How to become better as a speaker

Montvale, New Jersey, USA – BMW North America HQ.



What is the one thing that stops good speakers from becoming great speakers?

If you ask me, it’s their lack of personal stories.

We have all heard those speakers. They use general statements and messages, but forget to back them up with personal examples and unique stories.

It’s all “It’s important to listen to your customer”, or “Companies that do not adapt to change will die” and so on.

A good speaker can have a great message, but if the audience doesn’t feel like the message is supported by real stories that are unique to the speaker, the audience will think, “Why should I listen do this person?”

The good news is that this is easily fixed.

As a keynote speaker, you are invited to speak at conferences where the top management of companies will be present. As a speaker, you have access to these managers. Take the time to ask them about their business. Tap into their knowledge as leaders. Learn about their industry. ASK, ASK, and ASK questions.

So in the spirit of this post, I will now stop being general and instead give you an actual example of what I am talking about – a story that just happened to me.

Earlier today, I gave a speech to the employees at the HQ of BMW North America. While I was there, I also spent more than one hour with Kenn Sparks, Manager for Business Communications of BMW North America. I learnt about storytelling, about how BMW is reshaping its brand, and even about how to make documentary movies.

I also got a one-one-one meeting with Alexander Bilgeri, VP Corporate Communications, BMW of North America.

Alexander told me about how BMW is trying to change its corporate culture, about how they want to work with their dealers and about how North America is changing what BMW is. Many of the things he told me were very interesting, but since they were “off the record”, I can not share them in a public blog post.

But let me write about a story that I can share.

When I was talking to Alexander Bilgeri, I saw that there were words written on the glass walls of his corner office. I asked him about what they meant.

It turns out he had encouraged his colleagues to write down messages on his windows that they found important or inspiring.

One of the messages that caught my eye said “Do one thing every day that scares you.”

He told me that not long ago, the cleaning lady had come into his office one early morning and said: “Sir, can I tell you something?”

This old and tiny cleaning lady then told the boss of corporate communications at BMW North America about how she, during the holidays, had gone to Disneyland and while being there, had seen a roller coaster that looked thrilling but declined to go on it when her children had offered her a ride.

“But then i remembered the words on this wall,” she told him, “and I decided to give it a try even though I was terrified.”

And then, with a laugh, she revealed that not only did she like it, but she enjoyed it so much she went on it a second time!

I like stories like this. Simple stories about leadership, courage and the power of a great message.

Will I use this story in one of my speeches? Perhaps. Or perhaps not.

But that is not the point.

The point is that if (!) I decide to use the story of a CEO who wrote messages on his office window to inspire change, it will not just be “a story” – it will be a story that was told to me by the person whom the story is about. It will become my story.

And the audience will like the story – and the message – much more than if it was just a general story about a leader who did something, because they feel the personal connection between me, the speaker, and the story that I am telling.

So make sure you use the unique opportunity that you have as a speaker to collect as many stories, examples and interesting facts as you can from the clients you speak for.

As a speaker, you are basically being paid to do research!

Do not miss this amazing opportunity to get new material for your speeches by being so busy speaking that you forget how to listen.

Lesson: The greatest asset of a professional speaker is not to be good at talking – it is to be good at listening.


Sao Paulo, Brazil.



About 30 percent of the audience at my speech in Sao Paulo today did not understand English and had to rely on the earphones that had been given out to them, and on the skills of the translator to get the message of my speech.

If you work as a global speaker, you are bound to get to have your speech being translated sooner or later. I think the record for me is 12 (!) different languages being translated at one conference. The translator booths took up a big part of the conference room.

In honor of all the times I have relied on a translator to get my message across, I thought I should make a post about working with translators.

So, what is the most important thing to remember when giving a speech that is being simultaneously translated?

To speak slowly?
To avoid difficult words?
To avoid too much text on your slides?


The most important thing to not forget is to remember to go and meet up with your translator(s) before the speech!

You would be amazed how seldom speakers do that.

I recently spoke at a conference where I had been assigned an assistant who followed me around during the conference. I asked him to bring me to the translator booth that was hidden away on the fourth floor in this huge convention centre. After I had introduced myself to the translator, my assistant asked me why I did that.

I replied, “Did you see how I was the only speaker who made the effort to find the translator? Now, not only does the translator know more about my speech, what I am going to talk about, and what I find most important in my presentation. More importantly, which speaker do you think he will put in the most energy to make as good as possible?”

My assistant smiled and replied, “Yours?”


A bad translator can ruin a speech. And a great translator can be so good that the audience forgets that they are listening to a translation. But doing a great translation in real time is an amazingly difficult thing to do. Try translating something out loud what you watch on TV for example, it’s HARD!

Having your translator put in a little bit of extra effort when translating your speech – because he or she likes you because you took the effort to go and say ‘hi’ – is going to be so valuable.

Translators do not just take the words you say and say them in another language – they transform your message – in real time – to communicate the essence of what you are trying to say. Or, like my translator in Sao Paulo today put it when I was introducing myself to her before my speech, “We translate the meaning of your words, that’s why it’s called ‘translation’.”

Lesson: Your translator is your best friend – so treat them like that, go and say ‘hi’ before the speech. It will pay back big time.

P.S. If you want to see a great example of the power of having an engaged translator, please watch this sign video of the sign language translator from the Swedish Eurovision Song Contest. Golden!



20 May 2015 – Oslo, Norway.

This post is about the importance of getting the right introduction before you go on stage.

I just got to see the final program for the conference that I was speaking at later today. In the draft of the program, I had been introduced as “Fredrik Haren – Author and Speaker”. But it turns out that they (without telling me) had changed it last minute and instead printed “Fredrik Haren – one of the best speakers in the world”.

Now, you might think I should be flattered by such a compliment, but overly positive descriptions of a speaker might actually have the opposite effect of what was intended. Instead of making the audience curious of you as a speaker, an introduction that is too positive makes the audience react with a “well, we will see about that” attitude.

I was once introduced as “Here comes Fredrik Haren, one of the most creative people in the world, let’s give him a big hand!”. It was up-hill from the start.

In the same way, I do not want to be introduced with the words “Fredrik Haren has been awarded ‘Speaker of The Year’ in Sweden…”, even if that is an award I have actually received.

In the first two examples, the description they used did not come from me. It was something the organisers decided to write about me, and something I would have preferred that they did not call me.

Now, lines like those above are great for when you or the organisers are SELLING you as a speaker. But when you are going up on stage, you should’t focus on selling yourself. You should focus on selling the message of your speech.

It is great if the emcee can build you up a little, so that the audience knows why they should listen to you, but ask the emcee to spend more time talking about the theme of your speech, and why it is relevant to the audience than talking about all the great things that you as a speaker have achieved.

For my speech in Norway today, I made sure that the emcee talked about the need for Norwegian companies to look outside Norway to have a more global mindset, and then I asked her to make a short connection to how I, the speaker, was right now in the middle of an around-the-world-speaking-tour.

That made a subtle build up of me as a speaker (“He must be good if he is asked to speak around the world”), while at the same time, keeping the focus of the introduction on the theme of the speech (“Why Norwegian companies need to have a more global outlook”).

Lesson: Make sure that the person who introduces you (in person or in the program) builds up an anticipation for your SPEECH – not for you as a SPEAKER.

P.S. And remember: “You never get a second chance to have the emcee give you a good impression.”


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