The professional speaking life takes a tough constitution. First of all, of course, it means travel, on today’s terms – which are not pleasant. Unless you’re going first class all the way, and even then, travel is stressful. You have to manage your health, and your time away from home, and your diet, and your exercise, and, well, everything else. It’s all tougher out of a suitcase.

Then, there’s the adrenaline cycle. Just as surely as you’re going to get up for speeches, you’ve got to come down afterward, and that affects people in very different ways, but we all have to deal with it. Some of us can’t sleep, some need to eat, some need to work out – whatever the price you pay, it will be real and you have to manage it.

And finally, there’s the public persona you have to put forward to the world. Even if you’re at the extreme end of the extrovert scale, you still need some down time when you don’t have to put your best face on, listen to everyone in your audience during and after the speech attentively, and try to solve all problems that come your way and are even remotely within your field of influence. Good speakers give a lot to their audiences, and great speakers give even more.

So the speaking life presents some inherent challenges. I list these not to ask you to pity the speaker but rather to ask, what does it take to be a happy one? What does the happy speaking life look like?

Here are five rules for maintaining that happy state based on my experience and the experience of clients over 25 years.

1. First, focus on your passion and what makes you unique.

Of course you’re going to have to curtail your worst habits – there is a bar you have to hurdle to be a competent speaker – but beyond the basics it’s more about finding your particular unique voice than looking and sounding like everyone else. Finding your voice will also link you and your passion, and you need that to keep you going on the life on the road.

2. But keep mixing it up.

I once worked with a client who had been giving the same speech for 16 years. The audience had shrunk, but it was still enough to provide steady work, so why change? Because the speech had become so stale, the jokes so old, and the insights so familiar, that it was no longer inspiring for either the speaker or the audiences. And yet, my client had a terrible time letting go of the old speech. He had stuck with it for so long that he couldn’t imagine doing something different. Not a happy outcome.

3. Remember the speaking business, like any other, is all about the connections.

It’s a cliché that business is all about relationships, but it’s a cliché because it’s true. And nowhere is it truer than in the speaking business. You’ll see the same speakers again and again, work with the same meeting planners and speakers bureaus, and travel the same roads. Make friends all along the way, and not just with the VIPs. ‘Nuff said.

4. Accept your limitations.

I’m not a motivational speaker. I’m too much into the science of communications and body language, the art of public speaking, and the passion of storytelling for that. And I want to teach everyone about all of it, but that’s not the same thing as getting you standing up and cheering for your sales success in 2015.  I’m a geek about communicating.

So I’m not that motivational guy. I’m OK with that. You need to get comfortable with your limitations and understand them clearly. There’s nothing worse than facing an hour in front of an audience when the fit is not good. Know who you are and what audiences you can connect with. It’s not the entire universe, but that’s OK.

5. Find some way to let go.

The speaking business is full of woulda-coulda-shoulda. You never nail the speech 101 %. Human communication is not about perfection. Someone in the audience will be having a bad day, and you can’t do anything about that, and it’s not your fault. But that person – or those people – won’t get as much as they otherwise could out of your speech. Or you’ll be under the weather, or jet-lagged, or a long way from home missing your family.

So you need to be able to learn from the lesser moments and let go of them. If you beat yourself up forever about every speech, you’ll have a black and blue psyche the rest of your working life.

Find a way to let go, unwind, and forget. Is it fishing, playing the guitar, or compulsive gambling? I hope for your sake it’s one of the first two, not the last. Find a constructive way to get clear of the stresses of the audience, the message, and the road and make sure you’re kind to yourself at least occasionally.

And be happy. Getting the chance to speak to audience on something you’re passionate about is a rare gift, and one to be treasured and protected. If you can make a living at it, that puts you in a special class indeed. Enjoy.



  1. I flew into Detroit late last night for today’s speaking event. Turns out the major expressways were flooded, turning traffic into a standstill. I ended up having to sleep in my rental car between midnight and 1:30am, before navigating through remaining traffic and closed roads for another hour. My head hit the pillow at 3:00am.

    Most speakers have much more harrowing tales. My only point is that I woke up and gladly spoke starting at 8:30am today because I truly, truly love what I do. It was a memory last night more than a hassle. I may feel differently 20 years from now, but for now, I’m a “Happy Speaker”, amazed that I can support my family doing something I love so much. Thanks for your encouraging post.

    1. Funny to open up this post in Detroit and see a comment about our floods. I live here and have never seen anything like what we experienced last Monday. @ Andy, Sorry you had to sleep in your car.

      And, oh, by the way, this is an aspect of speaking that is rarely addressed but very important and I’m glad to see it.

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