Month: February 2017

Today, while I did a speaker mentoring session with Khaleelulla Khan, I got a question into my head:

When you are trying to sell your speech, who are you selling it to?

There are two ways you can look at selling your message:

1) You are helping people get a better life/career
2) You are helping businesses improve – by helping their managers learn about some aspect of business or leadership.

You are either on the side of the employee – or the company.

But then there is the third way: This is when the company is helping its employees get a better life/career.

It’s the same when you are writing a book. (A book is more or less just research for a speech nowadays anyway.)

1) You are writing a book people buy with their own money – because they decided they want to become better at something in their life.

2) You writing a book that top managers buy because they want to know how to develop their people to improve business

3) You write a book that the top management buys and give as gifts to all their people because the managers want their people to become better at something.

In scenario 1 you sell a few books (people really do not like to part with their hard earned money)
In scenario 2 you sell a few more books as companies buy in small quantities to give to top managers
In scenario 3 you sell the most amount of books as you now get the company to buy books to all the employees.

Take a subject like “creativity”

In scenario 1 you write a book called something like “Live a creative life.” (good for the individual)
In scenario 2 you write a book called somethings like “How to develop a creative culture” (good for the company)
In scenario 3 you write a book called something like “Think in new ways” (good both for the individual and the company)

When the book is out you go on a speaking tour:
In scenario 1 you are speaking at public events
In scenario 2 you are speaking at small events for the top management
in scenario 3 you are speaking at the big corporate events where they have assembled all employees.

There is no “right or wrong” here of course. Do it right and you can sell million of books in category one, or get millions of people to sign up for your speeches at public events.

But for a speaker wanting to build a solid speaking career and have a solid market to sell books directly to his or her clients then category 3 is probably the strongest.

I have written books in all three categories and my most successful book, by far, has been The Idea Book which falls very well into category 3.

As a speaker you can choose to be in any of these categories, you can even choose to work with more than one.

The purpose with this post is to get you to think about what your strategy is.


Today I had the joy and privilege to go and attend a performance at my son’s Kindergarten. (I love that I, as a speaker, have job with such freedom that I can decide to take some time off in the middle of the day to go see my son perform.)

The class was performing a play about nature that they had written themselves. (Summary of the message: We need to be nice to animals and we need to stop cutting down trees…)

My son had gotten the role of the tiger, but also one of the roles of reading the story line to the audience of about 100 people.

As a father I was proud as a rooster.

As a speaker I was impressed with the quality of their performance.

Watching my son on stage became a lesson in the simple, basic rules of communicating a message.

Sometimes when someone is getting all tied up in complicated phrases trying to explain something it can help to stop them and say: “Tell it to me as if you are explaining it to a six year old.”

And sometimes I think we might over-complicate the business of delivering a speech. So todays post is about what a 6-year old can teach us about speaking.

This is what my son taught me today.

1) Speak clearly.

Many adult speakers seem to think that to get your message across you need to speak loudly, as if speaking loudly makes people hear you better.
That is not true. If anything a speaker speaking to loudly makes the audience stop listening to you – and makes the sound guy frustrated over having to constantly adjust the volume of your mic.

What my son showed me today was that it’s not about being loud – but about being clear. As he read the words from his script he pronounced them with such crispness and sharpness that he had the attention of every, single person in the room.


2) It’s not about you.

Hearing my son read the text about how the “hunters were killing all the animals” I could sense that there was not a single thought in his head about any inner voice going: “Is my fly open?”, “Are they listening to me?”, “I wonder what they are thinking of this?” etc. He was there to deliver his lines.

And you are there to deliver yours.


3) Be short and concise.

The full dialogue of the section where my son was acting out his message about the trees was him and his friend walking up to the middle of the stage, looking out at the audience and saying:

“Stop cutting down the trees!”

Then they walked back to the side of the stage and sat down.

Message delivered…

Speakers are often given one hour for a speech almost like it’s a habit. Like it’s a law that a speech has to be an hour. Most speeches do not. I wish more organisers of conferences realised that a 45 minute speech is often as effective as a 1 hour speech, and a 45 minute speech can often be delivered in 20 minutes. If anything that is what has shown us.

So the next time you are asked to give a speech, ask yourself: “How quickly could I deliver this message with maximum effect?” and then ask for a speaking slot that long. Or should I say “that short”.


