SO YOU WANT TO BE A PROFESSIONAL SPEAKER? HERE'S MY STORY
There are four times in my life when I can remember being really really nervous. Like, my legs are shaking, my fists are clenched and I can’t breathe, nervous.
The first was when I sang at my Year 11 Presentation Evening. The second was waiting to hear the results about my MA final project. The third was waiting to hear if I’d got the job I’m in now. And the fourth was in the minutes before I did my first public speaking gig.
All four were totally different situations. But when I think about them, I can instantly remember how nervous I felt.
For public speaking in particular, you’d think someone would have to have great speaking skills, be extroverted and have tonnes of confidence, right?
I don’t tick any of those boxes.
Sure I’m good at communicating – but would I call myself an expert? Nope. I’m definitely more of an introvert than an extrovert and although I’ve got more confidence now than ever, it’s still not as much as what some people have.
So really, you’d think that I wouldn't fit the professional speaking bill.
Apart from the fact that the three times that I’ve done it so far, I’ve been told I’m a natural.
And it’s not because of what people “think” public speaking is. It comes down to what it actually is:
- Hours spent crafting a killer presentation and practising the craft
- Being nervous but knowing how to manage that anxiety
- Coming across as more confident than you actually are
But the biggest thing about public speaking is that if you get it right, you’re perceived as an expert in what you’re talking about.
So, if you’ve ever thought about professional speaking or think you might have the guts to do it one day, I wanted to share my story with you.
#1 | How did you get into public speaking?
During my MA degree we had lots of guest speakers and people from within the industry coming in to do workshops with us. I instantly warmed to it and could picture myself doing the same thing even though I’d never done anything like it before.
Then I started going to interviews for various jobs where I had to deliver presentations and discovered that actually, I was a boss at it. As nervous as I was, it was like I completely came into my own when I was presenting.
Around last summer, my course tutor from my MA course sent me an email. She said they were introducing a new module to the Journalism & Branding course which was going to be about blogging and online content.
My first reaction was, oh my god, WHY didn't they have this when I was on the course?!
Then I read the rest of the email.
Because she knew I ran a blog, she wanted me to come in and deliver a presentation to her Journalism class about what it means to run a blog and how I got to where I am today.
That turned into my first professional speaking gig which I did in November last year on “Building Yourself as a Brand.”
Last month, I went back to that university, to deliver another workshop, this time on creating different types of online content. It’s looking like I’m going to have a few permanent gigs there which I can’t wait for.
My other public speaking opportunity came about through networking. I did my undergraduate degree at Lancaster University and a student from there contacted me about blogging and I ended up going to meet her. Turns out, she was on the Exec for the Marketing Society and they were really interested in having me come and deliver a two hour workshop to Marketing and Business students on Personal Branding.
Takeaway for you:
It’s all about who you know. If I hadn't started this blog or done my MA course, I wouldn't be able to add “Professional Speaker” to my CV and LinkedIn. But the people that I’ve met through both these have brought opportunities to me.
Now I know to never see people as a competition. If you treat the online world as a collaborative space, you’’ll begin to realise what some of the people in your community can really do for you. Look at my public speaking gigs – one happened through a tutor and the other happened because someone reached out to me. That’s a big reason why I now reach out to so many different people on a daily basis.
#2 | Did you ever think you were the type of person to be a public speaker?
Not at first. But now I can see why I enjoy it so much.
When you think of professional speakers, you think of people who are motivating, inspiring, reflective and entertaining. But they've also got to have a story to tell. You've got to connect with your audience on a personal level, or else you won’t be able to deliver your message in a captivating way.
That’s a reason why my talks have been so effective. For the ones I did for the MA students, I started each talk off with this: “Two years ago, I was sat exactly where you are in this very room.” It’s the truth. And that instantly draws people in. They know I’ve been where they are and they can instantly connect with me.
I don’t think you need to be an extrovert to be a public speaker. I think being an introvert makes it so much more interesting, because you get to see how someone has developed as a person.
The best public speakers speak honestly and from the heart. That’s why I think I’m suited to it. Vulnerability is a key thing. If you can show you’ve been through struggles that they have, and then help them to understand it and come out the other side, you will have a massive impact.
#3 | What do you think people need as a professional speaker?
Time and patience. It takes so much time not only to create the presentation you’re going to deliver, but to practice it too. And patience, because it takes time to get it right.
It’s also important to be self-aware. Any blogger can talk about building their brand, so I had to figure out what made my story different. Once I found that and drew upon my own experiences, it made my talks even more compelling. That’s the main way to inspire an audience and you get that from being self-aware.
Most of you would probably say you need confidence – but I’d disagree and say you need self-belief. You need to believe not only that you can deliver a talk, but that you can deliver it effectively. The talk won’t be anywhere near as good if you don’t show you believe in yourself enough that you deserve to do it.
Next up on my list is to create a public speaking page on my blog that’s got a description of the three talks I’ve done, images and some testimonials from each one. Then I want to get video footage further down the line – it’s important to remember that public speaking is all about how you deliver.
#4 | What’s next for you as a public speaker?
I’m hoping to be a permanent part of the UCLan public speaking cohort where I did my MA. To be able to class myself among other speakers there such as a section Editor from Cosmopolitan and the Editor of Woman’s Weekly magazine is something that makes me very proud.
In the future, I’d like to branch out to more universities and if we’re dreaming big, tour round the country delivering my branding talks.
#5 | What’s one of the biggest things YOU'VE learnt as a professional speaker?
Your story is important, but it’s not as important as your audience. You've got to solve a problem for them. You've got to help them walk away with something. They've got to be able to apply what you’ve talked to them about to their own lives. That’s why I always create a workbook for each talk I do, so they can keep all their notes in one place. Plus, I give them exercises to do in the talk so they get to ask me questions right there and then. It’s all about what you can provide to them – the story of how you did it is an added bonus.
Public speaking is scary, there’s no doubt about that. But for me? It’s one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done, and I really hope you enjoyed this story.
If you want to know more about public speaking or hire me to do a talk, feel free to leave a comment or email me, and look out for the speaking page on my blog coming soon!
Have you ever thought about trying professional speaking? Is it something you think you could do?