Archive for the ‘Tips for Speakers’ Category

Working on Cruise Ships as an Entertainer & a Speaker

August 22, 2011

So, what is ship life all about?

Well, that totally depends on your attitude!

If you arrive on board with an arrogant attitude and think you are god’s gift to speaking – you may very well have a problem. That’s not to say that you don’t get big egos onboard amongst the entertainers & speakers. I’ll never forget on one cruise we had a young 25-year old Australian singer who stuck his name on the outside of his door (in a passenger area). I won’t use his whole name. “Hugh …… Male Guest Entertainer.” He had such an attitude that even the cruise director and captain where to scared to tell him to remove the letters off his door. So one night I changed the “h” of his name with an “E”, thus changing ‘Hugh” into “Huge”. It took him two days before he noticed this, and the letters came off.

Another time during a variety show a speciality act went 3 minutes over his allotted time, and the female singer following him lost it. She screamed at this act for taking away 3 minutes of her ‘limelight’! So, yes, it does happen – thankfully very rarely. These acts usually get worked out of the system quickly!

If you approach your whole contract from a nice friendly attitude, and do a few extra little things to make the passenger’s cruise all that more unforgettable – you will have a blast.

Of course you can party every night and have a hangover every morning. Then again you can just sit around and get bored stiff, and eventually end up partying and getting drunk every night. Or you can be as promiscuous as possible and bed everyone you meet (yes that happens too). Or, you can plan your daily routine and use your time on board a ship fruitfully and constructively, and enjoy quality time with your fellow entertainers & speakers.

Besides making friends and meeting many great people, you will have the opportunity of making business contacts amongst the passengers. You also have the opportunity to see new, exciting and exotic places at someone else’s expense. Besides improving and expanding your general knowledge, your whole outlook on life will be changed and your thinking will become so much more global once you have experienced all the different countries and cultures. Coupled with this, you will work and meet staff, entertainers and crew from all over the world on board – again broadening your horizon on different peoples and their cultures.

They say that travelling is the “University of Life.” Absorb (like a sponge), and experience everything around you, and you will definitely grow as a person within.

As a dancer and singer, most ships have fixed production shows were you have to fit in. Thus there is a certain amount of repetitive work, over and above your cabaret spots. As a speciality act, e.g. comedian and magician, you are left very much on your own and basically do your regular normal acts. As a speaker, or lecturer, you will be working when the ship is at sea, thus have much time off to enjoy the sights and sounds of the cities and ports you dock in.

Working on ships is totally different from anything on land, as your audiences are usually international, elderly and come from all walks of life. At present the Americans are the majority of cruise ship passengers, and most cruise lines sail out of the USA. The most popular cruise areas and most densely populated with ships, are the Caribbean, followed by the Mediterranean, Baltic and Alaska. So most of your time will be spent in these parts of the world.

As the cruise ship industry has grown so much over the last few years, the ships have also become larger. The regular 28000 ton ship with its 600 passengers has now taken second place to the 130 000 ton plus floating hotels which take 3500 passengers and more. That’s excluding the crew! So the market is expanding rapidly, and the need for good speakers and entertainers is huge. In fact it is said that the cruise industry is the fastest growing tourist industry in the world, and that not even 5% of Americans have been on a cruise ship yet! Makes you think!

In theory, the closing down of the music hall and cabaret clubs on land, has now moved to cruise ships. So all those cabaret acts can now be employed here. Yes, comedy clubs have taken over on land, but most of the acts are below the belt and very controversial – and not suitable for the cruise ship market.

Working on a cruise ship sounds very glamorous and exciting, which it is… but remember, ‘too much of a good thing, isn’t good for you’, and the novelty can soon wear off. After a few months of working on any liner, food such as lobsters, shrimps & fillet steaks will not have the same appeal to you as it has now. If you don’t believe me… we’ll speak again in six months time! Blindfolded, I can tell you the difference between Beluga, Sevruga and Osetra caviar. Big deal – but that’s a reality. You just have too much of the stuff.

On the plus side, if you enjoy your wines, traveling really gives you a broad education and insight into wines. Nothing wrong with that! So when I say that traveling gives you a broad insight into the world, this doesn’t only include the cities, ports and islands, but food, culture, geographic’s and so much more.

You will find that after a few years, your old friends back on land will almost be intimidated by your worldly knowledge and insights. In a sense it makes you a much deeper and understanding person. That is of course, if you utilize your free time to take in all the sights, sounds and people.

You also need a certain type of personality to be able to work on ships, and to cope with the confined environment.

If you go onboard with the objective of having fun, gaining experience, making new friends, and seeing the world – you will have a awesome time! It makes complete sense to my why some entertainers have spent the last 25 years on ships. It is addictive!

