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The Uncomfortable Truth About How to Become a Professional Speaker

professional speaker

People ask me all the time, “how do you get into public speaking?”

There are lots of different answers and many necessary steps but there is one simple one you cannot overlook.

If you want to teach people about greatness, then you yourself have to have done something great.

You have to earn the right to talk to people.

You have to prove that you aren’t just a student but that you also are a practitioner.

You cannot lead a mediocre life and expect anyone to want to learn from you.

Your opportunity to influence and lead others is always a direct byproduct of your ability to create greatness in your own life and in the lives of the people around you.

So it doesn’t matter if you think it’s your purpose.

It doesn’t matter if you think it’s your passion.

None of that matters if you haven’t pushed yourself to some extreme level of performance. Because then all you are is an educated derelict.

You could be someone who knows a lot but you’ve done nothing. Which actually means you know nothing.

That’s not who you want to be and that’s not who the world rewards.

The world rewards those who work.

The world rewards those who overcome.

The world rewards those who have done something that proves to the rest of us that we are capable of more ourselves.

So don’t tell me you want to speak and teach and “impact people” and then go out and look for the easiest route, listen to all the naysayers, make weak excuses, and do all the things that are comfortable.

If you want to teach people about greatness, you yourself have to have done something great.

So if you want a chance to speak – at least to me – then go out in your industry or business or area of study and do something great.

Do something impossible.

Do something extraordinary.

Do something that shows me as a fellow human that I’m capable of more than I thought.

Do something that makes me believe that if you can do it then I can do it.

Do that, and I will be the first to sign up and sit in your class at your feet to have a chance to learn from you…

And so will everyone else.

PS. If you want to know more tips and strategies for how to be a better speaker or build a speaking business you and I could talk twice a month1?

Check this out:

How to overcome your fear of public speaking

Rory Vaden Public Speaker

I am amazed that it has already been over eight years since I came in second at the Toastmasters World Championship of Public Speaking.

And still to this day many interviewers ask me questions about that season in my life, which was so long ago. The most common question asked is, “How did you overcome your fear of speaking in public?”

It really is quite simple.

First, you have to have an understanding of what causes this type of fear in general.

Fear is the result of a self centered perspective. It is thinking about whether or not you’ll be good enough, whether other people will like it, or whether you are ready.

In other words, fear results when you’re thinking about all of the bad things that could happen to you.

That is amplified when you think about being in front of a room full of people. If something goes wrong, you not only have the personal embarrassment you would feel of making a mistake, but it is compounded by the humiliation of having many people witness it live.

In general, fear is your creativity working in the wrong direction.

In this instance, fear results as you allow yourself to daydream about all of the terrible things that could happen to you while you are up speaking.

So the solution to overcoming this fear is very simple…

The solution is to not think about yourself.

The solution is to be others-centered.

The solution is to think about other people-specifically the audience.

The solution is to think about how you are going to help them – and not worry about you.

If you simply direct all of your energy into helping them rather than into worrying about yourself, your presentation, what you’re going to say, and whether or not they are going to like you…your fear will go away.

“It’s hard to be nervous when your heart is on service.”

So right before any presentation I do not think as much about what I’m going to say, or what people are going to think about me.

Instead, I stand back stage behind the curtain and I look out over the room. And then I pick people out of the crowd one by one.

And in my mind I think about what life might be like to be that person. I think about what are the types of things that person might be struggling with on a day-to-day basis. I create a story in my mind about some of the physical, mental, emotional, financial, professional, relational, and spiritual challenges they might be dealing with.

I think about how hard it might be to be that person.

And then I think about how likely it is that this person has only a very small few number of people – if any – who constantly encourage them in their life.

In that moment, when I feel connected to that person, I simply ask God to use me in a way that would help them. That He would give me the words to say that would encourage them. That the ideas that I share would excite them.

And then I move on to the next person.

I consider that as my creativity working in the positive direction.

It takes all of the focus off of me and my fear goes away with it.

Michael Port: Steal the Show – Episode 107 of the Daily Discipline Show with Rory Vaden

Michael PortMichael Port – Called “an uncommonly honest author” by the Boston Globe, a “marketing guru” by The Wall Street Journal, and a “sales guru” by the Financial Times, Michael Port is a NY Times bestselling author of six books including Book Yourself Solid, The Think Big Manifesto and his hot new release, Steal the Show. To learn more about his new book, visit

Interestingly, he is probably the only NY Times bestselling business book author to have also been a successful professional actor, guest starring on shows like Sex & The City, Law & Order, Third Watch, All My Children and in films like The Pelican Brief and Down to Earth.

