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Today I got a question from a journalist that I have never gotten before. It was quite profound, and in answering her question I learnt a new approach to doing interviews/research for my books and speeches.

The interview happened in Ulaanbaatar and the journalist worked for Forbes Magazine. In a 1,5 hour interview we talked about business creativity, change and how Mongolian companies could become even better (amongst many other things).

The interview was going very well (I thought) but after one hour she stopped herself and said out loud (more to herself than to me): “I am not asking critical enough questions!”

It was like she was doing a check on herself to make sure the interview was going in the right direction.

(One thing I have learnt about the Mongolian way of thinking is that person with a nomadic mind is always checking if he/she is in the right place.)

We had a short discussion about the need for journalists to be asking though questions and then the interview continued.

At the end of the interview we got to the part where she asked me a question I had never gotten before. She said: “So, have you learnt anything from ME today?”

A journalist asking if the subject from the interview has learnt something from the interviewer (!)

What an innovative approach to looking at an interview.

I smiled, and told her how stopping mid-interview had inspired me to, from now on, never do a whole interview in one go.

Instead I will schedule a small break (it could be a micro break of 10 seconds, but still) to make myself stop. To make myself reflect. To make myself pause.

I will do it to make sure the interview is going in the right direction, that I am getting the material that wanted/will be happy with, and to ask myself if there might be new, additional questions that I should be asking.

Such a small, little simple technique to improve the quality of an interview.

Just like players during a football match use the break mid-game to change the strategy if needed.

Or why not go one step further and, like boxers during a boxing match, have multiple rounds of small stops where you stop to analyse what is going well and what needs to be changed. That way you can adjust your interview and be more sure of getting the result you want during the interview instead of realising afterwards that you “should have” asked something else.

That is what I learnt about becoming a better speaker (and writer) in Mongolia today.

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If you ask me the most difficult speaking assignments as a professional speaker are dinner speeches where you are asked to deliver a business speech during a dinner. So how should one approach a speaking opportunity at dinner?

Before I answer this question, let’s look at WHY being a dinner speaker is more difficult than speaking during a conference:

When people are attending a conference their brain is in “work mode”, that means they are open to learn new things.

But when the conference is over and the event turn into a evening dinner, then the mind goes from “work mode” to “party mode” and then people are more interested in talking than in listning.

(In this post I am talking about giving a BUSINESS speech during a conference dinner, not about giving a social dinner speech).

So now let’s answer the question: how should one approach a speaking opportunity at dinner?

1) Always try to speak as early as possible. (preferably BEFORE the starter is served.)

The earlier you speak the lower the risk that the group is in “talking mode”.

2) Try to get a SHORT speaking slot.

Dinner speeches should ALWAYS be short. Usually shorter than the organisers are suggesting. Try to convince them to cut the speaking slot to a minimum,

A 20 minute dinner speech feels longer than a 45 minute speech at a conference.

3) Add more humour.

A business speech during a dinner is there to add knowledge and insights to the group (if they wanted a social speaker they would have invited a stand-up comedian or any other entertainer.)

Having said that people are expecting to be entertained if their dinner is to be interrupted. So add as much humour as you can into your speech (more than you would have in a conference speech).
Finally let me share a bit about the characteristics of the different kinds of speaking slots during a dinner:

Speaking slots during dinners are, in a way, similar to the different dishes during a dinner.

“The Appetiser” – the opening speaker during a dinner. There to give a taste of the evening. Normally the CEO or highest boss. Short, short, short.

“The Main Course” – When you speak just before or during the main course you can give a slightly longer speech that is more “heavy” in content.

“The Dessert” – If you are scheduled to speak after the dessert your message needs to be “sweeter”, not so so heavy. (See above about how people are more and more entering “party mode” as the evening plays out.)

A dessert speech might be less heavy on content, but just like a good dessert leaves a taste in the diners month that lingers on after the meal, in a similar way a good dessert speech inspires some kind of a message into the audience that lingers in their minds when they leave the dinner.

