San Francisco.

What is the biggest perk of being a speaker?

The chance to travel the world?
The fact that the main work takes one hour per day?
The fact that it pays well?

No. Not at all.

The biggest perk is the privilege to learn about things no one else gets to know.

For example:

The finance industry will probably be the industry that will see the most disruption in the next decade.

Now, imagine if you could be a fly on the wall when the best innovators get together at an innovation conference of a global leader of financial payments facility held in Silicon Valley.

Well, I was that fly. 🙂

Today, I was invited to be the only speaker at VISA’s global innovation award in San Francisco. In this event, they acknowledged the recipients of patents within VISA.

And during lunch, I got to sit next to the boss of the innovation department.

Over cod fish for main dish and chocolate mousse for desert, we talked about everything from VISA’s view on block chain, to who will be the winners and losers in mobile payment – and even where VISA’s big bet for the future is (very interesting and a total surprise to me).

And yes, I could tell you more about it, but then I would have to kill you 😉

Lesson: Our job as speakers is to inspire, teach and inform in order to get companies to move forward.

Interestingly enough, these very same companies will inspire, teach and inform us speakers as much, if not more, if we take the chance to learn when we are at the venue.

I am very happy that I did just that today.

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The most important people at a conference are the speakers.

I am not saying that because I am a speaker. As a speaker, I think that the most important people are the audience.

It is the organisers of a conference who are saying it.


You do not believe me?

Then answer this question: Who do they put at the VIP table?

Answer: The speakers. And the CEO.


The speakers are at the Very Important Person Table because the CEO wants to get a chance to get some more information from the speakers. And because it is supposed to be a nice thing to do to put the guests at the VIP table.

But as a speaker, you should use the time at the table to get more information from the CEO and the other speakers.

At least, that is my approach to the Very Important Table.

Like today.

Singapore Institute of Directors had organised a great conference with an impressive line-up of speakers for the 850 or so in the audience.

Some of the speakers at my table were:

Mr S Iswaran, Minister, Prime Minister’s Office; Second Minister for Home Affairs & Second Minister for Trade and Industry of Singapore (who had just been re-elected days before),

Emeritus Professor Jean-Philippe Deschamps of business school International Institute for Management Development or IMD in Lausanne, Switzerland,


Mr Ray Hatoyama, (pictured) Global Managing Director of Sanrio Company Ltd., the company that owns the “Hello Kitty” brand.

We had an interesting discussion at our table around everything —  from collaboration between government and private sector to the motto that drives the Hello Kitty brand: “Small Gift. Big Smile.”

I tend to find the time spent at the VIP table to be the most valuable time when it comes to learning. And I am amazed at how many speakers use their time at the VIP table to talk about themselves instead of learning from other people who are there.

Do not make the same mistake.

Lesson: Sitting at the VIP table should not make you think you are a Very Important Person. It should make you focus on the fact that you are privileged to get to sit together with a bunch of Very Important People and you should grab that opportunity to learn as much as you can from them.


A man I had never seen before came up to me today and said, “Thanks for a very interesting conversation.”

How is that possible?

He had just heard me speak as one of 850+ (!) participants at the conference of Singapore Institute of Directors. He had seen me on stage, but I had not seen him.

As one of the hundreds of people in the conference room, he felt like we were having a private conversation — just me and him — instead of him listening to my speech like the rest of the audience.

Here is the funny thing, JUST before I went up on stage (literally two minutes before going up!), I took a notepad and wrote: Talk, do not ‘speak’. Have a happy conversation.

I guess it worked.

The more speeches I give, the more I am convinced that the key to a great speech is that the speaker “breaks” the “wall” that exists between the stage and the audience.


How To Break The Wall Between The Stage and The Audience

1. Ask Questions

2. Laugh with the Audience

3. Tell a story about a person in the room whom you talked to before the speech

But perhaps, the easiest and best way of doing it is to look at the whole delivery of your speech as if you are going to have a conversation with the audience.

Some people give the advice that you should pick a person in the audience and speak to him or her.

I think there is a risk of doing that, and the risk is that the audience can feel that you are talking to that person – and not to the rest.

Instead, practice the skill of having a conversation with the whole group.


How To Have a Conversation With a Whole Group

I actually feel that a group of people have a “personality” just like individuals do. When you “read” the group while speaking, you can get a sense of the group’s “personality” – or let’s call it “grouponality”.

What do they laugh at?
What mood are they in?
How interested are they in the subject?

and so on.

The more you “feel” them, the better you are able to deliver your speech at a frequency that they are willing to connect to.

And when you are able to connect to your audience, they will feel like you just had a one-on-one conversation with them – even if there are 850 people in the room.

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