Tag: Life of a professional speaker


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…)


I have been a professional speaker since 1994, I have done more than 2000 paid speeches, and I can not remember the last time I canceled because I was sick. (Actually I might never have done it, but I certainly can not remember doing it.)

So does that mean I have never been sick?

Of course not. I am sick right now, as I am writing this. A bad case of colds, fever and generally non-working brain. I have done nothing of value today and if this text makes no sense I will blame it on my malfunctioning brain.

But here is an interesting observation I have done over my 20 year speaking career: It seems like speakers get sick when they do not have an assignment.

It seems that speakers seem to be able to “put off” being sick, until there is a whole in the calendar. In the last month I have spoken in the USA, Spain, Thailand, Malaysia, Lithuania, the UK – and a series of speeches in Singapore of course. But now I have a few days without speeches before I go to Barcelona next week, and just like that I got really, really sick.

Could I have given a speech today if I had a booking? Yes – I have been delivering speeches while not being in perfect physical condition before – but let’s  just say I am very happy I do not have to.

I think the body feels that it’s “ok” to be sick, and then it relaxes and then the sickness strikes.

I also think that the body pumps itself up with adrenalin before a speech and “lives” on that energy long enough to get the speaker through the scheduled event. (Think how Hillary Clinton collapsed into a waiting car after attending the 9/11 memorial service.)

So why am I sharing this on a blog on being a professional speaker?

Because I think it is crucial that speakers plan in “non-booked-periods” also during the “busy season” of September to November (when speakers tend to have crazy schedules).

And more importantly, it’s important to block off longer periods of “down time” after a busy period as to re-charge the batteries and get back to “full charge” again.


They say people who never take time off to exercise sooner or later have to take time off to be sick.

I think it is equally true that speakers who do not take time off to get some down-time, sooner or later will find themselves down one way or another.


I normally write posts on how to become better as a speaker, but as a global keynote speaker, a big part of my job is to travel, you might want to say that I am a professional traveller who speaks once in a while. So today I will write a post about global travel, and what you can learn from my experience.

Today I started an-around-the-world ticket that will take me from Singapore-Hong Kong-Toronoto-New York-Chicago-Omaha-Chicago-Barcelona-Munich-Istanbul-Singapore in 5,5 days.

It started well with a nice Singapore Airlines flight to Hong Kong but quickly got worse..

When I arrived in Hong Kong at 11 am I find out that my 3 pm flight to Toronto was delayed to 5 PM. (ie 2 hours)
Since I had just a 2 hour and 20 min lay-over in Toronto, and since I would have to walk through customs and immigration at the US checkpoint in Toronto (USA checks you in Canada not when you land in the USA) I understood that I would probably miss my connection.

I called the Star Alliance HQ and ask them to put me on another flight

They said that they could not re-book me on the day of my flight.

Lesson number 1: A fully re-bookable around-the-world ticket can only be re-booked one day in advance. Lesson learned.

She said I had to sort it out with Air Canada. So much for an Star Alliance…

I go to the check-in of Air Canada and tell them that I need to be in New York on Sunday night (I am speaking at lunch time Monday on Manhattan and have two meetings booked in the morning before that.)

The guy says there is no way I will make my flight so I have to stay over-night in Toronto and take a morning flight to New York.

(Arriving on the morning of a lunch-time speech after a 30+ hour intercontinental flight is NOT optimal.)

I tell him I am sure they can fix it and ask to talk to the manager.

Lesson 2: If someone says no to you, and you know, that person is probably wrong, insist to talk to a manager.

3) The manager comes and clicks on the system for 5 minutes until he replies: “Sir, would it be acceptable for you to land in Newark Airport instead of Laguardia?”

Turns out the first guy had only looked at later flight options to “Laguardia Airport” instead of looking for flight options to all New York Airports…

Lessons 3 : Never assume that check-in personal are thinking flexibly and creatively when trying to solve your problem – they are just trying to get you out of the way to work on the next guy. But the managers will generally try to solve your problems.

I ask him to re-book me to the Toronto-Newark (NY) flight.

It leaves 8.55 PM (so I still do not have a lot of time since I just gained another 25 minutes…) That flight is the last flight out of Toronto to New York on Sunday.

4) I land in Toronto at 8.08 PM (1 hour and 58 minutes late.)

Walk through security and get “flagged” by Air Canada and have to do a extensive security check.

Arrive at the “customs” area at 8.20 PM (that’s 35 minutes before the DEPARTURE of my new flight…)

US customs have this feature where only have to look at a photo of my bag to “claim” it, instead of picking it up and checking it in. (Great service)

It’s supposed to take “15 minutes” to get our bags off the plane, photographed and tagged to our name so we can “claim” it.

There are 4 service personal from Air Canada at the “Luggage service” desk ready to assist us so we make our connections (or so I thought there were.)

Between 8.20 and 8.45 one by one the service staff start to walk away!

When the LAST person leaves the service desk I stop her and ask: “Wait, someone needs to be here and help us?!”

She replies: “I do not know where everyone left?”

Me: “I do not care, but YOU have to stay!”

She: “I will get the manager.”

Me: “No, you need to stay here and help us. There is still a chance we can make our flight!”

She walks away.

Lesson 4: Never fly with Air Canada!

5) I an few others booked on that NY flight (and another sad man trying to get to Philadelphia) are now alone in the customs waiting area. A customs guy comes and says “We are closing this area now, you will spend the night in Toronto. I will have to escort you out.”

Normally I would advice: “Never argue with customs officers” (it never works and they just tend to get pissed off and make your life hell because they can…)

But this time I decide to break my rule.

