Month: August 2015

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Today, I have decided to write a post about how one speaker, Immaculee Ilibagiza, was used as an example by another speaker, Shep Hyken, to teach another speaker, Me, something about speaking.

Shep Hyken is the Immediate Past President of the National Speaker Association of America (NSA). He is also a world class speaker on customer service.

He is in Singapore and this evening, I had the honor of spending 3+ hours with him and Andrew Bryant, the newly elected president of Asia Professional Speakers Singapore.

During our very interesting dinner, we discussed about everything from Donald Trump to Russia. But my post today will be about what one of the best speakers in the world has to say about the best speakers in the world, and what we can learn from them.

Shep is in the Speaker’s Hall of Fame, has been a professional speaker since 1983 (!), and is a world authority on customer service with something like more than 60,000 followers on Twitter.

When he was the President of NSA, he got the chance to go around the world and listen to some of the best speakers in the world.

I asked him to give me the names of some of the speakers that he had heard who, he thought, were the most valuable speakers for a speaker to hear.

Now, something very interesting happened.

Shep mentioned speakers who had been great at giving concrete advice on how to get return on investment, and then he mentioned Immaculee Ilibagiza.

If you do not know who Immaculee Ilibagiza is, know this: She is from Rwanda and survived hidden for 91 days with seven other women in a small bathroom with an area of 12 feet during the genocide.

She speaks about forgiveness, which is a very powerful message, especially when you learn that most of Ilibagiza’s family — her mother, her father, and her two brothers Damascene and Vianney — were killed by Hutu Interahamwe soldiers.

Her speech has nothing to do with getting a “return on investment” as a speaker. It is a totally different kind of speech.

And that is the message.

Some people think that you have to follow a “formula” to be a professional speaker, that you have to be funny, that you have to be charismatic, that you have to be a great story teller, or that you have to have a lot of facts, and so on.

The truth is that there is no formula.

You can be speaking on how to use social media to increase sales with slides full of charts, or be a funny speaker sharing what you learnt from climbing Mount Everest, or speak about the power of forgiveness after surviving a genocide.

As long as you tell YOUR story. The story you believe in, the story you know how to tell, in the way you know how to tell it.

Lesson: Shep’s message was so simple, yet so relevant —

Take every chance you can to listen to great speakers. Learn as much as you can from what makes their speeches great; but do not try to copy them, do not try to become them, do not change your style to be more like them.

Instead, use all that inspiration from other speakers to help you develop your own message. Your own style. Your own path.

Great speakers – and great speeches – can teach you so much about being a great speaker, or giving a great speech.  

The only thing they can not teach is how you are going to give yours.

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In a recent post, I wrote how I counted one hour of water gymnastics as work, and I got a few questions about how that could be regarded as work. So let me explain one of my routines.

As a writer and speaker, you tend to spend a lot of time in front of a computer screen, either researching, looking for inspiration, or writing down thoughts and ideas. Speaking is basically just repeating the very most interesting things you have learnt.

Sitting in front of a computer for hours is not a good thing for your body.

So I try to find ways to force myself to get my body to move.

And yes, it helps to be a father of two (soon three!) young kids who ignore the fact that you are an old man, and make you run around on all fours pretending to be a horse when they come back from school.

But my body needs more exercise than that.

So I have created an exercise routine that is perfect for me, that keeps my body working while my mind keeps thinking about work.

Almost every day that I am not travelling, I spend one hour in the pool doing water exercises while listening to a podcast. The podcast part is important, it makes the hour go by fast and also helps my mind wander in an organised manner.

I normally listen to podcasts that are from speeches so that I can:

a) Learn something interesting
b) Listen to how other speakers present

By listening to other speakers, I can also evaluate how I would have presented a similar story, or example, so it’s a good way to benchmark yourself against other great speakers.

So today, I listened to a one hour speech by Daniel Pink, the author of “A Whole New Mind”. Daniel used to be a speechwriter of Vice President Al Gore, and I always find it interesting to listen to what speechwriters have to say about speeches.