4) Have fun

It’s just a speech.
Or in their case: it’s just a play.

A few seconds after performing they were happily celebrating a classmates birthday. A few minutes before the play they were goofing around.

Giving a speech, or a performance, is something fun. Enjoy it. Embrace it. Have fun doing it.


5) It’s not about being perfect – it’s about being authentic

They say practise makes perfect, and they do have a point. But practice, too much practice, also risk suffocating the spur of the moment, real life, authenticity that comes from just being in the moment.

Those kids today were not perfect in their delivery – but they were being in the moment – and there is nothing more perfect than that.

6) There is nothing to be nervous about.

Many adults would be terrified to go up infront of 100 strangers to speak, not to mention to go up and perform a play that they had written themselves, dressed as a tiger …

My son was totally oblivious to the idea of being nervous. I was biting my tongue after the performance as my adult brain wanted to ask him: “So, were you nervous?!” but luckily my fathering brain stopped those words from coming out of my mouth. There is no need to start putting the idea of being nervous into his clean and innocent mind.

The sad thing is that many adults will get stressed out with angry butterflies in their stomachs for delivering a speech. Stage fright is real and many people suffer from it, but we should all be inspired by those kids on the stage and realise that there really isn’t anything to be nervous about. Go up there and deliver your speech.

Those were some of the lessons my son thought me today.

I must also add that I just love that he goes to a school – International School of Singapore – where they encourage kids as young as six to go up and present and perform at such a young age. These kids are already getting exposure to and experience of the nobel art of delivering a message – one of the most important life skills there are.

Watching the kids perform I was reminded of how, when I was six years old, my father, who was teacher and a part-time musician would bring me and my brother up on stage at his band’s concerts and have us sing a song or two with the band. The ladies in the audience loved the cute kids singing – and we liked how they would bring us small presents like a soft drink or some candy as “tips”. And I understand now that those childhood mini-concerts instilled in me a sense of confidence and a feeling of being comfortable communicating to big groups of people.

Forty and some years later that skill is now taking me around the world to speak. And that is a joy and a privilege – but still that means nothing compared to the joy and privilege of taking the day off to go and see my son perform.


“Keynote speakers are well paid, but just how much do they actually get paid?”

I get that question a lot. It is usually from people interested in becoming speakers, or from speakers just starting out.

To understand the pricing logic of keynote speakers we first have to understand that there are different kinds of speakers, or to be more specific there are different reasons people become speakers.

1) The Celebrity

These could be business leaders or celebrities from the entertainment or the sporting world who are asked to speak because the organizers want a “famous name” or a “famous story” to draw people to a conference, or to add some star quality to an event. In these cases the speaker is seldom paid based on his or hers skills as a speaker, but on the value of his or hers brand. So the fee the speaker gets is more of an advertising fee or a sponsorship deal than a professional fee for speaking – and that means that the fees can be very, very high.

2) The Professor

In this category we find people who are experts in their professions and because of that are paid to speak. They could be professors at universities, but also journalists at respected news organizations etc. The point here is that speaking is not their day job. They make their living some other way and then supplement their income with a few random speeches through out the year. That means that their fees are usually on the high side since they can pick and choose the speaking jobs that want, since they do not want so many.

3) The Instant Star

The instant stars are the speakers who suddenly find themselves in the spot light. Captain Sully (the captain that landed the plane on the Hudson river) or Captain Philips (the man behind the story that became the movie with the same name) or a person who gives a TEDx talk that goes viral. Suddenly everyone hears about this person and wants him or her at their conference. Instant stars find themselves with huge demand which makes their fees soar.

The problem they sometimes face is that their appeal can be short lived. They need to milk their appeal before they fade away from the limelight. No matter how hot a viral video is, it will soon be substituted by another viral video. No matter how popular an American Idol winner is, most of them will quickly disappear after the season is over and a new star takes their place. And that hot speaker everyone wanted is suddenly replaced by another hotter speaker.

I guess this category should be called “the shooting star” – a lot of bright lights and attention, but for a short period of time. Former instant stars will find themselves struggling to find high paying speaking gigs after the temporary appeal has faded, just like former American Idol winner from a few seasons ago find themselves performing in shopping malls in third tier cities …

If you are an Instant Star, make sure you transition to a “thought leader”, a “professional, professional speaker” or a “celebrity” to be able to keep your fees up.

