Life of a professional speaker


In a recent post, I wrote how I counted one hour of water gymnastics as work, and I got a few questions about how that could be regarded as work. So let me explain one of my routines.

As a writer and speaker, you tend to spend a lot of time in front of a computer screen, either researching, looking for inspiration, or writing down thoughts and ideas. Speaking is basically just repeating the very most interesting things you have learnt.

Sitting in front of a computer for hours is not a good thing for your body.

So I try to find ways to force myself to get my body to move.

And yes, it helps to be a father of two (soon three!) young kids who ignore the fact that you are an old man, and make you run around on all fours pretending to be a horse when they come back from school.

But my body needs more exercise than that.

So I have created an exercise routine that is perfect for me, that keeps my body working while my mind keeps thinking about work.

Almost every day that I am not travelling, I spend one hour in the pool doing water exercises while listening to a podcast. The podcast part is important, it makes the hour go by fast and also helps my mind wander in an organised manner.

I normally listen to podcasts that are from speeches so that I can:

a) Learn something interesting
b) Listen to how other speakers present

By listening to other speakers, I can also evaluate how I would have presented a similar story, or example, so it’s a good way to benchmark yourself against other great speakers.

So today, I listened to a one hour speech by Daniel Pink, the author of “A Whole New Mind”. Daniel used to be a speechwriter of Vice President Al Gore, and I always find it interesting to listen to what speechwriters have to say about speeches.

In this podcast, Daniel said:

“Being a speechwriter, I have a certain philosophy about speeches. I believe that every good speech, every where, every time, no matter what your audience is, no matter how big the crowd is, no matter where you are in the world, every good speech has 3 ingredients: brevity, levity, and repetition…”

And then he adds:

“… Let’s say that again: brevity, levity, and repetition.”


After one hour in the pool, I get up fit and inspired to go and do some work of my own.

I understand that not everyone has a pool in their house. Before, I used to do it on a treadmill. You can also just get out and walk while listening to something that interests you in your iPhone.

The point is to move your body and your mind at the same time. I find that as the best way to prime yourself for a good day’s work.

Now, if I want to exercise to get my mind OFF work, of course, I would not do this. Then I would play squash, play with my kids or do something that distracts me from work.

The routine I have described above is what I do in the morning to move me into a good mood before going to work, and to help me contemplate on the bigger picture so that I do not start the day getting crushed by small details and urgent emails that scream for my attention.

Lesson: Find your morning routine that gets you off to a great start for work. For me, it is one hour in the pool listening to a podcast to learn how other speakers speak and how other thought leaders think.


So what is my routine when I am traveling? I guess I will write another post about that one day.

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People who are not speakers are able to quickly see the amazing advantages of being a speaker: Get paid a lot of money to travel the world to spread a message that you are passionate about, which spreads to thousands and thousands of people by working a few hours per day.

But very often, there is a “BUT…” to the sentence that begins “Being a professional speaker seems amazing…”. And that sentence very often ends with “… but don’t you miss having colleagues?”

And it is true — being a professional speaker is different from many other jobs because you do spend a lot of time on your own.

I would say 90% of speakers work by themselves, or in a very small team with one assistant, who might not even live in the same town as the speaker by working virtually.

Actually, the  job of being a speaker is very social. Just the nature of the job means that you very often spend your days at conferences (and conference parties) mingling with a huge amount of people.

BUT, you might say, those are NOT your colleagues. You are just visiting their conference/party.

True again.

And I am not going to lie and say that by being a speaker, you have the same social interaction with colleagues as you have in “a normal” office job. You also do not get involved in the politics that comes with a normal office job. 😉

So yes, a speaker doesn’t have colleagues in the traditional sense. But we have colleagues.

Lets see how the dictionary looks at the word:

“colleague |ˈkɒliːg|
a person with whom one works in a profession or business.”

The speaking professionals have been very good at building a community of “profession colleagues”, as in “colleagues in a profession” as compared to “in a company”. It might very well have come about out of the necessity of not having “normal” colleagues.

But regardless of the reason for why it is like that, I just have to say that I love it.

I regularly meet up with a whole host of professional speakers in informal meetings where we chat about work, life, and the universe just like you would with colleagues in the office.

Just in the last 2 weeks, I have had such meetings with 8 different professional speakers.

