Every week, we highlight a speaker from the Speakersbase community. This week’s Speaker in the Spotlight is Maarten Verschuere, founder and CEO of Clever!

Hi Maarten, thanks to agreeing to this interview! How are you?

I’m great, thanks. How are you?

Excellent, thank you! Now Maarten, tell me, how did you start out as a public speaker?

When I was a child, my parents enrolled me in presentation and stage presence classes. It was there that I started to enjoy telling a story in front of a crowd. Even though I am fairly introverted as a person, I always have a lot of fun when presenting. So I started taking all chances to be on stage! And I hope I can keep doing this for a long time!

Did your profession influence your public speaking career? If so, how?

As the founder and CEO of Clever, I come into contact with companies of all different fields. They all request to improve their marketing tools to be more efficient and intelligent. For example by implementing a chatbot on their website or Facebook page.

From that experience I learn more and more of the added value of AI and chatbots, but also about the applications that have no real impact. I integrate that knowledge into my talks so my audience can take that real life experience home with them.

What are your “passion topics”? The things you can speak about for hours on end?

I focus on the applications of Artificial Intelligence and chatbots, with special attention for the differences between what might be a hype, and what is the actual added value for companies. This is my true passion. It is also our focus in my company Clever, and what drives us day to day.

Other than that, I love speaking about entrepreneurship. From my own experiences with starting a company, to expanding and supporting my team, to completing projects,… But also about finding the balance between working hard and being present for my family and children.

These passions influence your speeches of course. What do you speak about in your keynotes and workshops?

I believe that by 2025 the AI revolution will be completed, and that all companies and all consumers will be supported and even guided by AI applications. Just like all companies have a website today, all companies will have a virtual employee or AI channel as primary contact.

In my keynotes I zoom in on how that future will look, and how companies today can prepare to be ready for the AI natives. They are the next big consumer group!

So my creed is: talk is cheap. Technology is cool. But it is all in the application.

What is a quality that all good public speakers must make their own?

Humor. I always try to keep in mind that the audience has been listening for hours, or that they will be listening for hours more to come. To ensure that the message gets successfully transferred, you should not “declare” your theory, but “entertain” the crowd into listening.

Authenticity. Always bring your own personality into your talks. Everyone can read books and blogs to find information. In a speech it is important to bring a unique perspective.

Being concise. If you are not able to summarize your speech’s essence within minutes, you are boring the audience. They need to be able to remember the key points, that is why they are spending their time on you.

What is your advice for public speakers who are just starting out?

Just do it! Start small, get some experience. In the beginning you will be confronted with an audience that does not remain captivated through certain aspects of your talk. Take that to heart and learn from it!

What would be a good starting point for them?

Speakersbase of course! Besides the many Calls for Speakers, you get to show off who you are as a public speaker on the portfolio.

Other than that, I enjoyed starting speaking within universities and colleges as a guest lecturer. As a starting public speaker it was a great place to build my network and reputation.

What is something you would tell newbie public speakers NOT to do?

A keynote is not a sales pitch. I abhor public speakers that use their given time to sell themselves and their services. When you do that, you are focussed on yourself, and you are not offering added value to your audience. As a result, your public speaking career will be short-lived.

What should a public speaker do to become successful?

Get experience. The more you speak, the better your content and style of presenting will become.

Keep working on your structure. I’ve never given the same talk twice. Every single time I try to make improvements and add recent examples.

Be passionate about your topic. You can only be a successful speaker when you are truly passionate about your topic.

Thanks for that excellent advice! Now back to you. We know you are incredibly passionate about AI and chatbots, but when are you satisfied with how a speech went?

When I could tell that the audience was attentive the entire time and when I presented the take-aways clearly to them. AI can be a challenging subject matter, so I always try to work with clear, real cases. That way the audience finds it easier to understand and follow along from the beginning until the end, regardless of their prior knowledge.

How much time do you spend on preparing keynotes and workshops?

As the managing partner of Clever I am non stop working on improving and learning about Artificial Intelligence and chatbots. I use that experience when preparing for a session. After that it is only a matter of picking the right material for the audience, goals, and time available.

So your own expertise carries you a long way when it comes to content, but what public speakers have inspired you as a speaker yourself?

Yuri Van Geest is a public speaker that has made quite an impression on me. Yuri speaks about the lesson he’s learned at Singularity University about the future roles of technology. He speaks in a way that captures the attention of the audience. Both in topic, style and personality an impressive speaker.

What speaker should all public speakers study?

On the one hand it is good to study the great professional public speakers and pay attention to how they tell their story. On the other hand it is very interesting to go see other public speakers that speak on the same topic as you do. You might think it is less interesting, but really, you can learn a lot from others! You might even pick up on something to incorporate in your own talks!

As a successful entrepreneur you probably have a lot of moments that you look back on with fond pride, but what do you consider to be your greatest public speaking achievement?

It is such a rush when after a speech someone from the audience comes up to you and says “I want to try this for myself”, or “Wow, this was a real eye opener, I want to know more!

In the SAS Datamining Conference in Las Vegas I did a talk on the applications of AI in marketing, and I received a standing ovation from an audience of several hundreds of people. Before the speech I was already very excited to be there at all, at such a cool location. I think that excitement showed! It was a great experience.

A closing question on the future and your prospects. What do you want to accomplish as a public speaker?

I am currently writing a book called “2025” in which I want to delve into the world of 2025. How it will look, how it will use AI, and how companies now can start preparing for that near future. This book will be the basis of my future talks.

Other than that, I have the ambition to speak on more international stages. After graduating university I spend a few years living and working in London, Paris, and Cincinnati. The meeting of audiences and fellow speakers from different backgrounds and fields never ceases to inspire me all over again.

Thank you, Maarten, for being here and offering your advice!

You’re welcome, thanks for having me!