PPP026 From Laywer, to Speaker to

by Wilmien Davis | PPP: Passion Purpose Potential

Part one of my interview with Paul ter Wal

Paul has started his speaking career around the subject of social security, now he focuses most of his attention to engagement in the workplace. 

Here follows a transcription of the interview word for word as talked….

PAUL:    Good afternoon.

WILMIEN:            How are you doing?

PAUL:    I’m fine. It’s um, good to be back home, and do the stuff I need to do over here.

WILMIEN:            *Laugh*

PAUL:    But of course I, I miss Africa already.

WILMIEN:            Ah, that’s good to hear. Ja, you are the world traveler hey *laugh*.

PAUL:    Yeah well, that’s, that’s part of my role of course as incoming president. And I love to travel so that’s nice to mix both. Travel around the world and being president, that’s always good.

WILMIEN:            So, while we at that topic. If you could introduce yourself Paul? President of what and what are you doing? And we can jump into this interview it would be fun.

PAUL:    Well my name is Paul ter Wal. I’m from the Netherlands. I’m a, a lawyer by origin. I worked as a lawyer for many years, but I was asked I think 20 years ago to tell about social security on the platform. And then my career as a speaker began, because people loved the way I was doing my presentations. From that point on I wanted to be more active as a professional speaker. And I was introduced to the speaking world by Paul Bridle. In 2005 he was president of the professional speak association. Now known as UKI, United Kingdom and Ireland, but then they were responsible for the whole of the European Union. And he asked me, together with my colleague Hans Rodeman, to create a association in the Netherlands. That’s how my career started in 2006, working for then called, The International Federation for Professional Speakers and now known as, The Global Speakers Federation.

WILMIEN:            Mhmm.

PAUL:    Through the years I was treasurer secretary and 3 years ago I was asked by Jonathan Lowe to become vice president. And then you know what happens. When you’re asked to become vice president, it means you go from vice president, to president elect, to president.

WILMIEN:            *Laugh*

PAUL:    And I will be coming president in July this year. And then I will be president of now 15 but almost 16 national associations of professional speakers.

WILMIEN:            Which South Africa is one of them and that is very exciting to have you in the…

PAUL:    South Africa is one of the early members of the Global Speakers Federation, yes, it is.

WILMIEN:            Yeah, okay. So, Paul you say you’ve been a lawyer for so many years, and then you said you move into social security. What does that mean in the South African context? If you talk about social security that you, you went in to.

PAUL:    Um well, we, we have a system in Europe and we have a specialized system in the Netherlands that people who are disabled, are ill, that they will be supported. Not only by the government but by their company as well. And when you’re unemployed, you will get an allowance for at least 6 months, but most of the time it can go to 18 months. And when you’re ill and disability comes up, you will be protected for 12 years by the government. So, it’s, it’s a lot of money. It costs a lot of money, but on the other hand we try to get them back at work at some other company. So, it’s, it’s something of what I always call the first world, but the United States of America, don’t know this kind of social security.

WILMIEN:            Mhmm.

PAUL:    So, it is something European. After 10 years I think, I wanted to become a counsellor and more a consultant on this matters. And then people ask you to, to be on stage and tell the story about social security and labour law and that’s how it all started.

WILMIEN:            Wow, very, very interesting. But yes, I imagine lawyers are good speakers. But did you ever imagine when you started with your lawyer studies that you will go full time speaking and not necessarily stay in the lawyer fraternity?

PAUL:    No, of course not. I, I think it’s something that most speakers will, will know, that your… You come into a certain position and in a certain market. And what I always hope is that you are an expert on, on a certain topic. And then people want you to speak about it and to tell them about it. And then, the step from being in a boardroom with your customers, to a stage, to a platform isn’t that big. And that’s what happened to me and I think a lot of people and you make the choice for it. Because we’re experts in our topics, whether it’s in a boardroom or it’s on stage and that is what happened to me. I was asked to tell my story. Then it became a larger audience all the time. So, that’s in the situation I’m, I’m in now.

