“How do I break through and become a sought-after speaker in my industry?” This is a question I get asked far more than any other. I speak to people all the time who know that they could make a huge difference in the world if they could just get their message across to more people, but they’re just not sure where to start.

I’ve had the tremendous honor of working with clients across a whole spectrum of backgrounds who know speaking publically will get them to the next level, as well as seasoned speakers looking for the best platform, and I’m sharing everything I have to offer with you today.

Tune in this week to discover how to identify the stories you have that will enrich the lives of others. Some people have an incredible story that goes viral and that makes them immediately sought-after, however, for the rest of us, we need to cultivate an engaging story, and I’ve got a systematic way for you to do just that.

What You’ll Learn from this Episode:

  • What makes for a really inspiring story.
  • The 3 steppingstones on the path to thought leadership.
  • Why speaking is the best method for sharing and spreading your story.
  • How to identify which stages will give you the biggest impact.
  • The importance of willing to be imperfect.
  • Why you have charisma within you, despite what you might thing.

Listen to the Full Episode:

Featured on the Show:

Full Episode Transcript:


Welcome to The Thought Leadership School podcast. If you’re on a mission to make a difference in the world with your message, you are in the right place. I’m Michelle Barry Franco, and I’m thrilled that you’re here.

Hello, my lovely friends. I have that kind of blissful feeling. You know that feeling you have after you meet at least the first big deadline of a project? That is what I’m experiencing today. We are putting on a webinar, as you may have heard, a masterclass we’re calling it, and today was the first one. You know, the first one is the hardest one to get to because you’ve got all those things you have to create to get there, the email invitations, and the slides for that portion, if you’re going to use slides in a webinar, and the course that we’re actually going to be sharing in the webinar as well. So, a lot of work done. I’m feeling super accomplished and great about myself. I am enjoying my favorite drink, which is an oat milk latte with cinnamon infused in it. So, enjoy the bliss with me for a minute.

I’m excited to talk with you today about how to become a sought-after speaker in your industry. This is the question I get asked so often, far more often than I get asked pretty much any other question. It comes in different forms, but this is what it basically comes down to. Case in point, recently, I was at this awesome conference at 1440 Multiversity, which is this beautiful campus with personal and professional development programming, plus amazing organic meals. You know, kind of one of those all-inclusive. When you book a room to stay there, it comes with the ability to use the whole facility, an infinity hot tub, you know, all that.

So anyway, but it was a conference. It was a leaders conference, actually, and it was a gathering of leaders in social impact businesses. These are people who are committed to making the world a better place through their businesses and actually believe that our world can be made a better place through business, that business can be a force for good in the world. It was really fun. I believe that, too, so it was wonderful to be with my people in that way. And it was really inspiring because I got to hear incredible speakers, some really amazing stories.

For example, TRU Colors Brewery. We’re just going to put that in the show notes. You’ve got to look them up. In fact, make sure you go to their Facebook page. What a fabulous story. Essentially, it’s a brewery that is run by gang leaders, leaders in gangs in North Carolina area. Actually, I think they’re opening up all over the country. But, this brewery is being run by the gang leaders, and they’re required to stay in their gangs while they are in these leadership roles inside of this company.

So many other amazing stories, too. Another company called Pigeonly, which essentially helps people who are in prison stay connected with their loved ones and helps loved ones with people in prison stay connected with them. Just beautiful heart-filling stories and missions.

I got to have a lot of cool conversations with people who are doing these kinds of cool things in the world. And as you might imagine, these are people with a lot of conviction, and they really have a message that they want to share with the world, and they know that their message matters. That’s why they’re putting all this blood, sweat, and tears into building this social impact business because it often isn’t the most … It’s not the way to make the most money the fastest, in most cases. There are complexities that just aren’t built into the whole work your tail off and get as much money as you can out of each customer with the lowest expense. That’s just not the mindset.

Anyway, beautiful, beautiful conversations. And I cannot tell you how many people said to me after we talked for a little while, and they asked what I do, and I said I’m a speaking coach, which is usually what I say. It’s just kind of the easiest response, even though it’s not exactly the fullness of what I do anymore. But, I guess I also kind of love the reaction, because it’s not every day that people meet a speaking coach, it turns out. It’s pretty regular that a person raises their eyebrows. I think especially at the kind of conferences I go to because many times they do want to get on more stages and spread their message far and wide. There’s no better way to do that than speaking, right?

