Happy New Year. Is this the year you break out as a speaker, at a level that matches your ambition? How high do you want to fly? Do you want to excel at the keynote level, in hot demand at $40K per speech, all over the world? Or do you want to have constant invitations to give your free speech about better mousetraps, building great connections and potential clients everywhere? Or do you simply want to hold the room’s attention when you give the Friday morning briefing for your team?
Whatever your level of ambition, your to-do list should include three items – always. You’re never done with these; you’re always striving to do better.
First of all, is it a story you’re telling, or are you still dumping information? We humans have a low tolerance for information dumping, a tolerance that is exceeded every minute of every day somewhere in the world by an earnest colleague with a PowerPoint deck. On the other hand, we love stories. So throw out that pile of information and look for the story in your content. Where’s the drama, the struggle, the interesting characters? And how can you get better, simpler, and cleaner at telling that dramatic story? The more you know your subject, the clearer you should be able to make it for everyone else.
You should know your elevator pitch, the one-minute version, and the five-minute version. And then you should be ready to give the full story when invited.
2015 is the year to make your story so good that your audience hangs on every word. How close do you come?
Public speaking demands two kinds of expertise from its practitioners: expertise – having something to say – and charisma – being able to say it well. It’s that second part where the mystery lies, because it depends on a kind of alchemy that happens when speaker and audience get together. It’s not just up to the speaker, and it’s certainly not just up to the audience. Both parties contribute to the success of the occasion. On the speaker’s side, it’s all about self-knowledge. What are your anxiety triggers? What happens to you when the adrenalin begins to flow? Do you develop happy feet, or nervous hand gestures? Does your face lose all expression? Does your mind go blank, or do you start to stammer?
Most speaker’s memories of their own speaking turns out to be, alas, highly selective and rose-colored. Many times, I’ve seen speakers come off the stage thinking they rocked the speech only to find, when they watch the video, that they’ve made more mistakes than the Vatican has bureaucrats. So you need to video yourself, wait 48 hours for the adrenalin to subside, and then watch yourself with a dispassionate eye to see what you’re doing right, and what not so right. And, of course, a coach doesn’t hurt either! But I would say that.
By the way, developing charisma is a lifetime growth opportunity. It’s not magic. It’s hard work.
Finally, no one’s a speaker without an audience. And you can’t get an audience together unless you’ve got a community of people interested in the thing that you’re passionate about. That means it’s your job to attend to the care and feeding of your community. How can you help them? How can you nurture them? How can you deliver wonderful value to them that leads them to want to bring you in, live and in person, to address them directly?
The online world is both a blessing and a curse for speakers. A blessing because it means that no one now can get between you and success if you put your passion out there and it is sufficiently compelling. A curse because you have to do it. The old gatekeepers to the public speaking world can no longer simply wave a wand and make you an overnight success. You have to build the community that supports you, starting now until the end of time or your retirement, whichever comes first. What can you do to attract, build, and sustain that community?
That’s it – that’s your to-do list for 2015. Develop an amazing story woven into a killer speech. Learn to deliver it with the all the charisma you can muster. And make it all about your community, all the time. With those three tasks undertaken, the (speaking) world is your oyster.