In this podcast, Daniel said:

“Being a speechwriter, I have a certain philosophy about speeches. I believe that every good speech, every where, every time, no matter what your audience is, no matter how big the crowd is, no matter where you are in the world, every good speech has 3 ingredients: brevity, levity, and repetition…”

And then he adds:

“… Let’s say that again: brevity, levity, and repetition.”

Touché!

After one hour in the pool, I get up fit and inspired to go and do some work of my own.

I understand that not everyone has a pool in their house. Before, I used to do it on a treadmill. You can also just get out and walk while listening to something that interests you in your iPhone.

The point is to move your body and your mind at the same time. I find that as the best way to prime yourself for a good day’s work.

Now, if I want to exercise to get my mind OFF work, of course, I would not do this. Then I would play squash, play with my kids or do something that distracts me from work.

The routine I have described above is what I do in the morning to move me into a good mood before going to work, and to help me contemplate on the bigger picture so that I do not start the day getting crushed by small details and urgent emails that scream for my attention.

Lesson: Find your morning routine that gets you off to a great start for work. For me, it is one hour in the pool listening to a podcast to learn how other speakers speak and how other thought leaders think.

P.S.

So what is my routine when I am traveling? I guess I will write another post about that one day.

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People who are not speakers are able to quickly see the amazing advantages of being a speaker: Get paid a lot of money to travel the world to spread a message that you are passionate about, which spreads to thousands and thousands of people by working a few hours per day.

But very often, there is a “BUT…” to the sentence that begins “Being a professional speaker seems amazing…”. And that sentence very often ends with “… but don’t you miss having colleagues?”

And it is true — being a professional speaker is different from many other jobs because you do spend a lot of time on your own.

I would say 90% of speakers work by themselves, or in a very small team with one assistant, who might not even live in the same town as the speaker by working virtually.

Actually, the  job of being a speaker is very social. Just the nature of the job means that you very often spend your days at conferences (and conference parties) mingling with a huge amount of people.

BUT, you might say, those are NOT your colleagues. You are just visiting their conference/party.

True again.

And I am not going to lie and say that by being a speaker, you have the same social interaction with colleagues as you have in “a normal” office job. You also do not get involved in the politics that comes with a normal office job. 😉

So yes, a speaker doesn’t have colleagues in the traditional sense. But we have colleagues.

Lets see how the dictionary looks at the word:

“colleague |ˈkɒliːg|
noun
a person with whom one works in a profession or business.”

The speaking professionals have been very good at building a community of “profession colleagues”, as in “colleagues in a profession” as compared to “in a company”. It might very well have come about out of the necessity of not having “normal” colleagues.

But regardless of the reason for why it is like that, I just have to say that I love it.

I regularly meet up with a whole host of professional speakers in informal meetings where we chat about work, life, and the universe just like you would with colleagues in the office.

Just in the last 2 weeks, I have had such meetings with 8 different professional speakers.

Last night, I had a meeting with Andrew Bryant, the thought leader on Self Leadership (he literally wrote the book on the subject).

We spent 3+ hours on the balcony of Andrew’s penthouse overlooking the Singapore skyline, and over a couple of beers, we discussed everything from Brazil, Outlook, speaking in India, and book writing. It’s a mix of private and business topics, serious and fun, as one does on an “after work” with colleagues.

The funny thing is that speakers meet up at all!

When you think about it, in a way it is a very cut-throat business:

A client is looking for one speaker for an event, selects a shortlist and then picks just one off that list. All the others on the list gets nothing since it is quite common for a client to just pick one speaker per day for a conference.

You would think that speakers then would be very wary about sharing their secrets and their knowledge, but it is the opposite.

After having a great time with one fellow “colleague”, I wanted to write this post in appreciation of all the speakers who have helped me by agreeing to meet with me. If you are a speaker and want to hook up with me for a beer, coffee, or lunch, drop me a line by clicking on the mail symbol below.

I would love to meet up.

That’s what colleagues are for.