So, I’d have these conversations with people. They’d learn I was a speaking coach, and they would say, “Oh wow. I could really use you right now. I just I know that what we’re doing at our company can change the world, can make such a difference if just more people knew about it, if we could get more support for this mission, but also if just more people knew that this was available to them.” A conversation would ensue about speaking anxiety. A lot of those kinds of small things come up. But really, the crux of it always was I don’t know how to get my message out there further. I want to speak on stages. They would say, “I would love to be speaking on a stage here, but I don’t know how you get to speak on this kind of a state. How did these people get to do it?” So, that’s what we’re going to talk about today, because I’ve had the tremendous honor and gift of working with this spectrum of clients over the last 11 years.

I work with clients who are on the early end of thought leadership. These are people who know they have a message to share. Usually, they have done some speaking, so they know they want to speak. They’re willing to speak. They know it’s a useful and powerful way for them to grow their mission, and their business, and their work in the world. But, they’re kind of starting early. They haven’t been on a lot of sort of well-known stages, and they want to figure out how to get there. That’s one of their biggest questions.

Then, I work with people all across the spectrum. On the other end are award-winning founders who have invented remarkable things, products that have changed the face of their industry, social technology that has changed the world, like just amazing things. Their question isn’t, how do I get on these stages? Because people are calling them all the time. Their question is, which of these stages is worth my time and energy? Where can I make the biggest impact on behalf of our mission as a company, or an organization, or whatever they’re affiliated with at that time.

The cool thing about this is that I get a window into that world that I can bring back for the rest of us. How did it happen? There are basically two ways that this happens, that you get called onto these stages that people literally like tap you on the shoulder and say, “Would you please, pretty please, pretty please speak on our main stage as our main keynote speaker?”

Number one, you do something really remarkable, and people just want to hear about it. They just want to hear the story primarily. For example, land a large airplane full of people on a very small body of water. I know I use that example a lot. It’s just such a great example. This is Sully. So, Sully’s out there. He’s an amazing and prolific paid speaker. What he has done, yes, he did that remarkable thing, but he’s also turned that experience into a message that people can use in their teams and in their businesses. That’s where a message persists over time, but it started with doing something really remarkable that’s a story that’s just automatically captivating.

For the rest of us who haven’t done something like land a small plane, a large plane on a small body of water, we need to take a kind of more systematic path. But here’s the thing, we still need to say something remarkable. We need to say something. We need to bring an idea forth, share a message, and really a pathway, a service, that changes people’s lives, that will make a profound difference in their lives because that is what makes our thought leadership attractive and persist over time. That’s what makes more event organizers, event professionals call us and bring us onto their stages as well.

So, two different arenas. I’m going to stick in the second area. I’m going to talk about how we do this more systematic approach. Because you may do something really remarkable. That’s awesome. Maybe you already have, and maybe you already get called onto stages. Very cool. Stick around. I talk a lot about best practices in great speaking, and that’s probably what you’re going to listen to the most.

But for the rest of us, counting on doing something that goes totally viral, that the media can’t get enough of, and then it just kind of gets our name and that story so well known that it makes us automatically pretty exciting to have on a stage, for the rest of us, it’s going to be us having a message that becomes so remarkable that event professionals tell their other event professional friends about it and say, “Hey, you should have this person on your stage. Our audience loved them.” And you do that really by coming at your thought leadership systematically, really thoughtfully.

I’m going to talk with you about the path to thought leadership. That is actually the answer to the question, how do I become a sought-after speaker in my industry? You step onto and you actively move through the path to thought leadership. Now, here’s how I came upon the path to thought leadership. I was standing outside of a client’s office after a speaking event that I did at her organization. You may have heard me tell this story before. She leaned over and whispered to me and said, “I’d really love to do more speaking. I’ve always imagined myself inspiring whole rooms full of people.” This amazing speaker and leader, I couldn’t … I was like, “Why aren’t you doing that?” To me, that’s an obvious path for her. I said, “So what’s stopping you?” She said, “How do you even get on these stages? I know people at these events. I know people who are putting on these conferences, and I still can’t get on the keynote main stage.”

So, I went away from that conversation and really thought about it. That’s what made me look at this spectrum of people that I’ve gotten to work with. What is happening for people who are regularly invited to speak on these great stages that’s not happening for everyone else who really wants to serve with their message, but have this great mystery around how to get on those stages? That’s where the path to thought leadership rose up from me. I asked myself, “What are they doing, the people who are getting called onto stages, that others aren’t?” And this is what I realized, they take a stand for something that matters.

