Life of a professional speaker

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I am a very frequent flier.

Last year, I worked in 32 different countries.

I have been invited to speak in 60+ countries on 6 continents during the last 15 years.

There was a year when I used 23 different airlines.

I spend more time in the air than a commercial airline pilot.

So, yes, I travel A LOT.

(Side note: For me, the travel is a goal in itself. That doesn’t mean I think everyone should travel like me. It only means I want to travel like this. For my post on how you can travel a lot and still keep a healthy work-life balance, see this post.)

With a travel schedule like that, it is natural that I will get many questions on how I look at “frequent flier miles” and being “loyal to my airline”.

Well, the more I fly, the less I count the miles and the less I am loyal to any airline.

Let me explain.

But first, a DISCLAIMER: I am not saying that all frequent fliers have to think and act like me when it comes to picking airlines.

My purpose with this post is to give an alternative to the common “mantra” of “being loyal” to one airline that I hear so many fellow travellers speak about.

Let’s start with an example:

Let’s say I want to fly to Stockholm from Singapore on Sep 20th and fly back by the 21st. Yes, it would be a crazy flight to take. But I and many other frequent fliers take these kinds of flights a lot.

If I INSIST on using Singapore Airlines, I would have to fly out at 13:55 on the 20th, and arrive in Stockholm at 23:45 on the 20th.

If I instead choose to fly with, say Finnair, I could leave at 23:35 from Singapore on the 20th, and arrive in Stockholm 08:00 on the 21st.

That means that I would have 9 hours and 40 minutes or 580 minutes MORE with my family on September the 20th by being “unloyal” to Singapore Airlines.

Yes, since it is a very expensive ticket at SGD 9,561, it would give me some nice miles – 17,872 miles to be exact.

A flight with SIA from Singapore to Copenhagen will cost you 120,000 miles if you are lucky to get the “saver rate”. The “standard rate” is 220,000, and the “full rate” is 540,000 points.

But, let’s say you are lucky and get the “saver rate”.

The full price would be SGD 9,823.70.

That means that to get a free flight (even on saver rate), you need to fly 6.7 times. Let’s round it up to 7 flights.

So, if I would have insisted on flying Singapore Airlines 7 times in order to get 1 free flight to Copenhagen worth SGD 9,561, I would have had been away 580 minutes x 7 flights = 4060 minutes, or more than 67 hours.

Now the “free flight” would still have cost me SGD 552 in taxes, so I would only have really saved around SGD 9,000 (SGD 9,561 – SGD 552 in taxes = SGD 9,009).

So, to get 1 free flight worth SGD 9,000 on Singapore Airlines, I would have had to fly 7 times with Singapore Airlines to Sweden instead of flying with Finnair, which would mean I would have had about 4,000 minutes less with my family.

Now, let’s count the value of that:

SGD 9,000 / 4,000 minutes = SGD 2.25 per minute, or about SGD 135 per hour.

Now, ask yourself this question:

If you are away from your family a lot because you frequently travel for work, would you be willing to be away one more hour if someone paid you SGD 135?

If so, by all means, rack up the frequent flier miles and be “loyal” to your airline of choice.

But if you think your family time is worth more than SGD 135 per hour, then you might want to consider being loyal to your family instead. 😉

BUT WAIT!

You say SGD 135 per hour is a a lot of money? It’s the equivalent of a monthly salary of over SGD 21,000.

Hold on, it gets worse.

1) Most Airlines Have Frequent Flier Miles

For example:

I have NOT taken into consideration that by flying Finnair, you would of course also get miles with them!

Finnair miles would have some value in the same way that the Singapore Airlines miles have value.

And if you fly a lot, you will soon rack up miles on all the airlines that you fly with.

Yes, it will take longer to get a free flight, but you will still get them.

 

2) The Value of Savings from Cheaper Tickets

I have also not taken into consideration that flying with Finnair (in this example) would have been about SGD 3,000 cheaper (SGD 9,561 on SIA, SGD 6,424 on Finnair).

So in 7 flights back and forth, I would have saved SGD 21,000 in cheaper flights, giving me enough money to BUY more than 2 Singapore Airline flights to Copenhagen and still have SGD 2,000 in the bank.

Or if I instead bought that flight to Copenhagen with Finnair, it would have just cost me around SGD 5,000. I would have been able to get 4 (!) return flights to Copenhagen (with Finnair) just on the money I would have saved on finding a cheaper ticket.

 

3) The Value of Actual Money & Time Saved vs. Artificial “Savings” from Frequent Flier Miles

Now, I know that not all people who travel on business care about the price of the ticket. Basically, only business owners who pay for their own ticket would have to.

But imagine a company that would create its own “reward system” for money saved while flying instead of the artificial “savings” of miles.

Note: I just picked the dates in random and the prices go up and down. I am also aware that, with some searching, I might have been able to find a different Star Alliance carrier (like Lufthansa) where I still could have been able to rack up some Singapore Airlines miles.

But my point here is to show an example of how looking for alternative flights based on “minutes saved” is a nicer strategy than “miles collected”.

The conclusion I have come to after flying a lot is: If you are a frequent flier who are away from your family a lot, then your focus should be on getting home as fast as possible.

Be loyal to your family time, not to your airline.

Lesson: Do not count the miles. Count the minutes.

Your airline might love you less, but your spouse will love you more. And very few kids would choose “collect the miles” or “come home earlier” when asked what they think their traveling parent should prioritise.


