Starting a speaking business is exhilarating and rewarding… and very stressful. Being a public speaker isn’t easy, and if you’re like most people you’ve probably looked for public speaking tips to help you become a better speaker.
Through the work we do at The Speaker Lab, we get to know a lot of speakers. Some of them have been famous speakers for decades, others came into our coaching programs recently and left with hundreds of speaking engagements per year.
In short, if you’re looking for tips on how to become a better speaker, we might have more than a few up our sleeve.
To make things easy for you, we’ve distilled them down to just 25 public speaking tips that we think are absolutely essential know-how. These aren’t just about your performance on stage (although that’s important)–we’ve divided them into five key areas that encompass most of the professional speaking experience. If you need a handy reference or just a confidence boost while you’re starting your speaking business, bookmark this piece! This wisdom comes either straight from the mouths of experts or from our own team’s years of experience helping turn aspiring speakers into professional speakers.
We covered these same areas in Episode 200 of the TSL podcast, which features a roundup of speaker tips from some of the most successful names in the business.
Public speaking tips for starting your speaking business
- Get comfortable with the realities of the industry. You can’t get rich overnight with speaking. You will have to spend a lot of time outside your comfort zone during the trial and error phase…and you’ll probably spend even more time sending cold emails with no response. Every good season will likely be followed by a season of low cash flow, so acknowledge those realities before you dive in.
- Create systems. We are huge fans of systems here at TSL because they work. When you first start up your speaking business, you will be sending emails, setting up your online presence, and making financial forecasts all at once. Implement a repeatable system for keeping track of all of these tasks now rather than when you are desperately searching your sent folder to see if you remembered to follow up. There are some great software options for this, but an excel spreadsheet will do just fine.
- Don’t try to speak to everybody. This tip is often one of the most difficult for beginner speakers to internalize. If you have a well-defined niche at the very beginning of your speaking journey, you will serve your audience better. While you don’t have to stick with the same niche throughout your speaking career, it is better to be known for doing one thing well than many things with mediocrity.
- Tell all your friends. When some people start speaking, they keep it a secret from family and friends. If you want to be a public speaker, be public about it! You never know what connections, insight, or helpful expertise your friends have until you ask. Your personal network will be your first step to feedback, an audience, and probably many clients too.
- Take ownership. Taking your speaking business to the next level takes a lot of work, and taking yourself seriously will go a long way for your personal brand. Don’t half-ass things or copy other people. Go all-in, keep your goals in mind, and invest wisely in yourself so you can create a unique path that turns into something wonderful.
Public speaking tips for improving your craft and performance of speaking
- Be your genuine self. The more authentic you are, the more people will be drawn to your message. If you fudge your way onto the stage, your audience will immediately recognize that you don’t believe in what you’re saying. This is a hard pill to swallow if you’re trying to appeal to a trendy niche that doesn’t align with your passions. Face it; your impact will be far greater if you serve a smaller number of people with authenticity and honesty.
- A great talk is your best marketing asset. Don’t get so caught up in the weeds of maximizing other things that you forget this! Honing your craft and killing it on stage will always serve you better than any cocktail reception or fancy powerpoint. Allocate most of your time to rehearsing, cutting unnecessary material, and tapping into that authenticity mentioned above.
- Use slides wisely. Slides can be a great visual aid, but they should function only as an enhancement. Use minimalist slides to emphasize a point, provide data, or keep the audience on track. This goes for any other sort of technological asset, like props or videos too! Your talk should be able to stand on its own without any of these aids.
- Tell stories. No matter what your message is, stories will be what your audience remembers. Your stories should serve a purpose–a bridge to a new point, a challenge to their assumptions, some much-needed comic relief. Try to keep them first person when possible so the audience will find themselves in your story as you’re telling it.
- Set yourself up for success. Many external variables help make a speaking engagement go well. Beyond crushing the talk, you should try to put as many of those variables in your favor as possible. Don’t stay up late the night before at a reception. Don’t eat a massive pasta bowl before you go on stage. Try to avoid speaking during a slot when most of the audience will be distracted. If all the variables are stacked against you but you crush your talk, it can still come across as “meh” to the audience.
Public speaking tips for building relationships and networking
- Find watering holes. Speaking can feel very lonely at first. But the industry has an amazingly interconnected ecosystem through which you can connect with other speakers, future clients, and audience members. Figure out which events, conferences, and associations are frequented by the speakers you admire and start frequenting those “watering holes.”