Now, this sounds really obvious, but hear me on this. This is the missing piece. So commonly when a new client comes to me, and this’ll be a super successful business person who’s been doing some speaking, but they’re like, “Hey, I want to start getting paid to speak,” or, “I want to speak on this particular stage, and I can’t figure out why they won’t let me. They’re nice to me. They kind of have the conversation, but they never actually close the deal,” this is often the missing piece: They don’t know what you take a stand for. They don’t know what is that message that you’re going to use to transform their audience, to delight, even maybe blow the minds of their audience, because that’s what makes them look good. That’s what makes them fill their conference again next year, is a reputation for bringing on amazing speakers.

So let’s talk about what is the path to thought leadership. Here are the three stones on the path to thought leadership. You take a stand for something that matters. You commit to serve through that stand, and then you go where they gather and serve. If you’ve read my book, this is how the book is sectioned out. I just want to talk through each of these a little bit with you, because this is the answer to the question. When you do these three things consistently, you begin to magnetize opportunities for speaking, for writing your book, for being on podcasts, all those things, because it becomes clear that you are a leader in your industry. And when that’s clear, it’s the most obvious choice in the world to have you speak on a stage, or come on their podcast, or whatever kind of message-sharing opportunity shows up. So, take a stand for something that matters.

Let’s just break this down into two parts. I want you to think about it in two parts. First of all, take a stand for something, a clear stand, a focused stand. And if you’re not sure what you take a stand for, I highly recommend doing my rooftop message exercise. If you haven’t done this before … Actually, if you have done this before, do it with me again right now.

Close your eyes. Actually, if you’re driving, don’t close your eyes. Keep them open. But, imagine you’re in this little town and the streets are full of people. These people are struggling and they’re saying to each other, “What are we going to do about this? How are we going to fix this? I’m so uncomfortable. I’m so sad. I’m so lonely. I feel so terrible.” Whatever they’re saying. There’s chaos everywhere. You’re standing among them and you’re thinking, “Oh my gosh. I could totally help you with this. This is the thing, the very thing that I know how to help you with.

You try to tell a few people near you, but they can’t hear you because of the chaos, so you turn to the right, and you see this building with a reasonably flat roof. Against that building is a ladder. You walk over, you climb up that ladder, you stand on the edge of that rooftop, cup your hands around your mouth and you say, “Listen to me, beautiful people. Here is what you need to know to make your lives better.” What do you say? What do you want to shout from that rooftop? That’s the part about taking a stand for something. Now, it’s not refined yet, and you’re going to refine that along the way. But, it’s so essential that the stand take is the thing that your heart wants to shout from the rooftop.

Now, the second part of this is for something that matters. So in order to answer that question, you got to think about for whom does it matter, right? Because different things matter to different people and in different ways. This is about getting really connected with who is your ideal audience member. And if you’re building a business or a mission around this work that you’re doing, these might also be your ideal clients or your ideal donors. So you’re going to think about, “Who are these people that I want to serve with this message? And what do they deeply care about? What are they struggling with? What do they desire so deeply, but maybe feel like they can’t even say out loud because they feel like this is too much to want?” Or maybe their sadness is something they’re afraid to share because they don’t think other people can handle it. I’m talking about deep connection with the people you’re meant to serve. That kind of intimate connection allows you to craft a message that speaks straight to their heart and mind. So, take a stand for something that matters.

Now, let’s talk about commit to serve through that stand. This is the second stone on the path to thought leadership. This is kind of a broader one. But really, what I want you to think about here is you’ve got your message, this stand you want to take and who you want to serve at that stand. Now you’ve got to become. You’ve got to step into the person who can deliver that stand in a way that has true impact. You have to step into the fullness of your leadership.

About six years ago or so, I got a call from a client after we had spent a full day, and then some, on her message. We had done a VIP day. This is a lot of time and money investment on her part, a lot of energy, and heart, and soul on both of our parts. But, I was really thinking about her. She called and said, “Michelle, I don’t think I can do this. I just, I don’t think I’m ready. I need to go get this certification,” or degree. I can’t remember what exactly. She had a list of things she needed to do before she felt like she could step into her role as an expert. It was the whole like, “I don’t think I’m expert enough to be out there sharing this message.” Now, this is definitely not the first time this has happened.

