Life of a professional speaker

I have made a career out of being a professional non-expert.

Like today – when a large group of experts from government and companies met at the Mandarin Orchard Hotel in Singapore for the Asia Pacific Road Safety & Mobility Conference

Global Experts from all over the world had been flown in to give their view on the future of safe road travel.

The list of speakers included experts like

Professor Tobias Wallisser, Co-founder, Laboratory for Visionary Architecture (LAVA) from Germany speaking on “How Future Mobility will Transform the City”

Mr Eric Noble, Founder, The CarLab, from the USA, speaking on “The Future of the Car “

Mr David Ward, Secretary General, Global NCAP, from the UK, speaking on “Road Map for Safer Cars 2020

Dr Cosmas Asam, Vice President, Strategy, BMW AG, from Germany, speaking on “A New Approach to Mobility”

Mr Chee Hong Tat, Singapore Minister of State, Ministry of Health & Ministry of Communications and Information

And so on.

There was only one non-expert speaker:


A person who with any stretch of the imagination cannot be called an expert on road safety.

So why did they select me to be one of the speakers?

Because it makes a lot of sense to bring in someone to give a different perspective, because when all are coming from the same industry, have similar background and experiences then the ideas presented tend to be the same.

It is often the job of a professional speaker.

It’s like how kings historically used to have a Jester who could speak the uncomfortable truth in front of the king without the risk of being killed. Or how Ceasar had a slave whisper “you are mortal” in his ear so he would not start to think he was a god with all the praise he would be getting from “yes sayers” around him.

So does that mean that speakers are just modern day jesters or slaves?

Yes, in a way it does. And I am fine with it. It is actually a very honourable job to be speaking the truth (or perhaps I should be saying: “speaking an alternative truth”.)

Because it is not that the industry experts are wrong.

It is just that it is always dangerous when one “truth” become “the truth” in an industry.

And that’s why it makes sense to bring in someone who know nothing about an industry to speak at an industry conference.

Lesson: Take pride in being the one with a different expertise. It’s one of our strongest selling points as speakers.


Road safety is one of the world’s most interesting industries in the world. Road accidents is one of the top 10 killers of humans globally. United Nations have declared that the world is going to tackle this fact in a big way the next 15 years and the (very ambitious) goal is to reduce the number of traffic deaths by 50% (!) in 15 years. Now that is going to happen while we will, in the same 15 years, add another 1 billion (!) new cars on our roads (which means doubling the number of cars on the road.)


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(Dhaka, Istanbul and Paris)

Yesterday I had breakfast in Bangladesh, lunch in Turkey and dinner in France.
Such is the life of a global speaker.

Different meals in different countries is not the reason I travel.
The insights you get from seeing the small pieces of the big picture that is our world is.

Like Yesterday.

How the immigration guy at Dhaka International Airport smiled after stamping my passport and asked: “What is your impression of this country??”
Or how the man who checked my immigration form asked for “a tip”. (I smiled and said: “A tip for what?”)

Or when I came to Istanbul and got a hole in my heart when I saw the young women working at the check-in counter who just could not conceal her sorrow. She was crying unstoppable while trying to hide behind the computer. (My guess(it is just a guess) is that she just found out that someone she knew had died in the largest terrorist attack on Turkish soil that just happened. It made the event so real for me.)

Or the African man ahead of me at the luggage-carrousel who asked another African man if he could borrow his mobile phone to call back to his family and say that he had arrived in Europe.

People ask me why I travel so much.
For me the answer is easy: Because the more you travel the more you start looking at humanity as one.
And when you do, then everything changes.

The case of asking for a bribery goes from being a “Bangladeshi government problem” to being a question of “how can we stop corruption?”
The case of the crying woman goes from being “a victim of a Turkish terrorist attack” to “Why are humans blowing each other up?”
The case of the of the man calling home goes from being only a story about a happy man, to being a story of “How can we open up our borders more to create more joyful stories like that?”

Human problems, Human possibilities. Human stories.

I am convinced that starting to look at the world in that way has made me a better speaker. And dare I say so, also a better human.

Question: As a speaker are you talking about yourself as an “American Speaker”, a “Singaporean Speaker”, a “Swedish Speaker”? Or are you defining yourself as “a Speaker”.

I changed my description of myself from “a Swedish Speaker” to “a Speaker” about ten years ago. Roughly the same time that I started speaking globally. It has for ever changed the way I look at myself, my speaking, my topics that I speak on – and the world. It is one of the best changed I have ever done to myself.

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(KL, Malaysia)

Today it happened again: I was the only white person at a conference.

500+ IT-experts from all over Asia had gathered in Kl, Malaysia for a conference and I was invited as the opening keynote speaker. Everyone but me was Asian.

I love when that happens.

Not specifically that I was the only Caucasian in a big group of Asians, but the fact that I was in one way different from everyone else.

When I lived in China it happened all the time. I was the only European, everyone else was Chinese. But it can also happen when I am at a conference of nurses for example and everyone in the room but me is a woman, and so on.

What I am looking for in a group where I “fit out”.

Some people feel uncomfortable when they stand out in a crowd, or when they feel they do not fit in. I am never more comfortable, as I see it as a perfect time to better get to understand myself.

What I learnt while living in China was that it is easier to be true to who you really are when you are in an enviroment where there is no-one from your own culture/group around.

When everything is familiar, understandable and well known – then how do you know if what you think is really your thoughts? Or if your “truths” are just the collective thoughts of your surroundings?

Or to use a metaphor: Who is more likely to feel secure in knowing what his true thoughts are: the white sheep in a flock of other white sheep – or the black sheep in a flock of white sheep?

I am arguing the black sheep.

Now in my headline I wrote that we should be “grey sheep”, I did that because the image of “being the black sheep” gives us the feeling that it is somehow wrong to be the different one.

The grey sheep is different, without being the bad one. 🙂

When you are in an enviroment where all think alike, where there is no struggle or tension to stand up for what you think because everyone else thinks the same then there is a risk of us becoming mentally lazy.

On the other hand: When your beliefs and “truths” are constantly challenged by a group that has other “truths” than yours, then you are forced to look at what you believe and question why you think what you think is correct. It also gives you opportunities to fine “better truths” by seeing what another group has done.

As a speaker I am constantly invited to industry conferences where everyone else there belongs to the “tribe” of that industry.
As a global speaker (I do 90% of my work outside my country of residence) I am constantly traveling in countries and cultures that are not “my own”.

That means that I am “double” exposed to end up in enviroments where I am the only grey sheep. And I feel that it is in those circumstances that I get my clearest insights and biggest revelations. It could just be a coincidence. But something tells me that it is not.

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