This is an extract from my book: Working on Cruise Ships as an entertainer and Speaker, available at


Overcoming Stage Fright

August 22, 2011

This is a tough one for me to tackle, as I have never had stage fright. As weird as it may sound, I love standing in front of a crowd. I will never forget once, while addressing a network-marketing group of about 400 people, I had to talk about presentation skills. I started by saying that I have never had stage fright, and continued by saying that you could put me in front of any audience naked, and I would talk about the first thing that comes up. At the time I didn’t realise what I had said. It had made sense in my mind. To top it all, it was a very religious group as well. Thankfully they all had a sense of humour and burst out laughing. Only then did I realise what I had said, and ended up laughing with them. Thinking back, my reaction actually proved my point that I wasn’t nervous, and even when I did say something wrong, I could still laugh at myself. They realised I didn’t mean it the way their ‘imaginative’ minds had processed it, and all was forgiven. I just had to share that with you. To be honest, I was embarrassed at the time but managed to hide it quite well.

Stage fright is a reality for most speakers I know, and their has been much said about how to overcome it. I will cover various tips and theories, but I believe there are only three reasons why someone is nervous before a presentation.

1.) They are not really into what they are doing, i.e. only doing it for the money and it is not their real passion – hence the feeling of, ‘Will I pull it off?’

2.) They are not the experts they profess to be, and fear that someone could possibly see through them.

3.) The main reason to me – they don’t know their talk!

If I go on stage and have no knowledge of what I am going to say, then I will be uneasy and stressed. That’s only normal. But if I know my talk (we come back to the issue of being ‘real’ and doing it 100 times for free), why should I have any reason to doubt my abilities? If you have practiced and rehearsed that talk and can do it in your sleep, you have absolutely no reason to be nervous. That’s it. Yes I can read minds too … you are now thinking to yourself, “But what about those 100 times I do it for free, there will be the first time I do it – so obviously I will be nervous.” Yes I agree, so why then don’t you start small? Do it for your family, friends and social circle first. Do it for people you are comfortable with. Then build up to the Rotary and Lion club meetings etc. Ease yourself into it!

I will never forget my first Magical Production show we performed on Princess cruises. We had a choreographer from Broadway rehearsing with us every night. When it came to the final bows she would swear like a trouper and scream at us (that’s my wife and me – my wife assisted in the show.) Let me backtrack. I have always been a thankful person and believe that part of my success is that I am grateful and thankful for everything that has happened in my life. I don’t take anything for granted and believe in humility. I don’t see myself as better than the next person. My wife has the same views.

Thus, when we bowed at the end of our show, in my eyes it was a gracious bow of gratitude and thanks towards the audience for spending the hour with us. To the choreographer this was a no no! She was American! Have you ever watched an American entertainer on stage? They are in charge – they take over – they have ATTITUDE! That is why they are the best and the biggest. Her philosophy was, ‘It’s all good and well to be humble, but when you are on stage, YOU are the star. YOU are in control. Your whole body must ooze confidence.’ I am giving you the polite version here. She said, “When you bow, you look the audience in the eyes and say, “Up Yours!” Of course you do this silently to yourself. Guess what happened? My chest suddenly pushed out and I stood more proud – now she started applauding.

As crude as this example may sound – she was right. YOU are on that stage. The audience is there to listen to you. If you do not ooze confidence and pride, you will never become great. Look at your top American speakers and entertainers. They have ATTITUDE! Attitude sells. Whether you agree with this philosophy or not, it works. That’s why they are the biggest and the best.

However, that doesn’t mean you must become an arrogant prat! Keep your humility and remain a gracious human being. But when you stand on that stage, you need to radiate power and control. The audience must see a confident, high-energy individual who is great at what they do. How else can you inspire others if they don’t see that energy and passion in you? It’s all about the show! I trust this makes sense.

 Further tips to increase your confidence:

1.) When you practice your talk, take it on video and watch yourself. Initially you may not enjoy seeing yourself on tape. But the more you do it, the more you become used to seeing yourself and you soon learn to look at yourself critically and see where you have gone wrong. You become comfortable with seeing yourself and this does make you more secure within yourself.

2.) Don’t just rehearse your talk to camera, in front of friends, or alone in your living room, but visualise it during quiet times as well. If you are sitting waiting on someone, or just before you go to sleep – see yourself on that stage and imagine doing the talk. This all boosts your confidence. Someone once told me that when they rehearse in their living room, they put all their children’s stuffed animals on the couch and use them as an audience. Hey, if it works for you – great!

3.) Many people suggest you should find a quiet room before the presentation and relax/meditate. If that helps you, great! In my mind it just gives you more time to get nervous. I would suggest rather keeping busy, talking to others and holding a conversation with someone. You MUST have done your talk 100 times by now. You know it. There is no reason to be nervous and brood. You should be telling jokes to the stage assistant and laughing, while waiting for your cue to go onto stage.

4.) Many people say that you have to get through the first 5 minutes. Granted, if you haven’t done a dry run and are not used to the stage and lighting, it can be intimidating standing there in a strange environment with lights blinding you. Look at a 5 minute goal of just settling in – don’t worry about the whole hour keynote. Just get into that ‘comfort zone’ first, and the rest will follow naturally.

