Last modified 06/02/23

How Ester Perel wow-de her audience with her powerful presence

by Elizabeth Van Den Bergh

Seeing Esther Perel speak live in Ostend at the Generation WOW event… Wow, that is a gift for me as a speaker coach as well as a listener because she is a top speaker and I have been a fan of her work for years.

Esther Perel is one of the most insightful and original voices on modern relationships. Belgian-American psycho-therapist and New York Times bestselling author, her books have been translated into no less than 25(!) languages. She works as a consultant for Fortune500 – companies around the world. And – this makes my speaker’s heart pound harder – her celebrated TED talks attract more than 20 million visitors… Be sure to listen to her popular podcasts: ‘Where Should We Begin?’ and ‘How’s Work?’.

The Powerful Presence of Esther Perel

Wow, the rock star of modern relationships was born to be on stage.

A good speaker masters it all: confidence, content, connection, sucking the audience into her talk from start to finish.

What was good about her talk, and what can you take away from it? I share with you the best insights I took away. Wise words and good advice. Take advantage of them!

Involve your audience in your talk

“Stand up if the last thing you stroke before you slept was your phone.”

Was one of the many questions that relationship therapy rockstar, Esther Perel started her talk with.

She also checked if her tribe was present with the question, “Stand up if you are you a trouble maker.”

She knows how to hit the essence with simple questions: “Did you thank the person who made it possible for you to be here? If you didn’t, you communicated ‘I am important and you are not’.”

Bam! Straight to the point!

She took her time for a long intro, logical when you have two hours, with lots of questions.

Love that!

How many speakers do you know who dare to do that? Because it means letting go of control. You don’t know what answers are going to come back. Or how many people are going to engage. You are playing a game.

By asking questions you get to know your audience, you have something to fall back on, you hold their attention well, AND your audience also learns something about each other!

Your talk will be 10 times more relevant and memorable. My word!

Thinking on her feet

As Claudia Van De Velde very accurately complimented her : “Esther is like a modern-day Socrates.

She speaks in a very inquisitive way from insights and reflections.

“I think with you. I am sure of nothing.” she says herself. Courageous.

I would say, dare to do that too, to utter a sentence like, ‘I don’t know this.’ Or: ‘This I am sure of, this I am not sure of.’ Comes across very powerfully.

Someone wrote to me on LinkedIn ‘I have some difficulty with the lack of direction in Esther’s talk.’ I understand that. To provide a clear message embedded in a clear structure, will always be my number one piece of advice.

This is a case of know the rules to break the rules.

And above all: to each his own way.

If she were my client, I would say, being so completely yourself is totally fine!

It’s strong, it’s disarming. It is standing up for who you are AND the way you are.

What she taught me

Her teachings were uncountable, the most shared were:

‘When people fight, what are they really fighting about?’:

1/ Power & Control

2/ Trust & Closeness

3/ Respect & Recognition.

In a relationship, we desire two conflicting things: Connection (safety, security) versus Freedom (not losing yourself, self-actualisation, being the best version of yourself).

Some of the teachings that touched me the most were:

‘Friendships are underrated.’ I love this one too. Because I really feel the same way about that one.

‘What is the secret of the success of your marriage Esther?’ – someone in the audience asked.

‘Humour and admiration for each other,’ she said.

In our extremely free society, we live a ‘liquid life’, she quotes Zygmunt Bauman. Our society today is a network of people with loose connections. We can step in and out of circles. Everything is short-lived. This weighs on our sense of identity. Makes us doubt ourselves. We are less rooted, and freer.

We miss the erotic: the playful, the curious, the spontaneous. That is super important to feel truly alive.

Perfect speaker’s attitude, by the way. Tell me: ‘How playful, curious and spontaneous are you on stage?’

Star on stage

As a speaker coach, I could say too many themes were touched on or the direction was a bit off at times.

But that would be selling her talk short.

For it was full of valuable insights and pressing questions. Hitting the nail on the head and mind-blowing. Like this gem: “Stories are bridges between people.”

I love it when a speaker seemingly strays but then manages to tie everything back together nicely.

And the fact that she involves her audience like this is downright magical.

She could have chosen the easy road by giving an entirely planned and prepared keynote, but she didn’t.

This makes her not only the rockstar of relations, but also a rockstar on the stage. Wow!