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Public speaking is a great platform to build your personal brand. It builds credibility, allows you to gain notoriety, and provides you with content that can be reused across your social media platforms. Most entrepreneurs I meet have inspiring stories to tell and profoundly valuable lessons to teach, yet most are reluctant to come forward.
There is no doubt that public speaking is intimidating and, anecdotally, tops the list of most people’s greatest fears. And I can understand: My own journey of building my personal brand through paid public speaking has not followed a linear upward trend. After one of my first conversations, a business colleague even told me that public speaking wasn’t my thing and that I should give it up.
Well, I haven’t given up – and while I still have a lot to learn and improve, I want to share my greatest learnings along the way. These come after speaking to audiences in North America, Asia, the Middle East and Europe. Here are the five steps I took to become a paid speaker:
Related: 5 Steps to Your First Paid Speaking Engagement
1. Met successful public speakers and heard about their travels
Big speakers make it look easy. They stand on stage and just seem to speak freely, leading us to conclude that some people just have that natural talent and ability while others don’t. It was only after meeting some really top notch speakers and asking them questions that I realized how much work they put into their craft and how much preparation went into each and every presentation. I recommend reaching out to the speakers who impress you when you attend in-person or virtual events and ask them for their top tips on improving your speaking skills.
2. Viewed public speaking as a true craft and worked tirelessly at it
Now that you know that even the highest-paid public speakers don’t just rely on natural talent, but invest time and effort into improving their public speaking skills, you should do the same. There are some amazing resources: books, videos, and people to follow on social media. Take all the advice and apply it relentlessly as you practice. I consumed copious amounts of content when I started, and I continue the learning journey to this day with no intention of stopping.
I cringe when I think back to some of my first lectures and when I see my early slides. I’ll probably feel the same way when I look back on my talks and slides from today when I look at them again in the future. That is the nature of progress. This is a bad news/good news situation. The bad news is that you can’t short-cut this. As much as you practice at home or in the office in front of a camera or mirror, it’s very different when you’re presenting in front of a live group. Bogus practices don’t prepare us for everything that can happen live.
Over the years, technology had completely shut me down and I needed to keep talking. The business owner I told you about (who advised me never to speak again) came into another conversation with me a year later. I was interrupted by a heckler mid-presentation to ask myself why I keep talking so much and when I’d be done. I lectured throughout lunch and fought for audience attention with waiters who made it clear whether white or red would be the drink of choice. I’ve had some strange experiences that have taught me invaluable lessons, and I know there are many more to come.
The good news is that practice does make progress, and feeling like you’re improving with every presentation you give is extremely encouraging and rewarding. Every time something goes wrong, you become better prepared, not only for a similar situation in the future, but also for a variety of other unexpected events.
Also see: 7 powerful public speaking tips from one of TED Talks most-watched speakers
4. Filmed my lectures and viewed the recordings
This is probably one of the most uncomfortable things you can do – ever. And yet it is also really helpful. One hack I’ve uncovered that no one has recommended to me yet is to create transcripts of my videos (I use Otter.Ai for this) and then read them, tweak them, and edit them for the next lecture. This helps me sharpen my content tremendously, but it still doesn’t take away the awkward task of watching my videos. I pay attention to my body language, posture, eye contact, the speed and tone of my speech. It might be awkward to watch, but I take lots of notes and make changes accordingly.
5. Attending a public speaking boot camp
My public speaking skills and the quality of my keynote have changed fundamentally after attending the Global Speakers Academy organized by the Entrepreneurs’ Organization. It was a 5 day bootcamp that we all walked away from with a keynote presentation completed and a night and day shift in our ability to deliver it. Some of my classmates were very experienced public speakers, and I also learned that we all have so much to learn about public speaking. It’s a never ending journey and the realization that this has removed my self inflicted pressure to be perfect.
For some of you, a group boot camp might be intimidating. If so, a public speaking coach can help you in a one-on-one session. For some, doing both might be a better solution – a bootcamp followed by individual work. No matter which option you choose, getting help will speed up your progress.
See also: The secrets to becoming a high-income public speaker
All of these things really helped me, but I also learned another important lesson. No matter how great my content is and no matter how impressive my slides are, my mental health and mindset can make it or break it. Getting enough rest, drinking water, connecting with the deepest sense of gratitude for the opportunity to be heard, and helping my brain feel as clear as possible makes a world of difference.