How to become better as a speaker

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Every professional speaker has a knee jerk reaction to the (very common) question: “What do you speak on?”

But not every professional speaker has the answer to the much more important question: “Why do you speak?”

Today I did a coaching session with Eric Feng, who is a very talented and extremely ambitious speaker.

Eric is doing a lot of things right in his speaking career and has achieved much more at a relatively young age than many much older speakers.

But he met with me because he wanted help to decide on which topic he should focus on (he speaks on a few different topics at the moment, like public speaking, business presentations, charisma).

Or that is what he THOUGHT he wanted to discuss with me.

But instead we decided to go deeper.

In a 2-hour long session I helped him to look inside himself to understand why he decided to be a speaker in the first place.

I wanted to get to his core. Find the theme that defines who he is.

Your Core Theme is not the theme that you sell to your clients, it MIGHT not even be a theme that you communicate to your clients.
Your Core Theme is for yourself.

It’s your guiding light that reminds you why you get up in the morning, why you have this urge to communicate.

I have to admit that during the middle of the session with Eric we were struggling. We were getting close, but for some reason we were not able to get deep enough.

Then Eric, in passing, told me a story about how he, as a kid, had stayed late in school and pretended that he was the teacher to teach himself a little bit more. He had this burning desire to teach.

When his class mates asked him why was he talking to himself, he replied “I am teaching myself”.

And when his classmates then replied “Can you teach us too?”  he started his mini remedial classes in school.

As a young child Eric was already passionate about not only his own learning, but also the learning potential of his peers!

When I heard him passionately tell that story I knew that we had found it, or should i say “rediscovered” it.

The reason he speaks is because he has a passion for the potential of Learning and Development within All Humans.

That is Eric’s Core Theme.

Not “public speaking, business presentations, charisma”, those are “just” themes he speaks on.

When Eric found his “Core Theme” everything he does in his speaking business became clearer. His vision, his priorities, his focus.

And that is why it so important to find it.

My Core Theme is not official. By that I mean that I do not openly communicate it to others. But I have one, and it has guided me in all the decisions I have made in my speaking career for the last 15 years.

It’s like a compass, and when you have one it will lead you in the right way.

Judging from the email I got from Eric after our session, he appreciated the value of going into the core. 🙂

He wrote: “Thank you so much for taking the time to walk me through the process. This conversation will definitely be a turning point in my career. You helped me get clear of what matters most and for that I’m grateful.”

Question: What is your Core Theme? Why do you speak? I am much more interested in finding out that answer from a speaker than hearing what he or she speaks on.

 

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Some speakers have the X-factor. That thing that makes the audience just fall in love with them even before the speaker opens his mouth.

One of the most extreme examples of that that I have experienced was when I was speaking at the same conference as Matti Bergström.

Professor Bergström is a Finish brain scientist, who focuses on children’s creativity and play. He looks like Gandalf and sounds like your favourite grand-dad.

The audience just melt when he is on stage talking about the need to let children develop their ability to play.

I shared a taxi with him after the conference and asked if he was aware of himself having this unique likability ability.

He smiled and told me that he had once done a speech in Stockholm and after 20 (!) minutes of speaking someone in the audience had finally raised his hand and said “I am so sorry, professor Bergström, but you are giving your speech in Finnish…”

(For you who do not know, Swedish and Finnish are TOTALLY different languages!)

The audience has been so mesmerised by the professor that the audience would not let the fact that they did not understand a single world of what he had said interrupted their experience!

It’s hard to pin down what creates this “x-factor” but the speakers who possess it has been blessed with a gift.

But speakers who have this ability also risk developing content that is less powerful. (It falls into the same category as the beautiful girls in school who doesn’t have to try so hard because she gets whats she wants in life thanks to her beauty.)

Today I coached a speaker whom I personally think has the potential to become  one of the world’s biggest speakers.

