A surprisingly large amount of people seems to think that a keynote speaker is a person who goes up on stage and behaves as some kind of “management guru”, that you have to walk up on stage and dominate in an alpha-male-kind-of-way.

And it sure used to be like that. That’s what people thought speakers “had” to be like.

But something has changed.

And I know that this might be hard to believe when you attend conference after conference filled to the brink with alpha-male-guru-speakers, but hear me out.

TED is a conference and website (www.ted.com) that gathers some of the world’s greatest thinkers on its stage. It is arguable the worlds’ leading site for watching speeches.

Now here is the thing: There is hardly a single traditional “alpha male” out of the 50 most popular speeches on TED.com.

Sure, Tony Robbins made the list, but so did Stephen Hawking and Hans Rosling – two men who are very intelligent, smart and passionate – but who perhaps are as far away as we can come from being Alpha Males…

As a matter of fact the majority of the men on the top-50-list of most watched speeches are non-alpha males. Not even Bill Clinton made the list. But Monica Lewinsky did (with a speech on the Price of shame.)
21 out of the 50 most watched speeches are from women, including Maysoon Zayid, an arab-American woman with cerebral palsy. A very innspiring and funny woman, who in almost every way is the opposite of the “physically strong, dominant, white, middle aged alpha-man” that many people “see” when they hear “keynote speaker”.
The fourth most watched speech is a speech on the power of vulnerability. The 11th most watched one is on the power of introverts. (Both delivered by women.)

I am convinced that we are entering the “age of Gentle” – in a world where people in higher degree than before are empowered to do what they want, instead of what they are told to they do not want speakers who tell them what to think in an authoritative style – they want speakers who can inspire them in a gentle manner.

To be “gentle” means to be a a person who is mild in temperament or behaviour; kind or tender.

Almost all of the top 50 most watched speeches on TED.com are from smart, knowledgeable, passionate speakers who communicate their message in a mild temperament, kind way. Every single one of these speeches has at least 5 000 000 views. Those numbers do not lie.

The number one speech, with a staggering 35 000 000 views, is by Sir Ken Robinson, a man with a speaking style that is entertaining, funny and thought provoking. He has the ability to get respect from the audience, not by using a dominant or domineering style – but by arguing logically, making fun of himself and speaking softly.

By being gentle.

Ladies and Gentle Men: The future of speaking belongs to the gentle men and women who speak.


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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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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


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


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.