5.) Breathe normally. When people clamp up they start breathing fast with shorter breaths – hence the nerves. A nice idea is to get onto stage, look at the audience and take a few deep breaths before starting to speak. One of funniest openings I ever saw a speaker do was that he walked onto stage with a cup of coffee. Sat down, lit a cigarette and basically spent two minutes smoking and drinking coffee. He was looking at the audience, but was in a ‘zone’ of his own. Then suddenly he said,” What’s the matter – do you start working straight away when you get into the office?”

The audience cracked up. They could relate to what he did, plus he had given himself the time to get used to the stage, calm himself and start with a laugh.

6.) That brings me to making the audience laugh right away. Laughter breaks the ice for anyone. If you can walk onto stage and get a laugh in the first 10 seconds – it will calm you and the audience. Read my chapter on opening lines and ideas for more on this.

7.) Realise that 99% of the people in the audience would be scared sh&#tless to stand on that stage – so they are all glad it’s you and not them. Thus they are on your side.

8.) Consider for a moment if anyone in the audience has your knowledge and can stand up on that stage and do what you are doing. Odds are they can’t! That’s another reason to be more confident.

9.) Most people are scared of ‘dying or bombing’ on stage. You know that fear is what holds people back. Are you going to let fear make you nervous? If you know your talk, you have nothing to fear!

10.) Some people suggest that you talk to the audience as if they were only one person. Okay, but every time you look up, there are hundreds in front of you. Here is where eye contact is important. I would change this advice to, ‘Talk to one person at a time.’ It is imperative to maintain eye contact with everyone in the room and make them feel as if you are personally speaking to each and every individual. Thus you do look and speak to one person at a time, but you move around. Spend a few seconds looking at one, and then move to the next. In essence you are still only having a one to one conversation, but covering the whole room.

11.) Understand that it’s not about you! It’s about them! When you make your audience more important than you and focus on the message/story that you are telling, your focus changes away from yourself and you calm down.

12.) As a speaker, have you ever spoken on the topic of ‘Letting Go?” I believe many of us have. You now have to apply the concept to yourself. Let go of the worry that some people may not like you. That’s life! Not everyone is going to like you and get on with you. This is a personal issue each and every one of us has to come to terms with. You need to learn to be comfortable with who you are. We live in a society where we are so conditioned by the media on who we should be, that this actually screws up the majority of people. Stop being image conscious. Stop doing what the media sells you. Be true to yourself and inner peace will follow.

Think about it, how many people do you know that just seem to be chilled and happy with whom they are? Not many! When you talk to them and spend time in their company, how does it make you feel? Comfortable? It’s their natural energy that rubs off onto you. My dad always said to me, “You can’t get everyone to love you, but you can get them to respect you.” Isn’t that what it’s all about? There is that old saying that you only need 51% of people to like you in order to be successful. Get over all the personal image issues and be yourself. If you stand on that stage and create an illusion of someone that you’re not – many people may like you. But it will be stressful to maintain that image. However, if you are you, and content with everything about yourself, more people will like you. As someone so nicely put it, “Don’t take yourself so seriously!”

13.) I’m scared of making a mistake! Duh! We all make mistakes. If you don’t make mistakes, how else will you improve your talk and become a seasoned veteran in the game? Again, society has conditioned us to see mistakes as negative. Please never fail at anything – then you are a loser! What kind of philosophy is that? You know where it started – in school with it’s flawed education system. If you failed you were a drop out. My favourite saying is from Thomas Edison who said, “I have not failed, I just found ten thousand ways that don’t work.” Isn’t that just the best? That’s the philosophy you need. Take it a step further, we as humans were designed to learn from our failures and mistakes. If not, why would we keep on standing up again after we fell down as babies when we tried to walk? But once again the media/society/etc. has conditioned this warped perception in our minds that failure is bad. Granted, doing the same mistake twice is just plain stupid. You have to be honest enough with yourself to learn from your first mistake and change. I look at my speaking career. When I started I made horrible mistakes. Anyone that saw me then and now would never recognise my presentation. Why? Because I was finding my feet. We all have ideas we think will work. When they don’t we want to fall apart. Nonsense, sit back and analyse why it didn’t work. Change it and try again. If it still doesn’t work, do it different again. The easiest way to explain this is the way a seasoned comedian works. He may tell a joke which has you rolling in the aisle. You repeat the joke and no one laughs. Why? The comedian has mastered that joke over years and years. He knows how to stand, when to pause, which words to emphasise. Do you think he did that the first time he told the joke? Definitely not – it came with years of practice. That’s why the 100 times rehearsal of your talk is so important. You will learn so much and change so many things. At least you will start the first paying gig with a good talk. The greatness only comes from years of presenting it further and mastering the little things. I look at my first talk I did, ‘Discover Your Magic.’ To date this is still my favourite talk. Why? Because I have done it for so long I know exactly where to pause and what reaction I will get. And guess what, in 5 years from now there will be many changes to the current version, because I will always learn something every time I do it. So take mistakes and learn from them.

