to events internationally. This means a lot of travel, many days from home. The more gigs you do, the longer this will be.
Maintaining a good work-life balance is a critical component of remaining sane and healthy. Unless public speaking is your primary career, you don’t want your regular career to be neglected by it. You also don’t want your family and friends to suffer under your absence.
On the whole, I recommend doing no more than 1 international gig per month, or 2 gigs in your home country. That way you have time to prepare, really focus on the type of audience you will have, tweak your material and delivery. And above all, it will allow you to recover from the stresses of being away from home, poor sleep and nutrition and the pressures of the gig.
There is no expiration date on public speaking as a skill. Once you’re in, you can keep doing gigs as long as you are physically and mentally able. As such, it is a great investment mid-career, to pad your visibility and earnings in your late career phase or even post-retirement.