How To Build a Public Speaking Career (Or Win at Life)

Since the age of fifteen I’ve wanted to be a public speaker. But it took me fifteen more years to find the courage to own my story and begin living my dream. And when I began, I was in for a rude awakening. It was incredibly hard to break into the public speaking world. But the same is true of most businesses—anything great is going to be hard, really, really hard.

My first year in public speaking was met with only five opportunities to stand in front of a crowd. Not to mention that only one of the five talks was paid. Basically, I was speaking for free. But as I continued to press into my passion for speaking, more paid engagements began to present themselves and I was giving more than thirty talks per year.

I often have many people ask me how I got started in speaking and how I’ve been able to do what I love. So I wanted to take the time to talk about three things that I believe have been imperative to my grow as a speaker. And as I began digesting these thoughts, I saw that they applied to a wide variety of fields.

Whether you are a speaker, writer, artist, business person, or a stay-at-home mom, I think these three principles are universal to success in any endeavor.

Three Unconventional Tips for Public Speaking (And Life)

1. Surround yourself with people who are better than you

I’ve heard it said that if you’re the smartest person in the room, then you’re in the wrong room. This is an excellent practice in humility and one that very few people are willing to take literal. While it’s important to believe in your strengths and step into the desires that are on your heart, you have to couple that with honest truth. Despite what your spouse or your parents or your Toastmasters group tells you, you’re not as good as you think you are.

Spend a lot of time watching videos of great speakers and surround yourself with those that you learn from—become a sponge.

  • Who do you admire?
  • What inspires you?
  • Who is doing what you truly desire to do?

One of the greatest catalysts to growing my speaking business was connecting with other speakers. Surprisingly, there were some established speakers who welcomed my enthusiasm and wanted to help.

One of the particular connections contacted me and asked if I could cover for him on an event that conflicted his schedule. However, when I learned the details of the event, it wasn’t very promising. It was two hours away, it was on a weeknight, and it wasn’t paid

But my decision to step in to this opportunity was the second lesson that I have learned.

2. Be willing to give

Too often, we allow fear to keep us from taking risks. We look at the logistics instead of the opportunity and miss out on what could have been. If I’ve learned anything, it’s that you never speak for free. There will always be a benefit when you genuinely give of yourself, your time, and your talents.

Don’t let your pride tell you that you’re too good to speak for free. Moreover, don’t convince yourself that you’re above that. In fact, I’d say that your fear of being generous is the very thing that is holding you back.

Generosity always yields compound opportunity.

In my case, I made the two-hour drive and gave the free talk. Immediately after the event, I sold ten books. About a month later, one of the attendees contacted me and wanted to purchase a bulk order of books as graduation gifts. And, he wanted to book me to speak at a fundraising event for a full fee.

Abundance is a byproduct of choosing to live generously. On the flip side, fear always leads to scarcity. If you want more, give more. it’s that simple.

Last week, my speaker friend contacted me with another opportunity.

He said, “Matt, that group enjoyed you so much. I have another opportunity if you’re interested.”

As it turns out, a company had contacted him about facilitating a seminar for their executives, but he had another conflict. This time, the event wasn’t free. It was for a full fee which included travel to their event site in Boston.

That brings me to my third lesson.

3. Always bring your A-game

Nothing should stand in the way of your best effort. For a long time, I looked for the bigger crowd and the better opportunity. In turn, I focused on what I didn’t have instead of what was right in front of me. It wasn’t intentional, but it was a byproduct of failing to be grateful for each opportunity.

I once read a book called How I Raised Myself From Failure to Success in Selling. In it, Frank Bettger tells his story of how he tripled his income simply on enthusiasm. Enthusiasm, he says, is an action. I’d go one step further to say that enthusiasm comes from a deep sense of gratitude. If you cultivate gratitude in your heart, you can’t help but get excited. If you bring energy and excitement, then energy and excitement will compound.

Early on in my speaking career, I allowed the fee or the crowd to dictate the energy that I brought to the event. But what I’ve realized is that if you’re waiting on motivation, then keep on waiting. It’s your actions and your energy that will create a ripple effect.

Learn to be grateful for the little things and bigger things will follow.

In Summary

In my own life, I’ve seen humility, generosity, and gratitude reap a bountiful harvest and I think the same holds true for your life as well. But only if you’re willing to engage them. If you’re not harvesting what you’d hope for, think about what you’re sowing. The harvest always begins with the seeds.

Make sure you’re planting the right ones.

Learn to cultivate humility, generosity, and gratitude in any endeavor and it will serve you well.


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7 Responses to How To Build a Public Speaking Career (Or Win at Life)

  1. Jeff Brown September 6, 2015 at 6:34 pm #

    Enjoyed this post very much Matt. Found it when a friend posted a link on Facebook. This is a topic of great interest to me so I appreciate learning from your experiences.

    • Matt Ham September 7, 2015 at 11:16 am #

      Thanks so much, Jeff. I’m familiar with your work and saw you at a distance at Podcast Movement. Hate we didn’t get a chance to connect. Soon!

      Thanks for stopping by.

  2. Parker Waldrop September 6, 2015 at 7:33 pm #

    Love this! I haven’t had the opportunity yet but can’t wait to begin my speaking career. Thank you Matt!

    • Matt Ham September 7, 2015 at 11:15 am #

      The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step!

  3. Amanda Snodgrass September 14, 2015 at 7:04 am #

    I was just reading something similar by Jeff Goins. I’m not surprised by point #2 being brought up in so many different places. Generosity wins every time.

    • Matt Ham September 14, 2015 at 7:32 am #

      Hey Amanda – it certainly is a universal principle. Jeff was generous to share his platform with me last year in a guest post that really helped me gain confidence and growth.

  4. Bob Speakman June 1, 2016 at 3:03 pm #

    #1 is hard when your insecure about your own abilities. How do you you surround yourself with people better than you and not feel worse about yourself?