An Athlete’s Guide to Public Speaking
How performing on the biggest stages prepare you to speak on them
For some athletes, the transition out of sports as a profession can be a shock to the system. However, for athletes who have a proactive camp, or who maximize their downtime, the transition can be a breeze.
As it goes in most professional leagues, only a small percentage of athletes have elite, superstar status. For them, once their careers come to a halt, they have the pick of the liter as to what they want to do and where they want to speak.
But your average professional athlete has to put in a little bit of work to get such consideration, as it pertains to professional speaking.
So the odds of such an athlete being an exceptionally great speaker right out the gate are not in their favor.
However, to their benefit, it’s likely they still have an agent who can help them continue to land opportunities. At least that’s the hope.
But in case you are the average athlete like I was, and you’re trying to figure out how to parlay your career in the professional sports world into professional speaking, I wrote this guide just for you.
So before you start to lean on your agent to get your foot in the door by only speaking at elementary schools or small groups for little to no honorarium, here’s what you need to know in order to be an elite superstar in your new profession.
1. Know Your Role
First things first, you have to know your value and your position.
When you stepped on the court or field for the very first time, to play in competition, it’s likely your coach fit you to a position which they thought best utilized your greatest skills.
In that same way, you need to fit your story to your greatest values. Examine what you bring to the table that sets you apart from another speaker who may compete for that spot.
Did you have a disability that you’ve played through? Did you fail to make the team on numerous levels? Did you rise from obscurity to change the entire culture and expectations of your teams with your character and hard work?
You have to know where you fit to know why you need to be heard, instead of someone else.
When you find your fit and know your role every stage you speak from you’ll have the home court advantage.
2. Practice, Practice, Practice
Practice doesn’t make you a perfect speaker more than it made you the perfect athlete. But it does make you prepared.
When you start to get your speaking reps in you’ll begin to notice your inconsistencies, your endurance level and your ability to stay on topic.
A great exercise to do is to capture a video of yourself speaking on a topic of which you’re really passionate. Next, without looking at the video, play it back to explore your cadence, pauses and excessive use of filler words, like “um”. Then, watch it without the sound to see how you engage with the viewer using body language. Repeat this exercise as many times as you can within a thirty minute window.
This is how you build confidence in your speaking skills, while learning vocal and physical command.
If you put in enough time when no one’s around, you’re sure to excel when you have an audience.
3. Presentation is Perception
You can always tell the winners from the losers, when it’s down to the wire, by their body language.
Players with a loser’s mentality play in fear — fear of losing, fear of the crowd, fear of the consequences of losing even. Their bodies tell everything. They get out of position. Their shoulders drop. Their defense is horrible. And they resist encouragement needed to get over themselves.
Don’t be a loser. Present like a winner. People love to hire winners.
Winners project an unflappable confidence. Their eyes resolute. These are the type of speakers who command a room for the entirety of their talk. People actually forget to check their devices when these types of speakers are on stage.
Be a winner. Winners aren’t overly confident in themselves; they’re perfectly confident in their preparation.
4. Stay Active
Whether you’re on the football field, basketball court, tennis court or baseball diamond, your ability to remain active without the ball is paramount in your success. Often, it’s important even to the coaches and/or crowd’s perception of you as well.
When you hit the stage you have to be prepared to use every tool in your toolbox to ensure you keep the attention of the crowd, and that you successfully drive home your point(s).
- Keep active feet — don’t stand behind a podium.
- Keep active hands — don’t hind your hands in your pockets or fold your arms.
- Keep an active voice — change the tempo and volume of your speech to emphasize various points in your talk.
- Keep active eyes — don’t get stuck looking at one area of the room; your eyes connect people to your talk.
- Keep active ears — listen to the room and respond; shift when it shift, go deeper as it seeks more from you.
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Jeremy Gaston is a former amateur boxer and semi-pro basketball player turned professional speaker.