Q&A with Angela Lussier
Award-winning speaker and author Angela Lussier shared her thoughts on women and public speaking and explained how she got her start.
Q: You’ve been a successful career and business coach and written three well-received books. How did you transition to offering speaker training?
At the end of 2015 I was reevaluating my career and I sat down and wrote three questions: What do I love doing? Where have I been most successful? What do people ask me about the most? The one consistent thread was public speaking. In my mind public speaking had always been my side dish to business coaching, but once I really sat down and looked at it, that wasn’t the case.
It also became really obvious to me that helping women was something I wanted to do. When I put these pieces together – public speaking, helping women find their voice – the Speaking School for Women was born.
Initially, I worried I wasn’t “feminine” enough! I thought of myself as a tomboy from a very young age. I worried that I could not be a leader for women if I was not feminine. I ran this by women I know and they all looked at me like I was crazy.
Q: You refer to yourself as “the most unlikely speaker.” What do you mean by that?
I was so shy growing up and so insecure about speaking. I was six feet tall when I was 12 years old. I was constantly called the Green Giant, the ogre. I felt so different. I decided that the best way to get over this was to disappear, blend into the background and not speak. Throughout middle school and high school I hardly spoke. I didn’t volunteer for anything in the classroom.
It wasn’t until I was 23 and had my first job after college. I looked around the building at the leaders in my office and wondered: What do they have in common? They were all confident speakers. I realized that if I wanted to be a leader, I would need to learn to speak. It was the opposite of what I’d always done.
Q: So although you were shy, you wanted to be a leader.
Ever since I was maybe five years old, I had this feeling inside of me. I knew I lacked confidence and was quiet, but I knew I was going to do something important some day. It’s hard to describe.
Q: Many women have a fear of speaking in public. What advice do you have for them?
The best way to get over the fear is to start speaking in public.
Q: Shouldn’t someone wait until she has a polished speech prepared?
Absolutely not! The more waiting you do, the more time you are wasting. Find a topic and just go out and give a speech. You don’t become a better speaker by thinking about it.
Q: Can you really help women in only six weeks?
Yes! The speaking school teaches the business of speaking. The idea is then to go out and build your confidence through speaking. Most speakers I know did not start off as great speakers. They cultivated that skill over time. It requires care and time and practice. Unfortunately, there are myths that permeate our society: If you’re not outgoing, you can’t be a speaker. If you’re not an extrovert, you can’t get on stage. Those just aren’t true. Public speaking is not a talent you either have or don’t. It’s a skill and you can learn it.
Q: When did you start the Speaking School for women?
The first class started in April 2016.
Q: What is the format of the Speaking School for Women?
The course is a six-week online course that has live classes each week, homework assignments, individual check-in calls, group coaching, a Facebook group, and my team creates marketing materials for the students. There is also a bonus “speechcraft session” which is a one-on-one coaching session designed to go over the elements of the proposed signature talk. This ensures a talk that is compelling, engaging, and inspires the audience to take action.
Q: When does the next speaking course begin?
The fall course begins September 26, 2016. Registration will open September 12th. If anyone wants updated information, they should sign up for my email list at the bottom of this page. They can read about it here.
Q: What can women expect to gain from your class?
At the end of the class, students will have a marketing plan, an outline of their signature talk, plus a title and a summary they can use to market themselves. They’ll also have identified an audience and a problem they are solving. They will have a better understanding of how the speaking industry works and how to secure gigs. And they will have been briefed on how to give a winning presentation and prepare for it.
Q: Do students need to have a topic before they enroll in your speaking school?
No. During the first week of the class we discuss the basics: who you are helping and what you are helping them to do.
Q: What kind of person would benefit most from the Speaking School for Women?
Women who are business owners looking to create a new income stream and a new way to brand themselves.
Q: How can public speaking help a small business?
Often a small business is the business owner. You’re the face of the brand. Speaking is a great way to build visibility and credibility for your brand. The more times you speak, the more opportunity you have to get in front of your customers – and the more likely you are to get the call when they need you.
Q: Can public speaking help a solo entrepreneur or a consultant?
It should be a piece of every solo entrepreneur’s marketing plan. Public speaking is an amazing way to build relationships with potential customers. I think people are bored with social media. People want more contact. Workshops and events create that opportunity. I can’t tell you how many times people come up to me and tell me they heard me speak five years ago and they remember me! Public speaking touches people in a different way. A solo entrepreneur needs to be thinking about the long game. Public speaking is great for that.
Q: Can a person make a living speaking?
Yes. There are many people who make six or seven figures a year speaking.
Q: Women sometimes have trouble negotiating. Does your course help women negotiate speaking fees?
Yes. I make the whole process easier by showing typical speaking fees. I set up my students for success by giving them information so they can ask for the right amount of money. I also have a podcast episode (#4) on negotiating.
Q: Do women have a special aptitude for public speaking?
