I wrote in an earlier post about the importance of making choices to a successful public career. More bad news: once you choose, you have to focus. Specifically, in three essential ways.
First, you have to focus on creating speaking opportunities. But not in the way that you think. Because professional speakers have the opportunity to earn large sums of money, there’s a huge amount of competition. Lots of people have noticed that keynote speakers can earn fabulous amounts for what seems like an hour’s worth of work.
But how do you think that Bill Clinton, or Malcolm Gladwell, or Colin Powell got to the stage? By being president, or a phenomenal storyteller, or Secretary of State. You create speaking opportunities, ironically, not by chasing after a particular gig – that suggests amateur or breakout session free speaker – but by having something interesting to say and capturing the world’s attention. David Meerman Scott achieved this by offering the New Rules of Marketing and PR to the world back in 2007 – and he’s been constantly keeping up with that world ever since, exploring its boundaries, revising the rules, finding new avenues. That’s what it takes to create speaking opportunities – and that’s why it takes a whole lot more work than just that hour on the stage.
Second, you have to focus on your area of expertise. Whatever it is that you’re passionate about, that’s what you have to find – everywhere. The old cliché about consultants is that “to a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” Well, you’re now a hammer. If you’re interested in leadership, then every news item becomes a potential blog post about leadership. If you care about technology, then not just every new product announcement, but also every new psychological study about human behavior (for example), becomes grist for the mill. If achievement is your thing, then you need to see its presence or absence everywhere. That’s how you keep your expertise alive and fresh. You’ve got to be scanning the universe constantly. Mitch Joel does this particularly well – he calls himself an infovore, and he’s always on the prowl.
Third, you have to focus on your community. The path to a steady stream of speaking invitations is through a community of people who care about you and your topic of interest. You need to care for and nurture that community. You need to talk to them. You need to interact with them. You need to listen to them. They are your people, your potential for speaking, and your path to career success. Pam Slim is a master at this – she creates community everywhere she goes with an extroversion that looks effortless and is genuine – but that is never-ending work.
I wish great success for you as a speaker in 2014. You’ll get there by choosing, and focusing. That’s my top recommendation for cracking the upper levels of the public speaking business next year.