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In a recent post, I wrote how I counted one hour of water gymnastics as work, and I got a few questions about how that could be regarded as work. So let me explain one of my routines.

As a writer and speaker, you tend to spend a lot of time in front of a computer screen, either researching, looking for inspiration, or writing down thoughts and ideas. Speaking is basically just repeating the very most interesting things you have learnt.

Sitting in front of a computer for hours is not a good thing for your body.

So I try to find ways to force myself to get my body to move.

And yes, it helps to be a father of two (soon three!) young kids who ignore the fact that you are an old man, and make you run around on all fours pretending to be a horse when they come back from school.

But my body needs more exercise than that.

So I have created an exercise routine that is perfect for me, that keeps my body working while my mind keeps thinking about work.

Almost every day that I am not travelling, I spend one hour in the pool doing water exercises while listening to a podcast. The podcast part is important, it makes the hour go by fast and also helps my mind wander in an organised manner.

I normally listen to podcasts that are from speeches so that I can:

a) Learn something interesting
b) Listen to how other speakers present

By listening to other speakers, I can also evaluate how I would have presented a similar story, or example, so it’s a good way to benchmark yourself against other great speakers.

So today, I listened to a one hour speech by Daniel Pink, the author of “A Whole New Mind”. Daniel used to be a speechwriter of Vice President Al Gore, and I always find it interesting to listen to what speechwriters have to say about speeches.

In this podcast, Daniel said:

“Being a speechwriter, I have a certain philosophy about speeches. I believe that every good speech, every where, every time, no matter what your audience is, no matter how big the crowd is, no matter where you are in the world, every good speech has 3 ingredients: brevity, levity, and repetition…”

And then he adds:

“… Let’s say that again: brevity, levity, and repetition.”

Touché!

After one hour in the pool, I get up fit and inspired to go and do some work of my own.

I understand that not everyone has a pool in their house. Before, I used to do it on a treadmill. You can also just get out and walk while listening to something that interests you in your iPhone.

The point is to move your body and your mind at the same time. I find that as the best way to prime yourself for a good day’s work.

Now, if I want to exercise to get my mind OFF work, of course, I would not do this. Then I would play squash, play with my kids or do something that distracts me from work.

The routine I have described above is what I do in the morning to move me into a good mood before going to work, and to help me contemplate on the bigger picture so that I do not start the day getting crushed by small details and urgent emails that scream for my attention.

Lesson: Find your morning routine that gets you off to a great start for work. For me, it is one hour in the pool listening to a podcast to learn how other speakers speak and how other thought leaders think.

P.S.

So what is my routine when I am traveling? I guess I will write another post about that one day.

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People who are not speakers are able to quickly see the amazing advantages of being a speaker: Get paid a lot of money to travel the world to spread a message that you are passionate about, which spreads to thousands and thousands of people by working a few hours per day.

But very often, there is a “BUT…” to the sentence that begins “Being a professional speaker seems amazing…”. And that sentence very often ends with “… but don’t you miss having colleagues?”

And it is true — being a professional speaker is different from many other jobs because you do spend a lot of time on your own.

I would say 90% of speakers work by themselves, or in a very small team with one assistant, who might not even live in the same town as the speaker by working virtually.

Actually, the  job of being a speaker is very social. Just the nature of the job means that you very often spend your days at conferences (and conference parties) mingling with a huge amount of people.

BUT, you might say, those are NOT your colleagues. You are just visiting their conference/party.

True again.

And I am not going to lie and say that by being a speaker, you have the same social interaction with colleagues as you have in “a normal” office job. You also do not get involved in the politics that comes with a normal office job. 😉

So yes, a speaker doesn’t have colleagues in the traditional sense. But we have colleagues.

Lets see how the dictionary looks at the word:

“colleague |ˈkɒliːg|
noun
a person with whom one works in a profession or business.”

The speaking professionals have been very good at building a community of “profession colleagues”, as in “colleagues in a profession” as compared to “in a company”. It might very well have come about out of the necessity of not having “normal” colleagues.

But regardless of the reason for why it is like that, I just have to say that I love it.

I regularly meet up with a whole host of professional speakers in informal meetings where we chat about work, life, and the universe just like you would with colleagues in the office.

Just in the last 2 weeks, I have had such meetings with 8 different professional speakers.

Last night, I had a meeting with Andrew Bryant, the thought leader on Self Leadership (he literally wrote the book on the subject).

We spent 3+ hours on the balcony of Andrew’s penthouse overlooking the Singapore skyline, and over a couple of beers, we discussed everything from Brazil, Outlook, speaking in India, and book writing. It’s a mix of private and business topics, serious and fun, as one does on an “after work” with colleagues.

The funny thing is that speakers meet up at all!

When you think about it, in a way it is a very cut-throat business:

A client is looking for one speaker for an event, selects a shortlist and then picks just one off that list. All the others on the list gets nothing since it is quite common for a client to just pick one speaker per day for a conference.

You would think that speakers then would be very wary about sharing their secrets and their knowledge, but it is the opposite.

After having a great time with one fellow “colleague”, I wanted to write this post in appreciation of all the speakers who have helped me by agreeing to meet with me. If you are a speaker and want to hook up with me for a beer, coffee, or lunch, drop me a line by clicking on the mail symbol below.

I would love to meet up.

That’s what colleagues are for.

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