I was just feeling heartbroken and frustrated, so I grabbed my two dogs, Timber and Scout, went out into the woods right behind our house in Virginia. Beautiful woods out there. I used to love to walk there and talk to myself out loud. So on this walk in the woods, I asked myself, I asked out loud, “What is the difference?” This is me just exasperated, right? What is the difference between the people who go for it? We do this work. We don’t even necessarily dive as deep, and they’re like ready to hit the ground running. They go out. They start making their impact. They’re willing to change it up as they go, learn as they go, and they’re out there doing it, and those who just tuck that talk that we crafted away in a drawer or put their attention on something else.

And in one, and the only time I can remember having what I think might’ve been a divine download, just to show you the little tiny woo-woo I’ve got in me … Actually, I’ve got probably a lot bigger woo-woo in me. But, I don’t know why I don’t get more of these downloads. But anyway, it was really cool. These five things came to me in a stream of just like a few minutes. I was like, “Well, they have clarity. They’re clear on their message and they’re clear on who they serve. They have commitment. They stick with it, no matter what, even when it gets hard. They have confidence,” which always feels a little sticky and weird to me because I think a lot of people just go like, “Oh, great. Then I’m screwed, because I don’t have … I’m just not a confident person.” So, I break that down into two more elements. I’m going to talk through each of these a little bit more with you.

So we have clarity, commitment, confidence, and then they care. I was like, “They just, they really care, and they’re deeply connected to their caring. And they have charisma, natural charisma, like they’re connected with their own natural charisma.” Now, I promise you I did not go home and pull out the thesaurus and come up with five words that start with C. Turns out there’s a lot of cool words that start with C, so you’ll find a lot of models that have C words.

But, I went home, I mean, just sped my way home. It was kind of a circular route we would take, and the second half I was practically running, not something I did at the time, or now, actually. So got home, went, put up a big piece of paper on the wall, just started mapping out different clients, asking myself, “Is this true about them? Are these the five things? Is this true about them?”

Then, I started looking at a lot of the well known thought leaders, like Brené Brown, and Glennon Doyle Melton, and Brendon Burchard, and different people that I like to listen to and that, you know, Tony Robbins, that are out there just kind of really making an impact in the world, imperfectly, I’ll say, at times, as we know, but out there making an impact and willing to be imperfect, by the way. I was like, “Oh my gosh. This is the truth.” And ever since then, it’s worked as kind of a diagnostic tool, so I want to offer it to you that way.

If you think about clarity, how clear are you on that message that you take a stand for and who you serve? How committed do you feel to this message and your impact in the world? And if you don’t feel that commitment, when’s the last time you checked in on why this matters to you? Maybe your own personal story. Maybe it’s a story about a client whose life you really changed.

The third one, confidence. I break this down into competence and conviction. When you have competence and conviction, there is an experience of confidence that comes from you, through you. And when I say competence, I’m talking about in your subject area, of course. But remember, I only mean enough competence to serve the people you’re meant to serve, so you likely don’t have to go get your PhD and your medical degree in order to serve the people you’re meant to serve. That’s an important question to ask yourself.

Then, competence in your ability to share that message. This is, a lot of it is, best practices, best practices in speaking, best practices in writing. What captivates an audience? How do you tell a good story? What is the magic mix of content? A lot of those things that we talk about on this podcast, those are leadership competence, especially thought leadership competence.

Then, of course, there’s conviction, which is really pretty. It’s like a sister to commitment, right? That conviction in you comes from a strong connection with the difference that you want to make in the world. That’s where it’s going to come from. So again, if you’re not feeling it, check in on your own story. Why does this matter to you? Tell yourself the story again about a client whose life you changed, one that really deeply matters to you. So, that’s confidence.

Clarity, commitment, confidence. We’ve got caring. Caring is not usually an issue for people who are attracted to my message, since we’re always talking about the message at the heart of your work, and that you were made for this, and this is such a soul-centered call that you feel. However, caring can be very nuanced.

I have had many clients who will say to me … It’s almost like they’re used to saying it, right? There’s a groove in their brain that says, “Yes, I care deeply about helping parents help their infant child sleep.” They care about it. It matters. This is meaningful. They’ve changed a lot of lives. But, their own kids are teenagers now. And while that did matter, and they went through their own struggle around helping their own infant sleep, and then when they came out the other side of that and had these amazing ways to help, they were so motivated to help other parents. It’s not there’s anything wrong with that or that doesn’t matter, but they have a new refreshing message about parenting that maybe is about the middle school years. And that’s what they really want to be talking about, but they just haven’t even asked herself this question. So, check in on your own caring and see if it needs some refreshing.

