Happiness is work and play and not knowing the difference, and it all takes place on a little patch of real estate behind a microphone, speaking to a bunch of people thinking about whats for lunch.
Yes, Im a professional speaker and its the greatest job in the world. Well OK I am biased but how many jobs out there do you get paid thousands of rands an hour to tell people what youre most passionate about? As a conference speaker you get inside some of the top companies in the country, see how they work, discover their secrets of success and share your own.
But what exactly do we do? Well, a speaker is someone who can speak for hours without a note, or for that matter without a point. When all is said and done were not, we see free speech not so much as a right but more as a continual obligation. OK, OK, enough of the speaker gags, although there is a point here. Most speakers will use large doses of humor and entertaining stories. Yes, companies want solid take home-value but they want it packaged as entertainment. When youve been sitting in a conference room listening to one presentation after the next, the professional speaker needs to pump some life into the room. Theres an old speakers adage, Should you use humor in your presentation? Only if you want to get paid.
You might want to question my opening premise that this is the greatest job in the world given that studies show that most people rank public speaking as a greater fear than death. Take that in. God comes out of the heavens and says: You can die or you can speak. Most people will say: Thanks, Ill die. Perhaps its to do with the fact that nobody yawns, heckles or gives a zero rating to the dead.
When youre up there the pressure is on to perform and not everyone is moist with anticipation for what youre about to tell them. Remember this is not like the theatre where people pay to be there, these are people whos boss has paid for them to be there. Some of them would prefer being out on the golf course or in the casino or upstairs in their hotel room nursing a hangover from last nights binge-drinking session. At one financial services conference I spoke at the audience had partied so hard, half of them hadnt gone to sleep. Here my mission was to ensure that they didnt use my presentation to do so. And if you speak at the end of the day, you may well be the only thing separating the audience from the bar. Its a great job but its not for the faint hearted.
Fortunately what Ive found in my twelve years as a professional speaker is that most people are hungry for knowledge, and if you package it well theyll stayed glued to their seats. Whether its 500 Arab salesmen in Dubai, a group of London CEOs or a thousand rural shop keepers in Natal, people want the same things, they want to laugh, they want to be moved and they want a message that is going to improve their lives and businesses. Give that to them and youve got a long, rewarding career ahead of you. To see peoples faces sparkle with new insight or when they come up to you years after a presentation that youve long forgotten and tell you that something you said changed their life, that is a deep, deep privilege.
The other great thing is that companies just dont choose to have conferences in ugly places. Last week in the space of four days I went from a coastal game lodge outside PE to a golf resort in the Magaliesburg mountains to a hotel on Cape Towns Atlantic seaboard. Tough job – apparently to some people worse than death – but someones got to do it.
If you work three times a week thats pretty good going. Of course that doesnt mean were sitting on our butts the rest of the time. There is research, writing that next book, briefing meetings and marketing but if youre passionate about your message in the words of Noel Coward: Work is more fun than fun. They dont call it the privilege of the platform for nothing.
Justin is the author of four books and seven audiobooks. He speaks, trains and writes in the fields of motivation, sales, service and leadership. Justin has presented in 13 different countries, and in virtually every industry, to an average of 8000 people annually. He is a Certified Speaker Professional (CSP).