Tag: How to become better as a speaker

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My main focus on the ProfessionalSpeaking.com 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.

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Today’s post is about the need to empty your brain between speeches to be able to be inspired by new content and to be able to inspire new audiences on multiple occasions during one day.
Today I was introduced as “a Modern day Tintin – someone who travels the world to learn new things.”

I really liked that introduction, and in many ways it is true. As a global keynote speaker I get to travel the world and learn a lot of interesting things.

And today was another such day:

1) I was the opening keynote speaker at a client event for one customer. I spoke between 9-10.

2) Then I jumped into a taxi and arrived 15 minutes later at another event where I was the keynote speaker before lunch (11-12.30)

4) I then did 2 90 minute workshops for the same client (14-15.30 and 16-17.30)

5) before I jumped into a taxi to get to a University in Singapore where a professor had asked me to be part of an evening class from 6:30 – 9:30.

And it was at this event that the professor, Ferdinand de Bakker, introduced me to his students as “a modern day Tintin who travels around the world to learn new things.”

So today I learnt about mobility solutions, about trends in accounting, and about PR and investor relations (in the University course).

But by doing 2 keynote speeches, 2 workshops and 1 class for students during one day you have to have a technique to keep your inspiration.

Now to be clear: As a global speaker it is less common that I do multiple speeches on the same day as it is not geographically possible, but for the instances – like today – when it happens, I would like to share with you the technique I use to keep my inspirational level high: I call it “empty your mind”.

By “emptying your mind” I mean: Find a quite room at the NEW location where you are going to speak and sit and meditate for at least 10-15 minutes.

Think of nothing.

Just let your body and mind and soul land in this new location.

Let the emptiness of thought and silence of the room wipe away any adrenaline or “high” that you have from just giving the previous speech.

Let your brain feel like the day is staring over as a clean sheet of paper.

If you can not find a quiet room, then go and find a restroom/toilet.

It’s not about finding the most relaxing of enviroments, it’s about finding a place where you can be:
– by yourself
– alone
– undisturbed
– quiet

Then go out and do your normal “warm up” that you do before a speech.

On this Friday I did the “empty your brain” routine 4 times in one day. It helped me keep the energy up all day.

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