His “likability factor” is through the roof and as soon as they see him on stage the audience connects with him as if their long-lost best friends just stepped into the room. After hearing him speech audiences will give him raving reviews. But when you do a print out of his content and go through his current content word by word it becomes apparent that it is actually quite weak. Most people do not notice, because they liked the speaker so much.

There are three kinds of speakers:

1) Weak speakers with Weak content.

2) Strong speakers with Strong content

3) Weak speakers with Strong content

and

4) Strong speakers with Weak content.

The person I coached today was obviously in the last category.

The good news is that can easily be fixed.

It is probably easier to fix “weak content” than “weak speaker” – and when Mr X with the X-factor whom i worked with today gets his new speech done and the content is as good as his delivery it will be one hell of a speech that will probably end up at TED.com and get millions of views.

Which brings us to you:

Which kind of speaker are you?

If 1) – then you have a lot of work to do. Get to it! 🙂

If 2) : then congratulations (I hope you were honest with yourself when you came to that conclusion…)

If 3) : Your biggest challenge is discovering your true speaking style – something that can be very difficult, but will be very rewarding if you take the time to do it

And

If 4) Ask yourself if you are really speaking on the subject that you should be speaking on. There is a big chance that the reason you do not have good enough content is that you are not passionate enough about the topic.

After a few hours of talking through his current speeches and discussing what he is really passionate about we, together, unlocked the theme he should be speaking on. I can not wait to hear that speech.

I think the speaker was happy too. He just messaged me: “Thank you Fredrik. I am brimming with ideas after seeing you.”

Lesson: Understand which is your weaker side: your speaking style or your speaking content. Then work on fixing it.

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I spend a lot of time thinking about the difference between “good speakers” and “great speakers”.
Today I will reflect over the difference approach that I think “great speakers’ have towards their content vs “good speakers”.

My theory is this:

Good speakers are speakers who think they are great because they think they have these amazing ideas and concepts that they have come up all by themselves.

Great speakers are speakers who have a passion for a subject and who then go out and try to learn as much as possible about this subject from OTHERS.

See the difference?

Great speakers do not think that they are great – instead they think that the topic that they are speaking on is great, and therefor they want to learn as much as possible about this topic from others.

Less about “me, me, me” and more about “learn, learn, learn.”

People who constantly want to learn more are great teachers. (and speakers are, after all, teachers.)

If you are a speaker on Customer Service, do you interview your taxi driver about service?
If you are a speaker on Leadership, do you ask your child’s teacher if they have any examples of great leadership from children?
If you are a speaker on Focus, do you interview your dentist on what she does to stay focused on the task when her patiens are screaming?

Are you constantly trying to learn more about your subject?

I hate when speakers talk about themselves as “gurus” where it is supposed to give the feeling of an “all knowing expert”.
I love when I met a speaker (or any person) who feels that there is yet so much to learn.

Today I met two people like that.

Andreas Ehn and Lisa Enckell

Lisa is a consultant and speaker. Andreas is an investor (and former CTO of Spotify)

They have just embarked on project where they will live in 10 different parts of the world in the next five years. On their website (https://approach.world ), where you can follow them on this journey, they write:
“We want to understand the world better. So we decided to spend five years living for six months in each of the ten countries that we believe will have the biggest economic impact on the world in the next 20–30 years. We will divide our time between learning about places, working with startups and investors and making early-stage angel investments in the local markets.”

You have to love an approach like that!
Or at least I do that, as a speaker who speak on the need to have a global mindset.

So since they right now are in Singapore I jumped at the opportunity to have them over to learn more about why they doing this epic and hyper-inspirational project.

Meetings like this inspires me to want to learn even more about how to have a global – or should i say, “human’, approach to life and business. Something that I think, and hope, will be felt when I give my talks on this very subject.

Lesson: If you, as a speaker, get more out of teaching (i.e. speaking) than you do out of learning (i.e. interviewing others on the topic you are speaking on) then perhaps it is time to stop speaking.

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