14.) Exercise! Fit people are calmer than unfit ones. Have a good workout on the day of your talk – it gets rid of all that excess negative energy and just makes you feel better.

15.) Plan for the inevitable. Further chapters in this book include lines and comments to cover when things go wrong. I am a firm believer that if something goes wrong and you have the right funny comment at that moment, everyone relaxes. However, you need to memorise and have them at hand. Even the corniest lines are funny if timed correctly. Recently I was speaking at a large conference when the power failed. Everything went into darkness. Any decent conference venue will have a back-up generator that will kick in within a few minutes. Of course the microphone was also dead, so I projected my voice as best I could and asked the audience to remain calm and put their hands straight up above their head into the air. I repeated myself saying I could see not everyone was doing this. They laughed as no one could see a thing, including me. When the light came on, 80% of the audience was sitting there with their hands high above them. I dryly looked at them and said, “See, that old Chinese proverb, many hands make light work, really works!” Besides laughing loudly, I received a thunderous round of applause. In fact afterwards many people spoke to me and thought I had planned the whole thing. The management of the hotel thanked me for covering the blackout so well and shifting the focus onto me. In fact they gave me an expensive bottle of wine as a ‘Thank You.’ All because I had this silly line at exactly the right moment.

A speaker was trying to bring across the message of breaking yourself lose from the shackles that hold you back. He had himself tied up and attempted to try an escape to bring across the message. As he successfully broke free, he shouted, “I’m free, I’m free.” And a little girl in the front row shouted back, “So what, I’m four!”

This is an extract from my book: Tips for Speakers, available at

Know your audience as a Speaker

August 22, 2011

This may sound like an obvious point, but it is the most common mistake new speakers make. How can you attempt to share skills with people you don’t know? They may be at a more advanced level than you think, and they think the company is playing a joke on them when you are on stage. If you are a sales guru, you cannot talk about marketing strategies to the cleaning staff. If your message is partially new age and based on the laws of the universe, the local Christian ladies club won’t receive you very well! Got it? No matter who books you, you need to find out as much as you can about the group of people you are speaking to. If you know it’s the entire staff of a company, across the floor and they are looking for general inspiration, fine. But, if you specialize in strategic planning and will be speaking to a group of sales reps, you need to know whether they are part of this planning process, or spend most of the time on the road.

Are they MBA students? What is their age group? Younger people may just have completed their studies, are well informed and eager to please. An older group may be more set in their ways and not open to changing their way of thinking. Or it could be completely reversed – the older group may be brilliant futurists with a track record second to non and be lecturing at the local college part time, while the youngsters are still wet behind the ears. If you get this wrong, your talk can bomb. Beside speaking to the client and finding out as much as you can, do a search on the internet and read up on the company, their history and their vision. This gives you important insight into their corporate mindset. I find it a good idea to get to the function a bit earlier, even the day before. Meet with the delegates and get to know them. This gives me all the insight I need into their current knowledge base, how they think, what they think of their company, etc. This even allows me to personalize my keynote and go that extra mile.

Often you may be the last speaker on the bill. If you can arrive at the venue earlier, sit in on a few internal speaker sessions by the marketing director, financial director, etc. This gives you so much insight into who the company is and where they are heading. 99% of the time you can refer back to what the financial director said and build on points he/she made. Guess who is going to be on your side and give you a good endorsement? Stay away from any humor or issues that can offend someone. Remember, you only need to offend one person in an audience of a thousand people. This could be the wife of the CEO. No one will talk about the good points you made, but about how you angered the boss’ wife! Get my point? Some politician may just have appeared on the front-page headlines of the newspaper for corruption and deserves to be bad mouthed, but for all you know it’s the brother of someone in the audience.

The best lesson I ever learnt was in the USA where people are very conscious of this. A comedian friend told me to never tell jokes about a certain group, religion or culture. Rather tell an ‘idiot’ joke, because no one will complain that they are an idiot! In many respects it seems quite complicated as to what you can and can’t say. I always follow the rule of thumb that if anything can be hurtful to anyone in any way stay clear from it. It is way to easy to pick on someone or some group of people and speakers let it slip all to easily. The safest for me is to turn everything on myself. If I am going to criticize someone, or pass a sarcastic comment, I always turn it on myself. Why? We have all done stupid things – use those as examples.


I don’t offend anyone.


I come across as more human.


others can then see those traits in themselves and relate to it. And best of all, it teaches me to laugh at myself too!

