Finding The Right Public Speaker: The Ultimate Guide

by | Feb 7, 2022 | Business Growth

Public speaker

In this article, we will look at what a public speaker is and help you define the type of speaker you want for your next event.

In the article we will explore:

  • What is a public speaker?
  • Is a public speaker the same as a professional speaker?
  • What are the skills of a public speaker and who engages them?
  • How do the skills of a public speaker compare to a professional speaker?
  • How does the performance of a public speaker compare to a professional speaker?
  • How can a public speaker transition to a professional speaking career?

Let’s start by defining what a public speaker is…

What is a public speaker?

According to Merriam-Webster, public speaking is the act of making speeches in public.

Meanwhile, Pen & Pad suggest there are just 4 types of public speaking:

  • Ceremonial Speaking – weddings, funerals, retirement, tributes & celebrations
  • Demonstrative Speaking – show and tell presentations demonstrating ‘how to…’ or a process. This kind of speaking leave the audience with more knowledge on how something works or how to achieve something
  • Informative Speaking – speeches that explain a concept about an object, event, process or concept. You may find this kind of speech at an industry conference
  • Persuasive Speaking –presentations that give information and include a conclusion that convince the public of a desired viewpoint or action at the end. This could be a sales or investor pitch or political speech.

Whilst these definitions are nice, and give you a sense of what a public speaker is, we don’t feel this definition goes deep enough…

Defining a public speaker more deeply…

The definition of a public speaker is simple enough: it’s someone who speaks in public. By this definition, almost anyone could call themselves a public speaker. That said, you would expect a serious public speaker to, at the very least, train with a professional body or a coach, to become a more confident and competent public speaker or presenter.

Speakers that take this path a likely to be a managing director, CEO, entrepreneur or a member of the senior leadership team. They could also be lecturers, teachers or a religious leader. These people all speak in public, giving presentations, lessons and sermons. Equally, someone who gives a speech at an event or a wedding might consider themselves to be public speakers.

By this definition, a corporate event manager looking for a speaker for an event, would not need to look outside their organisation for a public speaker, because they already have public speakers in their organisation.

But is a public speaker the same as a professional speaker?

Is a public speaker the same as a professional speaker?

In a word… No. A public speaker is someone who may be considered an amateur in the speaking circle.

Often a public speaker will speak in public because a role they are playing requires them to do so. For example, a job. Meanwhile, a professional speaker earns an income from speaking. This could be the speaker’s sole income or an additional income.

A public speaker may give a presentation that has been asked for, perhaps researching the topic a few weeks before the event. Whereas a professional speaker will be an expert in a subject matter, often having researched for many years. They may also have built a philosophy or methodology and may even have written one or more books on the topic. They will also likely be known within their niche, and speak nationally and internationally. A professional speaker will also likely be managed or have a speaker agency representing them.

As you can see, public speaking is very different from professional speaking. Knowing the difference enables you to decide which level of speaker you most want for your forthcoming event.

Let’s look at the skills of a public speaker and where to deploy those skills…

What skills do public speakers have?

Good public speakers have the ability to engage and entertain an audience. They usually speak to small or intimate groups where their high-level, interpersonal communication skills shine. An example of this is a politician giving a brief to the media. In this case, the politician would give a statement, then use their interpersonal skills to take questions from a small gather of say 30 journalists.

Public speakers are generally also good at assessing their audience and knowing how to pitch an idea. They tend to be good judges when it comes to knowing if they should lead with a bit of humour, or just go straight in with facts. They are also able to present information in a logical manner that helps their audience digest it.

Employers value public speaking skills in their training, sales and marketing departments. It’s also a preferred skill for and senior leaders who are in roles such as Operations, HR and Finance. This helps them pitch ideas and proposals and lead meetings and the development of their teams.

When you gain a reputation for being a good public speaker among your peers, you will likely get invitations to speak outside the company. This could be at a networking event, industry conference, wedding, club, society, or other. This in itself can lead to requests to speak elsewhere.

But how does being a public speaker compare to a professional speaker and when would you book one or the other to speak for you?

How do the skills of a public speaker compare to a professional speaker?

Whereas a public speaker might be happy to wait for an invitation to speak, a professional speaker is proactively looking for ways that get them booked. This is why they research, write books, develop methodologies and find a manager or agent to represent them and get them on the circuit.

