How to become better as a speaker

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As a speaker you can practice and prepare as much as you want, but you never really know if a story is going to work until you try it on an audience. (Same as a stand-up comedian can work on a joke for hours but will not know if it will create a laugh until it is delivered from stage.)

While comedians will know instantly if their material work (audience laughing = material works, audience not laughing = back to the drawing board again), speakers often can not find out if the new material just by watching the audience.

Because with speakers the story might not told to get a laugh, but to spread a message, inspire some action, change someones mind etc – maybe even to provoke a reaction.

So if comedians can listen for the laughter how can speakers find out if the new material worked or not?

You have to stick around and ask.

Today I did a speech for the clients of Adecco from across AsiaPac. The theme of the event was “The Future of Work” and that was also the title of my speech.

I had written the speech specifically for this convention and one of the new stories that I included was a story of what I called “The Silent Society”, about how we slowly but steadily are getting more and more used to interacting with machines where we used to interact with humans, and how must of us haven’t noticed that change.

After the speech I stayed around for the networking event and tried to talk to as many different audience members as possible.

As it common practise they came up and said: “Thank you for a great speech.”

I said: “Thank you” (Always say Thank you…) but then I added: “What stories did you like in the speech? And may I ask why?”

I find that I get more honest feedback with a broad and open question instead of asking: “So what did you think about the story about X.”

Turns out that a couple of people mentioned the “silent society” story as one of their favourites, even if it was the first time I told it (They of course did not know that).

Now that I know that the story works, I can include it into my library of stories I can use in future speeches.

But the interesting thing was that – because that story is not a funny story, but more a reflective story – there was no reaction at all from the audience when I told it. Personally I had even doubted a bit that perhaps the audience had not liked it.

But apparently they had.

So the lesson for this week will be: Take the time to find out what the audience members think about your stories when you introduce new stories into your speeches.

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What can a singer/songwriter teach you about professional speaking? Turns out quite a lot if you let him.

Last night I found myself at the Friends Arena together with 55 000 other people who wanted to listen to Ed Sheeran. I was a spontaneous surprise from my wife (who is a big fan) and while I enjoyed the concert I could not also stop myself from making some notes afterwards about what I picked up from Ed’s performance that we as speaker can learn from.

  1. Warm up the audience to the idea of enjoying themselves.

If you are an artist with hard-core, concert going-fans, performing will be easy. The crowd “knows” how to “behave” but Ed’s fans are mainly “normal people” – and many of his songs are ballads that doesn’t naturally encourage you to stand up and dance, so Ed spent quite a lot of time “priming” his audience and explaining to them how they have to “dance, sing and be loud”. (Of course there are many die-hard fans at his concert, but he spent quite a lot of time talking to the non-die-hard fans, as he called them “the boyfriend” and “the super-dad”.)

In many ways Ed’s audience is – from a mindset perspective – just like the audience that you often find at a corporate speaking gig: a mix of “normal people” who is not really in the mood to “let go and enjoy themselves”.

That means that we as speakers have the same challenge as Ed: to get the audience excited to hear the performance. That means – that if we have a speech that has humor, entertainment, etc as part of our performance we need to “prime” the audience to be ready to laugh/be entertained.

If you are a stand-up comedian performing at a stand-up show the audience is already mentally primed to have fun and to laugh, but a conference audience might not be.

So make sure you structure your speech in a way that you “lead” the audience into a space where they are ready to be entertained and have fun.

2) Authentic is the new cool.

Let’s face it, Ed Sheeran is not very cool. He looks like a nerd, has a boyish smile and on stage he looks like a sound guy who suddenly got dropped on the main stage.

He is not cool, and he is doing nothing to try to “be cool”.

And the audience loves it.

Because he is authentic. You get a feeling that the way he is on stage is how he is in private.

After speaking for 20+ years I can not stress how important it is for speakers to be very much the same on stage as they are in private. The time where people want “a persona/character/performer” on stage – where the speaker is playing a role (as the guru etc) is gone.  Of course there are exceptions to this, but as a rule, we are living in the age of authentic.

So watch does videos of you speaking and make sure that what they see is who you are.

3) Enjoy yourself on stage and your likability will follow.

Ed Sheeran has a silly high level of “likability”. I think a very big part of that comes from the fact that the audience can see, hear and feel that he is really enjoying himself on stage. And I think that a big reason for why you feel that as an audience member is that Ed has been able to keep the core, fundamental love for what he does and why.

He has not lost the connection back to why he started.

Sure, this concert was for 55,000 people, the stage was huge with massive animations and he makes millions and millions on this tour, but he did frequent references back to when he spoke in Sweden a few years back when there were just 200 people in the audience and standing on that huge stage all by himself, with no band or background dancers etc you could feel the connection back to why this man once started to write songs.

Why did you start speaking?

And can the audience feel the connection to what drove you to have to be on a stage and spread your message?


There you have it, 3 things I picked up on professional speaking while enjoying a concert with my wife. As speakers we can learn from many places, and almost always something from watching and listening to someone on a stage.


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What is most valuable for personal development: Being a mentor or being a mentee?

My answer is: to be a “mentoree”.

A “mentoree-session” is when you first mentor someone for one session and then you switch places and let the person who just was the mentee become the mentor and you become the mentee.

Today I had the privilege to sit on my island in Sweden and spend some time with Gil Petersil and his wife Ekaterina Petersil who stayed with us for a couple of days.

Gil is perhaps the most resourceful speaker I know. He his a great speaker, but also a great business person who, together with Ekaterina runs a series of different companies.

So today I sat down with Gil for one hour to help him refine his inner theme as a speaker.

After lunch we literally switched seats and he became my mentor to help me with some business development of my speaking business.

That way I get the best of both worlds.

By being a mentor I got to think about the topic I am an expert on which helps me reflect on it on a deeper level. (“the best way to learn is to teach”.)

Being a mentee I get to learn from someone who is more experienced than myself in some areas and who has a different perspective on speaking.

Here are some suggestions on how to do a successful “mentoree-session”.

a) Pick someone who is different than yourself.

For a Mentoree-session to work best you both need to have something to teach and something to learn from each other,

Gil and I are very different speaking styles, personalities and strengths and that makes it very effective to be “mentorees” to each other.

So try to find a speaker that is different from you where your strengths and weaknesses are different and invite that speaker to a mutually beneficial meeting.

b) Find an “equal”.

The best mentoree-sessions are when two speakers meet who look at themselves as peers. Where both feel they are (on some way) at the same level as speakers, even if they might be different in many other ways.

c) Be humble, yet confident.

Understand that the other person will be able to give you insights about yourself that you just can not find yourself, and at the same time have the confidence to tell the other speaker what he/she should be doing/changing

d) There is a time and place for everything.

A mentoree-session is not a “conversation between peers”. When you are the mentee be the mentee, when you are the mentor be the mentor. That creates a structure which makes sure that that you really focus on one speaker at the time.

e) Push each other.

Do not try to make the other speaker become you. Instead try to see the specific strengths and opportunities of the other speaker and push him/her to do more with that.

I learnt so much today both mentoring Gil and geting mentored from him.

I am sure you will too if you find the right “mentoree”. So go out and fine one.

(Picture from our lunch as we not only “talked shop” during their stay to our island, we also enjoyed some island family time together.)