WILMIEN:            Okay, so you were able to slowly transition from your corporate job, if I can call that, into the space of entrepreneurial speaking.

PAUL:    Ja. In, in 1995 I decided to become an independent consultant. And I was speaking already, but well I’m not a type of guy that can work in, within an organization, I’m too independent. Some people will say that I have too big an ego to be part of big team, but I, I love being on stage and telling other people what my topic is. And I started with social security but that’s always the back end of a situation. You work, you get ill, you get unemployed, you get an allowance and then something happens, and then social security comes in. And I wanted to go to the front end. And help people to understand how they can evolve theirselve… themselves and that they are responsible for their own future.

WILMIEN:            Yes, because I saw in your website you said you, you… You talk about increasing profitability by decreasing absenteeism. And Paul ja, it’s interesting that you say… *laugh* you say you’re independent maybe because you have too big an ego becau… but it was interesting to read around your personality. That you said the um seemingly endless energy that drives Paul at times, initially intimidates people a bit. But your level of reliability and integrity quickly change people’s minds.

PAUL:    Ja.

WILMIEN:            Now um how, how are you able to do that? Because you must still stay humble, but you must still have a lot of confidence in this business. So how do you manage these two worlds with one another?

PAUL:    I think, I think that’s something that you can learn. But I study a lot on science. And I see that in positive psychology…

WILMIEN:            Mmm…

PAUL:    You see that a lot of research is done on these topics and they confirm my opinion. So, it helps that science is backing you up.

WILMIEN:            Mhmm.

PAUL:    And you can trust professors. I worked firmly with a professor called Arnold Bakker


PAUL:       But that means that when we get off stage, and especially when we are amongst friends, we know what the world is like and then, we, we can behave like normal human beings.

WILMIEN: *Laugh* Ja that’s true and, and you will also probably not stand on the stage talking about absolutely everything. You will only really have that confidence on the subject that you are studying, and the subject that you are confident about.

PAUL:       Ja, Ja. A lot of people are… You see it especially when you’re in a group of Toastmasters. They ask you on which topics do you speak? And then I say only on engagements.

WILMIEN: That is such an important topic at this stage in our day and age.

PAUL:       I have my specialty on, on, on engagement. And, and that’s my topic. So, I won’t be on stage on something that I won’t feel comfortable with. So, I need to be at least some sort of expert in that field. I am, I’m invited to go to the US in a couple of weeks to speak on engagement. That it doesn’t matter whether you’re 25 or 65, you still have a choice in life to be engaged and to work from your core values. I can connect different topics, but it must be in my field of expertise. That’s wise to, to  stick to the stuff you really know and that’s what I feel comfortable about.

WILMIEN: That makes absolute sense. And we had an interesting discussion when you were here about you saying, how the South African audience is different than the Netherlands audience. So, if you can touch on that, and also how you will change for the USA audience, that you said you are going to soon?

PAUL:       Well I think every audience is different, and it has to do with culture. When, when for instant I go to our closest neighbours, the Germans. In Germany content is 80% of your presentation. So, in the Netherlands we more Anglo Saxon connected, so we’re more connected to the British, American and even South African market.


PAUL:       But what I noticed in South Africa that it’s still connected also with the traditional Dutch German market.


PAUL:       So, content is important, don’t show off too much, be humble on stage.


PAUL:       And that’s, that’s different in the US. People love that you are more show, and that’s fine because it’s part of the culture. In America you blow up a little bit. You say, hey this is me. In Germany when you do it, well the audience will leave the room. I, I always look where I’m going. I talk to people in the country. So before being on stage in South Africa for 3 years, 3 years ago I started, I called Paul du Toit and Stef du Plessis. And had a discussion with them about the South African market. And on being on stage in Namibia and Namibia is different than South Africa. So you, you listen to the people and I’m, I’m not saying that I can change that much because I’m still the person I am, but there will be words or lines that I won’t use in Namibia, that I can use in the Netherlands. So, you must be aware of the differences and then adjust a little bit, but still say, stay the same. But it’s, it’s nice to travel around, do it differently. I was in, in Malaysia 2 years ago, and that’s so completely different than the European market. That I was on stage for 45 minutes, people were completely quiet. And I thought what’s going on? And you get a little nervous. Because people were sitting there and just watching, doing nothing. And I got off stage and they said oh, what an amazing presentation, we loved it so much. And I thought that’s the difference in culture. It’s like the Japanese, they are completely silent, they, they don’t show any facial expression, just sitting there. And then when you have 150 people in front of you and they’re not responding at all, well that’s quite difficult.