4) The “thought leader”

Most speakers probably fall into this category. These are the “bread and butter” speakers at many conferences. These are people who are experts in a subject and who use this expertise to both speak, train, coach and consult etc. They tend to charge medium or high fees for speaking.

If they are more “trainers” than “speakers” their fee is generally lower as they are trying to break into the speaking industry.

5) The Hidden Agenda

In this category I put the speakers who speak to get business. It could be a consultant trying to get consultancy work, a sales person trying to sell his or her company’s products or services. A speaker trying to sell assessments, surveys or software, like e-learning platforms and so on. Many industry conferences live on booking speakers like this.

The organizers know that speakers who see speaking as an opportunity to sell something from the stage will be much more inclined to reduce their fee, or even speak for free, since their primary reason to speak is to sell these other products. If speaking is your main, or only, business, you will be much more focused on keeping the fee structure high.

A speaker who is only there to speak – not to sell – has no hidden agenda. And a speaker there to sell is not a speaker, he is a sales person doing a sales pitch. And that’s why they do not get paid, or if they do get paid, get paid less than true professional speakers.

6) The Idealist.

The idealist is someone who has a full time job and who thinks that speaking at conferences is a way to get their message out. It could be a government official, a marketing person, a person at a NGO etc. They usually do not see speaking as a way to make money, but as a way to a) get their message out effectively or, b) have some fun in their mundane, normal job. Because they do not look at speaking as a business they do not treat it as a business, thus they tend to be very bad at negotiating high speaking fees.

7) The professional, professional speaker.

In this category are the speakers who only speak. (I am in this category). The professional, professional speakers are pure keynote speakers who live on just doing that. Their fees are in the high, but not super high, range (unless they are in the “celebrity category” of course, like Malcolm Gladwell or Seth Godin where the fees go way up again.) You can of course fall into more than one of these categories.

After we know what kind of speaker a speaker is we then have to understand how interested person is to speak.

The fee of a professional speaker is, more than anything else, a matter of “supply and demand” – Demand, as in clients interested in booking the speaker. Supply, as in the persons willingness to be a speaker. (Some people might be in huge demand to give speeches, but might not want to give a lot of speeches (Think Barack Obama) then the price will go up to almost astronomical amounts. Having said that, we also have to take into consideration what the speaking opportunity means for the speaker. A speech on the TED stage is not paid, as the speakers realize that delivers an amazing platform to reach out with ones message. Same with a talk at the World Economic Forum. A speech at a local Rotary is not paid at all, even if the speaker normally charges tens of thousands of dollars, for no other reason than you can not expect to be paid when speaking at Rotary, and so on.

There is also different speaker markets. If you only go after schools and universities then the fees per speech might be lower than if you are going after banks and other commercial companies.

And the speaker industry is more or less developed in different countries, that sometimes affect the speaking fees a speaker can charge. Finally we need to understand that a speaker’s fee will go up in correlation how long he or she will be away from home. (A speech in the speaker’s hometown tend to be much cheaper than a speech requiring a intercontinental flight.)

I hope you are starting to see where I am going with this. There is no “one answer” to how much a speaker charges for a speech. It could be nothing, $2000, $5000, $10 000, $20 000, $50 000 or $ 150 000.

The point to understand here is that the speaker market might look simple at first glance: “Pay a speaker for an hour” and it might generate a simple question: “How much does a keynote speaker charge?” But look deeper and you see that the industry is a bit more complex and that it is not so simple to give a simple answer to a question like that. In the end the market sets the price and supply and demand kicks in.

As I write this blog for people interested in taking their speaking to the next lever, or for people interesting in the speaking industry, the lesson here is that a speaker needs to figure out what kind of speaking category they fall into, what kind of category they want to belong to – and then how many speeches the speaker wants to deliver in a year.

If you want to do 200 speeches in one year, the chance of the happening if you lower your fees a bit. If you just want to do 15 speeches in a year, then the fees per speech can be allowed to go up so that you loose some speaking requests because you have out-priced yourself.

As a speaker it’s important to understand what the market is charging, what your competitors are charging, and what clients are willing to pay – but much more important to be aware of the number of speeches and the kind of conferences you want to speak at – and ultimately – what kind of speaker you are.