Month: June 2016

Benjamin Loh is 29 years old and a professional speaker. Some might say that being 29 years old is too young to be a professional speaker, but I say that age is not expertise. It doesn’t matter how old you are, what matters is that you have something to say.

I could see a lot of myself in Benjamin as I started my career as a professional speaker myself at 27 (20 years ago – God, times flies…)

At that time I was an expert on Internet and business because I had written a book about Internet and marketing (and also because frankly, there were very few other experts on the Internet in Sweden in 1994-1995.)

To be an expert you just need to know more than the audience…

But regardless of age, a speaker needs to have an inner theme: something that burns inside of him or her that is what drives the speaker to want to speak, something that is pushing the person to constantly research his or her topic. a Theme that is an extension of who the speaker is as a human being.

The last few months I have been doing quite a lot of mentor sessions with other speakers and very often the sessions turns out to be about finding – or refining – the speakers inner theme.

Is is amazing to witness the transformation that happens when a speaker suddenly connects with his or her inner theme. And considering that it takes one hour of coaching to do it is probably the best investment a speaker can do.

What I have come to understand is that very often speakers have not fully understood what their inner theme is.

But when the connection to the inner theme happens it’s like all the pieces in a puzzle falls into place: suddenly a vision is visible.

The session today with Benjamin was a perfect example of that.

We started by talking about the themes he speaks on (public speaking and Millennials) and then started to dig deeper. I begun to ask him questions:

Why did you become a speaker?

Why did you pick the subjects that you speaks on?

What is the common denominator of these topics?

What drives you?

Quite quickly, based on his answers, a theme started to emerge. I packaged it together and presented it to him, and he liked it, but somehow I could see it in his body language and on his energy levels that the theme that I had identified was not the true inner theme.

So I decided to dig deeper.

I asked him about his childhood. About the true feelings that he has when he stands on stage.

And a different story started to emerge. A totally different inner theme.

Now we had two themes.

I asked him how he felt about theme “A” and theme “B” and he said: “Theme “A” is the theme I want to give, it’s me serving my clients. Theme “B” is who I really am inside…”

When he was talking about theme “A” he was using a “sales voice”, when he was talking about theme “B” he was talking with a voice that can only be described as “primal”.

It was obvious for the two of us that theme “B” was his real inner theme – a theme that connected to his very core.

I do these coaching sessions for free. It’s my way of giving back to the speaking community, but it is also a very valuable way for me to learn about my industry and my profession. Helping other speakers find their inner theme makes it easier for myself to look at my own role as a speaker.

As they say: “The best way to learn is to teach.”

Today I learnt about the value – and the power – of digging deeper. Of not settling for an answer that “sounds good”, but to keep going until you find the answer that is “true”.

Then when you find that “true reason” for why you speak THEN you can start building on that until you find a topic that you can package and sell to clients. But if your topics are not sprung from the most fundamental values of who you are as a person you will never be a great speaker. But if they are – you have the potential to be great.

If you are not 100% sure about what your inner theme really, really is – then I highly recommend you set aside time to figure that out. It is the number one thing you can do to develop as a speaker.

As a bonus you will find the calling of your life.



(Hong Kong)

Speaking is a bit of a paradox: It’s the easiest job in the world, yet one of the hardest skills to master.

In one way it is really simple: Just go on stage and speak. Everyone – except a few mute people – can speak, so technically everyone has the basic skill needed to be a speaker.
Yet still we all know how the majority of speeches that we hear are uninspiring, boring, uninteresting or bad.
So why is that?
How can something so seemingly simple be so hard to do well?

I look at the art of speaking like the slogan for the game Othello: “Five minutes to learn – a lifetime to master”.

And every time I give a speech – or hear a speech – I try to digest what made the talk great, average or poor.

Now, after 20 years of being a professional speaker – the last 15 as full time speaker – and after delivering more than 2000 speeches and after sitting through (or watching online) probably 10,000’s of speeches of the most shifting quality I have come to the conclusion that the most important words to remember as a speaker are the words “affinity” and “rapport”.

Affinity means: “a natural liking for and understanding of someone or something: he had a special affinity with horses.”

Rapport means: “a close and harmonious relationship in which the people or groups concerned understand each other’s feelings or ideas and communicate well: she was able to establish a good rapport with the children | she had an instant rapport with animals.”

(Interesting how the dictionary chooses to exemplify these two words with a humans ability to connect to animals – but in the context that I am speaking about these words it’s about your ability as a speaker to connect with the audience.)

We often hear about the need for a speaker “to connect with the audience” – but I actually think it is the other way around: As a speaker you need to make sure that the audience connects with you.

You might not think there is a difference, but there is.
It’s subtle but it is there.

