Month: September 2016

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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.