I remember the first standing ovation I ever received. I was in high school, on the speech team and won first place in the storytelling competition. I'll never forget the rush of watching people rise to their feet to honor my time on stage.
If you've ever considered becoming a professional speaker, you've likely visualized that very moment. Delivering a message so powerful, people feel compelled to stand in gratitude. Unfortunately, while standing ovations and extended applause are certainly good for the ego, they are not necessarily a measure for whether or not your skill on stage or the message you deliver is good enough to quit your day job.
There is a more reliable, less subjective ways to determine if a career in public speaking is in your future.
Measure success in opportunities, not accolades.
The first paid presentation I gave was, sadly, not very good. My information wasn't well organized, I didn't have any visual aids to help frame my content and I failed miserably during the question and answer portion of the talk. However, when I finished, people applauded and came up to me afterwards to discuss my message. I went home a little confused; I knew I didn't do as well as I could, but people were so nice afterward, maybe I wasn't as bad as I thought...
Shortly after, I gave another presentation of the same content in a different city. This time I had more research to back my claims and a PowerPoint presentation to help keep me on track. Again, the audience responded positively when I finished. Still, I wasn't sure if the whole "professional speaker" thing was going to work out for me.
Then, a few weeks later, I presented the information again. The audience applauded just as they had the two presentations before however, something very different happened in the days following...
I received emails from three different people who had been in the audience asking about my availability for speaking at their upcoming events.
That is when I knew I could really be onto something.
Your goal should be spin, not standing ovations.
In the speaking industry, there is a term for this phenomenon: spin. Spin is when someone in the audience of your presentation, likes what they hear, and asks you to come speak at a different event.
For example, in the story above, I was speaking for a local chapter of an association. The people attending the event were executives of various businesses in that city. Those who approached me afterward each worked for companies that hosted events and who needed speakers. That one event led to three more. And each of those three, led to others. And so a career began.
I recently heard a fellow speaker say he gets speaking requests he can trace back to one epic presentation ten years earlier. That is the power of spin.
The more you speak, the more you speak.
This concept of spin and measuring your success by opportunities not accolades is particularly important if you are just getting your speaking business off the ground. One of the biggest challenges to getting a speaking business started is figuring out what to charge and when to work for free (or, as I once did, for payment of one chicken taco).
Once I knew I could get spin work after speaking, but before it was clear whether or not speaking for "exposure" was worth it, the mantra in our home was: "The more I speak, the more I speak." I worked on my message until I was confident that every time I walked on stage, someone would likely hire me once I walked off stage. Eventually, speaking for "exposure" turned into speaking for a "fee" which turned into speaking for a "career."
Applause are fleeting. Focus on creating an experience others will see and want to hire you to create again.
I'll never forget my first standing ovation and I'll always remember the standing ovations I've received since. However, once the applause fade and the ballrooms empty, I always measure true success by whether or not someone found enough value to hire me for another event and grant me the great honor of walking on another stage.