This is an extract from my book: Tips for Speakers, available at

Become a better speaker: How to improve your technique

August 22, 2011

I have lost count of the number of events I have spoken at where the stage is 6 foot high and the audience are seated 20 meters away. Spotlights are blinding me and the audience is in darkness. The event company has spent thousands on the staging, and I suddenly tell the technicians to put the house lights on, while I walk off stage into the audience.


You cannot connect with an audience if you don’t see them! Why don’t event companies understand this? Make sure that in your brief with a client, you make it clear that you need you need eye contact with the delegates. I am not a preacher standing on a pedestal. If I want to openly communicate with an audience and ‘connect’ with them, I must have contact with them. This is impossible if they are meters away from me and I am standing on a high platform. Don’t get me wrong, a good speaker can still make a success of this set-up, and the keynote can still be great. But, I WILL connect better with my audience and leave a longer lasting impression if I can see and touch them.

2.) There have been many theories on how to make eye contact so that everyone in the audience feels you are talking to them directly. Some people say you need to look in a general direction, focus on someone in the middle of that group and then look left, right, in front and behind that person while talking. This gives the impression that you are talking to everyone there. This works, but I find that I actually make a point of looking at everyone in his or her eyes. I alternate between left, right, front and back of the room. Hence the importance of having light on the audience. If there is an isle in the centre, I will walk down that isle towards the back and move around the room. By being able to see the faces, you can see whether they are looking at you! You can see who is tweeting on Twitter. You can see who is sleeping! You can judge quite clearly whether you are capturing your audience.

3.) When making an important point, stand still. Movement is for general conversation and overviews. How can you expect an audience to grasp the importance of a point if you are bouncing up and down? Similarly body language and hand movements are important here. Standing rigid and expressionless is not going to convince anyone that they must take heed of what is being said. Hence I find that when I speak from personal experience and from the heart, my emotions naturally move my hands. Thus my actions truly follow my emotions. I have seen many speakers who try and convince an audience of a point, but their body movement doesn’t follow their emotion. Afterwards they complain they didn’t connect with the audience. Duh! Not everyone out there is dumb. They can see that your body language is not mimicking what your are saying. Hence the opening chapter of ‘keeping it real.’

There are tons of courses and advice out there on how to stand, when to point, never to put your hands in your pockets, etc. I firmly believe that these are all courses designed for speakers who are delivering a choreographed presentation with no heart. Plus they are so focused on what to do with their hands; they are not connecting with the audience. If what you do is from deep within, everything else will come naturally. There is no 7 point system of rules for successful speaking. There is only ONE – keep it real! Then everything else follows naturally. Do yourself a favour and look at some of the old hands in the business. Many of them will sit on a small stool, or bar chair and chat with their audience in a relaxed manner. Try suggesting this to some Speaking Academy instructors – they’ll do their nut. Yet, these ‘old hands’ come across far better and their messages are still effective. Why – they are comfortable with who they are. There are no pretences. Here we go again … they are keeping it ‘real.’

4.) Anyone that has been in the industry for a long time will know of Dottie Walters’s book, ‘Speak and Grow Rich.’ If you don’t have it, buy it! The best piece of advice to me, which she shares is, “Do your talk 100 times before charging for it.” I can write a book on how to cope with nerves. I can give tons of advice on how to enhance your presentation and give you hundreds of tips. All the above can be solved with Dottie Walters’s advice – Do it at least 100 times! Just be honest with yourself here. The first time you have done a talk, what happens? You drive back from the gig, or sit back at home and go through it in your mind. Suddenly you have all these thoughts on how you could have done it better! Be honest, I am right here. Why do you have those thoughts?

Because you didn’t do it to the best of your ability! Why? Because you didn’t rehearse it enough in front of a live audience? Rehearsing a keynote in your living room 100 times is TOTALLY different from doing it live! Fair enough, reality is different from theory. You have an old client who begs you to do a talk on a new topic. To keep the client happy you spend days working on it and pull it off successfully. I have been in this situation myself. My experience in the industry gives me the insight and nerve to get away with it. The audience think it is great and everyone is happy. But, and this is a huge but! If I am totally honest with myself, then I know I could have done it 100 times better. The few times I have given in to such a scenario; I always want to kick myself afterwards. I tend to rely on too much older material as fillers and a buffer to pull it off. I always think I could have done it differently afterwards.

If I look at the Keynote in my package that rocks, the one I can do in my sleep and where I know to the second what reaction I will pull from an audience – it’s the one I have been doing the longest. It’s that one I have done a few hundred times. It’s the talk that is brilliant. It’s my bread and butter talk. Thus, if you want a great talk, you need to do it for everyone and anyone over a period of a few months. I can guarantee you that the talk you end with WILL BE vastly different in structure and content from the one you started with. It WILL be simpler, have fare more focused. I have often been at conferences where laptops have packed up. In fact once in my life, three crashed one after the other. (That’s why I use Apple Mac today – another tip!) Most of the speakers at the day conference duffed out completely – they couldn’t read their points off their slides. Hallo! Smell the roses! If you need crib notes and pointers to do your talk – you should not be charging for it. When you have done it a hundred times, you can do it in your sleep!

