Public vs. Professional Speaker

I am often asked how one can become a public speaker.

Frankly, anyone can be a “public” speaker – the guy on the soapbox yelling about the end of time on any given street corner is a “public” speaker – he’s in public, and he’s speaking his mind. When you are at a meeting of any sort and you say something to the group, you are a public speaker. Every teacher, store clerk, librarian, and auto mechanic is a public speaker, too. The only thing that these people have over someone who remains silent is confidence.

What do these people and someone who gets paid to deliver keynotes to large audiences have in common? Both have passion, both have messages, both have the confidence to speak in front of others.

So, what does a professional speaker have that all others don’t?

The two main differences between a public speaker and a successful professional speaker are discipline and engagement. (Well, and a professional speaker actually gets paid…)


The discipline comes in the writing, honing, editing, rewriting, practicing, rewriting, and continued practicing of your presentations. Yes, you may have some natural ability, but you must put in the time, energy, and study to become truly worthy of large audiences. Just as a surgeon or a plumber must put in years of study before he can work his trade, so must you take the time to develop and hone your craft. Of course this includes vocal variety, body language, knowledge of your topic, and all the other basic presentation skills.

How much should you practice? As much as it takes. The rule of thumb is a minimum of one hour of practice for each minute of your presentation. That does not include the research and writing of what you are practicing. That’s a whole lot of discipline!


Engagement is the ability to identify with your audience and draw them in. A good professional speaker (and one that gets more bookings) is one that speaks to each member of the audience, rather than speaking to the audience as if it were a mass. This takes more than just eye contact and charisma, although these are very large factors. It goes just a little beyond storytelling and humor, although these are essential. It boils down to what the speaker is speaking for. Is it for accolades, money, and attention – or is it for the members of the audience?

A good professional speaker knows that the whole reason she does what she does is those people in the audience. She never loses sight of the fact that she is speaking to and for individual human beings.

Yes, anyone can screw in a light bulb, but it takes years of dedication to become an electrician. Similarly, anyone can speak in public but very few will be successful as professional speakers. It takes a lot of passion, research, dedication, practice, and the ability to truly engage with the members of the audience.


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