How to become better as a speaker


(Rio de Janeiro, Brazil)

For its global conference in Rio de Janeiro Nexia had invited two speakers:

Nelson Cardona, from Colombia.
and me (who flew in from Singapore).

I did a good speech, got great feedback (including a top manager of Nexia who came up and said “This was one of the best speeches I have ever heard, and I have heard a lot.”)

So job well done.

But I did not get a standing ovation.

Nelson Cardona did.

In this post I will analyse why.

1) An awesome story.
Nelson Cardona has had an amazing life. He was literally born during an earthquake. He ran away from home at 12 to discover the world and ended up in the rainforest for 8 years while his family thought he was dead. Then he became a climber. But in an accident he fell 18 meters and almost died and had to amputate his leg.

With just one leg he was able to climb Mt Everest (!) But on the way down he had lost so much weight that his prosthetic leg did not fit anymore and at the same time he got stuck in a storm with no oxygen left. He almost died again. But he somehow survived and now goes around and gives talks about living your passion.

2) A positive message.
His main message was about how he learnt not to complain and he showed a powerful picture of a very young child who had lost his legs but refused to complain and Nelson realised that to be a role model for this (and other) children he had to stop feeling sorry about himself and instead appreciate what he had.

As he said: “Life said to me” If you are going continue to complain I will take an eye out”.

3) Great connection to the client.

Nelson was perhaps the best speaker I have ever seen when it comes to connecting his speech to the client. He had included the clients logo, values, business and credo into his speech in a way that did not feel forced and which made “accounting” feel connected to climbing mt Everest.

4) Passion.
Speakers who tell their own story always run the risk of the audience feeling “why are you speaking so much about yourself?” or “What does this have to do with me?”. But Nelson was able to get the audience to connect to the higher message. You could tell by his speech that he was passionate about his life – but also about his message. (he spoke in Spanish so almost the whole audience had to listen via the translator which made it an even more impressive achievement.)

5) A great ending. (Which is probably the single most important part for who to get a standing ovation if I look at the times that I have gotten it in my career. (I can not go in in detail on how he ended it, but he did a very nice connection between a strategic decision that Nexia has taken for the future and his own story.)

To finish a speech in a good way we should not think about it as a “sprint to the finish line”’
More like how the participants in the TV show “american ninja warrior” stop to focus before they attack the last and most difficult hurdle.

Pause. Collect your thoughts. Focus. Get the audience to understand that you are now going to deliver the closing message – then pour all your energy into ending with a bang.


One of Nelsons message was that we have to “design the emotions”of the people we want to influence.

He used it to explain how he convinced his group that he could climb mt Everest with only one functioning leg. When people said it could not be done he said: “We have to do it to show people in Latin America that we can do great things.” His message became something bigger than just “I can do this” – it became “we have to do this to show everyone else that they can do what ever they can dream about too.”

As speakers that is one of the most important things that we do. We have to aim to “design the emotions” of our audience. And to do that we need to be aware about how to package our message in a way that moves them in a maximum way.

I did not get the standing ovation today.

But I got something better: a lesson in how to become a better speaker.


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What does it mean to be extraordinary?

That was the question that I had been asked to answer as Bentley Motors invited me to be their speaker at a VIP dinner for a few select guests of theirs in Singapore.

I started by saying that I would take a “creative approach” to try to reply to the question. (By that I did not mean that I would try to speak “creatively” about the subject, but that I would use my background as an author of creativity books to look at the word of “extraordinary” from the viewpoint of creativity.)

So what does the word “extraordinary” mean?

The dictionary says it means “very unusual or remarkable.”

So what does “remarkable” mean? It means: “worthy of attention; striking.”

So that means that to be extraordinary we need to be unusual and worthy of attention.

And that, sounds to me, very much like being creative.

For to be creative it is not enough to be “different” – we also need to create something that makes the world, in some way, better.

But here comes a paradox:

Our results should be worthy of attention – but when we create our ideas we cannot, and should not, seek the attention of others.
We should only try to create the very best idea that we can.

In the case of Vincent van Gogh, it took centuries for the world to pay attention to his creativity.

To be extraordinary we cannot create based on what others think.

Be Unapologetically great

That means doing what we feels need doing without asking for permission or apologising for what we think it right.

Think about it, almost all truly great creative ideas has come from a place of someone being unapologetic about what the creator believed in.