I am amazed at how often I see speakers do a full rehearsal of their talk at a conference, or want to blame the sound and lighting technician that they died on stage because they claim their sound was bad. I have seen speakers use a common humorous video clip in their presentations that wouldn’t play, and their whole talk died from that point on. Then when I sincerely comment that I feel they didn’t know their talk, I am told I have an attitude! It has nothing to do with attitude. It has to do with stop being naive and to offer a value for money service. If your laptop hasn’t crashed on you, if you haven’t experienced a power failure, if a microphone hasn’t died on you – IT’S ONLY A MATTER OF TIME! It WILL happen! Will you be able to cope? If not, I strongly suggest that you go rehearse your speech. I have spoken to delegates in a pub, standing on a table with people all around me, in a restaurant. In fact I have spoken standing on top of Dune 7 (the biggest sand dune in southern Africa with people sitting around me. One of the most awesome experiences was standing in the Kruger National Park with the delegates sitting around a fire. The Landrover spots were my lighting, and lions where roaring in the bush behind me. It’s one of the most awesome talks I ever did. I had no technical support whatsoever, and was competing with the scenery and lions around me. Why did I handle all the above situations? Because I know my talk inside out. The PowerPoint/Keynote slides are a bonus – that’s all they are. They do not make or break my talk. It’s me who does. Do I connect with my audience? Do I relate to them? Do I make eye contact? Do I watch their reactions to what I say? YES! And I can only do this when my talk is imbedded in my subconscious. I don’t even have to think about what I am going to say next. It is part of who I am. Of course what also makes it easier is that I talk about personal real life experiences – so nothing has been learnt parrot fashion. It’s about me and how my story can help you. Therefore, even though I know it pat off, I still bring across the real emotion of every story. But I have the confidence not to worry about what I am going to say next, which enables me to make that eye contact, read my audience and feed off them. Because it’s my story and I know it so well, I can therefore also adapt and adjust it to suit the needs and mood of my audience. I trust you see that I am not talking about me; I am trying to put a perspective on how important it is to ‘know’ your talk. It’s only once you are comfortable with your presentation that no matter what happens, you will be able to handle it 100%!

5.) Speak clearly and be aware of accents. Granted, due to Hollywood, everyone understands Americans. However, there are some of us that have grown up in different parts of the world, and we have an accent. Many years ago I was very conscious of this and spent a long time attending elocution lessons in order to lessen my strong South African accent. (That’s where I learnt English.) The funny thing is, when I am home in Germany for a few months and dreaming in German, I have a German English accent. How’s that! If you have an accent of any sort, I have learnt that you should use it to your advantage. If you are speaking in a country where everyone sounds the same, suddenly you are different – that’s a plus factor and makes people more interested in you, plus they become more attentive. However, because you have an accent, you MUST speak a bit slower and clearer and concentrate on the correct pronunciation of all your words. Give the delegates a chance to get used to your dialect. This will take a good ten to fifteen minutes. If your dialect is too strong, you will lose them and their brains will tire from concentrating to understand you. Hence the importance of speaking clearly – then the accent becomes a pleasant one and the audience understands you better.

6.) I have spoken to more dead mics than an Irish undertaker! What happens when your microphone dies on you? Do you panic? Or is your voice strong enough to project while the sound technician does the panicking? Practice projecting your voice and become comfortable with speaking loudly without it being forced. Voice artists will teach you this and it is some of the best money you can spend to improve your skills.

7.) When you are nervous, you tend to speak too fast. The same applies to not knowing your topic. Back to the 100 times story! When you know what you are talking about, you are more relaxed and you speak slowly and more clearly. Be very aware of this and learn to speak at a comfortable speed for the majority of the delegates listening. As soon as you speak too fast you become unclear. Think about when you are talking one on one to someone else. How is your speech then? This is called a conversational style of speaking. If you can aim for this, then you should be fine speaking to a larger group. In the same vein, emphasise important words. Be enthusiastic about important points. This will change the tone, intensity and energy of your voice and keep the talk interesting

8.) NEVER read off a talk. We have enough politicians who bore us with that style. If you are getting paid for a talk, make sure you know it in your head. I know many speakers have crib notes and maybe some catch words on the podium as a back up. My question to you is, “Do you want to be a mediocre speaker or a great speaker?” Greatness is only possible if you know what you are doing and are comfortable doing it. Back to the 100 time issue once again!

9.) Have a logical flow in your keynote. There is nothing worse than a speaker hopping between topics and referring back to previous points, or saying that he will clarify a current point later. Planning your talk is the most important thing ever. It must have a logical flow. Most of the time when someone tells me they find it difficult to learn their talk – it’s because it is illogical and doesn’t make sense. How can you expect an audience to follow you if you have difficulty yourself?