- Learn from other speakers instead of viewing them as competition. The experiential wisdom of other speakers can save you from many rookie mistakes. Leave your competitive nature at the door when you show up at the watering holes mentioned above. Yes, many public speakers are all in the running for the same gigs. But every speaker can’t take every opportunity offered them…the pie is big enough for everyone.
- Be easy to work with. This applies before, during, and after a speaking engagement. Being a success on stage is essential, but so is being responsive to emails, putting the needs of client and audience first, and finding other ways to contribute to the event beyond your talk. You want to make the meeting planner who hired you look good. Otherwise, they will complain about you to others in the industry.
- Build relationships with your clients. Whether it’s Christmas cards, a unique little gift after every event, or just checking in and remembering their spouse’s name, small acts of kindness and humanity set you apart from the crowd. Getting repeat gigs with the same client will go a long way toward a sustainable career, as will their referrals.
- Prioritize the cycle of referrals. If it’s not obvious from the other speaking tips in this section, referrals from both clients and speakers are a huge source of opportunity. Don’t be a diva. Try to put as much into the speaking ecosystem as you hope to get out of it. That speaker you recommend today could return the favor years down the line.
You can learn a great framework for making yourself look good to clients and your audience at this podcast with Todd Henry. Hint: be precise, helpful, and generous.
Public speaking tips for building a strong relationship with your audience
- Understand what you can actually accomplish in the time that you have with your audience. It’s hard to change somebody’s life in a 45 minute keynote. Take into account your audience’s expertise and familiarity with the topic you’ll be speaking on. You might have to confine your material to the first step to a big change rather than the whole journey. Even if it means throwing out half of your original presentation, you will be even more impactful.
- Think of public speaking as a service. While your passions and your message are important, they should always be oriented toward the needs of your audience. The information your audience needs may not always be the information you want to give them. If you can create and deliver audience-centric talks, your presentations will be more relevant and compelling. To create the greatest impact, step on stage with service in mind.
- Involve your audience from the stage. You can interpret this speaking tip in a myriad of ways. A YouTube overview of the most famous motivational speakers will show you the diversity of methods they employ. Whether it’s through Q&As, jokes, call and response, inviting up volunteers, or breakout activities, avoid nonstop monologuing. Otherwise, your audience will lose focus and get bored.
- Use social media to create fans. That’s right–not just followers, but fans (more on that here). Show your human side by giving your audience opportunities for engagement and connection online. This pays off big time when they recognize the same energy they know and love onstage…or when they follow you after your talk and see that your social media is in line with your speaking persona.
- Put in the same effort no matter who your audience is. At the start of your career (and sometimes later on), you will probably be taking on free or low-paying gigs at events that are, frankly, not ideal. Nevertheless, always put the same amount of energy and excellence into your speech performance as you would for a keynote to 10,000 people. You never know what future client is sitting in the back row.
Public speaking tips for growing and scaling your speaking business
- Outsource what you can. One of the best investments as your speaking business grows is outsourcing the tasks that you can’t do as efficiently. If you’re bad at numbers, web design, or calendar management, hiring someone to cover those areas will allow you to spend more time on your speaking craft–the part of your business that only you can do.
- Become a thought leader. Establishing your expertise in one or more channels off stage will fuel your speaking career and give you the necessary foundation for other projects (see next tip). Podcasting, blogging, vlogging, and the proliferation of online media consumption provide ample opportunities for this…find what works for you and start sharing your ideas with the world.
- Add streams of income. The more you speak, the more your audience will start asking you for things. Stay tuned into their requests and use those as inspiration for new projects that can become passive sources of income. Whether it’s turning your intellectual property into a course, writing a book, or offering coaching, diversifying your income will also multiply your income.
- Never stop marketing. This goes back to what we’ve said earlier about being the same, authentic person on stage, online, and in your personal life. When you’re a speaker, you are the brand. That means even in your everyday interactions–like how you treat the barista at the coffee shop you send your emails from–you are marketing your speaking business.
- Prioritize the people who matter. If things go well, you might find yourself with requests for hundreds of speaking engagements per year. That is not a sustainable business model if you have a family. Block out non-negotiable family time on your calendar. Stay connected while you’re on the road. Speaking might be your passion, but it should never take precedence over the people you care most about.
Hopefully, you’re feeling a little more confident and a lot more ready to get started on your career as a public speaker. If you are really amped up and want four times as many tips to make you a better speaker, head to episode 100 of the TSL podcast right here.