I am a professional speaker, and while I don’t speak about speaking, I do often get asked for input on how people can get into speaking, become better speakers, grow their speaking business, and so on. And I like to be able to be helpful when I can.
So at one of the recent opportunities to speak to a group of speakers, I was asked to talk about speaking strategy and how to really hone in on your topic.
By way of an answer, I put together the following model, and I’m sharing it with you. Maybe you’re working in a field where you occasionally get invited to give presentations at conferences. Maybe you are already a speaker but you want more clarity about what your topic area should be. Even seasoned speakers will benefit from this exercise every so often — perhaps make it part of your annual review, and it will keep you directed toward your own true north star.
How to Draw the Model
Start by taking a full-sized sheet of paper and drawing three circles that overlap a bit, like so:
Next label those circles as follows: “What is your unique experience, your credibility?” “What do people pay to learn?” “What are you endlessly curious and passionate about?”
Pause here and take some time to fill in a few answers to the three questions.
“What is your unique experience, your credibility?”
For this, think about what gives you authority in your subject. Do you have a unique accomplishment? Were you Team Captain of the first American Women’s Everest Expedition like my friend Alison Levine? Were you the first female F-14 Tomcat pilot in the U.S. Navy like my friend Carey Lohrenz?
Or is your story more personal? Are you a cancer survivor with a unique observation about your journey? An early childhood educator with a unique perspective?
Dig deep and capture some of those characteristics here.
“What do people pay to learn?”
Now think about what you can speak about that people will shell out money — their own or their employer’s money — to learn. Companies will always pay good money to teach their employees better sales and leadership skills, and many invest heavily in other professional and personal development topics. Every business discipline has industry events full of paid conferences. Individuals are often drawn to skills that can increase their marketability and value as employees, or skills that help them become more independently successful.
Of course people often pay to hear about and learn about squishier topics too that they hope will make their lives better, like improving their interpersonal communication, strengthening their relationships, finding their purpose, and so on.
Think about the topic areas adjacent to your expertise where you know people are willing to pay to learn, and list a few of those.
“What are you endlessly curious and passionate about?”
To me, this one is the kicker. If you only thought about what you’ve already done and what you already know, you’d have nothing pulling you forward and keeping you current. But think about the subjects that fascinate you, that you maybe collect articles about, that you always stay up to speed on, that you could talk for hours about at a cocktail party if you found someone equally as interested in the subject.
Ask yourself what you wish you knew more about than anyone else in the world.
Go ahead and write one or a few things in that circle.
Your X Factor
Now that you have your three circles and you’ve labeled them and filled in some answers for each one, take a look at the section where all the three circles overlap: this is your X factor. Think about what gives you credibility AND what people pay to learn AND what you are passionate about knowing.
Try to articulate this X Factor in a few words or a short phrase. If you can capture it just right, your X Factor should reveal something about your unique selling point in the marketplace. Not bad for a few circles, huh?
Bonus: The Overlaps
What I find so interesting about this exercise is that you also get meaningful insights from the overlapping areas.
Your Unique Experience and Credibility + What People Pay to Learn = Event Themes
When you think about the overlap of your credibility and what people pay to learn, that should lead you to some ideas about the themes of events you may want to search for to find speaking opportunities.
What People Pay to Learn + What You’re Curious and Passionate About = Media Hooks
When you look at what people are willing to pay to learn and what you’re passionate about, you have a great formula for satisfying media outlets with up-to-the-minute hot takes that people care about.
Your Unique Experience and Credibility + What You’re Curious and Passionate About = Content Ideas
And when you look at the overlap of what you have credibility in and what you’re curious about, you should have a rich source of ideas for content that you can create as a thought leader.
The Grand Slam: Add Your Purpose Statement
Of course in all areas of my work and my life, my mindset is that purpose plays a big role in strategy. So I added the question: “What is your driving purpose for what you do?” Theoretically you should begin with this question, but I think it can be as clarifying after you’ve taken inventory of your experience and credibility and all the rest of it, too. It can help you go back through your answers and refine them, bringing them all into alignment.
So that’s the model. When I presented it to the last group of up-and-coming speakers at a weekend-long speaking bootcamp, one woman came up to me the following morning and said with a smirk, “It’s all your fault I had to throw away everything I had and start all over again.” But I heard her talk the day before the exercise and the day after, and the clarity she had after working through the exercise was inspiring. When you want to communicate powerful ideas, clarity is a gift.
Speaking of Gifts: Have a Free Download of the Full Model
To make this as easy as possible for you and save you some drawing and labeling, I’ve put together a worksheet you can simply download and get going on. There’s no email signup, no obligation to buy anything from me, no program I want to upsell you into. If you find value in it, please share it with other speakers. The best way to thank me for sharing it is to use it to make a great speech that helps make the world a better place.
Here’s to the clarity of your X Factor,