These days, Michael can be seen regularly on MSNBC, CNBC, and PBS as an on air expert in communication and business development.

Show Highlights:

  • Sometimes, it’s good to cut the fluff and get straight to the point. @michaelport
  • Every speech must have a big idea. But that big deal doesn’t have to be different to make a difference. @michaelport
  • You don’t have to be different to make a difference, you just have to care deeply about your message @michaelport
  • The audience needs to know that you know the way the world looks to them @michaelport
  • There are three types of speakers: those that have bombed, those that have yet to bomb, and those that have bombed and lie about it @michaelport
  • The better organized your information is the more competent you seem to be. @michaelport
  • People don’t pay for the value of the ideas, they pay for the organization, structure, and presentation of those ideas @Rory_Vaden
  • The longer the story, the bigger the payoff has to be. @michaelport
  • The more conflict, the more interesting the story is. @michaelport
  • The best stories are the ones that make the audience work a little bit @michaelport
  • Humor works well when you surprise the audience with it @michaelport
  • Michael shares how to tell a successful joke as a speaker
  • Think of your presentation like the perfect gift. @Rory_Vaden
  • It’s hard to be nervous when your heart’s on service. @Rory_Vaden

To learn more about Michael Port or to purchase his new book visit,

For the extended version of the podcast, email and put your first name in the subject line to have the extended version emailed to you!

The Rory Vaden show is a weekly podcast that Rory hosts every Wednesday, which is regularly in the Top 25 of Business News Podcasts and has listeners from all around the world. The show shares “insights and inspiration for movers and shakers in the world of business”™. Each week Rory shares ideas on how to increase your self-discipline and make better use of your time to help you achieve your goals in life. He also interviews one very special expert guest and thought leader every week. Subscribe on iTunes and please leave a rating and review!

4 Tips To Telling Great Stories

Stories influence people. Good storytellers can speak to people, lead people, entertain people, sell to people, persuade people and generally accomplish things through people. Bad storytellers cannot.

Some people are gifted at this and they can make people laugh and easily inspire them; it’s a talent worth being jealous of. I personally, however, am not naturally “the life of the party.” However, when I was in the finals for the Toastmasters International World Championship of Public Speaking, I was mentored by the 1999 World Champion, Craig Valentine.  Craig taught me that there is a science and step-by-step system to telling a great story that mimics the climbing of a mountain.

Characters – A key parts of every story is the characters. Start every story by setting the scene and telling us about the characters in the story. Don’t just tell us their names. Tell us “who they are.” What are their most salient physical features? Where do they come from? What is their personality? And most of all what is going on in their head? Describe your characters and your scenes as if you were the author of a book. Tell us what can you see? What can you hear? What can you smell? And what can you feel? These are the foothills of the mountain.

Conflict – The story is in the struggle. The story is not in the punch line. The best storytellers are the ones who explode and draw out the conflict. They talk about every detail of the seemingly overcoming odds or the building excitement. Make sure that there is some conflict and that it is steadily rising. Don’t just re-tell the story, re-live the story. Take us on the emotional roller coaster of highs and lows that happened all throughout the journey. A story without conflict is not a story; it’s a sleep-aid. This is the climb up the mountain.

Climax – Every great story has 1 pivotal scene where all of the conflict builds to a resolution. It is 1 moment where all of the questions that are created in the conflict section are answered. Make sure there is a defining moment that tells you how the story turned out. This is the peak of the mountain.

Conclusion – Now the story is finished and the conclusion is the “what’s in it for me as the listener” part. A story that is entertaining or riveting is good, but what makes it great is when there is a takeaway from the story that I can apply to my own life. Don’t just tell me the story and end it. Tell me what you learned. Tell me how to apply that lesson to my own life. Or as Craig used to always say “tell an ‘I’ focused story but deliver a ‘you’ focused message.” In radio, we call this section the “round out” because we are rounding the story out from us into a message for the listener. This is the descent on the backside of the mountain.

If you’ve follow my work for anytime you’ll see that I am infatuated with breaking complex things (like self-discipline, sales, speaking, humor, leadership) down into simple things. Storytelling is another one of those skills that we incorrectly assume we are either born with or we are not.

When you follow the 4 C’s not only will your stories will get better but your ability to influence will get better.

