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I normally write posts on how to become better as a speaker, but as a global keynote speaker, a big part of my job is to travel, you might want to say that I am a professional traveller who speaks once in a while. So today I will write a post about global travel, and what you can learn from my experience.

Today I started an-around-the-world ticket that will take me from Singapore-Hong Kong-Toronoto-New York-Chicago-Omaha-Chicago-Barcelona-Munich-Istanbul-Singapore in 5,5 days.

It started well with a nice Singapore Airlines flight to Hong Kong but quickly got worse..

1)
When I arrived in Hong Kong at 11 am I find out that my 3 pm flight to Toronto was delayed to 5 PM. (ie 2 hours)
Since I had just a 2 hour and 20 min lay-over in Toronto, and since I would have to walk through customs and immigration at the US checkpoint in Toronto (USA checks you in Canada not when you land in the USA) I understood that I would probably miss my connection.

I called the Star Alliance HQ and ask them to put me on another flight

They said that they could not re-book me on the day of my flight.

Lesson number 1: A fully re-bookable around-the-world ticket can only be re-booked one day in advance. Lesson learned.

She said I had to sort it out with Air Canada. So much for an Star Alliance…

2)
I go to the check-in of Air Canada and tell them that I need to be in New York on Sunday night (I am speaking at lunch time Monday on Manhattan and have two meetings booked in the morning before that.)

The guy says there is no way I will make my flight so I have to stay over-night in Toronto and take a morning flight to New York.

(Arriving on the morning of a lunch-time speech after a 30+ hour intercontinental flight is NOT optimal.)

I tell him I am sure they can fix it and ask to talk to the manager.

Lesson 2: If someone says no to you, and you know, that person is probably wrong, insist to talk to a manager.

3) The manager comes and clicks on the system for 5 minutes until he replies: “Sir, would it be acceptable for you to land in Newark Airport instead of Laguardia?”

Turns out the first guy had only looked at later flight options to “Laguardia Airport” instead of looking for flight options to all New York Airports…

Lessons 3 : Never assume that check-in personal are thinking flexibly and creatively when trying to solve your problem – they are just trying to get you out of the way to work on the next guy. But the managers will generally try to solve your problems.

I ask him to re-book me to the Toronto-Newark (NY) flight.

It leaves 8.55 PM (so I still do not have a lot of time since I just gained another 25 minutes…) That flight is the last flight out of Toronto to New York on Sunday.

4) I land in Toronto at 8.08 PM (1 hour and 58 minutes late.)

Walk through security and get “flagged” by Air Canada and have to do a extensive security check.

Arrive at the “customs” area at 8.20 PM (that’s 35 minutes before the DEPARTURE of my new flight…)

US customs have this feature where only have to look at a photo of my bag to “claim” it, instead of picking it up and checking it in. (Great service)

It’s supposed to take “15 minutes” to get our bags off the plane, photographed and tagged to our name so we can “claim” it.

There are 4 service personal from Air Canada at the “Luggage service” desk ready to assist us so we make our connections (or so I thought there were.)

Between 8.20 and 8.45 one by one the service staff start to walk away!

When the LAST person leaves the service desk I stop her and ask: “Wait, someone needs to be here and help us?!”

She replies: “I do not know where everyone left?”

Me: “I do not care, but YOU have to stay!”

She: “I will get the manager.”

Me: “No, you need to stay here and help us. There is still a chance we can make our flight!”

She walks away.

Lesson 4: Never fly with Air Canada!

5) I an few others booked on that NY flight (and another sad man trying to get to Philadelphia) are now alone in the customs waiting area. A customs guy comes and says “We are closing this area now, you will spend the night in Toronto. I will have to escort you out.”

Normally I would advice: “Never argue with customs officers” (it never works and they just tend to get pissed off and make your life hell because they can…)

But this time I decide to break my rule.

Me: “We were told to wait her by the Air Canada staff as she was going to get the manager.”

While we argue back and forth the Air Canada woman comes back (without a manager)

by stalling the customs guy I had gotten one last chance.

Lesson 5: Sometimes you should argue with customs guys, but generally you should not…

6)
The Air Canada lady says: “They are closing here, your bags will not be processed and you will have to stay here over night, please go with me.”

The rest of the people booked for NY decide to go with the woman.

Lesson 6: If an airline staff tells a group of people to follow her to get “rebooked” you must EITHER be the FIRST one to go with her (and stay close to her and make friends with her) so that she takes care of you first when you get to the service desk (where there will be chaos…) – OR – you decide to NOT follow with the crowd and see if you can solve it by being contrarian.

I decide to stay.

7)

It’s now just me and the sad man flying to Philadelphia (his flight is the only remaining flight out of Toronto to USA this night (at 9.20 PM).

