How to become better as a speaker

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Robert Bradford is an American professional speaker who flies around the world to speak. He just flew in after a speaking engagement in Malaysia and is soon flying off to Dubai for another.

But today, he is in Singapore for a speaking engagement, and I managed to meet up with him tonight for a few hours so we could speak about speaking.

Robert is the expert on “strategy” and has done more than 2,000 strategy sessions. He has also been invited to speak at many Speaker Associations, multiple times for the National Speakers Association (NSA), to share his experience on how to make it as a professional speaker. So it was, of course, very valuable to get some one-on-one time with him to learn.

We talked about a host of issues, but my post today will be about one thing he mentioned that I found very interesting: the need for a speaker to be unique.

Actually, “being unique” is a topic of one of Robert’s keynotes, so I guess it makes a lot of sense to listen to what a thought leader on “uniqueness” has to say about being unique as a speaker.

One thing he said was that many speakers are not working hard enough on becoming unique.

What you have to understand about the speaking business is that while there might be many opportunities to speak at conferences, it is actually quite tough to be the one speaker who gets selected.

Of all the people in the world, why should they pick you to speak?

Most speakers do not have a good answer to that question.

My answer for why I should be selected to speak at a global conference is that I have (with a very high likelihood) spoken in more countries and to more different kinds of audiences than the other speakers on a shortlist for a global conference.

And my unique experience of knowing how to speak to people from different cultures, countries and backgrounds is a big advantage when someone is trying to pick a speaker for a global conference.

If you were organising a global conference and you had three really good speakers on your shortlist where one had spoken in 3 countries, one in 13 countries, and one in more than 60 countries on 6 continents and 32 different countries for 2014 alone (and has written a book about global companies), who would you pick? 😉

 

Now, back to Robert.

 

Robert said that a speaker needs to nail two things to get selected:

Being Unique and Adding Value.

 

And you have to nail BOTH.

 

Now, here is the thing: It is not enough to be Unique.

No one will EVER select a speaker just because he or she is unique.

Yet, so many speakers spend way too much of their energy trying to make themselves different.

Speakers get selected because they add value to a conference.

But – and this is were it becomes interesting – you do NOT get selected to be the speaker if you are not ALSO unique.

There are just too many good speakers out there that clients could choose while still knowing that they would be adding value.

To be picked, you have to stand out. Be unique.

So how do you stand out?

Well, the best way to stand out is by being perceived as being unique in the value that you can deliver.

Get it?

Your ability to deliver value can make you unique.
But you are not unique just because you can deliver value.

Lesson: What is the unique value that you can deliver? And if you do not have a good answer to that question, what do you have to do in order to get it?

 

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Today, I had the privilege of coaching not one, but two different speakers, in one day.

In the morning, I met with Stewart Lee Beck who had flown in from China (see above photo) and in the evening, I sat down with one of the professional speakers from Singapore.

The first reason is altruistic.

The second reason is egoistic.

It turns out that helping other speakers become better at their job is one of the best ways to become a better speaker yourself.

During the last 5 or so coaching sessions that I have done with other speakers this month, I was able to reflect on things like:

1. The need to fill your speech with stories that are not about yourself.

2. The importance of creating a speech that is well grounded in the experience that you, and ONLY YOU, have.

3. The danger of rehearsing a speech too much and making it feel like you are reciting lines from a play.

4. The value of identifying and deleting all your “ticks”, like saying “you know”, or “like…”, and many, many more.

Looking at videos of your own speeches is very, very valuable.

But the problem with watching videos of your speech is it sometimes can be too private, too personal, too close for comfort that it might stop you from seeing what you should be changing.

The funny thing is when you watch OTHER speakers speak, it is much easier too see what they are doing wrong – but more importantly: it can also help YOU to see what YOU are doing wrong in your own speeches!

I love how speakers, as a group, are so interested in helping each other become better. And I like how making other speakers better helps improve my own speaking.

If you are a speaker, ask yourself this question:

When was the last time you sat down with a fellow speaker and gave constructive feedback on his or her speech?

If it has been to long, maybe you can take the time to do it. If not for the altruistic reasons of being nice, at least do it for purely egoistic reasons of how it will make yourself better as a speaker. 🙂

Lesson: Sometimes other people are our best mirrors.

And that is of course true for many other things than speeches.

 

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Today, I have decided to write a post about how one speaker, Immaculee Ilibagiza, was used as an example by another speaker, Shep Hyken, to teach another speaker, Me, something about speaking.

Shep Hyken is the Immediate Past President of the National Speaker Association of America (NSA). He is also a world class speaker on customer service.

He is in Singapore and this evening, I had the honor of spending 3+ hours with him and Andrew Bryant, the newly elected president of Asia Professional Speakers Singapore.

During our very interesting dinner, we discussed about everything from Donald Trump to Russia. But my post today will be about what one of the best speakers in the world has to say about the best speakers in the world, and what we can learn from them.

Shep is in the Speaker’s Hall of Fame, has been a professional speaker since 1983 (!), and is a world authority on customer service with something like more than 60,000 followers on Twitter.

When he was the President of NSA, he got the chance to go around the world and listen to some of the best speakers in the world.

I asked him to give me the names of some of the speakers that he had heard who, he thought, were the most valuable speakers for a speaker to hear.

Now, something very interesting happened.

Shep mentioned speakers who had been great at giving concrete advice on how to get return on investment, and then he mentioned Immaculee Ilibagiza.

If you do not know who Immaculee Ilibagiza is, know this: She is from Rwanda and survived hidden for 91 days with seven other women in a small bathroom with an area of 12 feet during the genocide.

She speaks about forgiveness, which is a very powerful message, especially when you learn that most of Ilibagiza’s family — her mother, her father, and her two brothers Damascene and Vianney — were killed by Hutu Interahamwe soldiers.

Her speech has nothing to do with getting a “return on investment” as a speaker. It is a totally different kind of speech.

And that is the message.

Some people think that you have to follow a “formula” to be a professional speaker, that you have to be funny, that you have to be charismatic, that you have to be a great story teller, or that you have to have a lot of facts, and so on.

The truth is that there is no formula.

You can be speaking on how to use social media to increase sales with slides full of charts, or be a funny speaker sharing what you learnt from climbing Mount Everest, or speak about the power of forgiveness after surviving a genocide.

As long as you tell YOUR story. The story you believe in, the story you know how to tell, in the way you know how to tell it.

Lesson: Shep’s message was so simple, yet so relevant —

Take every chance you can to listen to great speakers. Learn as much as you can from what makes their speeches great; but do not try to copy them, do not try to become them, do not change your style to be more like them.

Instead, use all that inspiration from other speakers to help you develop your own message. Your own style. Your own path.

Great speakers – and great speeches – can teach you so much about being a great speaker, or giving a great speech.  

The only thing they can not teach is how you are going to give yours.

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