Screen Shot 2015-08-24 at 08.13.07

Todays post was inspired by an email I received over the weekend that got me thinking about why I am a speaker, about the only reason anyone should be a speaker – and actually, about why anyone should do anything.

The email read:

“If, by one word, one was to define what it is that drives all the positive aspects of life and success and for a person to be able to say that he has the greatest job in the world, I think a word that could come close is ‘honesty’.

I am fortunate to hear your talk (today). What I think came through (from listening to your speech) and which left me to ponder from your talk was Honesty. Honesty to your self and your surroundings.”

I happen to believe that being authentic, true and real as a speaker is, by far, the most important trait of a great speaker, so his email made me very happy.

I wanted to know more about why he had written this so, when I emailed him to say thank you, I asked him to elaborate on why he had used that word.

He replied:

“The word came to mind during and maybe, more so after your talk.

How did I come to that word?

Taking your talk and the choices you said to have taken that have brought you to where you are now, and reflecting upon my current situation as in ‘what could I learn from your experiences?’


No, courage is not the right word.


A clear no.


Yes, this could be right, but determination needs a clear goal.

So, how do you set the right goal for yourself – by being HONEST with and to yourself, and with and to your surrounding.” 

I had a laugh around how he had noticed how “driven” was a ‘clear no’ when it comes how I have built my life career. I am clearly not a person who have been actively pursuing a career in speaking with determination. 😉

And yet, here I am as one of the world’s most globally booked speakers.

How did that happen?

Well, I think Heikki, the person who wrote me those emails, nailed it:

To become truly successful at something, you have to do it for the only reason that matters: because it is who you are.


I do not speak for the applause

Even though I am aware that it is a privilege to get people giving you such immediate and impactful praise every time you work.

I do not speak because of the money

Even though the money is great.

I do not even speak because I love to speak.

I do love to speak.


I speak because that is WHO I AM. I feel that speaking is what I have to do.

And I hope that it shows when I speak.

A fellow speaker once told me that his client had called me “the most authentic speaker in Asia.” For me, that is one of the best compliments I have received.

I am writing this blog primarily for myself, but my secondary audience are people who are thinking of becoming speakers. If you are one of those people, please ask yourself this question: Why do you want to become a speaker?

People who become speakers for the wrong reasons are so depressing to see and so boring to listen to.

People who become speakers because that is what they have to do, because that is how they stay true to themselves, are a joy to watch.

Don’t believe me?

Compare politicians who are politicians because they picked that as a career or because they want power, and compare that with the politicians who went into politics because they are being true to themselves.

Lesson: There is only one way to give a speech, and only one way to be a great speaker — speak your mind and follow your heart.

(Suggestion: Submit your email address in the form to the right to get a convenient email summary in your inbox every time 10 new posts have been posted.)



I have met many professional speakers who say that the best thing to do on a day when you do not have any speaking engagement is to focus all your energy on marketing, promotion and selling so you can get more bookings.

I do not believe in that.

My philosophy is that if you have a day off, you should NOT try to sell yourself, you should focus on trying to become better as a speaker!

The rationale behind this is that IF you are constantly working on becoming better as a speaker, you WILL get more bookings. Nothing gives you more bookings than someone coming up to you after you just delivered a great speech to ask if they can book you.

I recently attended a conference of professional speakers where all the other speakers wanted to discuss how to “sell, market and promote” themselves.

I was the only speaker who wanted us to spend the day talking about how we could become better as speakers!

The others said things like “We are all great speakers already”.

I was shocked!

I am of the strong opinion that you can always become better. I try to spend as much time as possible to constantly study things that make me better as a speaker.


What a day looks like when I don’t have a speaking engagement

No, I don’t focus on selling or promoting.


Aug 21st, Friday 

1. Lunch with Insead Business School Lecturers

I met with two lecturers at Insead Business School — Serguei Netessine and Manuel Sosa. We all share a deep interest in innovation, but from different backgrounds.

Serguei is the author of the book “The Risk Driven Business Model”, and Manuel is interested in the intersection between design and engineering.

We spent a long lunch in their new Executive Education Building discussing book writing, speaking, global travel and the world of executive education.


2) Meeting with the Winner of the Toastmasters World Championship of Public Speaking

I met with Manoj Vasudevan (see our picture above) who, just days ago, won 2nd runner up in the Toastmasters World Championship of Public Speaking!

Manoj has watched virtually every toastmasters speech of previous world championships to learn what makes a speech a winner.

We talked about what makes a great speech a great speech and about the value of sharing your knowledge of speaking with others.

I hope to do a longer interview with Manoj to post on this blog soon, but we ran out of time talking about so many other things that the interview had to be scheduled at a later date.


3) Exciting meeting with Founder

I was also able to book a meeting with Reinier Evers, the founder of, where we got to talk about speaking, global mindset, and also about interesting, future business ideas.


