Everyone has bad days at work, including speakers.

And even if no-one will risk dying if we have a bad day (unlike if you are a surgeon or a pilot) speakers should really do everything we can do avoid having “bad days”. Our clients have not paid us to be “average” or “bad” – but to be “brilliant”. That might sound like an unfair thing to ask for time and time again, but that is the truth. (And that is why speakers are paid so well – we are expected to be great.)

Yet, still it happens. As a speaker we deliver a speech that we know was not the best we could deliver.

After doing more than 2000 speeches over the last 20+ years I have come to notice that there is a common denominator for when I do speeches which I think are “below average”.

And it is usually because I am tired, hungry or thirsty – in other words, my “machine” was not fully charged.

You might think that it would be easy to say “Well, just sleep, eat and drink more water then.” – but when you fly a lot it can be easy to skip food, drink or sleep.

So the purpose of this post is to remind me – and other speakers – of the importance of eating, sleeping – and more than anything else drinking enough before a speech.

Drinking WATER, that is. Not coffee or alcohol!

In an article I found online on Dehydration and Performance (Source:) you could read:
“For any athlete, minimizing your fluid loss to not more than 2% of your body weight is a good rule. At that 2% body loss, you’ll start to see increased fatigue, reduced endurance, the beginnings of heat illness and declining motivation. The good news is that rehydrating will reverse all these problems.

And it is really true.

As speakers we are performing, and the difference in energy, focus and motivation that comes from being properly hydrated can be startling.

I now “over-drink” on water before I speak. One to two hours before I am supposed to speak I will drink at least 1 liter and sometimes even more. (I do it a few hours before I am to be on stage so that the “excess” water can go “through the system”  in time. (i.e. I need to be able to go to the toilet and pee…)

And I have noticed that this simple little “trick” has been the number one “insurance” against having a bad day at work.

Maybe the trick of drinking a lot of water is more relevant to speakers who, like me, travel a lot, but I really think it is something that all speakers can benefit from being reminded of.

Lesson: So the lesson of today is “Drink & Talk”. 😉



Today I was the closing speaker at the Asian Human Capital & Leadership Symposium – a great 2-day HR conference with high level speakers and high level participants.

As the closing keynote speaker of the day I had the challenge of trying to bring a message to the audience that they would feel was interesting, fresh and new after having already listened to some impressive speakers (Like the Singapore Minister of Manpower, Lim Swee Say, Ian Hughson, VP Global Business Services IBM Asia, and the always controversial Chandran Nair of Global Institute for Tomorrow.)

When you are the closing speaker at a conference you have to remember that there is a big chance that the audience has either heard something similar to what you are going to say – or that someone has already spoken at the conference and brought up an opposing view to what you were planning to say.

The best way to avoid repeating what someone else has said, or unknowingly contradicting a previous speaker, is, of course, to attend the whole conference.

Today I was there the whole day to listen to all the speakers (and during the conference I consulted the visual recorders  to find out more about what had happened during the first day.)

And I am glad I did.

I realised that a lot of what others had been talking about could be easily referensed into my speech.

In the immediate break before my speech I went up to the A/V crew and told them “Hey, I have a new presentation.” and then we uploaded my new slides.

In my new deck of slides I had added 9 new slides which had relevant photos and quotes from the previous speakers of the day. (Yes, I had taken photos of all the speakers during the day while I was there listening)

Now 9 out of the 47 slides that I had for my presentation were about the other speakers from the day.

As a closing speaker I was now not only delivering my message, I was ALSO closing the conference by re-connecting back what other speakers had been talking about during the day.

Adding those 9 extra slides did not make my presentation much longer, I would just briefly show them so that people could read the quotes and remember the previous speaker’s point before I went into what I was going to talk on.

Lesson: If you are the closing speaker make sure you close the conference, not just deliver your speech. Connect with the previous speakers and your speech will not be “just one more speech at the end” – but THE speech that they will remember from the conference.

(Picture is one of the slides from my “new” presentation that I made during the day.)


(London, UK)

As I am sitting in the ballroom of a hotel in London waiting for the DLA Piper global conference to begin this afternoon. 700+ lawyers from all over the world will soon fill the room, but right now it’s empty apart from a couple of people. These people are the speakers of the conference and we are here for “rehearsal”.

Sitting here waiting for my time to “rehearse” I think about how I usually answer the question: “Do you rehearse your speeches?”

I tend to answer: “no”.

But I guess the answer is actually “yes”.

Because the word “rehearse” means to “practise (a play, piece of music, or other work) for later public performance.”

But it also means to “mentally prepare or recite (words one intends to say).”

I generally do not rehearse, as in the meaning of “practise”, my speeches on the same day as I am to deliver them because I want to keep my mind open to how the audience is reacting.

But I do “mentally prepare” for hours and hours.

I do not do it “word by word” but more “message by message”.

What do I want the audience to remember?
How do I want them to feel?
What is the purpose of having me speak at this conference?
What is the over all purpose of the conference I am speaking at? (What was the theme of the conference and why did they pick that theme?)
How will my message fit with that?
What was the brief for this speech and what do I need to do to fulfil it?
What could go wrong?
What am I worried about?
What other speeches have I done for similar audiences and what can I learn from those?
In what kind of state will the audience be?
What is the “QI” of the room?
How does it feel to sit in the audience? (Go and sit in a few of the seats to get a feel of how the stage looks from an audiences perspective)
How does it feel to stand on the stage? (Get up and walk on the stage to get a feel of the stage.)
Is there a timer, where can you see your slides, what kind of a clicker are we using? etc (get a feel of the technology of the room)
What is the sentiment of the group? (Go and eat breakfast with the group and get a feeling of what they are talking about (yes, eavesdrop!)

And so on, and so on….

Hundred’s of questions that spinn through my head, not about the words I am going to say, but about how will the message be best received?

Today I speak at 3.3o pm and the conference begins at 2 pm but I was in the ballroom at 8 am and sat there mentally going through the speech until lunch time (while also talking to staff, meeting the technicians, talking to the senior leadership who came to rehearse their speeches and so on.)

At lunch time I will go for a 1 hour walk to clear my head and get fresh air and energy from the sun. Then I will walk in and deliver my speech.

Turns out that the word “rehearse” can be traced back to the old French word “rehercier”, that perhaps comes from re- ‘again’ + “hercer” which means “to harrow”.


And the purpose of harrowing is “to break up clods (lumps of soil) and to provide a finer finish.”. But harrowing is not “plowing”, it’s not about going deep and stirring things around a lot.

And that is how I look at rehearsal: as a way to mentally smooth out anything that might stop the audience from getting the message that I want them to get.

Lesson: Should you rehearse as a speaker: Absolutely, no question about it. The delivery of a speech should be smooth and free up “clods”, but the best way to do that might not be to put every single word in the right order – but to get the very best feeling of the kind of message that is the best message for you to deliver.

Because what is the point of delivering a series of words in the perfect order if those words are not the right words for the audience to hear?