Life of a professional speaker

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I often get the question: “Why do you travel so much?”
To me that is a very strange question.

It’s like asking a migrating bird why it leaves in the fall, or a buffalo why it has to run across the plains.

When you just have to do something you do not need a reason.

But if I had to I could write down a long list of reasons for why make such a conscious decision to scoot around the world.

It makes me feel alive.
It makes me better at understanding the world.
It broadens my horizons.
It inspires me.
and a million other reasons.

But today I was reminded of yet another reason for my globetrotting life: It makes me better at finding alternative truths.

Because today I was the keynote speaker at the HQ of ING bank in Amsterdam. The bank has a mentoring program called “Crossings” where they take employees from different minorities and pair them with senior managers in order to promote diversity in an international bank that is still very much Dutch at the top. And the Crossings team had invited me to speak to their group.

The bank has understood the advantage of diversity amongst its employees in order to get diversity of ideas.

After the speech I sat down with Sudhanshu, an Indian national who had left India to work in the USA and now, for five years, in Holland. We talked about how he, by working in the West had picked up a different way of managing people by giving them more freedom, not micromanaging them and showing trust that his staff would do deliver what needed to get done.

But Sudhanshu’s classmates in India who had only worked in India just did not have the same understanding of how this kind of leadership style has advantages vs the more “strict” management style of many Indian managers.

Now, this is not about “Western things” are “better” than “Indian things”, this is about how exposure to alternative ways of doing something helps you more open to change – and less stuck in doing things a particular way because that’s “how it’s done”.

As speakers we are paid to tell people about the world. To broaden their understanding of something, to inspire them to learn new things – to open up their minds.

It is therefore extra important that we as speakers do do the same to ourselves, that we are open to new ideas and to change.

And traveling is a great way of doing that.

In January I have, or will be, visiting the countries of Thailand, the Philippines, Holland, Namibia and Sweden – all countries and cultures very different from my current home country of Singapore. Spending time in these diverse cultures pushes me to look at alternative ways of doing things.

And if you want to be able to speak to global audiences as a speaker then it is not enough that you are a great speaker, it’s not even enough that you have examples from all over the world – you also have to have an understanding of what people from different cultures like, dislike, laugh at and get inspired by.

And you can of course read books about it, watch movies about it or ask people about it – but we all know that the very best way to learn something is to immerse yourself into something.

And I like to immerse myself into the world.

If you want to be a global speaker I suggest you do the same.


Most of  my post on this blog is about how to become better as a speaker, but some are about the life of a global professional speaker. This is one of those posts.

As we are now closing 2016 I have done an inventory of my global speaking year.

2016 Summary:

  • Countries spoken in: 23 different ones in 2016. (Bringing the total number of countries I have spoken in to 63.)
  • Continents spoken on in 2016: 4. (Asia, Europe, Africa and North America).
  • Number of speeches delivered: 64. 
  • Months off: 3 (January, July and August, to be on paternity leave with my kids),
  • Number of global (or international) conferences that I spoke at: 23 (more than 1/3 of all my speeches).
  • Percentage of speeches done outside my home country of Singapore: Ca 65%.

Here is a video to hopefully give you a glimpse into what that year looked like, felt like and was like. I hope it will inspire you to speak more globally too.

ps. If you are interested, here is a list of the countries I spoke in 2016:

Hong Kong

And here a list of the global, or international conferences I spoke at:

BMW Engine Global Management Conference
APLMA Annual APAC Syndicated Loan Market Conference
IATA Africa/Middle East Conference
Anoto Global Management Conference
Tata Communications Global Marketing Conference
FWD Asia Management Conference
LIMRA Global Conference
Nu Skin Asia Management Conference
LSB Global Conference
Kaufmann Fellows Global VC Conference
Grant Thornton Global Partners Conference
Templeton Global Investor Conference
DLA Piper Global Services Conference
Qmatic Global Customer Conference
EY Global Mobility Conference
ATD Asia Pacific Conference & Exhibition
EO Global Conference
Home Instead Global Conference
DLA Piper Global Lawyers Conference
The Queens Leadership program
OMB Asia Management Conference
EY Asia Pacific/Global Tax Conference
Morison KSi Global Conference

I am now looking forward to 2017, which I already know will be another global year that will (at least) take me to speak on 4 continents, and most likely 5.

I wish you a happy new speaker year – and may all your speaking wishes come true.


Speaker war story about how to handle being sick when being a speaker.

I have been a little under the weather on and off for the last few months.. The funny thing is that it has been coming and going and always when I feel I am getting better, I became worse again. I guess it is a mixture of “airplane flu” from flying a lot and of “kindergarten flu” from having two kids bringing home all kinds of germs from their classmates

But generally it has not slowed me down. But a while back I was hit by something else.

I boarded the plane tofeeling a bit sick. On the plane I started to feel worse.

The first leg of my journey was an agonising 8 hours journey from hell with a blistering headaches that no migraine medicine had any effect on.

On the second leg I started to feel even worse.

I must have looked really sick as 5 (!) different crew members approached me to check if I was ok and one of them even came running with a thermometer – that happened to show that I had not only a bad migraine but also 38.7 C fever.

For the whole 15 hour duration of my trip (including transfers) from Singapore to Europe I must have slept 13 hours.

When I arrived t my destination the night before my speech the crew had prepared a wheel chair (!) for me as I exited the plane.

My male pride prevented my from accepting it – but after walking, what felt like 5 km of airport corridors I started to regret that choice.

When checked into my hotel room I went straight to bed and continued to sleep.

Then it got worse.

I woke up in the middle of the night by my bed being SOAKED in sweat (we are talking wet as in being dropped into a bathtub) And not only one side of the bed, but both sides of the queens size bed …

I got up and got some big towels to lie on to sleep on something dry.

A few hours later I had to get up again and get a new set of towels.

I was scheduled to speak at 9 am. and due to do a sound check at 7 am.

Amazingly, I woke up at 6.30 feeling 100% ready to go!

I got ready, did my sound check and delivered a speech that the audience and the client was very happy with.

How does that happen?

I still do not know.

Like i wrote in a recent blog post, it seems like the body is “aware” of when it can be sick – and when it has to function.
I am very happy it all worked out great yet again.


Being a professional speaker is a privileged profession. When we are not on stage our work is extremely flexible and we can choose to take off time in the middle of the day to pick up our kids from school, go see a lunch-time-movie – or go take a nap for a few hours because we are feeling tired.

But when we are scheduled to be on stage we better all fired up to perform.

That means we have to really learn to master the art of saving, channeling and focusing our energy.

I am very, very glad that I was able to do that on my recent trip to Europe. A trip that had me at 1% energy for 20 hours of travelling – and at 100% energy for that one hour I was on stage. (Then it went back to 10% energy again flying home…)