Author: Fredrik Haren

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Every professional speaker has a knee jerk reaction to the (very common) question: “What do you speak on?”

But not every professional speaker has the answer to the much more important question: “Why do you speak?”

Today I did a coaching session with Eric Feng, who is a very talented and extremely ambitious speaker.

Eric is doing a lot of things right in his speaking career and has achieved much more at a relatively young age than many much older speakers.

But he met with me because he wanted help to decide on which topic he should focus on (he speaks on a few different topics at the moment, like public speaking, business presentations, charisma).

Or that is what he THOUGHT he wanted to discuss with me.

But instead we decided to go deeper.

In a 2-hour long session I helped him to look inside himself to understand why he decided to be a speaker in the first place.

I wanted to get to his core. Find the theme that defines who he is.

Your Core Theme is not the theme that you sell to your clients, it MIGHT not even be a theme that you communicate to your clients.
Your Core Theme is for yourself.

It’s your guiding light that reminds you why you get up in the morning, why you have this urge to communicate.

I have to admit that during the middle of the session with Eric we were struggling. We were getting close, but for some reason we were not able to get deep enough.

Then Eric, in passing, told me a story about how he, as a kid, had stayed late in school and pretended that he was the teacher to teach himself a little bit more. He had this burning desire to teach.

When his class mates asked him why was he talking to himself, he replied “I am teaching myself”.

And when his classmates then replied “Can you teach us too?”  he started his mini remedial classes in school.

As a young child Eric was already passionate about not only his own learning, but also the learning potential of his peers!

When I heard him passionately tell that story I knew that we had found it, or should i say “rediscovered” it.

The reason he speaks is because he has a passion for the potential of Learning and Development within All Humans.

That is Eric’s Core Theme.

Not “public speaking, business presentations, charisma”, those are “just” themes he speaks on.

When Eric found his “Core Theme” everything he does in his speaking business became clearer. His vision, his priorities, his focus.

And that is why it so important to find it.

My Core Theme is not official. By that I mean that I do not openly communicate it to others. But I have one, and it has guided me in all the decisions I have made in my speaking career for the last 15 years.

It’s like a compass, and when you have one it will lead you in the right way.

Judging from the email I got from Eric after our session, he appreciated the value of going into the core. 🙂

He wrote: “Thank you so much for taking the time to walk me through the process. This conversation will definitely be a turning point in my career. You helped me get clear of what matters most and for that I’m grateful.”

Question: What is your Core Theme? Why do you speak? I am much more interested in finding out that answer from a speaker than hearing what he or she speaks on.


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A surprisingly large amount of people seems to think that a keynote speaker is a person who goes up on stage and behaves as some kind of “management guru”, that you have to walk up on stage and dominate in an alpha-male-kind-of-way.

And it sure used to be like that. That’s what people thought speakers “had” to be like.

But something has changed.

And I know that this might be hard to believe when you attend conference after conference filled to the brink with alpha-male-guru-speakers, but hear me out.

TED is a conference and website ( that gathers some of the world’s greatest thinkers on its stage. It is arguable the worlds’ leading site for watching speeches.

Now here is the thing: There is hardly a single traditional “alpha male” out of the 50 most popular speeches on

Sure, Tony Robbins made the list, but so did Stephen Hawking and Hans Rosling – two men who are very intelligent, smart and passionate – but who perhaps are as far away as we can come from being Alpha Males…

As a matter of fact the majority of the men on the top-50-list of most watched speeches are non-alpha males. Not even Bill Clinton made the list. But Monica Lewinsky did (with a speech on the Price of shame.)
21 out of the 50 most watched speeches are from women, including Maysoon Zayid, an arab-American woman with cerebral palsy. A very innspiring and funny woman, who in almost every way is the opposite of the “physically strong, dominant, white, middle aged alpha-man” that many people “see” when they hear “keynote speaker”.
The fourth most watched speech is a speech on the power of vulnerability. The 11th most watched one is on the power of introverts. (Both delivered by women.)

I am convinced that we are entering the “age of Gentle” – in a world where people in higher degree than before are empowered to do what they want, instead of what they are told to they do not want speakers who tell them what to think in an authoritative style – they want speakers who can inspire them in a gentle manner.

To be “gentle” means to be a a person who is mild in temperament or behaviour; kind or tender.

Almost all of the top 50 most watched speeches on are from smart, knowledgeable, passionate speakers who communicate their message in a mild temperament, kind way. Every single one of these speeches has at least 5 000 000 views. Those numbers do not lie.

The number one speech, with a staggering 35 000 000 views, is by Sir Ken Robinson, a man with a speaking style that is entertaining, funny and thought provoking. He has the ability to get respect from the audience, not by using a dominant or domineering style – but by arguing logically, making fun of himself and speaking softly.

By being gentle.

Ladies and Gentle Men: The future of speaking belongs to the gentle men and women who speak.


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(KL, Malaysia)

Today it happened again: I was the only white person at a conference.

500+ IT-experts from all over Asia had gathered in Kl, Malaysia for a conference and I was invited as the opening keynote speaker. Everyone but me was Asian.

I love when that happens.

Not specifically that I was the only Caucasian in a big group of Asians, but the fact that I was in one way different from everyone else.

When I lived in China it happened all the time. I was the only European, everyone else was Chinese. But it can also happen when I am at a conference of nurses for example and everyone in the room but me is a woman, and so on.

What I am looking for in a group where I “fit out”.

Some people feel uncomfortable when they stand out in a crowd, or when they feel they do not fit in. I am never more comfortable, as I see it as a perfect time to better get to understand myself.

What I learnt while living in China was that it is easier to be true to who you really are when you are in an enviroment where there is no-one from your own culture/group around.

When everything is familiar, understandable and well known – then how do you know if what you think is really your thoughts? Or if your “truths” are just the collective thoughts of your surroundings?

Or to use a metaphor: Who is more likely to feel secure in knowing what his true thoughts are: the white sheep in a flock of other white sheep – or the black sheep in a flock of white sheep?

I am arguing the black sheep.

Now in my headline I wrote that we should be “grey sheep”, I did that because the image of “being the black sheep” gives us the feeling that it is somehow wrong to be the different one.

The grey sheep is different, without being the bad one. 🙂

When you are in an enviroment where all think alike, where there is no struggle or tension to stand up for what you think because everyone else thinks the same then there is a risk of us becoming mentally lazy.

On the other hand: When your beliefs and “truths” are constantly challenged by a group that has other “truths” than yours, then you are forced to look at what you believe and question why you think what you think is correct. It also gives you opportunities to fine “better truths” by seeing what another group has done.

As a speaker I am constantly invited to industry conferences where everyone else there belongs to the “tribe” of that industry.
As a global speaker (I do 90% of my work outside my country of residence) I am constantly traveling in countries and cultures that are not “my own”.

That means that I am “double” exposed to end up in enviroments where I am the only grey sheep. And I feel that it is in those circumstances that I get my clearest insights and biggest revelations. It could just be a coincidence. But something tells me that it is not.

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