Month: October 2016

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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.)

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(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”.

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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?

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(Kaunas, Lithuania.)

One of the main reason companies are willing to pay to bring in a professional speaker is that they want the audience to be inspired.

It is not enough to be able to deliver good and relevant content, the content needs to be delivered in an inspiring way. (To be clear, the companies ALSO want good and relevant content, so just being “inspirational” is usually not enough for a speaker, but my point here is to put emphasis on the need to be inspirational.)

But inspiration is an interesting animal.

There is a saying that goes: “If you want to be interesting you have to be interested.” and the same is true for inspiration:

“If you want to be inspiring you need to be inspired.”

And a great way to get inspired is to listen to the speakers who speak before (or after) you at a conference.

Today i was speaking for a Lithuanian company (SBA) in the city of Kaunas. The theme for the conference was “Invent 2016” so it made sense they had invited me to speak on the topic of Business Creativity.

My client told me: “Oh, you can stay in your hotel until after lunch since the speakers before you will all speak in Lithuanian and you will not understand anything.”

Since the theme of the conference was “Invent” I asked him what other speakers they would be having.

And it turned out that they had invited some of the most innovative Lithuanian companies to speak.

There was the founder of Deeper (www.buydeeper.com) – a company that has developed a small and cheap sonar making it possible for leisure fishermen (and -women) to “look” beneath the surface of where they are fishing to find out if there is any fish there.

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There was a representative of CGTrader (www.cgtrader.com) – a Lithuanian company that has created a world market where 3D designers can sell their models.

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And there was the founder of Spyndi (www.Spyndi.com) – a super innovative system for chair design (think LEGO + furniture which you can see at the top of this post, but check out the site to fully understand it.)

I told my client I wanted to attend the whole conference.

“But you will not understand anything, they will all be speaking Lithuanian”, he said.

I replied: “It’s ok, I think I will get the message anyway. I will just look at their slides and try to figure out the message.”

And true enough.

I did not understand anything ;-D (The Lithuanian language is one of the oldest languages on earth still spoken, older than greek, even older than latin (!), it is actually closely related to Sanskrit: and there were not many words I understood.)

But more importantly, I was still super inspired.

Just watching the audience laugh, ask questions and interact with the speakers – and just watching the slides (and an actual model of the Spyndi chair, that I actually got to sit in) I was inspired by all the creativity.

Energy that I could bring with me into the speech.

The idea of just sitting in a hotel room waiting for my time to speak suddenly seemed like a really stupid idea.

SBA is in itself an inspring company that does a lot of creative things (they are one of IKEA’s most trusted suppliers producing some of their best selling furniture and they also run the only (?) fabric factory in Europe that produces everything from the original thread to the finished garments (they even have their own clothing brand, and also create high tech fabrics for industries like the military and fire fighters.)

It is easy to discard a speaking assignment for a relatively small company in a small city in a tiny country in the “outskirts” of Europe, but if there is anything I have learnt in my 20+ years of speaking professionally it is that you should never have preconceived ideas about where and when inspiration could be found.

Today I got a huge dose of inspiration by listening to 3 speakers who’s words I did not understand a single word of…

Lesson: If possible, try to attend the other speakers during the conferences that you speak at. Listening to them will inspire you – and it will also give you ideas and content that you can bring back into your speech as well. (Remember, there is usually a very good reason for why the client has invited the other speakers during the day, and the idea is usually to make it a good fit with the other speakers (ie you).)