Lund, Sweden.


I had a bad day at work today.

I gave a speech to a hall packed with university students at Lund University in, well, Lund, Sweden.

They invited me to speak about my career as a global, keynote speaker. The title of the event was “From Student to World Expert”.

It was an honourable assignment and I was so happy to have been invited to speak especially since I am not an alumni of the university and yet, they still asked me to speak.

But I bombed. Failed. Screwed up. Basically did a crappy speech.


It’s so easy to answer in hindsight.

I spoke too much about myself, thought too much about what I wanted to say, and not enough about what the audience wanted to hear. And, to be honest, I had not drank nor eaten enough having flown in from Singapore that same day.

The last reason is just so unnecessary that I am embarrassed just thinking about it. Being dehydrated is such an unnecessary reason to give a bad speech. Lack of water can reduce your performance as much as 10% and I try to remember to eat and, more importantly, drink enough before my speech.

This time, I somehow forgot.

The first two reasons are so very typical of what makes a bad speech. And you would think that I would have learnt how to not fall into the trap of doing it after 20 years of speaking!

But that is the thing. I somehow still forgot.

But what pisses me off is that I did feel that I was going in the wrong direction but I did not pause to correct it.

Getting off to a bad start is forgivable, but to not stop, pause, re-think, and change your strategy is NOT.

What I should have done was to admit my mistake and say:

Holy crap! It looks like I am doing the classic mistake of talking about myself when you are really here to hear about how you can change your life. Sorry about that. Now, let me re-calibrate the rest of my speech and try to do it more from your perspective.

It might sound like a strategy that is too honest, too blunt, but I think it would have worked. Unfortunately, we will never know because I insisted on riding a failing train to the end.

So I failed. But then I am only a speaker.

What is the worst thing that happened?

A few students were not as inspired as they could have been.

It’s not like I am a pilot, or a brain surgeon, who, when they have a bad day (and we all do), risk risking the lives of others. That is something to think about when people who are going up to give a speech get all nervous about screwing up. Life goes on.

Lesson: If you feel that your speech is not going well, do not make the mistake of thinking “Oh, this is going bad.” Instead, think: “Oh, this is not working. Let’s try something else.


After the speech, a student came up and asked if there was any way of getting to hear more of my speeches. When she heard I was going to speak in Malmö the next day, she exclaimed that she was going to come with some friends to hear me speak again. Ok, so it was not a total disaster I guess, but I so know I could have done it better. 🙂

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Robert Bradford is an American professional speaker who flies around the world to speak. He just flew in after a speaking engagement in Malaysia and is soon flying off to Dubai for another.

But today, he is in Singapore for a speaking engagement, and I managed to meet up with him tonight for a few hours so we could speak about speaking.

Robert is the expert on “strategy” and has done more than 2,000 strategy sessions. He has also been invited to speak at many Speaker Associations, multiple times for the National Speakers Association (NSA), to share his experience on how to make it as a professional speaker. So it was, of course, very valuable to get some one-on-one time with him to learn.

We talked about a host of issues, but my post today will be about one thing he mentioned that I found very interesting: the need for a speaker to be unique.

Actually, “being unique” is a topic of one of Robert’s keynotes, so I guess it makes a lot of sense to listen to what a thought leader on “uniqueness” has to say about being unique as a speaker.

One thing he said was that many speakers are not working hard enough on becoming unique.

What you have to understand about the speaking business is that while there might be many opportunities to speak at conferences, it is actually quite tough to be the one speaker who gets selected.

Of all the people in the world, why should they pick you to speak?

Most speakers do not have a good answer to that question.

My answer for why I should be selected to speak at a global conference is that I have (with a very high likelihood) spoken in more countries and to more different kinds of audiences than the other speakers on a shortlist for a global conference.

And my unique experience of knowing how to speak to people from different cultures, countries and backgrounds is a big advantage when someone is trying to pick a speaker for a global conference.

If you were organising a global conference and you had three really good speakers on your shortlist where one had spoken in 3 countries, one in 13 countries, and one in more than 60 countries on 6 continents and 32 different countries for 2014 alone (and has written a book about global companies), who would you pick? 😉


Now, back to Robert.


Robert said that a speaker needs to nail two things to get selected:

Being Unique and Adding Value.


And you have to nail BOTH.


Now, here is the thing: It is not enough to be Unique.

No one will EVER select a speaker just because he or she is unique.

Yet, so many speakers spend way too much of their energy trying to make themselves different.

Speakers get selected because they add value to a conference.

But – and this is were it becomes interesting – you do NOT get selected to be the speaker if you are not ALSO unique.

There are just too many good speakers out there that clients could choose while still knowing that they would be adding value.

To be picked, you have to stand out. Be unique.

So how do you stand out?

Well, the best way to stand out is by being perceived as being unique in the value that you can deliver.

Get it?

Your ability to deliver value can make you unique.
But you are not unique just because you can deliver value.

Lesson: What is the unique value that you can deliver? And if you do not have a good answer to that question, what do you have to do in order to get it?


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Today, I had the privilege of coaching not one, but two different speakers, in one day.

In the morning, I met with Stewart Lee Beck who had flown in from China (see above photo) and in the evening, I sat down with one of the professional speakers from Singapore.

The first reason is altruistic.

The second reason is egoistic.

It turns out that helping other speakers become better at their job is one of the best ways to become a better speaker yourself.

During the last 5 or so coaching sessions that I have done with other speakers this month, I was able to reflect on things like:

1. The need to fill your speech with stories that are not about yourself.

2. The importance of creating a speech that is well grounded in the experience that you, and ONLY YOU, have.

3. The danger of rehearsing a speech too much and making it feel like you are reciting lines from a play.

4. The value of identifying and deleting all your “ticks”, like saying “you know”, or “like…”, and many, many more.

Looking at videos of your own speeches is very, very valuable.

But the problem with watching videos of your speech is it sometimes can be too private, too personal, too close for comfort that it might stop you from seeing what you should be changing.

The funny thing is when you watch OTHER speakers speak, it is much easier too see what they are doing wrong – but more importantly: it can also help YOU to see what YOU are doing wrong in your own speeches!

I love how speakers, as a group, are so interested in helping each other become better. And I like how making other speakers better helps improve my own speaking.

If you are a speaker, ask yourself this question:

When was the last time you sat down with a fellow speaker and gave constructive feedback on his or her speech?

If it has been to long, maybe you can take the time to do it. If not for the altruistic reasons of being nice, at least do it for purely egoistic reasons of how it will make yourself better as a speaker. 🙂

Lesson: Sometimes other people are our best mirrors.

And that is of course true for many other things than speeches.


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