Month: February 2017

What kind of speakers gets booked for big, internal keynote speeches?

It’s not the best speakers. (you can be a great speaker but still not get invited to give keynotes)
It’s not the most famous speakers (famous speakers get invited to client events to draw a crowd, but the same thing that makes them a draw at a client event (they are famous) might stop them from getting the internal event (their fame has made them too expensive for internal events.)

My initial question is actually a trick question.

Because a client will not pick a speaker for their internal event – they will pick a theme.

And when they have a theme they will pick a speech which is on that same theme.

Not only when they have found a speech that matches the theme of the conference will they decide if the speaker delivering that speech is the one they want to book.

Today I was the keynote speaker at the AsiaPac-Business Development conference for EY. EY is one of the largest companies in the world, Asia is one of the most important markets for any global company, and the Business Development Managers are the ones responsible for selling some of the key projects that make this big, big company successful.

There were some very smart and experienced people in the room.

The managers had decided that two of the keywords at this conference was “disruption” and “innovation”.

I speak on both of those topics.

That is why I got this job.

Yes, the client had heard me speak before.
Yes, I have done a lot of work for this client before.
No, they would not have booked me did they not think my speech was good enough for this group.

BUT – and this is key – they would not have booked my speech, no matter how good they think I was if the topics I speak on was not the topics that they wanted their managers to hear.

My main topics are “Change, Business Creativity and Global Mindset” – the good thing with themes like “change” and “business creativity” is that those are themes that never go out of style – I have literally been speaking on those topics for more than 20 years and they have ALWAYS been in demand. (In good times everyone needs to innovative, in bad times everyone needs to change.)

What are the topics you are speaking on?

Are your topics in line with the themes that companies are picking for their conferences?

Is there any way you could tweak your speech or the topic that you speak on to make it more relevant to the topics companies are holding conferences around at the moment?


If you were watching a man juggle a bowling ball and he suddenly threw it three meters into the air only to have it drop straight down on his head, do you think you would remember it?

I just did and I can tell you that you would.

The man who did this seemingly idiotic stunt was Dan Thurmon, and he did it to make a point.

Dan is a professional speaker and a professional juggler and he uses his juggling skills to turn his keynote slot into a performance.

He spoke at a conference in Hong Kong today just before I went up to deliver my own keynote.

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I have seen many speakers use props on stage, but I must say that Dan was one of the best I have seen when it comes to using his props to reinforce his message.

In the example of “dropping a bowling ball on his head” Dan had earlier described to the audience how we all juggle many things in our life.

That was of course referenced to the obvious idea of juggling many balls, but then he took the metaphor one step furthered and described to the audience how we all have some things that are “heavier” for us to juggle (problems, a dilemma or predicament that is weighing us down). To illustrate this Dan and exchanged one of the juggling pins for a bowling ball. While struggling to juggle with the heavy ball he told us to think about the heavy thing we have in our lives.

And just as we as an audience was thinking of the things that was weighing us down he suddenly threw the bowling ball high into the air so that it crashed onto his forehead with great speed.

The audience let out a collective “OH!”, shocked at what they had just seen.

But to their, and my, surprise Dan just smiled seemingly unaffected by the impact.

It took a few seconds for the audience to understand that Dan had tricked us – the “heavy bowling ball” was in reality a light, rubber ball designed (!) to look like a bowling ball…

While he effortlessly tossed the fake bowling ball in his hand he reminded us that many things that people may think of as heavy problems in reality might not be heavy problems at all.

Dan Thurmon is the kind of speaker who relies very much on props and symbolism in his speeches. When I talked to him after the conference he explained to me that to him the props are there to help re-inforce a message – not to re-inforce the speaker.

A prop, per definition, is “a person or thing that is a major source of support or assistance.”

Assistance to the message that is.

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Personally I almost never use props (unless we choose to define Keynote as a prop), but handled right they can be very powerful. Handled wrongly they can be a disaster.

If you are going to use props as a speaker make sure the props are supporting the message – by making the message easier to remember, easier to re-tell to a friend, more visual (for the people who learn visually), or more impactful, for example.

I am afraid that I have seen many speakers choose to use props in the wrong way. Those speakers use props not as ways to support their message, but to draw attention to themselves, or worse, to distract from themselves or the message.