Last night, I had a meeting with Andrew Bryant, the thought leader on Self Leadership (he literally wrote the book on the subject).

We spent 3+ hours on the balcony of Andrew’s penthouse overlooking the Singapore skyline, and over a couple of beers, we discussed everything from Brazil, Outlook, speaking in India, and book writing. It’s a mix of private and business topics, serious and fun, as one does on an “after work” with colleagues.

The funny thing is that speakers meet up at all!

When you think about it, in a way it is a very cut-throat business:

A client is looking for one speaker for an event, selects a shortlist and then picks just one off that list. All the others on the list gets nothing since it is quite common for a client to just pick one speaker per day for a conference.

You would think that speakers then would be very wary about sharing their secrets and their knowledge, but it is the opposite.

After having a great time with one fellow “colleague”, I wanted to write this post in appreciation of all the speakers who have helped me by agreeing to meet with me. If you are a speaker and want to hook up with me for a beer, coffee, or lunch, drop me a line by clicking on the mail symbol below.

I would love to meet up.

That’s what colleagues are for.


Svanholmen Island, Sweden.


I am writing this on my Island in Sweden. It is the last day of our five week stay here and today’s post, just like the last few posts, will be influenced by the fact that I have been sitting isolated on this island for a long time.

My most recent posts have been about why not speaking so much makes you a better speaker. This post is about why reducing your inspiration will get you better ideas.

The word “Inspiration” has three meanings.

1) “The process of being mentally stimulated to do or feel something, especially to do something creative.”

And that is why I choose to travel so much around the world — to see, experience and learn new things from different cultures.

2) “A sudden brilliant or timely idea. As in: ‘then I had an inspiration’.”

The funny thing with ideas is that the most brilliant ones do not come when we are inspired as per definition number 1. Great ideas do not come when we are inspired – they come when we are nothing but inspired.

Which brings us to the third definition of “Inspiration”:

3) “the drawing in of breath; inhalation.”

This is how I look at creativity — the process of having great ideas consists of two steps:

a) Breathe in as many new things as you can.


b) Breathe out.

The breathing out part is what many people forget. Because to have great ideas, you can not just keep filling your brain with inspiration. You also need to give it time to process all those new and inspiring things that it has received.

And you do that by doing nothing.

Pick any great idea from history and google how or when the person who had that idea had it. There is a huge chance that the eureka moment happened when the person was relaxed and doing nothing.

JK Rowling was sitting on a train and got the idea for Harry Potter.

Archimedes was sitting in a bathtub when he noticed that the level of the water in the tub rose as he got in, and realized that this effect could be used to determine the volume of the crown.

And so on.

Ideas are best bred in silence.

So, for the last five weeks, I have been doing a lot of nothing. Sitting on a bench overlooking the sea and just waiting for ideas to come.

And it works!

My brain has been boiling over with new ideas for new things for me to work on, write on and speak on.

The funny thing is that it took almost 4 weeks of sitting on the island before the magic started to happen, and then the last 10 days or so, my brain exploded with ideas!

I think many people miss out on how creative they could be because they do not give themselves enough time of “breathing out time” for this magic to happen.

Imagine if they did.

Many people will tell you that they do not have the time to take time off to just sit on a rock somewhere and wait for ideas.

I SAY: If you did take that time to just sit on a rock, you would come up with much better ideas that would make you much more productive for the rest of the year.

It is like what they say about meditation: “Everyone should meditate for 20 minutes, except the people who do not have time to do it; they should meditate for 40 minutes“. 😉

Bill Gates took time off his busy schedule when running Microsoft to go on “thinking weeks”.

Richard Branson spends a lot of time on his island.

Edison is said to have left his lab to go fishing from time to time because that is where he got his best ideas.

If these people could to it, so could you.



Now here comes an important add-on. Only sitting on a rock will not give you great ideas. You also need to make sure you give your brain plenty of new inspirations to work with.

So tomorrow, I am leaving this beautiful island to go back to travelling the world.

In the next few months, I will travel to Singapore, America, Denmark, Bangladesh, Ukraine, Croatia, Switzerland, Hong Kong and a few more places I can not remember right now. I know that those trips will bombard my mind with things I had no idea about – things that will then become new ideas the next time I take time off to do nothing.

Creativity – a constant motion of breathing in inspiration and breathing out ideas.


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