Speakers are commonly asked, “What’s your topic?” or “What’s your message?” Such questions may sound intuitively reasonable but they lead would-be speakers astray before the first word is written. Questions about “your topic” or “your message” imply that your speech is about you.
The purpose of a speech is to transform an audience.
How do you want people to think, feel, or act differently after they’ve been exposed to your message? A more appropriate question is, “What outcomes do you produce as a speaker?” The focus shifts from whatever you have the ability to spout off about to how you place your spoutings in the service of your audience.
If you’ve climbed Mount Everest or run a marathon or sailed around the world, you have exciting stories to tell. If you’re a good storyteller, you’ll keep your audiences spellbound. But if the goal of a speech is to transform the audience, your journey must be presented as a metaphor for their journey. I tell sailing stories when I speak—but they’re about the storms and reefs my listeners must navigate on the seas of business. I tell my stories about you.
Speaking is a service industry. Focus on how you can provide value to your audience, and use this emphasis as a framework for quantifying your value so you can get booked. Why are some presenters paid big money to speak? Because they’re able to explain how the organizations that hire them will make or save more money than their speaking fee. If your content reduces stress, enhances communication, improves employee retention, makes leaders more effective, builds rapport with customers, or creates a safer work environment, your impact on the bottom line is measurable. The decision to hire you is rooted in expedience. Be a wise business investment, not an expensive entertainer.
Just as best-selling authors and musicians are not necessarily those artists who are the most virtuosic, many well-paid speakers are no better than “pretty good” on the platform. What they do provide is return on investment—outcomes—transformation—and their ability to do deliver that in a short keynote or workshop makes them a marketable commodity (not that you should aspire to anything less than excellence).
By contrast, many speakers with powerful and engaging inspirational or motivational messages wonder why it’s difficult to get hired. A good show and a powerful message may make the audience feel great on Saturday night, but without action steps to implement on Monday morning, a memorable thought model, and clear goals to shoot for, the buzz fades. Next year’s speaker will be asked to deliver content that looks good on a spreadsheet.
Begin every speech by defining the transformation. It often helps to write the ending first so previous parts of the speech can be crafted to shepherd the audience toward the ideas, insights, tactics, strategies, techniques, and perspectives that give your speech value.
Speaking is a service industry. Focus on outcomes, and make measurable transformation—not speaking—your primary product.