It’s like hooking up with someone in a bar: Walking up to someone can work well, but the more sophisticated technique is to give hints and send signals to the other person so that the other person walks up to you. The audience is a sensitive being – it doesn’t want to be picked up. It want’s to feel that it is in charge.

And that’s where affinity and rapport comes in.

As a speaker you need to get the audience want to like you.

It might seem unfair, but if the audience decides that they do not like you – then they tend to decide that they do not like your message either. Your message is deemed guilty by association.

When I say “like” I do not mean you should try to change who you are or what you stand for. Nothing screams “unlikable” as someone who is fake or artificial.

But what you can do is to try to find that connection between you and your audience.

Today I spoke for an insurance company called “FWD” with operations in 7 countries in Asia. In the briefing meeting that I had with the client I also got to know that they were just opening up in Singapore. A few minutes before the speech I ask to be introduced to the man running Singapore and ask him more about what kind of products they will be offering in Singapore. He informs me that they are going to offer a competitive travel insurance.

In the beginning of my speech I mention to the audience how I normally am not a client for the companies that I speak for (I give the example of how one of my recent clients was an Oil&Gas company and how my next client would be bankers in Luxembourg) and then I shared with them how excited I was to speak to this group because I had just found out about this great travel insurance they were going to launch and how I would sign up to be one of their first clients.

I then said: “I would not be surprised if, over my life time, you are going to make more money on me than I am going to make out of you.”

And then I smiled.

The audience gave me a applause, a friendly laughter and warm smiles.

They had connected with me.
I was not just a speaker there as a hired gun to speak at yet another conference.
I had shown interest in what they did, been convinced that they had a great product and decided to join their company as a client.

Affinity and Rapport.

(It’s important that they really felt that I was going to become a client, and I am really going to ask them to contact me about their services when they are ready to launch.)

One of my strongest messages to people who want to be speakers is: “It’s not about you – it’s about the message that the audience takes with them” – and that is true.

But it is also true that your message will not received unless the audience is willing to listen to you. And the very best way to make someone listen to you is to make them want to listen to you.

And that you achieve by building affinity and rapport.


(Picture of an audience of one of my precious speeches.)


(Shanghai, China)

On the briefing call with the client one week ago I asked: “Why did you decide to bring me in as a speaker at your conference?”

The reply I got was: “After a full day of seminars we need to break it up with something different.”

When I asked “What do you want me to speak on?”

They replied: “We leave that up to you – we just need someone to be break between a day full of seminars.”

So there you have it: Sometimes the job of a professional speaker is more similar to that of a half-time entertainment performer than an educator.

We are there to lighten up the mood, give some distraction from the main event and give the audience a break from what they are really there for.

Might be tough to hear for some.
Personally I have no problem being the half-time show once in a while.

But in instances like this it’s important to know how to plan your “performance” so that it fits with the day – even when there seems to be no fit what so ever, or even when you have been selected on the basis that there IS no connection to the rest of the conference …

The conference this time was the Annual Asia Pacific Syndicated Loan Market Conference.

400 bankers and lawyers met at the Marriott hotel in downtown Shanghai to learn about the latest trends in international syndicated loans.

When I read the conference program to see what the other speakers would be speaking on I found things like: ““Recent trends in the APAC and Global loan markets”, “Australian Loan Market – Infrastructure”, and “Leveraged and acquisitions finance market” and so on.

My topic is “creativity”…

Not very obvious that there would be a natural fit between the theme of that conference and the topics I speak on.

So what to do?

I decided to fly in one day earlier to listen to the other speakers speaking on the first day to try to find a connection.

I still did the talk I had planned to do.

But I also connected my message to the message that others had been speaking on.

Creativity is the ability to find patterns where others do not find any. And by listening to the other speakers the day before I could find patterns that I could then connect with what I had planned to talk about.

When one speaker had spoken about the uncertainty in the Chinese economy – I could connect that to the need to be good at seeing and understanding change.
When one speaker talked about the trends for loans to coal mines in Indonesia – I could connect that to how giving a loan is actually one of the most creative industries there is: Since a person giving a loan is basically buying into someone else’s idea of what the future will be like.
When the Emcee talked about the party they had had with people from different countries – I could connect that to how the most important purpose of a conference like this was to pick up ideas from other people from other countries – since the syndicated loan market is very global and people working in it have to have a understanding of what happens globally.

And so on.

Small changes in my speech that made a huge difference in connecting the speech to the audience.

So I ended up giving a speech that was totally out of sync with all the other speakers (as they had asked me to do) – and at the same time was connected to all the other speakers (and the theme of the conference).

Both different and relevant.

That is the sweet spot that you should aim for when you are there to be the kind of speaker who is a break from all the other speakers.


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