Making the Leap from Student to Speaker

Who wouldn't want to be able to freely share important truths and experiences with the world?

You've spent your whole life sitting and listening while people speak to you. By now, you probably have something of your own to say—or you should.

You might be thinking that you're still a decade away from public speaking yourself. But there is no magic public speaker fairy dust: you can go from student to speaker whenever you're ready to find your story, find your courage, and find your audience.

Find Your Story

The world has plenty of professional speakers, so if you want to speak, you'd better have something unique to say. Fortunately, you probably do. And clarifying that “something to say” is the first step in going from student to speaker.

What is one thing that you love most that you have experienced more widely or deeply than most other people? That's a good place to start. In my own short speaking career, I've talked mostly about two things that have been the core of my experience and passion. One of those is my story of skipping college for a Praxis startup apprenticeship. The other is how Bitcoin is changing how payments work (something I'm always learning at my day job).

The world might need someone to speak to the Norwegian style of skiing or the mythology of the Yeti. People might want to hear the lessons you learned as a coffee barista. They might love your insights on the value of building computers at home. The world's demand for new types of knowledge is effectively infinite. Keep refining your knowledge, and you'll eventually find a niche that works for you.

Once you know what you're going to say, you have to build the story. Write about it, or go ahead and build a presentation.

Once you know what you're going to say, you have to build the story. Write about it, or go ahead and build a presentation. I’ve found that if I can articulate an idea on a piece of paper (or, rather, in a text editor), it's far easier to share the idea with other people. This will get you 80 percent of the way to being ready to speak publicly.

One tip a couple of friends have given: Be very clear about the thesis or main points you want your audience to believe or experience because of you. It's a stupid-simple rule but one that will keep you on track as you develop your story.

Find Your Courage

As a young person, you're already dealing with all the anxiety that comes with growing into adulthood. Add to that the anxiety most people feel about public speaking, and you might feel paralyzed about taking your story to the masses

This is where practice—the key ingredient to finding your courage—comes in.

Start off with exposure therapy and communicate wherever you can. Write some social media posts about your interest. Then write some blog posts, or hop on a friend's podcast (you probably have that friend with a podcast).

Start taking small opportunities to speak in front of others. I gained a lot of value from giving the weekly marketing update at my company's All Hands meeting. Every week for a minute or two, I had a chance to build my skill and confidence.

This may look different for you. Maybe you should present your ideas to your superiors at work (if the ideas are good) or to your professors and classmates. Join clubs that have opportunities or roles that involve regular (if brief) public addresses. Even by articulating yourself well in difficult conversations you can build public-speaking muscle.

As you absorb more and more experience on stages of all sizes, you'll become more ready to speak and less afraid of the challenges of public speaking.

As you absorb more and more experience on stages of all sizes, you'll become more ready to speak and less afraid of the challenges of public speaking.

And if fear ever threatens to stop you, remember that most of the people out in the audience would never have the guts to do what you're doing when you give a talk.

Find Your Audience

Sometimes, if you have the right story and live it with the right courage, you'll have a built-in audience.

For me, finding opportunities to speak to folks pursuing alternative education and Bitcoin came easy. My job has given me plenty of opportunities to talk about Bitcoin. And having done a startup apprenticeship myself, I've had some great opportunities to share my Praxis story with hackathon participants and homeschoolers. Leverage speaking opportunities from the groups that have invested in you, like your church or school or company.

Don't have those connections? No problem. You can build them.

You will often find an audience for speaking from other forms of content you create. Write about what you want to speak about. Start a podcast. Make videos for YouTube. As you build a body of work, you will draw interest and establish yourself as an authority.

Aim around your level: If you're a college student just starting out, why not reach out to your old school clubs about giving a talk?

If you decide to pitch yourself, you don't have to go straight to TED. Most of my speaking opportunities have come from local meetups and student groups. Aim around your level: If you're a college student just starting out, why not reach out to your old school clubs about giving a talk? You can even do quality remote presentations these days via Skype, Zoom, and Google Hangouts.

Finally, as you hunt for your audience, remember that trustworthiness and likeability are just as important as skill. Don't underestimate how good work and good service contribute to a speaking invitation (or an invitation back).

Are You Ready?

This is by no means a comprehensive guide to getting that speaking spot you want. But if you can find your story, some courage, and an audience, you will have what it takes for the first steps.

Who wouldn't want to be able to freely share important truths and experiences with the world?

Who wouldn't want to be able to freely share important truths and experiences with the world? To go from student to speaker is to go from a passive child to an active adult in the world's big conversations. Enjoy it!

Want more ideas and conversations around entrepreneurship, innovation, and living freely? FEE’s annual FEECon conference brings hundreds of ambitious young thinkers together with entrepreneurs, philanthropists, artists, and intellectuals for a three-day fusion of new ideas, new friendships, and new endeavors.

LEARN MORE ABOUT FEECON 2019

Further Reading

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