While a public speaker might also be inclined to join a local association to develop their skills, a professional speaker will widen the net, finding national and international experts to train under in a variety of speaking disciplines that enhance their skills. These include developing:

  • Presentation styles
  • Keynote topics
  • Story-telling
  • Assets that showcase their expertise (a showreel, 1-sheet etc.)
  • Voice projection and resonance
  • Body language
  • Charisma
  • Being present
  • Interaction with bigger audiences

What you will notice about professional speakers is that they are hungry to learn and develop. They recognise that they are the product and the better they get at honing that product and their art, the more in demand they will become.

From the point of view of an event manager looking to book a speaker, you will want to choose a professional speaker because they are likely to be more polished than a public speaker. While a public speaker is a good speaker, a professional speaker would feel like you are in very safe hands. A professional speaker should feel more controlled and capable than a public speaker and they will likely ask deeper questions about your audience and the topic at briefings prior to your event.

Also, while a public speaker might speak without a fee, a professional speaker will charge for their services. Professional speaker’s fees vary. You can get greater insights about the levels, ability and fees of speakers by looking at our article The Ultimate Guide To Finding The Right Keynote Speaker.

How does the performance of a public speaker compare to a professional speaker?

You would expect a public speaker to conduct research before a presentation. While they may have some knowledge on the topic you ask them to speak on it’s reasonable to expect that they won’t be an expert on the subject. This is because they tend to speak for the love of speaking and communicating, rather than on a specific topic.

It’s also fair to expect that a speaker will likely research and think deeply about the topic with an emphasis on making sure the information is factually accurate. As they focus on the subject, they will often not a great deal of consideration to their audience.

A professional speaker doesn’t need to think too deeply about the topic, because they are subject matter experts with years of experience, knowledge and expertise behind them. What this means is that they can put almost all their energy into their performance. This means that a professional speaker thinks more deeply about the audience and what they need to provide them with in order to help them get the most out of the presentation.

As you can imagine, the difference between a public speaker and a professional speaker at this point is huge because the public speaker is focussed entirely on the topic and the professional is so relaxed about the topic the professional can focus on how the audience is receiving the topic, and if they feel the need to change the presentation mid-flow to help the audience understand the topic at a deeper level, they can, because they’ve got the subject matter expertise to do that.

In this sense, while a public speaker might get nervous about the whole presentation, a professional speaker will only experience nervous excitement. Put yourself in the body of an audience member for a moment and imagine the difference in your experience with both speakers. They are quite different and this is the energy your audience will feel when they watch this speaker on stage.

Who should open your next company AGM or conference?

Think of the CEO or MD, who is opening the annual conference. They speak just a few times a year. They were up the night before, nervous about the topic and anxious that what they say will be well received. They walk out on stage and although they do a good job and hide their nerves and anxiety well, the opening of the event lacks something.

Contrast this to inviting a professional speaker, who has presented most days of the week for many years, who knows their topic inside out and is enthusiastic to share their message with another audience. It’s a different experience for the audience. In the second example, the audience is now warmed up, relaxed and receptive.

How can a public speaker transition to a professional speaking career?

A good speaker can become a professional speaker. In order to do that they will want to continually work on their speaking product, working on presentation styles, keynote topics, story-telling, Assets that showcase their expertise (a showreel, 1-sheet etc.), voice projection and resonance, body language, charisma, being present and interaction with bigger audiences. At some point, a speaker may also be interested in representation by an agent. If you want to find out more about how to become a professional speaker.

In conclusion…

A public speaker, is someone who speaks in public, ideally with good communication skills. You could become a public speaker for a work presentation or a wedding. For this reason, almost anyone can be a public speaker. By contrast, a professional speaker earns a living from speaking. They tend to develop their speaking product, so they are accomplished speakers. They also research a topic deeply for many years and produce books or studies on their topic.

You would likely need a public speaker for a ceremony, to demonstrate a product, service or process, to inform and explain a concept or provide a persuasive argument or make a pitch.

You would book a professional speaker to wow an audience. You would book them to open or close your event and provide expertise, information and stories that relate to the audience.

While a public speaker might get nervous and would likely use their preparation time to research a topic, a professional speaker knows their topic and invests their preparation time on giving the audience the best experience they can with the topic.

Stellar speakers are a unique speaker agency representing change-making keynote speakers. We provide expertise to help you manage your budgetary expectations and provide realistic options. We provide a preferred partner’s service base, so that partner clients get everything they need, lowering your risk as a booker of speakers, so you can make your choice about your next speaker with confidence.

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If your next conference is around the corner it’s time to book a consultation with Stellar Speakers.

Let us help you find the right keynote speaker to deliver timely messages, fresh themes and introduce the latest methodology and thinking.

Because our speakers are thought-leaders, industry expert and change-agents we help bring out the best in your organisation. Our passion is developing your people.

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