He argues that he should be let through and the Air Canada woman screams to the security guy “See if you can scan his boarding card and get him through.”

(It sounds like something she just says to get rid of the sad man, and then she is gone with her group of “duckling passengers”.

The sad man gets his boarding pass scanned – and it works!

(Turns out that his bag was just that second marked as “missing” which meant he could now fly without his bag…)

I smile at the security guard and say: “Would you mind scan my boarding pass too…?”

He does.

And it works!

My bag had also been marked as “missing” and re-booked for a flight to NY tomorrow morning. (that also means I (!) have been re-booked for Monday morning, but never mind that for now…)

Lesson 7: Never give up. Always say to yourself: “ I will be on that flight.”

8)

My problem is that it is now 8.51 (ie four minutes before my flights DEPARTURTE) and I have not gone through customs or emigration yet.

Luckily it is – for once – a breeze to get through (probably because the guys working there are now on over-time since they should have gone home 15 minutes ago…)

My plan is not to make my flight, but get re-booked last minute on the 9.20 PM flight to Philly and then take a 2 hour Uber driver to New York when I land.

I prefer to be on the move trying to get closer to my destination than to be stuck. Especially stuck in the wrong country.

Lesson 8: Always be looking for alternative options. Always be moving towards your destination.

I also happened to note that the flight to Philly had the same gate (!) as my flight to NY so IF (!) for some strange reason, I would still make the NY flight it would be at the same gate…

9)

I arrive at the Philly gate and see that the NY flight is still open! (It was never flagged as “delayed”, but still it is.)

It’s now 9.02 PM (7 minutes after scheduled departure.) – The sign blinks “Last Call”.

Me: “Hi, can you please get me on the flight.”

Air Canada woman: “Sorry you are scheduled for tomorrow with your bag.”

Me: “My bag is missing, that’s how they let me through the customs without my bag.”

She: “But we found it now.” (seems they had found my bag and now did not want to call it “lost” anymore.)

Me: “I really do not care. I am here and I want to make my flight, you can send my bag tomorrow.”

She: “But your bag is no longer missing…”

It is now 9.04 PM

I hear another woman say: “Change the sign to “Gate Closed.”

Lesson 9: Know when to stop being nice and start demanding what you want.

10)
I look for the supervisor and walk over to her.

Me: “I paid $14 000 (!) for this ticket. It’s your fault that am late because your first flight was late and for this flight you miss-located my bag.”

She: “Let me see what I can do.”

Me: Big smile. “Thank you.”

Lesson 10: Never be too angry, just show your teeth and then go back to smiling. No-one likes a angry person.

It’s now 9.07 PM

11)

It works!

The managers gets me a boarding card, leds me through a roped off area (gate is already closed and walkway to plane blocked off…)

I walk on board my flight, they close the door behind me and we push back.

It’s now 9.08, exactly 60 minutes after I stepped off the plane from Hong Kong.

Lesson 11: Always push forward with a positive mindset and tell yourself you are going to make it.

****
So, In one hour I managed to:

Walk from plane to customs area,
get through security
get trough extra security screening
wait for my luggage (that never arrived) in the waiting area for 20+ minutes
Argue with Air Canada staff who left
Get through Immigration
Get through customs
Walk to new gate
Argue with Air Canada staff (again)
Get on plane.
(I also managed to go to the toilet, check emails and get a drink 😉

I am writing this in the Uber going to the hotel. I will arrive at my hotel at 11.45 PM – (instead as the planned 10.45 PM) – and I will sleep in the hotel bed on Manhattan, next to my venue tomorrow, for a full 8 hours (instead of getting 5 hours or so at some airport hotel in Toronto.).

All is good.
ps. My bag did of course not make it. Will be very interesting to see if Air Canada will be able to get it to Omaha (where I will be by then ) by Tuesday. My experience with Air Canada tells me they will not.

Or as the United Airlines guy trying to help me find my missing bag (when Air Canada staff was not in their Missing Luggage office as they should be): “Air Canada is the least service minded and helpful airline in this airport.

I would go one step further and say: The least service minded airline in the sky. Their slogan should be “Hell in the sky.” I have flown with 50+ airlines (including North Korea Air!) and Air Canada is – by far! – the worst airline. (How can a country full of so many friendly people have such an unfriendly airline?)

So bonus lesson: Never, ever pack anything essential in your checked in luggage – “Just stay Calm and (pack in) Carry on’”. And Avoid Air Canada…

Anyway, I still made it. Good night.

(Picture of the empty Air Canada desk after everyone working there had left, taken at 8.50 PM – ie 5 minutes before my flights departure time, when I was still on the wrong side of customs and immigration… Most people would probably have given up by then… 😉

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I am amazed by the number of professional speakers I have met over the years who see no value at all in sitting down with other speakers.

