Cultivate these essential qualities of professional speakers

It takes more than talent to succeed in a life at the lectern. You need drive, self-knowledge, self-discipline and much more.

What does it take to succeed in the competitive world of professional speaking?

It’s more than just talent.

What you need is the ability to work harder than your competition. Those who show toughness and hang in there are the ones who make it.

Recently, though, I was reading about emotional intelligence and reflecting on how important it is for public speakers.

Here are the five personal characteristics, drawn from the research on emotional intelligence, that professional speakers must have to be successful:

The drive to succeed. This drive is what causes you to rehearse your speech and improve your craft relentlessly, to work harder than the competition and to keep going when everyone else has given up. It remains the first and most important characteristic. Without it, you won’t have what it takes to beat the odds.

Self-knowledge. An awareness of your strengths and weaknesses is essential for mastering any skill, and public speaking is no exception. That means being prepared to hear tough criticism and to embrace your critics. It also means knowing what you are good at. I meet many people who are uncomfortable with their excellence, and just as many who are unwilling to face their shortcomings. Self-knowledge means awareness of both.

Self-discipline. Being able to manage your moods, your work and your ups and downs are all essential to surviving and thriving in the difficult life of a professional speaker. I’ve seen speakers lash out at A/V people because stress was high and the A/V person was the nearest human at hand. I’ve also seen speakers handle extremely difficult situations with grace and restraint. Guess which speakers get invited back?

Social graces. Knowing how to deal with a wide variety of people and situations is essential, because professional speakers rarely have the same day twice. The client, the room, and the audience are always changing, and you have to be ready for all sorts of people and settings.

Empathy. You need empathy to relate to your audiences, of course, but also to connect with your clients, the meeting planners and speaker bureaus, and the organizations that you deal with. The variety and speed of interaction is dizzying for professional speakers until they get used to it. If you’re going to succeed, empathy is absolutely key to responding appropriately and sensitively to the huge numbers of people you’ll be dealing with.

Notice that talent is not on this list. If you’re uncertain about your talent, then by all means join a Toastmasters club and start competing. See how far you get and gauge the reactions of your judges. You’ll soon get a sense of how your talent stacks up against others. Then you’ll be ready to begin.

Nick Morgan is a speaking coach and author. A version of this post first appeared on Public Words.

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