I think women have a special aptitude for connection and understanding what their audience needs to hear. But I realize women do a good job of ignoring their intuition when they think they don’t know the rules of the game. It is one of the strongest gifts we have.
Q: You describe public speaking as “networking on steroids.” How does it work?
When you go to any networking event, you might only get to speak to 10-15 people. That’s great. But what if you could speak to every person in that room – and be remembered by them? When you speak in public, your brand will be remembered, especially if you helped answer a question or solve a problem.
Q: Some people have a fear of networking.
Learning the art of public speaking also helped my interpersonal communication. I learned to be more comfortable one-on-one by speaking on stage. It helped me get out of my shell. When I went to networking events, it helped me to think of myself as an interviewer for a newspaper. It was a good way to walk up to strangers and have a conversation with them. I don’t have to trick myself anymore, but that was a good way to start. Networking is a whole lot easier when you’re used to talking on stage!
Q: What makes a great speaker?
Someone who clearly understands the goals of her audience and authentically presents the solution to the audience’s problem in a way that showcases her sense of humor and style, using personal stories.
Q: Have TED talks increased interest in public speaking?
I think more people really want to give a TED talk and they know they need experience as a speaker. I gave two TEDx talks, and since then I’ve been asked hundreds of times, “How do I get on the TED stage?” People realize that the TED brand increases their visibility and credibility. It’s definitely something they’re interested in because of the residual benefits.
Q: What makes for a great TED talk topic?
You want to think about what’s central to your work and what you’re known for. You want to give people takeaways in a format that is not so long and has impact. Explore what you do, why you do it and how you can help people with that information.
Q: If you’re not an expert, can you really make money speaking in public?
The definition of “expert” is different for everybody. An expert can be somebody who is just one step ahead of the audience. You just have to know more than the people you are teaching. That is valuable and you can get paid for that.
Q: What types of speaking engagements can you get paid for?
There are keynote presentations, interactive workshops, facilitation, and also platform speaking, which is when you book your own gig and pitch your product or services at the end.
Q: What kind of marketing materials do you need to get started?
It’s helpful to have a speaker one-sheet to give to event planners so you can leave something behind. It typically highlights your past speaking gigs, your headshot, the titles of your talks and testimonials.
It’s also good to have a speaker page on your website. You want to include a video of yourself speaking in front of a group of people, preferably with footage of your audience to show you are connecting with them.
Q: Is it hard to find speaking gigs?
Speaking gigs are everywhere! There are workshops, conferences, fundraising dinners, breakfasts, happy hours. Event planners are constantly looking for speakers. It’s important to build relationships with event planners who may someday need you when they are looking for a speaker.
Your marketing is your audition for your speaking gig. After that, your speaking gig becomes your audition for your next speaking gig.
Q: What are ways to grow and improve as a speaker?
There are two ways. 1.) Speak as often as possible. 2.) To accelerate your progress, videotape yourself when you are on stage. That way you can critique your delivery and your body language.
Q: Do you recommend Toastmasters?
I do recommend Toastmasters, because you need to go somewhere to practice, to try out new material and gain more confidences. I was a member of Toastmasters for five years. It was the best decision I could have made at that time. It was the only option I could find at that time (2006).
Q: Is there an alternative now?
I’m building a network of speaking clubs for women. The clubs will help speakers strengthen their confidence, build their message and practice sharing their story with women who are there to support and empower them. Clubs are popping up in cities around the world throughout 2016 and are run by graduates of my Speaking School. The updated list is here.
Q: You have a new podcast, Claim the Stage. What is it about?
The Claim the Stage podcast is for creative, entrepreneurial women who want to inspire audiences and get paid. I interview women with expertise, including a negotiation coach, a published author and a woman known as the best motivational speaker in Boston. It’s meant to be informational and inspirational.
Q: What kinds of guests make for a good interview?
People who are public speakers are great guests. They know how to deliver information and they know how to give advice and share stories. Writers can also be great guests. They are imaginative and have interesting takes on things. I’m taking recommendations for guests and can be contacted here.
Q: Who are some of your favorite women speakers?
I saw Arianna Huffington speak recently and was impressed by her authenticity and her sense of humor. Her points were really easy to grasp, while also making you want to grab your pen and write them down.
Danielle LaPorte is another great speaker. She goes with the flow in her talks. It appears that she’s making it up as she goes along. She pays careful attention to her intuition. She talks about spirituality, business growth, finances and self-love.
Q: Do you have any final takeaways about public speaking?
Public speaking is like getting a master’s degree in your own psyche. Until you get up on stage, you don’t realize how much more there is to learn about yourself. Until you challenge yourself in that way, it’s hard to realize how amazing you can be when you encounter stress or difficulties. Seeing how your audience responds is part of your learning. It’s the best decision I ever made for my career and I can’t wait to see more women get into this field.
Learn more about the Speaking School for Women here.