But being unapologetically great it not the same as being full of yourself.
Many amazingly successful people have been full of them self, cooky and loud – but the most extraordinary people of the world are the humbled successes. The Nelson Mandelas, the David Beckhams, the Dali Lama’s of the world.

Not the Donald Trumps of the world…

Yes, some great people are full of themselves.
But I am talking about the truly great who tend to be unapologetic about their ideas – not about themselves.

Be radically true to who you truly are.

To be true to our ideas we need to be true to ourselves.

Mahatma Gandhi was passionate about an independent India through a non-violent approach and saw himself as fighting for the rights of the millions of poor Indians. When he, in 1931, traveled to the UK to negotiate with the British government he travelled in the lowest class in the ship and arrived at 10 Downing Street wearing his loin-cloth not the western suits that were expected. A great example of not caring about what others expect someone to do.

The rest of us are not Gandhi, but we should equally try to stay radically true to who we are and the ideas we believe in.

Do not try to be perfect. Be your best.

To be perfect means “having all the required or desirable elements”. That sounds great, but it implies that we somehow have to achieve what others have agreed on as “required” or “desirable”.

But why settle to achieve the highest standards set up by others? Let’s instead aim for the highest standard set by yourself.

By doing your own things as well as you could possibly do it you will achieve something better then perfect:


You will be extraordinary.



This is an adaptation (and shortened) text from the speech I did at the Bentley event. It was a short 15-minute speech for a small group of VIP-guests as part of an exclusive dinner.

I post this text today as a reminder of what we as speakers should aim for. Doing what you believe in is always important, but extra important for a speaker – since we are paid to give our point of view.

(Click here to find out more about the Bentley-campaign.)


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At 2 pm I was scheduled to stand on stage to give a keynote speech in Paris.

75 minutes earlier I was still speaking for a group in Skövde, Sweden …

But I made it.

How was that possible?

By giving my first speech in this small little crappy server room next to the venue I was speaking at in Paris.

You see, I did my first speech via Skype.

I am not a big fan of “video speeches” and I do not actively promote giving video speeches as something I do, and yet I have done two video speeches just in the last month.

First one for a conference in Rumania (from my bedroom in Sweden)

And now this second one to a group in Sweden from a server room in Paris).

I said yet to both those requests because the client had wanted me to come and speak at their conference but for scheduling purposes it was just not possible.

(And yes, I got paid my “local speaker fee” for both those speeches.)

So why do I not like doing video speeches?

Three reasons:

1) I really like to travel and meet new people and see new places. Traveling is not a down side of my job – I see it as a perk.

2) There is always the risk of the technology not working.

(For one of the speeches I did this month we literally got the skype and Internet-connection to work 2 minutes (!) before i was scheduled to talk (And then we started testing it one hour before, had tested it days earlier and I had a IT-expert to help me…)

3) My style of speaking is interactive.

It is possible to interact also via a video speech, but it is more difficult.

My best advice for giving skype-speeches is to develop your imagination so that you actually feel that you are in the room speaking.

The key words for a good keynote are “connection”, “presence”, and “authenticity” – all of that is hard to do at a distance, via a screen.

Not impossible but difficult.

By forcing yourself to feel that you are actually transmitting yourself into the computer and into the room where the audience is sitting you will make it easier for the audience to connect with you and your message.

If you do it well the audience will get almost the same feeling as if you where there.

But – watching a concert on TV or on a computer will NEVER be the same as watching the concert live.

It is the same with a speech.

But if you do it right you can get close.

Below are two quotes from the speeches I did on the same day:

Quote 1 from the “real” speech in Paris where the man and I were in the same room:

“I’d like to thank you very much for your wonderful, inspiring, & dynamic presentation you’ve made to us during CANON EXPO at Paris. I really admire your abilities & how you motivate people.”
– Regards Yasser

Quote 2 from the speech I did via Skype and where the audience and I were in different countries:
“I would like to thank you for a very interesting presentation today. It was both inspiring and thought provoking – an eye opener. I will bring this speech with me as a reference for the future.”
– Tomas Planstedt

As you can see, very similar kind of feedback.

Lesson: If you do a “long distance virtual speech” do everything you can to try to “transmit” yourself to where the audience is sitting so that they can feel how you are trying to connect with them.

When giving a skype-speech the “connection” almost becomes more important than “the message’.

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