What’s the most important aspect of speaking for a professional speaker to develop? I get asked that question all the time by people at the early stages of their careers, people who are passionate about some idea or cause or field of knowledge and who want to spread their expertise to the world.
They’re thinking that they need to develop their storytelling ability, or their charisma, or perhaps just to create a great slide deck. Some are even convinced that the most important thing to do is get fit, as if professional speakers can only be young, physically fit fashionistas.
Of course all of that can be helpful. You certainly need to be a good storyteller. And charisma absolutely helps. Boring just won’t cut it as a speaker these days, if it ever did.
Young and good-looking speakers certainly have an edge. But if that was all they had, they wouldn’t survive very long.
No, I surprise people by replying that the most important thing a professional speaker needs is an audience.
You need to develop a community. Without a world-wide group of enthusiastic followers, you’re going to have trouble being a speaker at all, because by definition, a speaker needs to have someone listening to them, or the job is only half-complete.
So that’s where you should turn your passion loose first, that passion that is getting you up early to want to share your message with the world. That passion which is keeping you up late at night thinking about all the ways you could make the world a better place if you only had those speaking invitations.
Focus first on being a great audience member, a great supporter of the community of people interested in the same things you are. Join Toastmasters to get practice, sure, but also think about how you can serve that community out there that doesn’t yet know it is a community.
How can you find those people, and start helping them? Where are the Morris dancers, the yak fanciers, the statisticians passionate about using data to solve world disease epidemics?
The good news today is that all those people are, like you, surfing the web. So create your web site, start your blog, set up your Facebook page, begin your LinkedIn group – whatever is the best way to reach these people. You already know because, if you’re truly passionate, you’re there already. You’re already stopping by that virtual water cooler, so get serious about supporting it.
Successful public speaking is sustained by passion, and as the first expression of that passion, long before you’re giving the keynote to a thousand devoted followers, you need to have reached out to those people and helped them find each other and you.
The gatekeepers of the last century – the speakers’ bureaus, the publishers, the TV producers – they’re all still in business, but they don’t set the agenda any more. They’re waiting for people with passion to tell them what’s important and who is worth listening to.
That gives you astounding power in the 21st century to change the world, to write your passion large on the world stage, to get the world’s attention in a way that was simply impossible before, say, 1995.
Now, it’s up to you. Don’t tell me you can’t get a keynote invitation. Start sharing your passion, your story, and your wisdom, and the keynotes will surely follow.