If the audience remembers that there was a very good juggler at the conference who dropped a fake bowling ball on his head the whole idea of inviting Dan to speak would have been a waste of money.

The ball is not used to be remembered – it’s there to help people remember the message. (In this case that thing that we see as heavy problems might not be as heavy as we think.)

That is the what the people in Hong Kong will remember long after the conference.

I, as a professional speaker, will also remember how Dan mastered not only juggling and speaking at the same time – but also the balance between impressing the audience with props and tricks – and making sure they get the message of his speech.

Is there a prop you could use in your speeches to support your message?

If you are already using props – is there a way you could strengthen the message that the prop is there to enhance?



Today I will write about why you as a speaker should speak to the back of the room, but network with the first row if you want to succeed both with your speech and your speaking business.

The reason you speak to the people sitting in the back of the room is that they are the most critical and sceptical people in an audience. Remember how, when you were in school, the “tough guys” would sit in the back, right hand corner of the classroom? It’s the same with an audience of adults at work. When you realise that you understand that you need to focus your attention on the back rows. If you get the “sceptical and critical crowd” against you everything becomes harder during the speech, and the evaluations of your speech will go down, because the people in the back will influence the rest in a negative way.

Another reason to speak to the back of the room is that the further away an audience member is from the speaker, the less obliged they tend feel to pretend to be paying attention. It’s always the people in the back who are the first to pick up their phones and check Facebook if they find the speaker boring, for example.

If you can keep the people in the last few rows inspired, engaged and happy the chances are very big that the group as a whole will like the speech.

(This, of course, doesn’t mean that you ignore the rest of the room, it’s all about understanding who in a group you have to have on your side.)

The metaphor you can use it to think of your message as water – If you focus on sprinkling water on the people in the front of the room, the people in the back will not get wet, but if you try to sprinkle the people in the back the people in the front will get wet as well.

While the people in the back might be the most important to catch during the speech, the people on the first row are the ones you need to focus your attention on before and after your speech.

So who sits on the first row during a speech? The funny way to answer that question is “no-one”. It is amazing how the first row so often is mostly empty – it’s like people are afraid to sit there because they think they might be pulled up on stage or something. In a concert people love to stand in the front row, during a speech most people try to avoid the front row.

But even if the front row is mostly empty it is still the “VIR” – the “Very Important Row”.

And that is because the people who do tend to sit on the first row are the VIPs, the top management, the most important people in the room. And those are the people you want to network with as a speaker.

The good thing is that you as a speaker also sit on the front row before your speech, since the organisers want to know where you are before you go up and speak (makes them comfortable), so that is easy for you to get up on stage (convenient for you) – and because you are seen as a VIP (enjoy the special treatment that comes with this job.)

So when you sit there and wait for your speaking slot to begin make sure you talk to the other people next to you. Those are the senior leaders who will book you for other speaking assignments if you do a good job.

Today, for example, I was speaking at the Prudential Learning Festival in Singapore. A few hundred people had gathered in the auditorium for a day of learning. I was the opening keynote speaker, after a short introduction by the CEO.

Before the speech I was sitting in the front row talking to the CEO chatting about his vision for the company. A couple of other people come up and sat next to us. I could tell they were senior leaders by their body language and confident presence and leaned over to introduce myself. I also got up and got two copies of the five copies of my book that I had planned to give away during the speech and give those two copies to the bosses.

We chatted for a while before the conference begun and one of them said: “Oh, so you are the speaker, I thought perhaps you were from the global HQ because I had not seen you before.” (A perfect example of how people think that the people who sit on the first row must be a VIP and since he did not know me he assumed I was from global HQ.)

I delivered my speech and it went well.

Two days later I get an email from the assistant of one of the two bosses who says: “My boss heard you speak two days ago and wants to book you for another conference that he is organising two weeks from now. Please confirm your availability.”

Just like that. Another booking. Without even asking about the fee.

Would I have gotten the booking without introducing me to the bosses before my speech? Most likely, but let’s just say it did not hurt.

The thing to remember is that you network with the VIP but you speak to the whole group, because no matter how much the bosses likes your speech, they still will not book you again if the feedback from the group was not positive.

So win the group. But talk to the people on the Very Important Row.


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