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Public speaking is a great platform for building your personal brand. It builds credibility, allows you to gain exposure and gives you content that can be repurposed for your social media platforms. Most entrepreneurs I meet have inspiring stories to share and deeply valuable lessons to teach, and yet most hesitate to put themselves out into the public eye.
There’s no doubt that public speaking is intimidating and anecdotally tops the list of most people’s biggest fears. And I can relate: My own journey towards building my personal brand through paid public speaking did not follow a linear upward-trending path. After one of my first talks, a fellow business owner even told me that public speaking was not my thing and to give it up.
Well, I didn’t give up — and although I still have a lot to learn and much to improve, I want to share with you my biggest learnings along the way. These come after giving talks to audiences in North America, Asia, the Middle East and Europe. Here are the five steps I took to become a paid public speaker:
1. Met successful public speakers and learned about their journeys
Great speakers make it look easy. They get up on stage and seem to be simply speaking freely, which makes us conclude that some people just have this natural talent and ability while others don’t. It was only after meeting some truly world-class public speakers and asking them questions that I learned how much work they put into their craft and how much preparation went into every single talk. I recommend that you reach out to the speakers who impress you when you attend in-person or virtual events, and ask them for their best tips on improving your public speaking abilities.
2. Approached public speaking as a true craft and worked on it relentlessly
Now that you know that even the most highly paid speakers don’t just rely on natural talent, but rather put time and effort into improving their public speaking skills, you should do the same. There are some amazing resources: books, videos and people to follow on social media. Consume all the advice, and apply it tirelessly as you practice. I consumed copious amounts of content when I was starting out, and I continue the learning journey to this day — with no intention of stopping.
I cringe when I think back to some of my first talks and when I see my early-day slides. Chances are, I will feel similarly when I look back at my talks and slides of today once I revisit them in the future. Such is the nature of progress. This is a bad news/good news kind of situation. The bad news is that you cannot shortcut this. As much as you practice at home or at the office in front of a camera or a mirror, it is all completely different when you deliver a talk in front of a live group. Mock practices do not prepare us for all that can happen live.
Over the years, I have had technology completely shut down on me and had to keep talking. I’ve had that business owner I told you about (the one who had recommended that I never speak again) walk into another talk of mine a year later. I had a heckler interrupt me mid-presentation to ask me how I was not tired of talking so much and when I would be done. I’ve delivered talks during lunches, competing for the audience’s attention with waiters who were clarifying whether white or red was going to be the drink of choice. I’ve had some odd experiences that have taught me invaluable lessons, and I know that many more are to come.
The good news is that practice does make progress, and feeling yourself improve with every talk you give is extremely encouraging and rewarding. Every time something goes wrong, you become more prepared, not only for a similar situation in the future but for a myriad of other unexpected turns of events.
4. Filmed my talks and watched the recordings
This is arguably one of the most uncomfortable things to do — ever. And yet, it’s also truly helpful. One hack I have uncovered that I have not seen anyone else recommend is creating transcripts of my videos (I use Otter.Ai for that) and then reading them, tweaking and editing them for the next talk. This helps me sharpen my content tremendously but still does not remove the uncomfortable task of watching my videos. I look out for my body language, my posture, my eye contact, the speed and the tone of my delivery. It might be uncomfortable to watch, but I take a lot of notes and implement changes accordingly.
5. Attended a public speaking bootcamp
My public speaking skills and the quality of my keynote underwent a true transformation after I attended Global Speakers Academy organized by Entrepreneurs’ Organization. It was a 5-day bootcamp, from which we each left with a completed keynote talk and a night-and-day shift in our ability to deliver it. Some of my fellow students were highly experienced speakers, and I also learned that we all have so much to learn about public speaking. It is a never-ending journey and realizing this removed my self-induced pressure to be perfect.
For some of you, a group bootcamp may be intimidating. If so, a public speaking coach can help you in a one-on-one format. For some, doing both — a bootcamp followed by individual work — might be a better solution yet. No matter which option you choose, getting help will accelerate your progress.
All these things have truly helped me, but I also learned another important lesson. No matter how great my content is and no matter how impressive my slides are, my mental health state and mindset can make it or break it. Getting adequate rest, drinking water, connecting with the deepest sense of gratitude for the opportunity of being heard and helping my brain feel as clear as possible make a world of a difference.