How I knew I wanted to become (and how I became) a public speaker
Category : Starting-out
How do you know if you want to be a public speaker? And how do you become one when you do want to? Everyone has his or her own reasons for wanting to be on stage. If you are like me, there is a deeper reason.
I often get asked how I got to be a speaker. I have to admit, there have always been signs that I wanted to become one. And in the end, they came together. Here’s my story.
The first signs
It was the year 1987. The year my dad turned 50. I was 15 at the time. I remember my dad had organised a party at our house. In my memory, it was in honour of his 50th birthday. He (well, my mom even more than him) organised it in our living room.
The place was crowded. In my memory, it must have been a room filled with at least a hundred people. Though it could have been fifty as well. Memories can be misleading. In any case, it was a full house.
What happens at events like this, is that several different people ‘do speeches’. They praise the person, in this case, my dad, who celebrates. I had decided that this time, I would do a speech as well.
My dad is a natural speaker. He’s also the eldest son in a family of five kids. This means that every time there was a family event, my dad would get up and do a speech. It seemed easy for him. He seemed to enjoy it.
It’s not strange, some would say. My dad was a teacher. He was used to speaking in front of a group of people. And when he became headmaster, the groups weren’t only students in a classroom, but big groups as well.
But he couldn’t only speak well because he was a teacher. It was in his genes. He could speak anywhere.
Turns out, it was in my genes as well. I was lucky. It’s not a given that qualities like that go from one generation to another. Besides that, you have to find out you have those genes. And you have to experience it to know if it’s something you want to do.
The first time I experienced that was on my dad’s 50th birthday. I did a speech. It was one of my first talks ever.
To be honest, I have no idea whether I did a good job. I remember I got some laughs. I remember my parents looked proud. But if I delivered a good speech? I don’t know.
What I do know, is that it was a buzz. A big buzz. The adrenaline pumped through my body. In a good way. The adrenaline wasn’t from fear or anxiety. I loved every second of it. That feeling, the feeling of excitement, I will never forget. And it never left. I can still ‘feel’ that moment. And a bit of that excitement, I still feel when I get on stage.
Fast forward to the late 90s. I hadn’t done much with speaking in public until then. Not intentional. It had never ‘happened’. I wasn’t that ambitious about these things during college. Even though I could have if I wanted to, I never signed up for things that required public speaking. Thus it never happened.
In the late 90s, the opportunities were there again. And so was the excitement. In my first job, I was working at a market research company. We had done research for the Dutch National Football (Soccer) League. We had to present the results of that research to each football team independent.
I was a junior employee at the time. Most of the time, I ‘tagged along’, where my colleagues were presenting the results. I was helping them set up.
I do still remember that every time I saw one of my colleagues speak, I felt I could do that as well. In secret, I hoped they would say “you do it”.
Only on a few occasions, I had the opportunity to present a few small things. Again, how I did? I don’t know. But I do remember the excitement. That feeling of having a group of people talk to me.
Let’s forward again to a few years later. I had switched jobs and worked at an Internet Startup. This was the early days of the web. We weren’t building exciting apps, AI implementations or something crazy. We were building websites. To be honest, at the time, that was what was revolutionary. As a business, you ‘had to be on the web’. We were making sure businesses got that website, even if it was nothing more than a ‘digital folder’.
My role was in project management and account management. I was the connection between clients and our development team.
It was a young and fast-growing company. We were young. All in our twenties. Which meant most of the stuff we did, we did for the first time in our careers. It was an exciting time. We were pioneering. Not only on the web but as a business as well. We were finding out what worked and what didn’t.
We did a great job. I know we made mistakes. I certainly did. But I also know we made it work, in whatever way possible.
The company I worked at had about 4 or 5 employees when I joined the team. In the years I worked there, the business grew to around 30 employees. This brought new challenges. To handle the challenges, we got help from outside. A group of us, management and project managers, decided to do a training course. The course was in project management, account management and growth.
We hired an expert we knew to come to us and organise a few workshops. In the first workshop, he asked us to present ourselves. Each of us had to do a five-minute talk about ourselves. We all did our five-minute talks. Each in our own ways.
There were people who in a chronological way, explained how they got to the role they were in. And there were those only describing their own roles. Again, I can’t remember how I did. But I do remember two things. I remember I did something ‘different’. It wasn’t a chronological timeline. It wasn’t a description. It was a story. I did it in a different way. Without anyone asking me to do so.
The second thing I remember was, again, the excitement. I was in front of a group again. And I loved it. I loved talking to the group.
It’s the feeling
In all three occasions, there was excitement. The feeling of being able to present to a group of people. To take them on a journey. To tell them a story. That’s what triggered me. That’s what I loved about public speaking back then. And that’s what I love about public speaking now. The excitement.
From feeling to speaking
It wasn’t until almost 7 or 8 years later that I actually got into public speaking though. It hadn’t occurred to me that this was something I could do. Until I became a blogger.
As a blogger, looking for content, I went to events. I got invitations to attend and write about the event. They would give me a free pass to the event, I would write about it. In the ‘early’ days of internet marketing, this was a great exchange. The event gets the coverage and the attention. The blogger gets the content, the attention online (traffic) and the network.
While writing about events, like for example SES London, I found myself sitting in the front row. I would look up to the stage and I would feel some excitement. The excitement was like the excitement I felt in the instances described above.
I knew then, I wanted that excitement. The full experience of it. Sitting in the front row, I felt that I could do what the speakers on stage were doing. Or in some cases even better.
The more I was writing about events, the more I felt I wanted to be on stage as well. I only had to figure out how to get there.
As a blogger, I met tons of new people. Like I said before, there is a mutual benefit for bloggers and the events. The same goes for the speakers and bloggers. Bloggers can help give the speaker more coverage. The other way around, the speaker can help the blogger get attention. Again, think traffic, social media attention, etcetera. And the speaker can help build the network of the blogger.
Having a good network helps for many things. And it definitely helps to become a speaker yourself. In my case, I felt I wanted to do it and I felt I could do it. I wasn’t quite sure how to get there yet, so I needed a final push.
That push came from the network. Those I talked to at events. They started asking me when I would speak about the things I wrote about. In the end, it was one of the organisers who gave the final push. By asking me to get on stage at an event in Amsterdam. He wanted to get local attention and local speakers. And since he knew me, he asked me to speak.
And that was the first time I got on stage for a big audience. And guess what. That same feeling of excitement was there again. I knew this was what I wanted to do.
That excitement never left. It’s what drives me as a speaker. The feeling of helping the group of people in front of you understanding a topic you know a lot about. That is excitement. And that is why I speak.
What about you?
Let me know, what is your reason for public speaking? What’s your trigger? Let me know in the comments!