If you work for a company, and your job entails public speaking, you are paid to speak.

That's right, you are a professional speaker--in the same business as Anthony Robbins, Jack Welch, and Malcolm Gladwell.

Your company is paying you to make something happen when you stand up to address a group, whether that group is internal or external to your business. The company is paying you to be clear, hold attention, and get results--provide value for the business and the audience.

For instance, you might be trying to change the way your employees do research or launch products. Maybe you've been asked to find ways that manufacturing can reduce its carbon footprint. Or maybe you're responsible for bringing in business at large industry gatherings by demonstrating thought leadership on issues facing your industry. When you consider each one of these opportunities, you suddenly find yourself in the cross hairs of the classic issues of public speaking.

What You're Up Against

 The issues from the audience's perspective are:

  1. Do I trust and/or like the speaker?
  2. Does the speaker understand my business, my challenges, my needs?
  3. Has the speaker built a strong case for what she wants me to do?

If you're trying to change the way your company does research or launches its products, your credentials will be questioned. Those people whose jobs will change as a result of your proposal will point out the weaknesses of your plan. If they don't know you personally, their criticism will be that much stronger. In fact, no matter how much evidence you supply to buttress your argument for change, they will oppose you. People are not persuaded to change by reason alone. They need to be "encouraged," which means that they need you to "put courage into them."

If you strive to reduce energy consumption within your company and you are running around giving presentations urging people to make changes, you have a serious challenge on your hands. Again, do they know you and like you? Do they respect your expertise and your knowledge of their business concerns? When you address them, do you use their language? Do you speak to them about what is most important to them? For instance, if manufacturing is wasting energy, but they are hitting their productivity goals, then why should they disrupt their processes to make the changes you suggest?

Speaking to industry groups to demonstrate your thought leadership requires showing off some original thinking without giving away the store. It might even mean being entertaining. After all, people don't remember that much of what you say, but they do remember how you make them feel.

The Secret to Making Your Case Successfully

Enough said. Because your job requires you to speak, you are by definition a professional speaker. And how do you compete as a professional speaker? Like all the other pros--athletes, musicians, actors--you practice!

You rehearse!

And how do you practice? You work on the content, rehearse under performance-like pressure, and most painful of all, ask for feedback. Pain leads to gain if you listen to what you hear and make up your mind to grow.

And here is the definition of professional that my singing teacher gave me. He said, "You're a professional when your worst is adequate and your best is knock-their-socks-off great."