Month: October 2016

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I have been a professional speaker since 1994, I have done more than 2000 paid speeches, and I can not remember the last time I canceled because I was sick. (Actually I might never have done it, but I certainly can not remember doing it.)

So does that mean I have never been sick?

Of course not. I am sick right now, as I am writing this. A bad case of colds, fever and generally non-working brain. I have done nothing of value today and if this text makes no sense I will blame it on my malfunctioning brain.

But here is an interesting observation I have done over my 20 year speaking career: It seems like speakers get sick when they do not have an assignment.

It seems that speakers seem to be able to “put off” being sick, until there is a whole in the calendar. In the last month I have spoken in the USA, Spain, Thailand, Malaysia, Lithuania, the UK – and a series of speeches in Singapore of course. But now I have a few days without speeches before I go to Barcelona next week, and just like that I got really, really sick.

Could I have given a speech today if I had a booking? Yes – I have been delivering speeches while not being in perfect physical condition before – but let’s  just say I am very happy I do not have to.

I think the body feels that it’s “ok” to be sick, and then it relaxes and then the sickness strikes.

I also think that the body pumps itself up with adrenalin before a speech and “lives” on that energy long enough to get the speaker through the scheduled event. (Think how Hillary Clinton collapsed into a waiting car after attending the 9/11 memorial service.)

So why am I sharing this on a blog on being a professional speaker?

Because I think it is crucial that speakers plan in “non-booked-periods” also during the “busy season” of September to November (when speakers tend to have crazy schedules).

And more importantly, it’s important to block off longer periods of “down time” after a busy period as to re-charge the batteries and get back to “full charge” again.

Lesson:

They say people who never take time off to exercise sooner or later have to take time off to be sick.

I think it is equally true that speakers who do not take time off to get some down-time, sooner or later will find themselves down one way or another.

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It is my experience that when a client books me for a keynote they already know why they want me to speak. Usually someone at the client have heard me speak before and wants me to give the same message (or similar) to what they heard to this new group that they are booking me for.

And since I speak globally I can almost never meet up with the client beforehand to be briefed, so the brief happens on the phone, usually in a conference call that is shorter than one hour.

But even if the brief is short, that doesn’t mean you can not do your fair share of research to find out more about the group you are speaking to.

Let me exemplify with the group I spoke for today: The global management conference of Grant Thornton: 140 CEO’s of the different member companies of Grant Thornton from 100+ different countries.

I had a briefing call with the client on the phone. (to get the gist of what they wanted to get out of my speech and to learn more about the group.)

I then asked to get (and got) all the material that the delegates to the conference would receive. (so that I could put my speech in context with the rest of the conference.)

I also asked for (and got) their strategy documents, and any other documents that would be relevant for this conference. (To learn where the company is now and where they are heading.)

I, of course, googled the clients name to read up on the latest news about the company and went to their website etc to get a feel for how they communicate with the external world (So to be able to use references to relevant things that was going on in their company or industry.)

I asked for (and got) the slides of the speaker who would speak before me. (So that I could get a feeling of what the audience would have heard just before I got up on stage.)

I got a second briefing meeting with the global CEO on Sunday when he had arrived in Singapore.  (To get his view on what he wanted me to achieve with my talk.)

I then arrived early today to listen to the CEO practice his speech to the audience that he would deliver AFTER my speech (So that I could align my speech with the speech he would be doing later, and also to get a feeling of the room from the perspective of the audience.)

I also grabbed a few attendees before my session to hear their view of the company. (To make sure the brief from HQ was in line with what the delegates thought about the company.)

In the coffee brake before my speech I got a hold of the speaker who had spoken before me (on branding) to test the message that I was going to deliver. (So that I could be sure that the audience would feel that our two messages where in line with each other.)

I had a short chat with one of the members of the board to make sure I got the boards view on the direction of the company to make sure my speech fitted well with that.

And so on.

All of these “brief extra briefings” make my overall understanding of my assignment much deeper.

Lesson: Doing research for a keynote is not necessarily about spending hours and hours in briefing meetings, or on the Internet – it’s about doing many different kinds of connections with the client to learn as many different things as possible about the company, the industry, the audience, and the room.

 

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(Picture of me outside convention centre with the purple theme of the conference, wearing a purple shirt, since one person in one of the briefings before the convention had used the phrase “the purple people” about the employees of Grant Thornton and because I had seen a few of the delegates on Sunday wearing purple clothes even before the convention started. So thought I should “live the brand.”)

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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”. 😉