Stories Make Speeches: How to Find Your Authentic Voice
On launching a speaking career:
I’m a kind of jump and find your wings on the way down kind of guy because as much as I do like to plan and organize and set goals in where I’m headed, until I really get into something it’s hard for me to really figure out, "Do I like it? How does it work? What do I need to do?" That’s a lot of what I did with my speaking business. I just started speaking.
It was the courage of you just declare it and start this business. See what happens and then after six months or a year if it’s not going anywhere you can go find a job. That was what I decided to do at the beginning of 2001.
I had a bunch of stories and ideas, but it was like – again, back to my jump and find your wings on the way down thing, I figured, ‘I’ll start going and speaking and some stuff will resonate and some stuff won’t.’ Then, in my little notebook I would make a list of who did I speak to? How many people were there?
Then I would take some notes after every speech about what worked, what didn’t work, what felt good, just so I could start to come up with what material could I use that seemed like it was actually going to help other people.
On finding the right topic:
I do know a lot about what has employees engaged and what has people be more productive, but the funny thing is when I first started talking about appreciation, a lot of people and mentors of mine told, ‘Mike, that’s too soft of a topic. You can’t talk about that. No one’s going to pay you to talk about that.’
I kept saying, ‘Okay, you’re probably right, but it just is what I feel passionate about. It’s what I know. It’s my own experience.’ What’s funny now, now people come to me like, ‘Oh wow, you have such a hot topic. How did you know that was going to be so hot.’ I’m like, ‘I didn’t.’ It was really just this is my life. This is my story. This is what seems to be calling to me and I just kept talking about it.
What resonates most with people is authenticity. You can tell when someone’s not being authentic. The hard part, one of the hardest parts about public speaking, especially when we’re up in front of a lot of people because we get nervous and in our nervousness we do all kinds of weird things. We’re trying to be smart and professional and we’re trying to have it together. What we forget in those moments is, you know what, if we’re just ourselves we’ll relax more and people will connect with us more.
Build off stories:
What I’ve learned to do over the years – I don’t use PowerPoint. I don’t come in with here’s a whole big amount of research and data that I’m going to share because A, that’s not authentic for me. There’s a lot of stuff that I know, but my approach is very much story based and I’m trying to open people’s minds and hearts and what I have found over the use – and there’s research to back this up, but I just found this in my own, personal experience.
When you tell stories people listen, if they’re good stories and relevant stories and people can relate to them. The more personal they are, the more universal they become. Oftentimes, it’s not that we want to be up there and be narcissistic and let me tell you all about me and my life and everything about me, me, me, but the more personal and the more vulnerable we are when we speak the more other people can relate to it.
What I do when I prepare now, almost exclusively, is I literally just make a list of stories. What stories could I tell to this group of people that I think would relate and resonate? Now, I’m not going to tell all those stories, but that’s just my own preparation, then I try to tie the key points that I want to make to those stories because the stories in and of themselves teach and people remember them.
On getting paid speaking engagements:
The thing about the money that gets made, whether it’s an enormous amount or a small amount it’s not about our time on stage or even what we’re sharing.
It’s more about the value or, at some level – I hate to even say it this way – the perceived value of the client and what they’re willing to pay for that. The other thing – and I think you and I have talked about this personally because I say this a lot to people too – people will book you or want to book you to do exactly what they see you doing.
Hopefully, you make some contacts at that event and other events and they like you enough and they’re interested enough that you then work that relationship so that you can parlay it into, “I did that one for free.” They may or may not know that, “But, this is what I do for a living, so here’s what I charge when I actually go and speak.”
For me, personally, the way my business is set up, I get paid to speak, so it’s not that I never do an event where I don’t get paid, but it’s got to be a really, really compelling reason and for the most part, I say no to those when they come in now.
Now, I said yes to them for many years because the other thing – here’s the paradox. If you want to get better at speaking and you want to get a good reputation as speaker and you want to make connections with people who could potentially hire you, the best thing you can do is speak.
What does it mean to speak like a pro?
It’s about being yourself. It’s about being authentic. It’s about coming from your heart. It’s not about being slick. It’s not about having it all together. It’s not about being polished.
It’s actually about figuring out how you can get out of your own way so that it’s about who you’re talking to and what you’re talking about and making that connection, that impact. It’s always going to be about us a little bit, but the least amount it can be about us, the most effective it’s going to be for the people who are listening to us.
Check out the National Speakers Association because especially as we’re talking about the business of professional speaking, to me, that’s one of the best resources to really understand, “How do I become a professional speaker and build my business professionally?”
- Book: The Shortest Distance Between You and a Published Book by Susan Page
- Program: Lee Glickstein's Speaking Circles