The gift of gab is not uncommon among entrepreneurs. After all, it takes a lot of selling, schmoozing, and convincing to launch a business. No wonder many entrepreneurs and high profile C-suite executives venture into the world of public speaking.
Speaking engagements convey VIP status on the speaker and can be a terrific business opportunity for lead-gen and high-level networking. Public speaking also provides an extra revenue stream that could evolve into a second career. But before you reach for the mike, know this: being a good talker doesn’t make you a good speaker. If you’re interested in exploring guest speaking, here are some useful tips.
Get some street cred
Being a silver-tongued orator by nature is not enough. Just ask Angela Schelp, founder and co-owner of Executive Speakers Bureau along with her husband, Richard. “You want somebody with a good story,” says Schelp. “Someone who’s done something that’s changed their company culture, or pulled off a turnaround.”
Josh Linkner, founder and former CEO of five tech companies, best selling author, and popular keynote speaker, emphasizes the need for “some kind of third-party validated credibility, like a New York Times bestselling book.”
Learn to talk the talk
Both Schelp and Linkner recommend perfecting your craft before getting behind a podium. Terry Jones, a professional speaker whose resume includes co-founding Travelocity and Kayak.com, agrees. “If you’re not a pro,” Jones advises, “hire somebody to coach you. ”
Linkner refined his skills through small speaking engagements. “I’d speak at some little community bank for very little money, and just try to hone my skills and build a message that was compelling.” Having someone film you while you speak can be both humbling and instructive when you look back at the footage. If you’re a natural, you could end up with the makings of a promotional video.
Don’t be a bad buffet
In order to build your reputation as a speaker, you need to pick an area of expertise.
“You can’t be the best Chinese, best Italian, best steak house, and best sushi place all at once.” Linkner advises. “Don’t be a bad buffet.” Linkner has fashioned himself into a keynote speaker on innovation, a topic broad enough to be refreshed indefinitely.
Keep it fresh
The perfect speech is somewhere between carefully scripted and totally off the cuff. You need to be familiar with your material, but you don’t want it to sound canned.
Linkner has a formula. “I probably have 20 to 30 percent that is completely new, that I’ve never done before,” he explains. “And then the rest of it may be stories that I’ve told before but not necessarily in the same order.”
While Linkner likes to find anecdotes that will appeal to a specific industry audience, Jones’ has a different approach. “I’ll talk about other industries and let people connect the dots to their industry. If you spoon feed them the whole thing, they won’t keep it in their head.”
Be you, but in small doses
Authenticity matters. If you are witty, don’t hold back. If you need visual aids, bring them on. If you loathe PowerPoint, don’t go there. Audiences will respond to your “keeping it real.”
Linker does, however, offer a caveat. “You’re not there to boast. It’s not about you.” If you have a war story that illustrates your point, go for it. Just make sure your personal anecdotes support your topic and don’t come off as bragging.
Sell yourself, but hold the cheese
Even speakers who are household names work with a booking agency to find speaking engagements. The Executive Speaker’s Bureau gets an average of 25 requests a week from aspiring speakers. “We get so much food, stacks of books, speakers try all kinds of crazy stuff,” said Richard Schelp.
Sometimes, this can get you noticed. Linkner, who is currently represented by the Schelps, sent them a guitar, along with an invitation to a speaking engagement.
But while swag is fun, Schelp says, “A well-produced video of one of your speaking engagements is usually more persuasive. Tchotchkes and stunts can be a turnoff.”
You get the last word
There are many for whom public speaking is, and always will be, a nightmare. But if you have the skills and the credibility and take a disciplined approach, you just might talk yourself into a whole new career.