They actually believe that there is nothing they can learn from other speakers.

It might be because they think that their speaking style is unique, that they do not want to be influenced by other speaking styles, or that they do not want to get categorised into being “a speaker”, or what ever the reason might be.

From me that is as silly as a musician saying he (or she) can not learn anything from another musician, or an painter saying she (or he) has nothing to learn from other painters.

The way I see it there is no one a speaker can learn more from than other speakers.

So the last 20 days I have meet, 1-on-1, with more than more than 40 professional speakers to learn about how they look at their profession, why they got into speaking, how they picked their theme, where they are now in their speaking career and how they are planning on taking it to the next level.

It means that August has been a month of me listening to speakers talking about speaking.

And I have never learnt more about speaking in my 20 years of being a professional speaker.

Sure, I have sat down and talked with speakers since the very first day I started as a speaker, but this month I took it to a totally different level.

I guess you could call it “binge mentoring”.

And I am guessing that means that I, in 1 months, have sat down and learnt from more speakers than 50% of all professional speakers have done in their career.

And I am not done yet.

In the next 2 months I plan to sit down with an additional 60 speakers in between speaking engagements making it 100 speaker meetings in 100 days.

(I do that partly as a new member of the Executive Committee of Asia Professional Speakers (Singapore), but I primarily do it as a speaker who want to learn from his peers.

When I have done 100 of these meetings I will summarise my biggest take-aways in a separate post.

The purpose of this post is to highlight the value of doing nothing but learning from others for a while.

In 14 working days in August I meet with these 40 speakers, that means almost 3 1-on-1 interviews per day. Interviews that were never shorter than 1 hour and often went on for up to two hours. Add to that the time to re-write the notes from these meetings and the majority of my work days in the second half of August went to learning from other speakers.

This intense learning came right after I went to the NSA Influence convention where 2000+ professional speakers from all over the world meet for a few days to talk about how to become better as speakers.

The job of a professional speaker is very much about YOU.

The brand is YOU.
Before you go up and deliver your work someone reads a bio of YOU.
When you are done the audience gives YOU an applause
You have no colleagues – it’s just YOU.

Putting the focus on learning from others, instead of on YOU is a great way to distance yourself from all of this YOU-foucs and to look at the profession of speaking in a more neutral way, by looking at it from the perspectives of others.

If you are a speaker, ask yourself: When is the last time that I sat down with, say, 4 different speakers, not to talk about your business, but to ask them about theirs? Now think about the value that you got from that.
Now multiply that value by 10 and you get a glimpse into what I have been experiencing in the last few days.

With one of the speakers I met with we started to discuss the concept of continuous leaning and he said: “How are we going to be able to continue to teach others if we do not ourselves continue to learn?”

Amen to that.

(Photo of me with one of the many speakers I have been meeting with in August, David Lim.)

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(Dhaka, Bangladesh)

“That was an amazing speech! May I ask you: was it rehearsed or are you just saying what comes into your mind?”

That was the question that a young creative Bangladeshi walked up and asked me after I had just finished delivering the closing keynote at the largest branding conference in Bangladesh. In the audience had been a few hundred of the most creative people in Bangladesh.

Instead of answering the question, I smiled and ask him: “What do you think?

Had I replied to his question the answer would have been: “I have given this (or a version of this) speech hundreds of times over the last few years and I prepared this specific speech many days ago and worked on it all the way until the very minute I walked up on stage (memorising the stories I was going to tell, in which order, and what the over all message I wanted to communicate to the audience was, and so on.)

In other words the answer to his question would have been: “It’s rehearsed.

To my joy (and surprise) he instead replied: “I think you were just making it up on the stage.”

Why did I like that he said that?

“Winging it” is never a good strategy and especially not when giving a speech, so if the audience THINKS that I am just up on stage saying what pops into my head you would be forgiven to think that that would be something bad – but in this case it was not.

Because the young man had obviously loved the speech. His comment about saying what comes into my mind was meant as a compliment. He actually thought that I was speaking my message from the heart and in the moment.

As speakers we should aim for that. It means that the audience thinks (and feels) that they are getting something unique that was created right there and then – in the moment – for them.

I do not know if it is true, but it is said that when a baseball player swings at a baseball there is no way that he (or she) can actually react fast enough to where the ball is coming at him. Instead the batter has to decide where to hit before the ball is even close to the bat . And the reason good batters hit the ball so often is that they have the experience to decide where the ball will be coming based on the movements of the pitcher etc.

Regardless if that is true or not, the message with this story for speakers is that we need to spend a lot of time preparing for our speech, but when we go up on stage to speak we need to leave the preparation mode and go into “presentation mode” and just go out there and “swing it”.

That means stop living in the past trying to remember what you are going to say and how.

Instead we should be in the present. 

Speak in the present.

Present in the present.