The Business of Speaking

Posted by | October 11, 2013 | Creativity, People, Sales | No Comments

Most of my working life is spent on the speaking circuit, which means I often share the stage with other speakers.

Some are professionals like me; others clearly have the gift and could make a living as a speaker if they set their mind to it. Most are less natural speakers but often are looking for some top tips for a particular event where they have been asked to ‘say a few words’.

To deal with the last challenge first. A good talk is a planned talk. Not word-for-word, but the overall structure.

Start with the end, and your call to action or great closing comment. Then think about the beginning, with a good opening, explaining why you have been invited to speak to them and what you are going to cover in your talk.

In the middle, tell stories, which all have a beginning (a problem), a middle (what happened), and an end (the outcome and associated learning points). Over the years I have built up a huge library of good stories, both from my own experience and from the wide range of business people I have interviewed for this column.

It is also important to understand that an audience is motivated in three different ways. Some are ‘auditory’ and like to listen, so the words are very important. Others are ‘visual’ and like to see images, so do make sure your presentation includes pictures and even video, not just diagrams and bullet points. The third and most important driver is ‘kinaesthetic’, which is all about appealing to the audience’s emotions.

The usual technique is to tell a story and then explain how you felt at the time; if you have developed some empathy with the audience, they will feel that emotion as well.

If this talk went well, you should consider speaking more often. It is a great way to promote your business. If you do, then you should definitely join the Professional Speaking Association, the PSA. There are regular local chapter meetings, as well as an annual conference.

At these events, you will find other professional speakers, including Fellows of the Association such as myself, willing to share their secrets on every aspect of the business, from platform skills to making money on the internet.

Pitch your talk to your friends first. If you have built up a good network of corporate chums who find you interesting and amusing, then try to sell to them. If they won’t book you for their conference, then it is unlikely anyone else will.

If you speak regularly, always ask for money. The first fee is the hardest and it never gets completely painless, so it is a very good idea to get an experienced salesperson or even your spouse or partner to do the negotiating on your behalf.

Speak at every possible opportunity: Rotary, Round Table, Women’s Institutes, local fêtes, anywhere that will let you practice the craft. For that is what it is, something that you can work on for the rest of your life, if you get the speaking bug.

You may even end up as a full-time, professional speaker – if you do, welcome aboard! You will find yourself pitched into strange surroundings, sometimes with an incorrect brief, a poor sound system and a hostile audience; it can and will go horribly wrong, now and then. When it does, you need the skills and self-belief to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start all over again at tomorrow’s event.

But even if you don’t end up as a professional, you can still present in a professional manner, and both give pleasure to people and promote your business – a very pleasant ‘win/win’.

The Professional Speaking Association:

This article is a chapter from ‘This Is How Yoodoo It’ – a collection of Financial Times columns written by Mike Southon. You can buy this book in hard copy and in Kindle version here:

About Mike Southon

Mike Southon is a serially successful entrepreneur, best-selling business author, mentor and one of the world’s top business speakers on entrepreneurship, intrapreneurship and sales.

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