Author: Fredrik Haren

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4 May 2015, Singapore

Today, I had the great pleasure of having my dear friend Derek Sivers over for a visit. Derek has one of the sharpest and most curious minds of anyone I know, and he also is one of the best speakers I have met. Derek masters the art of making an interesting point in a simple way.

One of his most famous speeches is a three minute (!) speech that he gave at TED with the title “How to start a movement”. If you have NOT seen the speech I URGE you to look at it – it is nothing short of a master piece when it comes to how to give a short speech.

The speech can be seen here: http://www.ted.com/talks/derek_sivers_how_to_start_a_movement?language=en

Now, Derek’s speech might LOOK simple – but I happen to know that there is nothing “simple” about making that speech look so simple. Derek spends a lot of time fine tuning his speeches until his point comes across in a simple way.

While sipping some coconut water in my living room, I asked him about his process of writing a good speech.

Derek told me that when he had written the speech down, he tested it on a few friends to get an “outsider’s perspective” to the message. As a speaker, you are so familiar with what you WANT to say that you might be blind to HOW to best get that message across.

In the case of the “How to start a movement” speech, Derek tested the speech on a friend who said: “That part of ‘the first Follower’ was a really interesting idea.” Before that comment, Derek had failed to fully grasp the power of the phrase “the first Follower”.

Derek: “That tiny line in the middle of the talk was what made all the difference.”

The rest is, as they say, browser history. Derek’s “How to start a movement” talk has created a movement of its own – the speech now has more than 4.6 million views!

Lesson: If you risk becoming blind to the message you are trying to get across, try your speech on a few people before hand to get a fresh perspective and an audience point of view.

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30 April 2015 – Kiev, Ukraine.

Today Sir Richard Branson flew to Kiev, the capital of Ukraine, in his private plane just so that he could speak to 3000+ attendees at the Forum One Conference.

At the end of his presentation he got the question from the moderator: ”Why?”

It’s a fair question. Here is a billionaire businessman with more than 300 companies, who also is personally involved in a number of global not-for-profit-projects and who is famous for privately living an extremely active life. So why does he fly for hours just to speak for a bunch of Eastern European business people?

He replied: “We all know that when we give a present it’s better than when getting one. I have lived a fun, and active, life. I think it is important to share my experiences.”

Great answer – but he could, of course, just have recorded a video and sent it to the organisers or posted it online. But he didn’t.

Why not?

He did not answer that question, but I think the answer is that there are few things that can give such a rush as standing in front of a big audience delivering a speech on a subject you really believe in. The excitement, the inspiration and the feedback that you get from giving a well received speech is hard to beat.

Think about it: What do former US presidents do when they are done being “the most powerful man in the free world”?

Answer: They often hit the speaker circuit.

US presidents and billionaires – people who are better positioned than probably anyone else to do exactly what they want – choose to spend their time speaking.

I find that an interesting observation.

Lesson: The profession of being a professional speaker is probably the most inspiring job in the world.

P.S.
I had the honor of being one of the keynote speakers at the same conference as Sir Richard Branson. What I especially liked from Sir Branson’s talk was his message of thinking grand – and to always keep looking for problems so solve. But what I liked more than hearing him speak was seeing how he was the same inspiring, curious and interested person behind the scene in private as he was on stage (and which we have gotten to know via the media.). He is possibly the person with the most positive energy that I have ever met.

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At the Shangri-La Hotel in Bangkok, Thailand.

A couple of hundred clients of software company Sabre met at the Shangri-La Hotel in Bangkok today. The delegates came from 38 different countries and represented some of the largest hotel companies in the world.

The theme of the conference was how technology is changing the hospitality industry and Sabre was showing their latest innovations in booking software.

The only external speaker was me.

I was there because they wanted me to speak about innovation and change.

Why am I telling you this?

Because I have been invited to conferences just like this one for 15 years, to companies in all industries (from banks to car companies) and in over 55 countries. I would love to think that the reason I get invited back, time and time again, is because they think I am a great speaker (and that is, of course, true in a way – they would never invite a speaker they did not think was great.)

But my point is that it is not ENOUGH to be a great speaker. There are many great speakers who do not get invited to give keynotes at global conferences, and there are actually multiple reasons for why those great speakers do not get invited.

Today I am going to talk about one of those reasons: The need for a “universal niche”.

As a keynote speaker, you need to have a theme that is “niched” or “positioned” enough so that you can become an expert in it and be seen as a thought leader of that niche.

But at the same time, the theme needs to be “universal” in the sense that it needs be a theme that never goes out of style, which is of interest to any industry, at any time. (Yes, you can of course be an “industry specific speaker” and only speak at, say, wedding conferences, but I think having a universal theme is much safer, more lucrative and easier to sell.)

Many speakers saw their booking rate tumble during the Global Financial Crisis, especially speakers who were selling themselves as being “entertaining” or “funny” – suddenly companies did not want to book them. Their theme just wasn’t suitable for a conference where the company was trying to save money or just had to fire staff.

But I never saw a decline. I had as many engagements as I had always had straight through the GFC. Why? Because my “niche” of speaking on “business creativity” is “universal” — companies need to be creative in good times, and in bad times.

How can I speak at events with diverse themes such as a banking conference, a travel conference, and a car conference, etc.? Because the theme of “business creativity” is “universal”. All industries need to change. All organisations want to innovate.

During the Sabre conference, the internal speakers from Sabre mentioned the word “innovation” or “creativity” more times than I could count – so it was with great confidence that I could go up on the stage and begin my speech by saying “I am very happy to be here because I think my speech will fit very well to the theme of this conference.”

The funny thing is, that is an introduction that I could use at almost every corporate conference that happens in the world today, yesterday and tomorrow.

Lesson: Ask yourself, is your theme “universal” enough that it would fit well at any conference, regardless of what the conference is about, or what industry the conference is for?

If not, is there any way that you can make it more universal?