5 Mistakes I made in my first 5 Years as a Professional Speaker

There are a whole lot of things that our team has done right in growing our different business lines at Southwestern Consulting. Looking back however, there are some mistakes that I made specifically in building my keynote speaking business. I now realize these are pretty common and wanted to share them with you to share with anyone you know who is trying to make it as a “speaker”.

1. I marketed to Speakers Bureaus too early: In my ambition to get my career off the ground quickly I thought in my mind that Speakers Bureaus were the key to success and the obvious way to go. I thought “hey they book speakers all day every day, why wouldn’t they want to book me?!” While I can’t fault my own initiative and enthusiasm I would not advise other young speakers to go that route.

You often only get 1 shot at getting your foot in the door with people like that and there are some that I wish would’ve heard about me from their clients rather than from me – and had I spent more of my time marketing to clients and prospects then they probably would have. Joe Calloway later shared with me that the way he started working with bureaus was he sent them 100 testimonial letters from clients (shrunk 4 to a page) along with a demo video of his full keynote that had been absolutely polished. I wish I would’ve taken that route. However, I didn’t make the same mistake of going to book publishers too early. For that I waited until I had a platform big enough to sell through enough books to create a successful launch.

2. I was too contrived and mechanical on stage: Having been to the World Championships of Public Speaking twice for Toastmasters at a young age, I had made a true science out of speaking. While that has served me tremendously well and it has enabled me now to get to a skill level on stage that few ever get to, I focused too much early on in my professional speaking career on speaking mechanics instead of audience connection. Today’s paying audiences want conversational and genuine, not methodical and trite. One thing I have learned is to never let the science get in the way of the art.

3. I didn’t understand the value and importance of “my list”: It makes me queasy thinking about how many more people I would be helping right now had I had the presence of mind and intention to capture and store contact information for all my early fans. Now with so many technological tools for staying in touch, I’m kicking myself for not having made it more of a focus to gather email addresses when I first began. This is building your own audience and putting yourself in control of your own destiny rather than having to rely on other people to decide if you are good enough to be in front of an audience. (I know a whole lot of speakers that after years are still not building their lists!)

4. I didn’t create content consistently: While following Larry Winget’s advice of having “one keynote speech” that is amazing was one of the true cornerstones of any success that I’ve had in this business (as opposed to trying to be all things to all people), unfortunately I over-applied that advice to not furthering my expertise. Creating content forces you to think intensely on whatever your topic is and the deeper you go the more valuable the insights are that you find. Getting into the discipline of blogging 3-5x a week has been one of the most valuable things I’ve done for my career, my positioning, my web traffic, but most of all for my thinking.

5. I focused too much on myself: Like most speakers, I got into the business largely for the dream and cache of being on stage in front of a huge audience. And while that has always been fun, it’s just so self-centered. When my career really started taking off was when I got relentlessly focused on helping businesses solve their problems. The moment I started trying to sell my solutions to companies rather than selling myself as a speaker was a key turning point both in my success and in my humility. You have to ask yourself “who are you doing all of this for?”

If it’s for you, then people can tell from a mile away and they’ll run the opposite direction. But if you are committed to finding real new and unique answers to today’s toughest problems then clients seem to come running after you.

Whether you’re a speaker or not, these are 5 mistakes you have to watch out for. The first one is about relying on someone else to sell you instead of you taking matters into your own hands. The second one is about letting the science of your profession get in the way of the art of serving people. The third one is about a commitment to building lasting, meaningful and value-added relationships. The fourth one is about challenging your thinking to get to a new level. And the last one is about being a true Servant Seller instead of a self-centered promoter. Hopefully you can apply these regardless of what business you’re in.

PS. I never thought I’d do this, but after lots and lots of requests and a need to train our own SWC speaker team, Amanda (wifey) and I have finally decided to teach a full course on building a Speaking business. We are calling it “Headliner Conference: Your Back-Stage Pass to Building a Multi-Million Dollar Speaking Business.” It will be very intimate over a couple days at our home office in Nashville, TN. We will be talking about both the art and science of building a speaking business including a big part on how to monetize the backend. If you’re interested, you can check out the first lesson called “7 Big Questions For Finding Your Perfect Brand” on our free training call I’m hosting this Tuesday September 3rd at 7 pm CST / 8 PM EST. If you miss the call we will send you the recording of it but to get instructions for the live call and/or the recording you must REGISTER IN ADVANCE FOR THAT BY CLICKING HERE.