As I wind down the year, and I talk to client, friends, and fellow travelers in the speaking business, I hear common complaints about what makes their lives miserable as speakers. None of these are particularly unique to 2015 – the miseries of the speaking business are the same year in and year out.

Sure, the pace of life in the fast speaking lane keeps increasing as it is everywhere, but on the whole the troubles that bedevil speakers are familiar: travel nightmares, technical glitches, clients that don’t pay and audiences that don’t pay attention are all perennial examples.

And so I’ve developed the following step-by-step instruction manual for staying a happy speaker in 2016. Follow these simple steps and keep that smile on your face as you race through the airport at midnight trying to catch the plane to that client who hasn’t paid the deposit yet….

1.Accept your speaking self. Audiences will give you feedback, clients will try to mold your speeches to fit their own needs, and speaker bureaus will ask you for takeaways, but what’s important about you is your unique voice. That means that, most likely, the very things people critique in you are your most important strengths. So spend some time discovering your own Voice – get to know it, embrace it, and amplify it. Don’t try to sand your edges smooth. That leads to mediocrity and sameness.

2. Start a positive conversation with that self. People call this practicing gratitude or positive thinking. Whatever. When you look back, look at the good things that have happened rather than only the awful things. And plan things to look forward to in 2016. I had a tough year this year, as my regular blog readers will know, in terms of family tragedies and difficulties, and so I particularly need to focus on this step. That’s my job for 2016: get out of the doom loop of sad memories and start a happier conversation.

3. Take care of that self. All the diets and all the miracle cures come down to: a healthy diet and some exercise. There are no shortcuts, and the alternatives are much, much worse. Michael Pollan said it best: Eat food. Mostly plants. Not too much. Add to that 30 minutes of exercise a day, and the rest will pretty much take care of itself. Aristotle said that we are defined by our habits. They are either good or bad. The wise among us will take note. The rest will continue to eat too much candy.

4. That’s you taken care of; now, make your speaking about everyone else. As I’ve often said, the big Zen insight into public speaking success is that it isn’t really about you. It’s about the audience. So put your focus there, and make your speaking about helping others. If you’ve got something useful and insightful to say, focus on delivering that to the right audiences as often as you can. Let go of the self-promotion and start promoting your audience.

5. Learn voraciously. I love Mitch Joel’s word for this: an infovore. Always scanning the environment for new material, other people who know something about your area of expertise, and opportunities to become a student again will keep you energized, fresh, and relevant. I once worked with a speaker who had given the same speech for 16 years. Even the same (lame) jokes. She was terrified of change and the result was an ever-diminishing audience. Of course. Don’t let that happen to you. The Internet makes learning easy – take advantage.

6. Connect with others through your passion. I know this person, let’s call her Jane. She’s near and dear to me, and unlike me, she’s an introvert. Her worst nightmare is a cocktail party or an event that requires meeting people. But put her in a roomful of strangers and let her talk about her passionate interest in X, and she lights up the room, she makes friends immediately, and she spreads the word about her subject. It’s beautiful to watch. Meeting strangers is hard work, but talking to someone else about your area of expertise will make your day; don’t hesitate to do it asap and as often as possible.

7. Connect to a cause. Finally, you create meaning in your life when it’s about something bigger than just your 2015 goals and whether or not you met them and by how much. When I hear my fellow speakers light up, it’s about the pro bono speech to that school, or the work they did over Thanksgiving, or the chance to help a program benefitting people in need. Do more of that, and you’ll remember that midnight dash through the airport with a smile instead of a grimace.

So there it is; my prescription for public speaking happiness. Informally tested through the ongoing focus group of all my friends, colleagues, and fellow travelers. Think about taking each of these steps in 2016 – how could they change your life for the better?

Give yourself a holiday gift and get my new course on how to create a great presentation, Presentation Prep: Ten Steps to Persuasive Storytelling, here.

13 Comments

  1. Typically generous and insightful post Nick, thanks. I’ve learned a new term in ‘infovore’ and your point about promoting the audience rather than yourself is well made. I think that’s one way of taking the ego out of a (case study) story – let the client bathe in glory and share with people what you learned during that experience. Wishing you a happy and successful 2016!

  2. Thanks for yet another inspiring post, Nick. I think there’s a tendency for speakers to beat themselves up over not delivering the “perfect” presentation every time out. As you remind us, it’s not about perfection, it’s about passion–for your ideas, for the audience, for the larger cause.

  3. Great advice! Thank you for putting these simple and important tips out there 😉 It is so easy to get bummed out and we often need a reminder to set our sights on a positive path again. Thanks for the reminder 🙂

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