For professional speakers, achieving your dreams of finding your audiences and getting to speak to them around the world means a large part of the time you’re going to be living out of a suitcase, on the road.  With that, comes burnout.  And yet, it’s a hard thing to admit to, since this is the life you dreamed of, right?

So let’s just admit, between ourselves, going no further, that getting the life you wanted means risking that burnout, at least occasionally.  How do you handle it?  Following are nine ways to cope with burnout and keep your dreams from becoming a nightmare.  They won’t all work for you, but I hope that at least some can keep the smile on your face and the enthusiasm for the life you’ve chosen high.

1.Monitor yourself for the warning signs.  Does the sight of a suitcase make you twitch? Do you sigh with relief when you arrive home even though what greets you is a bunch of dead houseplants? More seriously, do you occasionally get lonely, or even depressed, at the thought of another week of travel?  Monitor yourself closely for any signs of emotional wear and tear and take action before you’re beyond help.

2.Establish strong rituals of renewal.  Everybody has different ways to re-charge.  Know what yours are (don’t have any? – make some up right now!) and practice them religiously.  Is it walking in the woods? Singing in the local choir?  Or just pizza and TV on the sofa?  I knew one high-flier for whom snowboarding was the only possible release. Problem was the only time he could count on for renewal was August every year.  So he flew to the Peruvian Andes every August, where the snows are perennial, and snowboarded there.  Problem solved.  Take your need to recharge just as seriously and figure out how to get it done.

3.Set clear limits on your work year. As crazy as it sounds, it’s a bad idea to say yes to every speaking gig that comes your way. It’s a great idea to plan in advance how many speaking gigs you’re going to give each year, and create your personal ecosystem around it.  That way, you’ll know when you’ve succeeded.  You’ll know what lifestyle you can afford.  And you’ll know how many pro bono speeches you can afford to give, BTW.  Most important, you’ll know when you’re done.

4.Celebrate milestones. Your personal milestones might not mean much to someone else – getting that speaking gig at your alma mater – or they might – giving a TED talk – but either way they are important to you. Celebrate them.  It’s your job to stop and take a moment; most of the time no one else is going to remind you to do so.  And by the time you move on, it’s too late.

5.Keep learning, both your subject and the speaking craft. Speakers often ask me how long they can keep giving a speech – once, one year, three years, forever? My standard answer is more than once and less than forever. Speeches get old, topics change, knowledge advances, and you need to stay au courant.  And, of course, it depends on the topic.  We used to be able to depend on a three-year lifespan for a speech.  Now, in many topics, you’re lucky if you get a year.  Stay re-charged by staying up to speed.  And practice your craft, too.  You’ll keep engaged as long as you’re learning.

6.Create control. One of the big creators of burnout is a feeling of no control. So find ways to control your working life.  It’s hard as a speaker, when every day at work is potentially different, but if you set some rules and parameters, you can keep a lid on things.  Write your contracts so that you get whatever it is that you need – hotel rooms, cars, rehearsals, A/V, the M&Ms, whatever – done in the way that you find positive, not annoying.  Keep an exercise routine.  Eat healthy foods; you know the drill.

7.Get in the habit of checking in on yourself – and talking about how you feel. In addition to the work and physical hygiene above, establish good mental health hygiene as well. Talk about how you feel to your loved ones.  Don’t suck it up all the time – let the people along the way know both the good and the not-so-good.  This suggestion is not an invitation to become a diva – far from it.  Being honest about how you’re feeling is a relief in the long run for the people around you.

8.Create a community of fellow travelers – and dish to them. Have a go-to group of at least one other person who knows what you’re going through because they’re doing the same thing, and connect regularly about the ups and downs of the road. Only another speaker can truly understand what it’s like to give a talk your all, ask for questions, and face a roomful of silence.  You need to share those moments – and the great ones too – with someone who’s been in the same place.

9.Finally, don’t take the whole speaking thing too seriously. A speech should be more like a flower than a tomb; it’s a moment’s monument, not a lifetime commitment or the last thing you’ll ever do.  So don’t take things too seriously, get over yourself, and move on to things that really matter, like love, grandchildren, and the terroir of a good cabernet.  The only reason to give a speech is to change the world, but the world also will get along just fine without you – for a little while.

It’s up to you to prevent burnout.  Let me know which tips work best for you – and what else you use to stay in top form with that I’ve missed.  I’d love to hear your best renewal ritual – as long as it doesn’t involve a goat.

Start yourself on the road to burnout — and glory — at our Powerful Public Speaking workshop in just under 2 weeks — Boston, one day, March 31st.  This is your last chance to sign up!  

9 Comments

  1. Hi Nick

    Great advice as always. I dream of getting to near burnout.

    On a different topic – I would greatly appreciate your evaluation of Congress man Joe Kennedy III speech recently on refugees- the speech was delivered on I believe St Patrick’s Day.

    Kindest regards
    John

    1. John, it’s a brilliantly written speech, delivered with some passion. Kennedy’s delivery needs some work. He’s looking down too much, he’s delivering every line in the same vocal pattern, he’s not breathing or taking enough time, so that he appears a bit rushed and nervous. But for all that, the message shines through.

    2. I love to think that we talk to change the world!
      Thank you Nick, this year I´ve learned that next year I wan´t say yes to every proposal.
      I read your advices, they are great, thank you

      1. Thanks, Mar, for the comment. It’s very important to say “yes” to speaking opportunities that fit your message well, and have audiences for whom you are well-suited to speak.

  2. Excellent post, Nick. I love the focus that as we try to craft our dream, we also take responsibility for making we don’t burn out.

    On Friday of this week I will have given my 19th keynote or workshop in 19 consecutive days. Thanks to what I learned from you in Power Cues, my voice is still strong and I’ve worked to make sure I get enough sleep. But it’s a pace that I can’t maintain, so your post here is timely.

    Your point about watching for warning signs particularly caught my eye. Stephen Mansfield works with leaders who have crashed and has identified some common symptoms, or warning signs. This blog post on Donald Miller’s site is worth a browse as a follow-up to your tips here:
    http://buildingastorybrand.com/episode-34/

    Thanks again for your timely post, Nick!

    1. Thanks, Andy — hang in there, and take the weekend off! I particularly appreciate the link with warning signs — good stuff. Thanks again.

  3. Likewise, a timely post. I’m in Switzerland, on my way back home to Berlin, just arrived back from Iran 2 days ago and I’m of to Dubai on Tuesday. This very morning I was thinking, I’m tired…then I thought about how I could change that feeling. I have my fellow speakers support network, as you know Nick, with the Spectaculars and our What’s App group is priceless. I don’t speak as much as Andy, 60 days is my agreed number no more, but what with visas, planning calls, online coaching, travel logistics and paperwork, it’s a lot. Apart from getting an assistant, I remind myself what we teach others about public speaking. Present moment, wonderful moment. Don’t look. Back or forward, just breath, be present, be centered. Enjoy each moment. And when I’m home, my ritual? I head straight for the gym… Great post.

    1. Thanks, Olivia — good thoughts. You’re right about being present, centered, and breathing! And your post made me smile. I’m about to head off on the road for 4 speeches in a couple of weeks, and I thought that was a lot….There’s always someone who is doing more than you, and that’s a good thought in itself:-) Be safe on the road!

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