4) Dinner with awesome guys from The Insight Bureau

In the evening, I had dinner with Caspar Berry and Andrew Vine of The Insight Bureau. Caspar is a speaker who talks about risk.

Over dinner, we had a long discussion that took us through such different topics as UK politics, bombings in Thailand, casinos and of course, a lot of discussion about professional speaking.


It was a day full of inspiration, insights and knowledge-sharing, but as I hope you can see, it had very little to do about selling, promoting or marketing. But a lot of talk about speaking and inspiration.

Lesson: A great speaker doesn’t need to sell himself/herself). So if you are not getting enough speeches, do not spend time trying to sell your speech. Spend your time trying to make your speeches better.

Remember: You are a speaker. So focus on becoming the best speaker you can possibly be. You are NOT a salesperson. And if you think that is what you are, then stop being a speaker, change careers, and become a sales person instead. 🙂


The funny thing is that I might very well get some speaking businesses from one, or some, of the meetings I had today. But the point is that it was not the purpose or focus of any of these meetings.


(Suggestion: Submit your email address in the form to the right to get a convenient email summary in your inbox every time 10 new posts have been posted.)



Today I had a revelation.

It happened as I was doing the Q&A after a speech I delivered at the Rotary Club of Singapore.

I had been invited to speak about the job of being a speaker and I it such an interesting topic that I gladly accepted their invitation. So for once, I did not talk about a topic that interests me. Instead, the topic was about myself. It was a bit weird – but fun – to give a talk about being a speaker.

Anyway, in the Q&A session after my speech, one of the many questions that I received was: “How do you decide which stories to tell?”

I replied: “The great thing with being a global keynote speaker is that people come up to you after your speech to share their stories and their favourite examples around the topic you just have been speaking on.”

I explained that the a great perk of my job is that just by being a speaker, you get access to so many interesting stories — stories that are often not well known.

The person who asked me the question had a follow-up question that really got me thinking. He said: “So your job is to filter out which stories to re-tell?”


That’s when the revelation hit me. Or perhaps, I should say it in its plural form — “revelations”.

Revelation Number 1:

Our job as speakers is not to collect stories to tell, but to select among the stories we have heard that which are good enough to be included in our speech.

This means that we need to gather more stories than we are planning to tell.

I do not have an exact number, but I would guess that it should be something like “100/10/1”.

If we collect 100 stories, then 10 are good enough to be included in a speech, which means they are good enough to be written down and saved. And out of those 10 stories, we actually include 1 in our speeches.

So in essence, our job is not to “collect stories” but to “discard stories” until we have just a few great ones left. Those great stories are the ones we tell our audience.

Which brings us to Revelation Number 2:

As speakers, we are actually not “storytellers”. We are “story re-tellers”.

We do not just tell stories, but we re-tell stories that other people have come to share with us either by approaching us after a speech, agreeing to do an interview with us for our research, or by contacting us online, and so on.

Of course, this does not apply to the category of speakers whose speeches are built around their own life story like “climbing Mount Everest”, or “living without arms”, or “sharing my experiences as a Fortune 500 CEO”, etc.

For the rest of us who speak on a general topic, I would say that nothing beats the stories that you receive from audience members after you have given your speech.


Knockout Reasons Why Audience’s Stories Are Topnotch:

1) They are very genuine stories

Stories shared by people from the audience are close to their hearts because it is something about them or a close friend of theirs.

2) They are powerful 

When a person decides to approach you after your speech, it’s because they really want to share the wisdom of the story to more people.

3) They are often unknown

Most likely, an audience member who shares a story with you is not a celebrity who has exposure in mainstream media or the internet. Thus, their story which you will tell (or more aptly, “re-tell”) will sound fresh when you share them on stage.

4) They are relevant

Since the person telling the story just heard your main message, my experience is that the stories you get right after a speech very often compliment the message that you have been trying to get across.

5) They make you think

Because the story is shared with you by a person who just heard you speak, you get a fresh perspective of your message that is from the point of view of another person. It usually helps to see your own topic with new eyes.

And that is just what happened today.

The man in the audience who asked me about “re-telling” stories helped me look at my own process of collecting, selecting and picking stories to tell in a new way.

So today’s post is very meta: I am writing a post about the value of collecting stories to re-tell from the audience, by telling you how I got to look at the process of re-telling stories by listening to a man in the audience who just heard me speak today. 😉

Lesson: Do not think that your job is just to “tell stories”. Instead, your job is to “re-tell” the stories that you come across as a speaker.

A bonus effect of thinking like this is that the speech becomes less about “you and your ideas” and more about “you as a person who is interested in the topic you are speaking on.”

Or to think in a metaphor, you are less of the “source of the river” and more of “the watering hole” where people who like your subject “go to drink”. I hope you understand what I mean. Less “YOU”. More “US”.

(Suggestion: Submit your email address in the form to the right to get a convenient email summary in your inbox every time 10 new posts have been posted.)