Then, the last one, charisma, as I mentioned, is really natural charisma. And here’s the thing, there’s a myth that some people have charisma and others don’t. I will admit, because you wouldn’t believe me anyway, there are some people who have that kind of, I don’t know, the kind of movie star or politician charisma. That’s just one kind of charisma. Charisma is really … We all have it within us, and it’s our ability to tap into our greatest connection with another person or people. Charisma is made up of connection and power within us, strength within us. When you’re tapped into your own strength and your own power, and you’re able to create a real meaningful connection, charisma rises and shows up.

I’ve also found it’s really fun and useful to actually name your style, so to really think about what is your most natural style of expression. Because when you put labels on that, it’s like a self-fulfilling prophecy, right? We often think of that in a negative way, but labels work in the other way, too. When we choose some words that describe us when we’re at our best, our best version of ourselves, we can live into those descriptors in a way that can really light up an audience and also light us up when we’re up there sharing our message on stage, or when we’re putting our words on the page, or doing a podcast, or whatever.

Those are the five pillars of transformational thought leadership. I’ve called it a lot of different things at different times. Those are the five pillars you want to check in on. Use it as a diagnostic tool. This makes up, essentially, the second steppingstone in the path to thought leadership. Commit to serve through that stand. When you step into your own most powerful full leadership and you be the person who can deliver that message, you, again, become magnetic. You can make the biggest difference. It becomes so obvious that you are someone to listen to in this arena.

Now, finally, and pretty quickly, we’ll just talk about go where they gather and serve. Because honestly, this is just about … Now that you know what your message is, who you serve, you’re feeling strong, and powerful, and connected to your own conviction, you want to go hang out with these people. You want to go serve them. And yes, I mean get on the stage. Yes, offer to speak at those events. But, it might also mean just figuring out where do these people hang out. This is online and offline.

So for example, you love to work with entrepreneurs, and you love to work with entrepreneurs who are overworked, working way too many hours, and stressed out, and it’s actually getting in the way of their ability to grow a thriving business. So, entrepreneurs gather in a variety of places. There are entrepreneurial conferences. There are meetup groups, like local meetup groups where they gather. There are many, many online Facebook groups where entrepreneurs gather.

Then, as you get even more specific, do you work with a specific kind of entrepreneur? Are they in the tech industry? Do they make craft products? Whatever kind of entrepreneurs you most like to serve, the more clear you are on that, the more powerfully you’re going to speak to them, right? All the way back to the first pillar, take a stand for something that matters. And within that is to whom it matters.

But then when you’re here over on steppingstone three … Sorry, I said pillar. Steppingstone three on the path to thought leadership, you’re looking at, “Okay, where do those people gather?” so you can go there, listen to them, serve them in a co-thinking capacity, get to know them in a very genuine way. And you might actually offer to be on a committee or otherwise get involved in these organizations as they get to know you. See how valuable your message, and your , and lessons learned can be for their audience. It’s just going to make sense for them to put you on their stage and other ways of allowing you to serve that audience. So, it’s that simple.

This third one is the one that people resist the most, and that’s because there’s all this fear of rejection. Yes, sometimes people are going to say no to you. Actually, you may hear no a lot. But when you’re authentically engaging, and connecting, and offering to serve, it doesn’t matter because there are so many other places and ways that you can step into thought leadership. These people are gathering in all kinds of ways, in all kinds of capacities. You just need to be there among them, also because you need to know them well enough to speak to them so that you can serve in the biggest way possible.

All right. So that’s the path to thought leadership. You want to know how to become a sought-after speaker in your industry, and the answer is you become a recognized leader. Then, putting you on the stage just makes sense.

I love, love, love sharing this with you. This epiphany has changed everything about my ability to serve my clients. I love that I can just give this to you here on The Thought Leadership School podcast. We are doing our final webinar. As I mentioned, this final webinar is happening tomorrow, if you’re listening to this on the 24th, April 24, 2019. On April 25, 2019, we’re doing two webinars. I’m doing them, but I have a lot of cool support. Two webinars on this topic. I’ll give you even more examples. You’ll see how some of my clients are applying this. I think you’ll find it a really excellent use of your time.

But either way, you know I’m totally cheering you on over here, right? I just always am. Because I know that you wouldn’t be here if you weren’t called to share your message and your story in a way that serves, which means you know you were made for this, right? I know that because you know that. All right. I’ll see you here next week.

Thanks so much for being here with me on The Thought Leadership School podcast. If you want specific and actionable guidance on how to become a recognized leader in your industry, you can download a free copy of my book, Beyond Applause: Make a Meaningful Difference through Transformational Speaking, at speaksoitmatters.com/freebook.

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