Month: May 2017

One of the most common questions I get from people who want to become keynote speakers is: “What is a keynote?” or “How is a keynote different from a one hour presentation?”

The answer is simple.

A keynote is a speech that is “setting out the central theme of a conference”.


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So it is a speech just like any other speech BUT with the addition that the theme of the speech is inline with the theme of the conference.

(The word “keynote” comes from a musical term meaning “the note on which a key is based.”)

And that explains why many great speaker do not end up as keynote speakers – their speech might be fantastic, but the topic of the speech is not a topic that is common for conferences.

It also means that if you speak on a topic that is popular as a theme for conferences you will do more keynotes…

I speak on Business Creativity, Change and Global Mindset. These are my three main keynote speeches.

And right now a VERY common topic for conferences is “Disruption”.

As a speaker who speaks on “change” that is perfect for me.

Today is a great example of that: A few hundred tax experts from all over the world had met in Shanghai for the PWC Global Tax Symposium. The theme for the 2017 edition? “Dealing with disruption.”

I was the only external keynote speaker of the day.

My speech was on change and disruption.

Please note that I know nothing about “global tax”.

When the organisers where looking to find a keynote speaker for their conference they wanted someone who could be “setting out the central theme of a conference.”

That means that ONLY speakers with themes close to the theme of “Dealing with disruption” could and would be considered.

The lesson here is:

If you want to become a keynote speaker make sure that the theme you speak on is similar to the themes that conference organisers are picking. And if it is not, then spend some serious time thinking about HOW your theme could become more similar to the most common themes out there at the moment.

What are the most common themes? Just walk down to a big convention centre (or google their websites) and look at the advertisements for these conferences to see what the themes are.

I have been a keynote speaker for 20 years, very much thanks to the fact that the theme “change, disruption, and creativity” has been a common theme for the last 20 or so years.

Did I get the speech in China (and others like it) because I am a good speaker? Of course. But let’s be honest, I got it partly because I speak on a topic that is similar to what the theme of the conference was.

Spend time to make sure you have a theme that is similarly in line with what conference organisers are putting as their conference themes at the moment and I can almost guarantee that the number of keynote speeches that you will do will increase.

(Note: That doesn’t mean that you should change your speaking topic to “be more bookable”, it means that you should tweak the topic so that you are still true to who you are but at the same time are closer to the themes of the conferences. How you do that is a topic for another blog post 😉


Today I bent down to help carry a box of books that my client had bought and ripped my pants through the whole groin area -we are talking a 30 cm hole at least…
Here is the worst part of the story: it was 15 minutes before my speech was scheduled to begin and at 10 am (= before shops open in Singapore). And venue was 20 minutes away from my home so could not send for new pants…). Luckily I had an extra pair of pants in my suitcase since I was flying to Shanghai later in the day…
Had I not had that I might have had to deliver my speech with my jacket over my bum… or while wearing a strangers pants, or made my clients move the speech by 20 minutes (all options doable but not perfect).
But now everything turned out fine.
I am telling you this story to show how the speaking business is really one of the least complicated or difficult businesses to be in (as long as you are not afraid to potentially making a fool of yourself in front of a few hundred people…)
A speaker friend of mine in Sweden recently posted how he by mistake put the antenna of the lapel sender in his own ear (!) while trying to take it off and it hit him so unfortunately that he had to go to the hospital to stop the bleeding…
Again, the work place hazards of this job is just ridiculously minimal.
Posting this as a reminder to everyone who is or think about becoming a keynote speaker that the job of being a speaker is not only a privilege and one hell of an inspirational job – but it’s also one of the least dangerous jobs I can think of. :-). Let’s appreciate that when we fly around the world and spread our message. Today I did it for a few hundred people at PayPal, now off to Shanghai (with a brand new suit in my bag) for another speech tomorrow


The idea that speakers are competing for a few speaking assignments and that there are only a few speaking jobs that speakers compete for is just crazy.

Today I am speaking for 600 lawyers from all over the world who have gathered for a conference in London. They flew people in from 71 cities in 51 countries and there were just 3 external speakers at the event.

At first glance it might look like it would be very, very, very difficult to get a job like that since there are tens of thousands of speakers in the world and this company obviously did not care where the speaker flew in from (since they flew me in from Singapore), and thus all those speakers were competing for these three speaking slots.

But this mindset of scarcity is wrong.

Yes, there are a lot of speakers in the world and yes, only one or two speakers get to speak at most conferences – BUT – and that is a huge “but” – there are tens of thousands of conferences around the world every month looking for speakers whom they can pay to come and speak.

A few weeks ago I listened to Niels Brabandt, an international speaker, who put things into perspective. Niels was commissioned by a pharmaceutical company to study how that company worked with speakers.

In this survey they discovered that this company alone used 42 000 (!) speakers every year for all their conferences around the world. And they paid for every single one of those speakers.

Let me say that again: ONE company paid for speakers 42 000 (!) times in ONE year.

Now imagine how many big, global companies there are in the world. And how many government organisations, and small and medium size companies, and events and conference organisers, etc etc all looking for speakers.

Every time I hear someone say that there are not so many speaking opportunities around I ask them to go down to any big convention centre, or any big conference hotel and look at the agenda for the day to see what conferences are going on right at that very moment. Then go back tomorrow and see who is there. And next week again. And so on …

There is an abundance of speaking opportunities all over the world and if you just realise that and stop having a “scarcity mindset” you will realise that the only thing you need to do is to go out and network, build relationships, talk to people and get them to know about you and your amazing speech.

The reason you are not getting enough speaking assignments is not because there are so few opportunities to speak, nor is it because there are too many other speakers competing with you – it’s because the people booking speakers do not know about you. (Or, if they do know about you, but don’t book you, you should consider improving your speech since there obviously might be a reason for why they don’t book you – and that reason is most likely that your speech is not good enough…)

Speakers complaining about the difficulty of getting speaking gigs reminds me of how shy boys will complain that there are not enough girls out there to get a date … Trust me, there are an abundance of girls out there, you just need to go out there and start talking to them.

And as a speaker you need to get out there and start connecting with the tens of thousands of people around the world who book speakers.

If one company alone is booking 42 000 speakers a year there must be million and millions of paid speaking opportunities in the world every year. Go get your fair share of them.

(Picture from my speech in London just before 600 lawyers from around the world entered the ballroom, but this picture with empty chairs is here to symbolise all the ballrooms around the world that right now is in need of speakers.)


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