From page to stage – your signature talk

There’s lots of reasons to write a book, but one I hear again and again is ‘to get speaking gigs’.

There’s no doubt that a book makes you more interesting to anyone who needs to book a speaker: it’s proof that you’ve developed your thinking and have something to say. Even the fact that you’re writing a book makes you more attractive as a speaker, so don’t wait until it’s published to pitch yourself.

But think about how your book and your talk fit together as you write to make the most of these opportunities at every stage.

You could start by crafting a talk from the key argument of your book as you work through the ‘Get Clear’ stage: try it out in a small, friendly group first and see how it feels to articulate it. Does the argument flow? Do the stories you’re telling engage the audience? Is the terminology you’re using clear?

Once you’re clear on the overall structure and you’re into the hard graft of writing, you can repeat the process for particular chapters or topics, zooming in to do a deep dive of a particular area, using the process of crafting and delivering the talk to untangle any knots in your thinking.

You might want to consider how each part or chapter of the book could translate into a talk in its own right, as this gives you a broader reach and allows you to speak more than once for any particular organization.

These are a great way not  only to help develop your thinking and the book, they’ll also give you practice at speaking and provide the opportunity for endorsements and video footage, both of which will come in handy later.

Because as the book nears completion and launch, it’s time for something more substantial: this is the moment to develop – if you haven’t already – your signature talk.

A signature talk changes the game. Any number of people could give a talk on your topic of expertise: only you can give you signature talk (hence ‘signature’, it’s as personal to you and identifies you as clearly as the scrawl on the back of your bank card).

The tone and structure of your signature talk will depend on your audience, but keep these principles in mind:

1.     ensure the talk is pitched at exactly the same audience as your book and your business. You want each to reinforce the other, not pull in different directions.

2.     make your distinctive intellectual property the centrepiece of both book and talk: this is your key contribution to the conversation, and you need to own it and showcase it at every opportunity.

3.     make it a performance. Rehearse it until it’s flawless: every gesture, joke, pause. Don’t even THINK about using notes. A signature talk is a performance, not a presentation. Having said that, customise around the edges: add a topical or local joke to your introduction, highlight why what you’re saying is relevant to this particular audience, pick a story that’s particularly relevant to them to illustrate a point and so on. Guy Kawasaki says: ‘You need to give a speech at least twenty times in order to get good at it. You can give it nineteen times to your dog if you like, but it takes practice and repetition.’*

4.     sell your ideas, not your stuff. You might see a talk as a vehicle for book sales from the back of the room or a way of getting people signed up to your next programme, but that’s not where your audience is coming from. Try and sell to them and you’ll lose them, focus on delighting them, and let the organiser do the selling for you (but make sure they’re briefed to do so in advance!).

5.     be you. It’s your signature, after all. Let down your guard, tell personal stories, let them feel by the end as though they really know and like you, which makes them much more likely to trust you. I heard entrepreneur Michelle Mone deliver her signature talk once and she began by confessing that every time she speaks she throws up with nerves just beforehand: she had the audience on her side from that point on.

Once you have nailed your keynote, you can stop offering to talk on any subject anyone’s prepared to give you. Just like your book, your keynote carves out a particular space for you at the forefront of the ongoing debate in your area (and that will almost certainly change in future, as that debate and your own thinking evolve, so don’t get too comfortable there), and that changes everything.

* in The Art of the Start 2.0 (