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.

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How Big is Yours?

Your following on social media that is. Is it big? Does size really matter? Whether you’re a professional speaker, writer, artist or business owner, social media can be an excellent tool for making new connections. But in order for it to be helpful, it needs to be used correctly.

The problem with social media is that it’s always evolving so many people misuse it. While hackers and spammers are the prime misusers of these services, a vast amount of people with good intentions struggle to make use of the medium. Many treat it like a mailing list – like it’s another method of one way communication. Some use it as a popularity contest – the person with the most connections wins. However, the point of social media (especially from a business standpoint) is to create and maintain relationships from the comfort of your keyboard.

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The Good Heckler

When most of us think of hecklers, we think of bad audience members: people questioning us in a condescending way, people talking over us, people trying to discredit us and people trying to show off. However, sometimes there is such a thing as a good heckler – someone who is enjoying your talk and is so engrossed in it that they feel like they are part of it.

So instead of the person shooting down what you’re saying, they’re reinforcing it – it’s just that they’re reinforcing it every couple minutes by repeating what you’re saying, adding their own two cents or simply completing you. Normally, this wouldn’t sound like a problem but it can be a point of frustration for the rest of the audience. Remember, they’re there to hear your material, not a constant endorsement of you as a speaker.

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A Defeat Every Now And Then Can Be a Good Thing

Early in my career as a professional speaker, I made a lot of mistakes. I took on too many engagements when I had a lot of things going on with my personal life and with my job that paid the bills. I also made the mistake of allowing my contact for the presentation to select any topic that interested him or her, and then I would design a presentation around it. So I laugh to myself whenever I meet someone just getting into the speaking business that’s finding themselves battling these very frustrations.

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The Most Deadly Presentation Mistake

Procrastination can be deadly to your career no matter which field you are in. In fact, it can literally be deadly in some cases. So why do so many people procrastinate? Well, there are two common reasons: 1. they associate some sort of discomfort towards the thing they have to do & 2. they have other things they’d rather be doing. So given that so many folks feel discomfort just at the thought of speaking to groups, it should come as no surprise that not adequately preparing for a speech is the most common (and most harmful) public speaking mistake.

Preparing for a talk is a lot of work. You need to research your topic, write your speech and then practice and tweak it. So it’s very easy for this task to either slip through the cracks or only get a half-hearted effort. And that half-hearted effort often results in a sub-par talk which just reinforces the speakers’ discomfort with public speaking. So how can you avoid this trap? Simply realize the costs of not preparing and compare them with the benefits of preparing.

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Don’t Blink

There’s a song by Kenny Chesney called “Don’t Blink” that has an interesting message to it. It’s about a guy watching the news where a man that just turned 102 is being interviewed. The reporter asks the man for advice on how to reach 100 years and the man essentially tells the reporter to enjoy life because “100 years goes by faster than you think. So don’t blink.”

The message from the song is so true. You’re a kid and then before you know it, you’re a young adult getting married. And then all of sudden you’ve got children, and then grandchildren and then you and your spouse have reached the 50 year mark.

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Breaking Out of Jail One Spoon at a Time

When I was a kid, I remember a cartoon where this dog was in jail and planning his escape. His escape plan was simple – dig a tunnel underneath the prison to get him past the wall (about 500 yards). He knew that this was a big task and he didn’t have any heavy excavating equipment so he used a teaspoon – and dug the tunnel one spoonful at time.

This of course took him several years to accomplish, but it’s a good metaphor for how to handle big tasks. Had this convict just sat there and complained or worried about his situation, he would have nothing at the end of several years. By performing a consistent action – even something as small as digging a tunnel one spoonful per day – he had completed an escape route.

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