Here they are, then: the Seven Habits of Highly Unsuccessful Speakers.
1. Do it on the cheap
Getting to success as a public speaker requires investment. There’s a lot of competition for that coveted keynote speaking slot – the one that pays $40 grand. You need to write and publish a book, preferably a New York Times bestseller. You need to develop and practice a killer speech. And you need all the bells and whistles of an active online community, from the website and blog to the social media that starts, continues, and adds to the ongoing conversation in your area of expertise.
So if you want to fail, do all that as cheaply as possible. Get your brother-in-law – the 12-year-old – to do your website. Practice your speech in front of your dog. And rely on your two dozen Facebook friends to spread the word about you and your ideas. That will almost certainly fail.
2. Hang out with wannabes
The smart folks on the way up partner with, and get mentored by, speakers who have already made it. That way they learn the ropes and avoid the most egregious mistakes. So if you want to fail, just hang out with your high school crowd, the ones who never left town. The ones who talk a lot and never do. They’ll ensure your ongoing failure.
3. Plan – don’t do – the work
Succeeding involves actually getting on stage, risking your dignity, failing, taking the criticism, and getting better. If you don’t try it, you’ll never learn. So failing means always scheduling the work somewhere in the future. Today, you can buy that teleprompter app. Sometime in the future – way in the future – you can think about maybe using it.
4. Avoid marketing; embrace destiny
There is a persistent feeling – it might even be an urban myth – amongst the unknowns that if you’re good enough, the world will embrace you without you having to do anything to put yourself forward. If only it were true. But it’s not. There are, of course, the exceptions – the accidental Internet sensations that go on to 7-figure speaking careers by sheer luck. So why not just wait for that luck, avoid the marketing and the other work that it actually takes, and expect the world to notice you by virtue of your inherent virtue?
Destiny comes to the pure of heart, right? So if you are pure of heart, you can just wait for Steven Spielberg to show up at your café, take one look at you, and make you a star. The rest of us need to get started on our own. We believe that destiny comes to those who embrace the path of achievement without waiting for the cosmic sign. But if you want to fail, rely on destiny.
5. Listen to everybody
Advice is cheap, so one way to save money on the way up is to ask everybody for it. Go ahead, ask your mother, your cousins, the guy in the next cubicle, your pastor, everyone you’ve ever met who’s ever given a wedding toast — ask them all for advice on how you can improve.
I see people getting this kind of cheap advice all the time, and then zig-zagging in their speech design or delivery, or their marketing, or their ideas, or their community relationships based on that advice. And nothing ever quite succeeds with the zig-zag approach, because it takes consistent, focused effort over a long period of time to make it. What a surprise. All those people mean well, so what could possibly go wrong? Ask everyone! Your hairdresser can plan your social media marketing while you’re getting your highlights done. Why not?
6. Go wide, not narrow
It’s hard to say “no” to offers of work, especially early on when you’re trying to get established. So it’s a natural impulse to say “yes!” first, hang up the phone, and then look at the wall and say to yourself, “how the heck am I going to do that?”
That tendency, odd as it may sound, to spread yourself thin by taking everything on, actually slows down your progress on the road to success. It takes courage, focus, and clarity to realize what you’re actually best at, not all the things that you can do well enough to get by. And once you know, to say “no” to everything except what you’re best at is even harder.
So if you want to fail, say “yes” to everything.
7. Avoid planning to deadline
Yes, planning can be a trap. But so can its opposite – a lack of discipline. People who are only half-committed to succeeding as a professional speaker find all sorts of ways to avoid taking the plunge, getting the book proposal done, launching the website, and so on. You need sustained activity over a long period of time to make a go of it, because it simply takes time and energy to get the world to notice you. The world has so many other demands on its attention that it waits until it’s sure that you’re for real to start to take you up on your offer of transformational insight. Thinking of professional speaking as a hobby or part time work is a great way never to succeed at it.