Me: “We were told to wait her by the Air Canada staff as she was going to get the manager.”

While we argue back and forth the Air Canada woman comes back (without a manager)

by stalling the customs guy I had gotten one last chance.

Lesson 5: Sometimes you should argue with customs guys, but generally you should not…

The Air Canada lady says: “They are closing here, your bags will not be processed and you will have to stay here over night, please go with me.”

The rest of the people booked for NY decide to go with the woman.

Lesson 6: If an airline staff tells a group of people to follow her to get “rebooked” you must EITHER be the FIRST one to go with her (and stay close to her and make friends with her) so that she takes care of you first when you get to the service desk (where there will be chaos…) – OR – you decide to NOT follow with the crowd and see if you can solve it by being contrarian.

I decide to stay.


It’s now just me and the sad man flying to Philadelphia (his flight is the only remaining flight out of Toronto to USA this night (at 9.20 PM).

He argues that he should be let through and the Air Canada woman screams to the security guy “See if you can scan his boarding card and get him through.”

(It sounds like something she just says to get rid of the sad man, and then she is gone with her group of “duckling passengers”.

The sad man gets his boarding pass scanned – and it works!

(Turns out that his bag was just that second marked as “missing” which meant he could now fly without his bag…)

I smile at the security guard and say: “Would you mind scan my boarding pass too…?”

He does.

And it works!

My bag had also been marked as “missing” and re-booked for a flight to NY tomorrow morning. (that also means I (!) have been re-booked for Monday morning, but never mind that for now…)

Lesson 7: Never give up. Always say to yourself: “ I will be on that flight.”


My problem is that it is now 8.51 (ie four minutes before my flights DEPARTURTE) and I have not gone through customs or emigration yet.

Luckily it is – for once – a breeze to get through (probably because the guys working there are now on over-time since they should have gone home 15 minutes ago…)

My plan is not to make my flight, but get re-booked last minute on the 9.20 PM flight to Philly and then take a 2 hour Uber driver to New York when I land.

I prefer to be on the move trying to get closer to my destination than to be stuck. Especially stuck in the wrong country.

Lesson 8: Always be looking for alternative options. Always be moving towards your destination.

I also happened to note that the flight to Philly had the same gate (!) as my flight to NY so IF (!) for some strange reason, I would still make the NY flight it would be at the same gate…


I arrive at the Philly gate and see that the NY flight is still open! (It was never flagged as “delayed”, but still it is.)

It’s now 9.02 PM (7 minutes after scheduled departure.) – The sign blinks “Last Call”.

Me: “Hi, can you please get me on the flight.”

Air Canada woman: “Sorry you are scheduled for tomorrow with your bag.”

Me: “My bag is missing, that’s how they let me through the customs without my bag.”

She: “But we found it now.” (seems they had found my bag and now did not want to call it “lost” anymore.)

Me: “I really do not care. I am here and I want to make my flight, you can send my bag tomorrow.”

She: “But your bag is no longer missing…”

It is now 9.04 PM

I hear another woman say: “Change the sign to “Gate Closed.”

Lesson 9: Know when to stop being nice and start demanding what you want.

I look for the supervisor and walk over to her.

Me: “I paid $14 000 (!) for this ticket. It’s your fault that am late because your first flight was late and for this flight you miss-located my bag.”

She: “Let me see what I can do.”

Me: Big smile. “Thank you.”

Lesson 10: Never be too angry, just show your teeth and then go back to smiling. No-one likes a angry person.

It’s now 9.07 PM


It works!

The managers gets me a boarding card, leds me through a roped off area (gate is already closed and walkway to plane blocked off…)

I walk on board my flight, they close the door behind me and we push back.

It’s now 9.08, exactly 60 minutes after I stepped off the plane from Hong Kong.

Lesson 11: Always push forward with a positive mindset and tell yourself you are going to make it.

So, In one hour I managed to:

Walk from plane to customs area,
get through security
get trough extra security screening
wait for my luggage (that never arrived) in the waiting area for 20+ minutes
Argue with Air Canada staff who left
Get through Immigration
Get through customs
Walk to new gate
Argue with Air Canada staff (again)
Get on plane.
(I also managed to go to the toilet, check emails and get a drink 😉

I am writing this in the Uber going to the hotel. I will arrive at my hotel at 11.45 PM – (instead as the planned 10.45 PM) – and I will sleep in the hotel bed on Manhattan, next to my venue tomorrow, for a full 8 hours (instead of getting 5 hours or so at some airport hotel in Toronto.).

All is good.
ps. My bag did of course not make it. Will be very interesting to see if Air Canada will be able to get it to Omaha (where I will be by then ) by Tuesday. My experience with Air Canada tells me they will not.

Or as the United Airlines guy trying to help me find my missing bag (when Air Canada staff was not in their Missing Luggage office as they should be): “Air Canada is the least service minded and helpful airline in this airport.

I would go one step further and say: The least service minded airline in the sky. Their slogan should be “Hell in the sky.” I have flown with 50+ airlines (including North Korea Air!) and Air Canada is – by far! – the worst airline. (How can a country full of so many friendly people have such an unfriendly airline?)

So bonus lesson: Never, ever pack anything essential in your checked in luggage – “Just stay Calm and (pack in) Carry on’”. And Avoid Air Canada…

Anyway, I still made it. Good night.

(Picture of the empty Air Canada desk after everyone working there had left, taken at 8.50 PM – ie 5 minutes before my flights departure time, when I was still on the wrong side of customs and immigration… Most people would probably have given up by then… 😉