10.) Lay an open foundation for your talk. Like everything in life, the planning phase is the most crucial. You need to have a talk that you can tailor design for a client as you are walking onto stage. The client must be able to tell you backstage that you are talking to a bunch of medical sales reps, and you must be able to walk onto stage, wowing them with the fact that they feel you designed your talk for them. No, this isn’t an unrealistic demand. It is simple to do. If I am speaking about goal achievement, the core points always remain the same, but the application and planning varies in different industries. In fact just a 5 minute brief with the client beforehand should give you enough insight to tailor the talk. Thus you should research the various mainstream industries and the types of clients you are most likely to speak to. Get to know how they think and what structures are standard in the industry. It’s a bit of basic general knowledge. From there it becomes second nature to personalise the keynote. Again we come back to the 100 times story. No matter how well you plan your talk, it WILL change over the years. By doing it 100 times you will have the time to identify the shortfalls, the parts that don’t follow logically and you will have spoken to enough people to be comfortable with bringing in added industry specific elements. But this can only be done if you know the keynote 100%

This is an extract from my book, Tips for Speakers, available at

How to be authentic as a speaker: Keeping it Real

August 22, 2011

This has been a hot topic at quite a number of Speaker conventions and one that merits much discussion. If you look at our profession and how it has changed over the last few years, keeping it real has taken a back seat.Today speakers are popping up left and right, and the market in many countries has become over saturated. Anyone that has presented a TV program, or won a medal in a sporting event is now suddenly entering the speaking market.Although they create a ‘short term’ impact on the industry, many do not last and it’s always the old hands that plod along and seem to make a success though good and bad times.This poses the question – what makes the successful speakers different from the others? Many factors come into play here, but in my opinion, it’s those speakers that ‘keep it real.’

What do I mean by this?I tend to only speak about personal experiences and try relating my stories to ‘everyone out there.’ I find that if I ‘connect’ with my audience and they can relate in their own lives to what I am saying, then my message is far more powerful than hyping them up for an hour with ‘feel good’ stories which they forget after a few days.This brings me to my entry into the profession. I started my career as an entertainer (Comedy Magician) travelling the world at corporate events; on cruise liners, expeditions, etc. As it happened, I had quite a few unique experiences and my own success story stemming from a belief in myself. Being a social animal, many corporate executives would chat to me after an event and be fascinated by my life story. It is them that planted the seed in my mind of becoming an inspirational keynote speaker.

My initial reaction when clients would suggest this to me is that I didn’t believe in the ‘ra ra’ hype of the motivational speakers I knew of. They were like TV Evangelists for me, revving up a crowd with shallow ‘feel good’ words, and made lots of money doing this.I have always been an ethical person, and this went completely against my principles. I tend to be someone that practices what he preaches and couldn’t see myself lying to people like that. As is, I was a magician who was ‘deceiving’ my audience through clever sleight of hand. But at least I told them I was deceiving them, and in an entertaining way too. There was no way I could go out and do something similar, while manipulating their emotions.Eventually, after a few years of literally every client telling me to tell my life story, I decided to do it. However, I would do it my way, or not at all.

I distinctly remember many bureaus, agents and speakers laughing at me. In fact the beginning years were tough, as hype was the in thing.Today I look back at those times and those speakers. Few if any are still speaking. Suddenly companies changed their philosophy. They now wanted measurable, practical sustainable life skills which employees could implement immediately. They needed their attendees to be able to connect with the speaker and be given useable and attainable tips. But most of all their focus shifted from an entertaining ‘feel good’ seminar to something that was real and would change the future focus of the company in a realistic positive manner.

I heard a great saying in April 2010 at the Professional Speaker Association conference in Holland. One of the speaker said, “When you are young, you’re a ‘Go Getter.’ When you get older, you become a ‘Go Giver.’That basically sums up my philosophy. If you want to speak, then it must be an ‘inner calling’ and you must care deeply about humanity. Above all, your audience must be able to identify this trait the minute you walk onto stage. They must see a sincere human being who cares for others and whom they can relate to in their own lives.If you can do this, then they will listen and respect what you have to say. I look back at how I started – I reached my dreams and was successful in my career, but something was missing. Entertaining the masses and making them laugh wasn’t enough? I had reached a stage in my life where I need to become a ‘Giver.’

Thus, wherever you are in your speaking career, you need to first ask yourself the question, “Why are you a speaker?” Is it the glamour of the lifestyle?  Is it the high keynote fees?

Is it the celebrity lifestyle of living in planes and hotels? Maybe you just enjoy people applauding you? Or is it the reason you get up in the morning? Lets be realistic here. You haven’t chosen the easiest career on earth. If anything, speaking offers you no security and every time there is a global recession, companies cut down and training and motivation. You may have just won a sports competition, or become the new ‘Big Brother’ champion. But in a year or two you will be ‘old news.’ What happens then? Right now you may not be able to keep up with bookings, and everyone thinks you are the greatest.

