Conversations with Jensen Siaw

By Jomaine Tan and Jian Jingying

Jensen Siaw is an International Motivational Speaker who specializes in coaching leaders and sales producers to achieve better performance and results. To date, he has spoken to over 250,000 live audience and reached over a million others through his radio talk shows and book, “Change Your Inner Cards, Win The Outer Game”. Here, Advisory has a chat with Jensen about his work. 

I have been in this line for 13-14 years now. The most common label that people use is ‘Motivational Speaker’. As the name suggests, ‘Motivational Speaker’ means that my primary role is to deliver convincing speeches to motivate people. A typical motivational speaker would do a range of duties. This could vary from delivering keynote addresses to large audiences over an hour to an hour and a half, or delivering motivational training programmes between half a day to 4-5 days. We also conduct motivational training for C-level executives or senior leaders.

I also manage team of speakers who each specialise in different areas. These domains include body language, grooming, communication skills, mental toughness and social media disruption. I’ll borrow a term from soccer to call myself a “player-manager”, because I both play on the field and manage the team.

My work involves me speaking in Singapore and also travelling overseas,for durations up to 2 weeks, across Asia and as far as France.

No. I remember in secondary school, I wanted to be an Airforce Officer.

I was not a good performing secondary school student. My goal was to enter Junior College because that was the only way I could study Psychology, my interest, in university. However, I could not make it to Junior College and thus I decided to take Information Technology in polytechnic instead. However, I did not like what I was studying and I struggled in the course. Subsequently, I dropped out of Polytechnic when I was 19 years old.

After my national service, I eventually embarked on 7 years of part-time studies that saw me completing my bachelors degree, a professional diploma in training & development, and a masters degree with NTU.

Because of the nature of my corporate work, I got to know some professional speakers and trainers. Seeing the work they do and the impact they leave opened my mind to the world of being a professional trainer and speaker.

I started forming my plan to become a professional trainer before 30. Right after my Bachelor’s Degree, I started my Professional Diploma in Training and Development. I knew that this qualification would give me credibility and professional expertise to enter the industry. I happened to network with more speakers and trainers as I completed this this diploma.

Having worked in the corporate world for about 6-7 years, I learnt that in the corporate world, there are many things which are not within your control. These include how fast you are promoted, or whether there is a vacancy for promotion in the first place. As an avid reader of self-help books, I knew that I have to take responsibility and find opportunities in order to create the outcome that I wanted for myself. Therefore, I re-examined my experience in the corporate world and thought that it was time to leave and start my own career.

Many people didn’t know who I was. I was in my mid-20s, and it was rare for people to hire speakers who look young. It was difficult to convince someone in a senior position, be it a CEO, HR Manager or the Head of a Training Department, to hire someone so young. I had to ensure that I looked older than my age, because looking young often translated to a lack of credibility.

I did not have a clientele base, a track record or a lot of experience to include in my profile, which made the initial phase of starting out very difficult. This was coupled by the fact that the social media scene was not as developed 10-15 years ago. It was really difficult to get my name out there. The only way I could publicise my skills was through mass media, which would imply paying for advertisements, and that simply was not a financially feasible option for small-time operators or SME owners like myself.

I started by doing complimentary talks and school talks and I grabbed every opportunity to get my name out there.

I had this desire to get onto radio and television. An opportunity came when I received a phone call from my friend, who asked me whether I was interested to go on a Mandarin Current Affair talk show on the topic of matchmaking agencies. I agreed, and subsequently met a 93.3FM Radio DJ on the panel. She complimented me on my articulation and rhythm of speech.

2 weeks later, I received a call from her, asking me to co-host a 8-week motivational talk show on radio. This marked my first foray into radio. Thereafter I was invited to share on several other radio stations and other publications.

Subsequently, things starting falling into place, requests started coming in, people started asking, friends were also referring, and I started getting more enquiries as well.

It is definitely fulfilling. I believe in doing things I enjoy. When I was studying IT, it was a struggle for me every day. But when I was studying Mass Communications, it was a joy every day.

So I believe in doing what I like to do, and through it finding a purpose, passion and reason for doing it. I come across hundreds of people every month, even thousands. My participants can range from eight years old to sixty five! We ignite possibilities in them, we touch their hearts, we motivate them, inspire them and shift their behaviours. There is a lot of fulfillment from doing it.

But the fulfillment does not just come from one source. Not everyone is in a job that they like or enjoy. While I do enjoy what I do, I also take pride in other people being happy because of what I do. I make money from my job,  and continue to create meaning and purpose out of it. I love what I do because of all these different reasons combined.

Many people are attracted to this profession as a Speaker. You get a lot of attention, people look up to you, and you can get paid reasonably well for the work that you do. Behind the glitz and glamour, however, is what most people don’t like to do. No one likes the sweat, the amount of preparation required, the stress, and a lot of other things.

I had the opportunity to mentor some young speakers over the years, and I share with them that behind that limelight on stage is a lot of hard work. When I first started to do a full-day training, I needed to prepare for one to two weeks.

I am an advocate of making deliberate choices. I believe that we all can make choices to achieve the outcomes that we want. You may feel that your family or circumstances have in a way compelled you to operate in a certain environment, but you have a choice to decide now that it will be different. It is your responsibility to ensure that you do all the preparation, from now, so that when the time comes your plan will come to fruition.

I may be an idealist, but I believe in the abilities of everyone to create the outcome they want, regardless of which domain their passions lie. The only question is whether you are willing to go on the journey and determined enough to last through it.

One of the challenges is managing my schedule. Today I am blessed to have ongoing enquiries, good support from clients and continued engagement of my team, but having a work-life balance is a responsibility I take upon myself. I ensure that I have time for everything, be it work, leisure, family, or myself.

I am fortunate enough to be able to say no to some things. Sometimes we can get embroiled into taking on too much that we become tired, which prevents us from going back in a good energetic state to our family. Everyone operates on their own values and guiding principles, and I do this by deciding how many hours I would like to work to ensure I have time for everything I want to do.

Another challenge I face is that every country I go to presents a new audience, demographics, background and culture. This means that what works in one country may not work in another. I have to go there, try things out, and adjust accordingly. Nevertheless, it is a fun and exciting experience.

You would notice that today we have very popular online academies like Udemy offering a comprehensive suite of skills and knowledge training. Also, many companies have started their online and app-based learning management systems that push learning content to their staff. Learning and development has gone from just face-to-face to online, to flipped classroom that combine hybrid learning of face-to-face and online.

As speaking professionals, my team has also evolved in the past few years producing video learning content for online and app-based platforms to cater to our clients’ needs.

When there is no university or any formal school in the world that teaches you how to be a speaker, the best way is to do what I and my predecessors have done – find someone, or a few people, who have achieved what you want to achieve, who have already arrived at the level you envision yourself to be, and learn all you can from them. That will tremendously cut short your learning curve. Currently, I am mentoring a group of young speakers who either have a great story to tell the world, or could be great storytellers to the world.

Above all, just be stubbornly crazy and crazily stubborn about your dream, until you get there.