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Episode 12 - Cracking the Public Speaking Circuit!

Public speaking is seen as a great way to build your personal brand, but it’s not without its challenges. I speak to many clients who are set on expanding their brand by becoming a public speaker- but the industry isn’t for the faint of heart! It takes quite a bit of planning, experience and effort to be competitive. You may be wondering:

What it actually takes to crack into the public speaking circuit?
What do the professionals look for in a public speaker?
How can you bag your first public speaking gig?

I brought these questions to Helene Greenham from Platinum Speakers, based in Melbourne. With 25 years of industry experience, Helene really knows her stuff when it comes to events and speaker management- she has a keen eye for detail when picking that ‘right person’.

So what does Helene look for in a professional speaker?

Helene has three golden rules:

A good story. If you haven’t hooked the audience in the first 90 seconds, you’ll struggle to grab them at all.
An absolute sense of purpose in what you’re doing. If you don’t believe in your story, and how it could help people change their lives for the better, it’s difficult for your audience to believe in you as well.
Humour. Even the most serious and boring topics can be entertaining when they’re delivered in the right way.

But what makes an engaging story?

Helene points to her client Deng Adut as a standout example. At the age of 6, Deng was taken from his family, and forced to fight in the Sudanese Civil War at the mere age of 10.

For Helene, the vivid, often terrible imagery that Deng paints for his listeners in his story -a young boy being handed an assault rifle, and the brutal deaths of other children around him- is raw, immediate and powerful.

But hearing Deng’s personal journey as he escaped the conflict to be granted refugee status in Australia at the age of 14, hammered home the sheer force of will he cultivated to be who he is today.

Sponsored by a family in Sydney, Deng taught himself English by watching the Wiggles. Immersing himself in Australian society, Deng rose to success as a defence lawyer, protecting vulnerable Sundanese youth in the Western Sydney area. Much of his work is pro bono. He still suffers PTSD from the terrible events of his youth, and probably always will.

By sharing his own adversity and expressing a deep respect for human life, Deng encourages his audience to look at their own lives from a new perspective: gratitude. As he illustrates his strength to keep going, with a delivery that drips with warmth and conviction, he makes an audience believe in their inner strength, too.

When a speaker calls you to reflect on your own life’s potential, says Helena, this is where the magic happens.

The quickest ways to lose your audience

Not everyone can hold a room so easily, however. In her time, Helene has seen the good, the bad and the ugly when it comes to aspiring professional speakers.

Here are her biggest public-speaking no-no’s:

A dull, monotone voice. Like with music, an interesting speech rises and falls, building and releasing tension. A melody without different notes isn’t a melody.
Death by PowerPoint. One of the worst things for an audience is watching a speaker read their PowerPoint presentation word for word. The moment the audience is mentally willing you to speed up and match their reading speed, any sense of pacing and gravitas are out the window.

Why it’s so tough to break into the speaking circuit

Professional speaking is not an easy industry to break into, by any stretch of the imagination.

According to Helene, the high saturation of talented speakers makes it difficult for amateurs to take the next step.

From Olympians to refugees to world-renowned chefs, there’s no shortage of Australian people pushing their limits and doing extraordinary things in the public eye.

But it’s not just about fame. Helene says that credibility is the number one differentiator between successful speakers and those who fail to launch.

Knowing your area of expertise deeply or having done extensive reflection on your unique life experiences is the foundation of a promising, personal speech.

Without having gone through the difficult times and come out the other side -without the qualifications or detail to back it up – it’s difficult for Helene to see the substance or emotional payoff behind a potential speaker.

You don’t need a valuable name, just a valuable story.

Tips to get your first public speaking gig

So, if you’ve got a good story, how can you set yourself apart in a cluttered market? Helene has a few more tips:

Find your style. No-one has a single style, but you’ll probably have a way of speaking that makes you feel comfortable, confident and focused. Getting one on one, professional training is arguably the best way to bring your words to life and fine tune your delivery.
Reach out to a professional speakers association and attend one of their training days. This is a safe place to practice in a supportive group environment and get immediate feedback on your delivery. Get to know yourself in front of an audience.
Have evidence. According to Helene, many potential speakers call up and “all they’ve done is emceed their brother’s wedding”. If you’ve got no corporate experience it’s crucial to bring a showreel: “We don’t look at anybody unless they’ve got some video footage of their presentation style, or testimonials from corporate clients.”
Practice. Practice. Practice.

But what does COVID-19 mean for the events industry?

The pandemic has presented a huge hit to events and entertainment industries.

But as humans, we’re inherently social- we love to mingle and get together with friends and work colleagues at events. The live, in-person experience can’t be replaced. Conferences will still be around, but less often and in smaller sizes.

The days of having a thousand people crammed into a convention centre or stadium are a long way off, though Helene believes that we’ll see a strong resurgence of blended online corporate events. In-person conferences will still happen, but in conjunction with a virtual conference where interstate colleagues attend through Zoom.

However, celebrity speakers might have trouble staying safe and navigating social distancing at events. “People still want to have a photo with them, rub shoulders with them, have a drink with them,” says Helene.

“So, I think we’ll be booking industry speakers more now, rather than having that wow-factor speaker” who are often crowded by fans.