Have you got a long-term strategic plan, or are you just going with the flow? Is your keynote only topical now during the World Cup Football? What happens afterwards?

There is a reason I pose all these questions. You see, if you are truly passionate about speaking and really care about others, then your whole approach to speaking will be different from the person that is just milking the system while the good times last and riding on recent events which have put them into the limelight. vThis is where the term, keeping it ‘real’ comes into play. Let’s be honest here, none of us are saying anything that is new and which will profoundly change the world we live it. Nothing is unique to you only. We all talk about attaining our goals and being open to change.

So what makes you different? What makes the audience believe your story over someone else’s story?

It’s all about ‘how’ you tell your story!

The only thing that distinguishes your message from someone else, is how ‘real’ the audience perceive your message to be. Please understand that I am not knocking the sport or celebrity speakers. For one moment, think objectively and think about the ‘masses out there.’ Yes a gold medallist Olympic winner is an inspiration to everyone. But can everyone become an Olympic gold medallist? No! However, if a mechanic from a middle class family can become a huge national success with services centres throughout the country, many more people can relate to this person. He or she is more ‘real’ than the ‘A’ list Hollywood actor. vWhether you want to accept this or not – most people cannot relate to your story about the trouble you had on your intercontinental flight and how you overcame it. Most have never been in a plane. All they care about is putting food on the table and making their pay check last until end of the month. Most people we talk to are the employees at big companies. They work for a fixed salary. They do not live in the environment that we as speakers are exposed to. Yes they may be living it up and partying the whole night through at the conference. But they only attend one conference a year. We speak at ten per month. They live in a different reality to us!

This is where many speaker make the mistake of not connecting with their audience. They are living in an unrealistic reality. Thus, when one speaks about keeping it ‘real’, your message has to resonate with the person sitting in front of you – the average middle class man and woman in the street. If you can connect with them, and they can see themselves in your shoes and believe that they have the same potential as you – then you can bring about change. By no means am I saying that you cannot use your unique experiences, however, you have to find a common ground, which makes your audience connect with you.

Let me take a personal example. I was part of an expedition in the Arctic where we ran aground and could have died. Where we experienced temperatures of minus 40 degrees. 99.9% of people on this earth have not and will most probably never go to the Arctic. It’s an awesome story, but hardly anyone can connect to this on an emotional level, never mind it changing their lives. But, if I tell the story briefly, to give background, and then ask my delegates to imagine themselves, within their own frame of mind, in that situation where one possibly only had an hour left to live. I expand on that asking them to imagine that they must imagine the hotel they are in now was the size of the ship. That they have not contacted their loved ones at all in the last ten days. Now they realise they have maybe an hour left to live – what would go on in their minds? Suddenly I have taken my unique story, made it ‘real’ by relating it to their circumstances, and now have the possibility to tap into their emotional state of being and shocking them into making the most of every moment and not taking family, friends and co-workers for granted.

There are three factors that come into play here.

1. I experienced this event myself, so I can tell the story with conviction, emotion and realism which the audience can feel through my body language.

2.) A bonus factor is that I have gained credibility with my audience as through the use of photos/videos etc. they see I really was there.

3.) Because I am ‘re-living’ the real event with them, I am baring my soul to the audience. I am instilling a level of trust in them by sharing my most personal thoughts.

Don’t you agree that because of this they are far more likely to ‘connect’ with me than if I was just relaying someone else’s story? Fair enough, not everyone has novel stories like this. But you don’t need them! I have spoken about relating to the average person ‘out there.’ Sit down and brainstorm what issues these people may have. The majority of people have financial problems. Many people know someone that owes them money, or have been done in by a scam on some sort. Who hasn’t? Odds are you have too. Tell your audience about it. Share the thought that went through your mind – odds are they will have had similar thoughts! Now you’re keeping it real!

Here’s another personal example. Many of us have a horror story about building our own home, or having work done to our homes where contractors have disappeared with our money. This happened to me to. In fact when it did happen to me, I paid someone to look for the contractor and beat them up. Guess what – this person also ran away with my money! If I am right, you are smiling now. Why? You can relate to it. Most people would love to get their own back if someone did them in. But various moral or other reasons stop them from doing this. Suddenly here’s a guy on stage that talks about what everyone would have loved to do, and then got caught again. Everyone can laugh and relate to it. I have bared my soul. I have shown I am a ‘real’ person with the same thoughts and feelings as them. I also do stupid things. Now they look at me and are suddenly glad they never attempted to pay someone to get their own back. I have connected with my audience on a totally deeper level.

Now I can talk to them about the lessons I learnt and share this with them. Why one shouldn’t hate, why one should take responsibility for one’s own actions, etc. Odd’s are they will take so much more home with them from this, compared to me just telling them that one shouldn’t hate and one should take responsibility for ones own actions.

Get my point? I am keeping it ‘real’ for everyone out there!

This article is an extract from my book, Tips for Speakers, available at: