How to become better as a speaker

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What can a singer/songwriter teach you about professional speaking? Turns out quite a lot if you let him.

Last night I found myself at the Friends Arena together with 55 000 other people who wanted to listen to Ed Sheeran. I was a spontaneous surprise from my wife (who is a big fan) and while I enjoyed the concert I could not also stop myself from making some notes afterwards about what I picked up from Ed’s performance that we as speaker can learn from.

  1. Warm up the audience to the idea of enjoying themselves.

If you are an artist with hard-core, concert going-fans, performing will be easy. The crowd “knows” how to “behave” but Ed’s fans are mainly “normal people” – and many of his songs are ballads that doesn’t naturally encourage you to stand up and dance, so Ed spent quite a lot of time “priming” his audience and explaining to them how they have to “dance, sing and be loud”. (Of course there are many die-hard fans at his concert, but he spent quite a lot of time talking to the non-die-hard fans, as he called them “the boyfriend” and “the super-dad”.)

In many ways Ed’s audience is – from a mindset perspective – just like the audience that you often find at a corporate speaking gig: a mix of “normal people” who is not really in the mood to “let go and enjoy themselves”.

That means that we as speakers have the same challenge as Ed: to get the audience excited to hear the performance. That means – that if we have a speech that has humor, entertainment, etc as part of our performance we need to “prime” the audience to be ready to laugh/be entertained.

If you are a stand-up comedian performing at a stand-up show the audience is already mentally primed to have fun and to laugh, but a conference audience might not be.

So make sure you structure your speech in a way that you “lead” the audience into a space where they are ready to be entertained and have fun.

2) Authentic is the new cool.

Let’s face it, Ed Sheeran is not very cool. He looks like a nerd, has a boyish smile and on stage he looks like a sound guy who suddenly got dropped on the main stage.

He is not cool, and he is doing nothing to try to “be cool”.

And the audience loves it.

Because he is authentic. You get a feeling that the way he is on stage is how he is in private.

After speaking for 20+ years I can not stress how important it is for speakers to be very much the same on stage as they are in private. The time where people want “a persona/character/performer” on stage – where the speaker is playing a role (as the guru etc) is gone.  Of course there are exceptions to this, but as a rule, we are living in the age of authentic.

So watch does videos of you speaking and make sure that what they see is who you are.

3) Enjoy yourself on stage and your likability will follow.

Ed Sheeran has a silly high level of “likability”. I think a very big part of that comes from the fact that the audience can see, hear and feel that he is really enjoying himself on stage. And I think that a big reason for why you feel that as an audience member is that Ed has been able to keep the core, fundamental love for what he does and why.

He has not lost the connection back to why he started.

Sure, this concert was for 55,000 people, the stage was huge with massive animations and he makes millions and millions on this tour, but he did frequent references back to when he spoke in Sweden a few years back when there were just 200 people in the audience and standing on that huge stage all by himself, with no band or background dancers etc you could feel the connection back to why this man once started to write songs.

Why did you start speaking?

And can the audience feel the connection to what drove you to have to be on a stage and spread your message?


There you have it, 3 things I picked up on professional speaking while enjoying a concert with my wife. As speakers we can learn from many places, and almost always something from watching and listening to someone on a stage.


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What is most valuable for personal development: Being a mentor or being a mentee?

My answer is: to be a “mentoree”.

A “mentoree-session” is when you first mentor someone for one session and then you switch places and let the person who just was the mentee become the mentor and you become the mentee.

Today I had the privilege to sit on my island in Sweden and spend some time with Gil Petersil and his wife Ekaterina Petersil who stayed with us for a couple of days.

Gil is perhaps the most resourceful speaker I know. He his a great speaker, but also a great business person who, together with Ekaterina runs a series of different companies.

So today I sat down with Gil for one hour to help him refine his inner theme as a speaker.

After lunch we literally switched seats and he became my mentor to help me with some business development of my speaking business.

That way I get the best of both worlds.

By being a mentor I got to think about the topic I am an expert on which helps me reflect on it on a deeper level. (“the best way to learn is to teach”.)

Being a mentee I get to learn from someone who is more experienced than myself in some areas and who has a different perspective on speaking.

Here are some suggestions on how to do a successful “mentoree-session”.

a) Pick someone who is different than yourself.

For a Mentoree-session to work best you both need to have something to teach and something to learn from each other,

Gil and I are very different speaking styles, personalities and strengths and that makes it very effective to be “mentorees” to each other.

So try to find a speaker that is different from you where your strengths and weaknesses are different and invite that speaker to a mutually beneficial meeting.

b) Find an “equal”.

The best mentoree-sessions are when two speakers meet who look at themselves as peers. Where both feel they are (on some way) at the same level as speakers, even if they might be different in many other ways.

c) Be humble, yet confident.

Understand that the other person will be able to give you insights about yourself that you just can not find yourself, and at the same time have the confidence to tell the other speaker what he/she should be doing/changing

d) There is a time and place for everything.

A mentoree-session is not a “conversation between peers”. When you are the mentee be the mentee, when you are the mentor be the mentor. That creates a structure which makes sure that that you really focus on one speaker at the time.

e) Push each other.

Do not try to make the other speaker become you. Instead try to see the specific strengths and opportunities of the other speaker and push him/her to do more with that.

I learnt so much today both mentoring Gil and geting mentored from him.

I am sure you will too if you find the right “mentoree”. So go out and fine one.

(Picture from our lunch as we not only “talked shop” during their stay to our island, we also enjoyed some island family time together.)

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I did not do any speeches this week, instead I went on a one week vacation with my wife to San Fransisco to visit family, friends and to attend a wedding of a good friend.

I might not have been working, but I took any chance I could get to become better as a speaker.

An example: While in San Francisco me and my wife decided to go to Oaklanda stand-up performance with the cult comedian Sinbad.

I also attended the final game between the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets in the Oracle Arena. Well, technically the game was in Houston but the whole stadium in Oakland was full with fans who wanted to watch the game on the big screen jumbotron TV.

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Watching Sinbad do his stand-up routine I was reminded about things like:

  • the importance of looking like you enjoy being on stage.
  • the power of improvised storytelling
  • the value of engaging with the audience in a non-threatening way.

Watching a basketball game in a sold-out stadium where there was no team playing (!) I was shown the power of how the surroundings around the main event (be it – like in this case – a basketball game, or in my case, a speech).

It was fascinating to see how the audience would scream, cheer and boo even as neither team was there to hear it. It felt – almost – like being at the actual game.

(On this trip I also came up with what will, perhaps, be the theme for my next book, while sleeping in in our hotel room one day.)

As professional speakers we have a lot of time of, ie time when we are not speaking. (I am guessing the average professional speaker makes 70-150 speeches per year leaving close to 200-300 days in a year when we are NOT speaking…)

But if we want to be on top of our game we have to think about speaking every single day. That is one of the things I love with this job: that we get so much time over to live a life we want, yet can spend so much time developing ourselves in the area – speaking – that we are passionate about.

The best of both worlds. Not just work-life balance. But work-life harmony.