Transitioning From Toastmaster to Professional Speaker

I’ve had a number of people ask me lately about how to go from a Toastmaster to someone who makes money speaking. Many of these people want to speak on their area of expertise while others are looking to speak about speaking. Those in the former have it a little easier because the key there is to just continue to develop your expertise while you graduate as a speaker to different audiences. Those in the latter have a more challenging road ahead because speaking to a Toastmasters audience is significantly different than speaking to other audiences – a fact which is often overlooked when speaking about Toastmaster-related topics. So I’m going to focus on the latter group for this article, but the former will definitely get some benefit from this too.

Like many of these folks, I joined toastmasters with a fear of speaking and became very proud of the fact that I conquered that fear. I held roles like Club President and Area Governor as well as mentored dozens of folks either formally or informally. So when I found out that people could make money (even a good living) by doing this, I decided to give it a try. Over the last seven years, I’ve had my share of success and failures and have learned from the process. So here is the advice I’ve shared.

Develop your material:

Make a list of up to three talks you want to give (the fewer the better at this point). For each talk, plan a 20 minute overview and a one hour full talk. These are the typical time extremes for presentations that people just starting out give. Spend some time researching the material for your talk such as your own experiences, tips and advice. Create an outline and if you can, work with someone more experienced with you to get feedback.

Take a Toastmaster Tour:

Visit and speak at other clubs, give a TLI session or presentation at a district conference. You’ll get to face different audiences (which will push your comfort zone) and you’ll gain more experiences. Plus, these audiences are generally safe. Speaking to the same club over and over causes you to get atrophy so you’ll get a double benefit by doing this as you’ll start to make a name for yourself within Toastmasters.

Speak to Non-Toastmasters groups:

I’ve found Rotary clubs to be the best stepping stone for Toastmasters because the audiences are generally kind to speakers. That’s not to say that they won’t let you have it if you do an awful job, but they’re not paying you so they won’t have extremely high expectations either.

The first thing that you’ll realize is that these audiences won’t hang off your every word like your Toastmasters club does. Some are there for the food or other reasons and would rather check their email on the Blackberry rather than listen to any speaker. But it’s these people that give you experience and help you create stories which gives you more material about speaking.

Don’t forget your club:

For my first few years as a professional speaker, I would try out speeches (or portions) of speeches in front of my Toastmasters club to practice and get feedback. This would force me to get my speech done early as I’d try to give myself two weeks to a month before the actual presentation. I also got a lot of great suggestions from my club about how I could improve my talk and which parts weren’t so clear.

Put forth your best effort:

Some people within Toastmasters say that it’s better to get up and give a bad speech (at Toastmasters) than it is to give no speech. While I somewhat agree with that for speeches at your club, it’s the complete opposite when you’ve giving a speech to a professional audience (especially when they are paying you). So make sure you’re well prepared, your mind isn’t elsewhere and you’re well rested. Sometimes things may not go your way despite your best efforts, and that’s okay because you can always recover (although it’s best to not have to recover). But you want to minimize the chances of things going wrong. If you’re sick, didn’t have enough time to prepare or have suddenly lost a loved one, consider rescheduling your talk – and remember that the more notice you can give, the better.

Experiment:

Don’t be afraid to experiment and take risks, but make sure those risks aren’t foolish. Try a new exercise or look at something from a different point of view. Use a new prop or try a PowerPoint presentation. Just be cautious when experimenting with humor or bringing up hot button issues.

Stay on target:

Only speak about topics you know well. If the event organizer asks to speak about something that you know little about, you’re usually better off declining (especially if it’s a paid talk) unless you have enough time to become well versed with the topic. My failures with speeches have all happened when I didn’t stick with my usual material.

Present what you’ve prepared:

Sometimes you get great ideas during the car ride from your home to the venue you’re speaking at. Resist the temptation to change your talk at the last minute. I’ve made this mistake multiple times and have finally learned to not do it. If you find yourself doing this a lot, give a PowerPoint presentation because it’s harder to change it on the fly.

So these are some of the tips I give people that are hoping to make the transition from Toastmaster to professional speaker. If you’re planning to take this route, I wish you the best of luck. I hope to someday hear about your experiences (especially your successes) and if you ever need help, I welcome you to check out some of my coaching services.

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4 thoughts on “Transitioning From Toastmaster to Professional Speaker

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