Five Signs You Have What It Takes To Be A Successful Public Speaker

by: Nick Morgan


I frequently chat with people who wonder if they should throw their hats in the ring of public speaking and go for the rarified life of a paid public speaker. The money is appealing, of course, but mostly what they wonder is, “Do I have what it takes?” By that they mean, “Does the world want to hear me hold forth on my area of passion and expertise?”

When I ask them what their area of passion and expertise is, they’ll say something like “sales,” or “leadership,” or “IT.” That’s only the beginning of the conversation, of course, because what’s interesting is the particular insight they have into one or other of those huge fields of human endeavor. There are thousands of leadership speaker out there, but only who combines years of mastery of the martial art of aikido with a background as a Marine and experience surviving cancer. For a very particular perspective on decision-making, priority setting, and clarity, I recommend Michael Veltri to you. Michael’s done the work to figure out his particular voice – I say that as his coach and friend.   That’s what anyone who seeks to develop a speaking career needs to do.

Find your niche.

Because the point is that, when you go deep enough, there is a story that only you can tell. That’s the one that audiences want to hear, because it’s authentic and includes your stumbles along the way.   I see speaker websites all the time that list 12 – 20 different speeches – I can talk about HR! I can talk about sales! I can transform your legal team! – and they shriek “amateur” to me, because no one believes in the Renaissance person these days. We believe in narrowly focused expertise. Partly because the world is changing so fast, and partly because who looks like Leonardo in the twenty-first century? That’s Da Vinci, not DiCaprio, by the way.

So in honor of Leonardo Da Vinci, here are my five signs that you have what it takes to be a professional public speaker.   Because finding your niche is only the beginning. You still have to get a whole laundry list of things done to get to that keynote stage, but here are the signs.

1.You’re willing to work harder than anyone else.   There’s a lot of competition in the public speaking marketplace, and the folks who do the work stand out in the end.  

2.You’re not trying to prove something, you’re trying to share something. The best public speakers are genuine public servants, ready to help people find their way on their own paths. They’re already secure in their own achievements, so they’re in a position to help others. Though it is lucrative, and needs to be treated like the business that it is, public speaking ultimately should come from an altruistic impulse.

3.You’re always hungry for more knowledge in your niche.  You have to be genuinely passionate for information about your particular subject, because you need to be always at the forefront of what’s going on in that field. It’s always changing, and unless you’re changing with it, it’s going to leave you behind.

4.You’re a performer.   Public speaking is performance art, and you need to combine the fun of performing with the passion for the subject. Most people have one or the other; few possess both.

5.You’re open and listening. If you’re not genuinely surprised by a question from someone in the audience every now and then, you’ve shut down and should find another line of work. That means being open and listening hard to even the most apparently naïve questions. You never know when someone will open a door for you, and show you a new way forward that you never would have tried otherwise.

No doubt other qualities are important, like a cast-iron stomach and ability to go long periods of time without the bathroom, but what qualities do you see as essential to a successful public speaking career?

About the Author

Nick Morgan

Nick Morgan

I’m passionate about communications, especially public speaking.

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