Tonight I was invited to speak at the dinner for the most important clients of Standard Chartered Bank in Singapore.
“The Appetiser speaker” was the global group CEO.

“The Main Course speaker” was Mr. Tharman Shanmugaratnam, the Deputy Prime Minister of Singapore.

“The Dessert speaker” was me.

Of course the main speaker, and the guest of honor was the Deputy Prime Minister who gave his views on the economic outlook for the world, for Asia, for ASEAN and for Singapore amongst other things.

Then during the dessert I held a speech about the need for change that hopefully inspired the audience to think bigger thoughts.

My speech started at 8.50 and ended at 9:10 PM.

To speak to a big group of senior business leaders at the end of a dinner, at 9 PM is a challenge, but by trying to make it light and entertaining my speech was hopefully a good balance to the more heavy, Economic outlook speech by the guest of honor.

Hope you have gain some insights of the fun but difficult assignment of delivering a business speech during a corporate dinner.

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A 3-star Michelin restaurant never worries about competition from a local diner or a fast food joint, so why are 10 000 USD speakers worrying about competition from 1000-2000 USD speakers?

The last couple of days I have been mentoring two 10 000 USD speakers as part of my “inner theme speaker mentoring program”.

When I say “10 000 USD speakers” I mean that is their fee for one speech, and though I would never define a speaker based on his or her fee alone, I choose to talk about these speakers in those terms in this post (instead of, for example, mentioning the themes they speak on) as to not reveal their identities.

Both of the 10 000 USD speakers that I mentored mentioned that the reason they were not getting as many speeches at they wanted at the moment was that they were seeing competition from cheaper speakers.

I think this mindset is very dangerous.

A 3-star Michelin restaurant is, in a way, in competition with a local diner or a fast food joint, but it is more relevant to say that the 3-star Michelin restaurant is in completion with OTHER 3-star Michelin restaurants.

And I think it is the same with people who book speakers. If you are organising a top notch global conference and are looking to book speakers for your event the fact that a speaker is charging 10 000 USD or 1 000 USD is not going to be the deciding factor for which speaker you book.

The deciding factor will be: “Will this speaker deliver a world class speaker experience?”

And if the answer is “Yes!” then the fee is not a problem.

But if you, as a 10 000 USD speaker, start to compare yourself with 1 – 2000 USD speakers, you are going to start to doubt yourself, you will begin to compare yourself with the wrong competitors and you will be pulling yourself down – instead of pushing yourself forward.

(This is of course only true for the speakers who really ARE 10 000 USD speakers (i.e. has actually consistently charged that much to happy clients), not speakers who “think of themselves as 10 000 USD speakers” ….)

In this blog post I am, of course, using the “10 000 USD speaker” just as an example, it doesn’t matter if your speaker fee is 1000, 5000, 10 000 or 50 000 USD, my point is that as a speaker you should benchmark with other speakers who charge the same as you  – or who charge more than you.

It’s about taking pride in what you have achieved as a speaker and about aspiring to always grow to become a even more sought after speaker.

And yes, there can sometimes be downward pressure from speakers offering to speak for a lower fee, but it is my experience (and I have been doing this for more than 20 years) that the reason a speaker looses a potential speaking gig is very seldom because “another speaker offered a lower price”.

It’s because the speaker was not perceived as being of high enough standard. (Which you could argue is just a different side of the same coin, but I think the lessons drawn are totally different.)

Very few 3-star Michelin restaurants loose customers because other restaurants in town are cheaper. They loose customers because the perceived value is not there and clients go to other 3-star Michelin restaurants instead.

So if you see your bookings start to go down as a speaker, do not blame the competition or price pressure from cheaper speakers. Blame yourself and ask yourself: “How can I upgrade myself to a 3-star Michelin Speaker again?”