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I think the best way to learn is to learn from the mistakes of others so today’s post is about how I fucked up and how you can learn from that.

A while back I booked a airline ticket to Ukraine for a speech I was doing for the event organiser KA Group, a very professional events and conference organiser.

I was scheduled to speak between 4 pm and 5,30 so I booked a flight leaving 9 pm, but I was informed by the organisers that they would appreciate if I could also stay around for the VIP dinner that started at 7 pm. (I of course said yes, speakers being part of events like VIP dinners means a lot for an organiser and as a speaker we should do our best to be part of them.)

But attending the VIP dinner meant I had to change my flight which would leave later (11 pm) and that meant changing airlines from Turkish Airlines to Qatar Airways.

And here is where the screw up happened: I informed the client of my new DEPARTURE time, but I did not inform them about the new ARRIVAL time that changing airlines had triggered. (At the time I re-booked my flight I did not know that the client had planned to pick me up personally at the airport and when I was informed by it I assumed they understood that me changing airline meant I would fly in with Qatar Airways.

But the client assumed I would be flying in on Turkish Airlines and out on Qatar. That meant that when the Turkish Airlines flight landed in Kiev and I was not on the flight the client got worried. And when they could not find me on the passenger lists for the flight, or reach me on my phone (I was on the plane to Doha) they had no way of knowing where I was or if I was on my way to Kiev.

Finally they where able to reach my wife (!) – yes, the client is very creative in finding out information and they got informed that I was on the plane to Kiev – just via Doha and not via Istanbul…

A few hours later I landed and all was good.

But for a while the client did not know where I was, and that was wrong.

My inability to give full and clear information about my travel created unneeded stress for the client.

Learn from me and rather communicate too much than too little.

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My main focus on the blog is to share my own insights and knowledge about how to become a global speaker, but this week I will share not one, but two, posts about what I learned about global keynote speaking from another speaker: Brenda Bence. Brenda is a good friend of mine and perhaps the most professional professional speaker I know.

This last Saturday I was part of the team that organised the CSP Academy where Brenda Bence and Tom Abbott spoke. Both Brenda and Tom (and I) are CSP’s (Certified Speaking Professionals) at we had a full day of great learnings. In this post I will focus on Brenda’s session because she did something I really love: she dissected a keynote in detail, and I think that is one of the best ways to really learn about the magic skill of creating a great keynote.

Here is some of the things I learnt from that dissection:

In the intro: Make a promise.

The beginning of a speech is not about creating rapport with the audience, building credibility of yourself as a speaker, or explaining what your speech will be about. All of that can be in an intro too, but Brenda made the point that the MAIN purpose of the opening of a speech is to Make a Promise, a promise to the audience of what they will get out of this speech if they decide to pay attention. The speech should then deliver on that promise.

When asking a question.

a) Avoid questions that start with “Why…”

The word “Why?” is a more negative word than “who, where, when, what” etc.

b) Turn “yes/no” questions into open questions.

Instead of asking: “Have you ever spoken to a weird group as a speaker?” Brenda asked: “What is the most strange audience you have ever spoken to?” (For the first question the people who answer “no” are lost after they say “no” since they feel the speech is not relevant to them.)


When telling a story about what happened to you, let the audience into your head when you tell the story (in other words play out the inner voice in your head that you heard when it happened. That helps the audience feel like they are there in the story with you).

When telling a story consider NOT having a picture to illustrate your story as having a picture guides the audience mental picture. Without an picture they have to imagine what it looked like, and as Brenda said: “Our imagination is much more fun than any picture.”

Build your speech around a few pillars and build each pillar with a Core Question. End each pillar with a Foundational Phrase: a phrase that summarises your point in a way that is easy to remember, has a good rhyme and rhythm to it. (Like “If you don’t stack up… It all falls down” or “Show up best for your Guests” or “If you doubt… they will leave you out.”

As Brenda put it: “If there is nothing to easily remember you will not be a memorable speaker.”

About presenting.

If you start to doubt on stage Brendas advise was: “Get out of your head and into your heart.” and that is just so true.

About how you talk to the audience.

Build your speech so that the speech is about the message to the audience, not about you.

(She gave the example of, if for example you need to speed up your delivery due to time constraints, you should say: “Buckle your seat belts because the messages will be coming at you quickly…” instead of saying: “Buckle up, I am going to talk fast.”

Same with your intro: Do not write a speaker intro that is about you and your bio, instead write an intro that is about how what you have done will help the audience. As Brenda put it (in one of her “Foundational Phrases”: “Put the process on the pedestal – not the person.”)

About collecting stories.

Here I will just quote Brenda: “You have to have Objective Curiosity. Life is just one big story so always keep a notebook or some post-it notes near by and write down every story that lives throws at you that you might be able to use. It’s a privilege to collect stories.”

I agree with every word she said.

About what to do when your time is cut short just before you go on stage.

If you are suddenly given a shorter time than was originally agreed then do not rush your speech, instead re-write it in your head and make it a new, shorter speech. Rushing a speech, or skipping over parts to make it to the end is cheating the audience, and to quote Brenda again: “”Do not cheat the audience. They can feel it and they do not deserve it.”


In part two (published later this week) I will share what I learnt from Brenda by having a one-hour one-on-one interview with her in Hong Kong a while back where she talked about the business side of her speaking business. Do not miss that post.

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The fear of public speaking is one of the biggest fears people have. (It is right up there with dying in a terrorist attack and being beaten by a snake.)

As speakers we should be VERY happy for that. It means that 99% of people would rather die than do what we do.

I guess it is the same for people working with snakes – they are very happy that so many people hate snakes that the competition for working with snakes is quite small…

The fear of speaking most likely is not really a fear of speaking, it’s a fear of making a fool out of yourself and a fear of people thinking you are wrong.

As someone who has done professional speaking for 20 years I really do not understand the first reason. In today’s world where cameras are everywhere the chance of a video of you becoming viral on YouTube for all the wrong reasons is everywhere. Making a fool out of yourself is no longer limited to screwing up on stage, but might as well come from screwing up in an elevator, a warehouse, a side walk or a beach while being caught on camera and spread to the world.

So in a way the risk of looking like a fool for a huge group of people have been democratised… 😉

Now the fear of people thinking you are wrong is a more interesting issue.

The way to solve that is by:

a) Being prepared.
b) Saying things you believe

Or perhaps that should come in the other order:

a) Saying things you believe
b) Being prepared.

Tonight I attended the monthly meeting of Asia Professional Speakers Singapore, where I am the current President. The theme of the meeting was “FEAR” and we had three great speakers speaking on the topic of fear for speakers.

In this post I want to highlight a quote from one of the speakers, Adrienne Gibson, who said: “What makes great speakers great is that they tell their own story.”

When a speaker speaks from a place of authenticity he or she can get away with almost any message.

And if he or she then prepares well, meaning studies not only the topic but also the audience and how to best communicate to that audience then there really is very little to be afraid of as a speaker.

So lets aim at A) telling your truth B) in a way that is the exact way the audience need to hear it.

Now focus on figuring out those two things and you have nothing to fear as a speaker. And in the process you have written a very powerful speech.