PAUL:       And that’s different than in South Africa, people love to respond, and they smile, or they disagree, and you can see it. But that makes me more happy than the Asian way, I must say.

WILMIEN: That is very interesting, and I wonder how they experience, if they grew up in that culture as a speaker, and they come to our country then I’m, I’m just curious how they would experience when these people being so noisy while they are talking probably.

PAUL:       Well I, I think you, you should interview Jonathan Lao, who is an expert in, in both the markets. He is from Malaysia and I think he will agree with me that you have to adjust to the market where you are going to. So, I think that’s part of being a professional as well, that you look into the market where you going to, that you call your friends and that’s, that’s the fun part of the Global Speakers Federation. That you can connect with all the different cultures and just ask questions, and just say, hey how should I do it? We will have speaker friends there, who are willing to help us out.

WILMIEN: Yes. And for me in a way when I listen to you it shows, it sounds to me like you are respecting the culture you going to. You don’t want to change who you are, but you do want to show respect to say, okay, let me just tweak one small thing.

Paul:        Ja.

WILMIEN: To um, to show them that I’m, I’m aware of that, that I’m intentional when I speak.

PAUL:       Yeah, I think they invited me to speak so when, even when I come to the South African convention, I’m your guest. I need to be nice to you as audience and respect you with your traditions, so take care of what you’re saying, and what you’re showing in your power point or in your pictures. Because you can’t be disrespectful to the one’s who are your host.

WILMIEN: Absolutely.

PAUL:       …

WILMIEN: And Paul if I can change the discussion a little bit, to this whole story around engagement. So, I see you, you also talk about the Gallup engagement index?

PAUL:       Ja…

WILMIEN: So, tell us more about your thoughts and the work you are doing around engagement?

PAUL:       Yep, I love to. Um, what we see is and I call my programme, Happiness Makes Money, the more people that are engaged, the higher the profitability of an organisation will be.


PAUL:       And Gallup but also other organisations like, Engagement,, found out that there are 7 keys that will lead to, or are the result of higher engagement within organisations. And that means less sick leave, less mistakes, more effectiveness, um more retention, better sales, better satisfaction.


PAUL:       So, it means that when I’m engaged I will be more productive and more profitable for my organisation. And that means that the cultural way of thinking can help you to be engaged or not, but we need to be engaged. Because it’s silly to work in a company when I’m not in alinement with the core values of that company. So, what I look for in engagement is what are the non-negotiables of a company, the true core values you can’t change, personal core values in alinement with those of the company. Because only then you can work with engagement within company. So, engagement isn’t something that’s depending on my own personal beliefs, it’s also depending on the core values of the company as well. It’s, it’s working on both sides. There are some companies who are really promoting this, Zappos in the US, is one of the companies who says, well we have 10 family core values and you are trained to see whether you fit in those rules. And if you don’t fit in, they give you money to leave…


PAUL:       Because they say you’re more expensive when you stay. So, they really practice that there must be alinement between core values. So, Sam Silverstein, an American colleague, calls it that you then can be accountable. And true accountability is that you can live up to your core values, that you can look into the different solutions and then pick the right choice. And say, hey, this is what I stand for and you can keep me accountable for it. And that’s what I love. That we, we ask people, do you really want to work here? And we know if you don’t like the environment where you’re working, that you have a high risk to become sick. So, it’s strange that we don’t pay attention to it, and what I love about Gallup is that they do research, in more than 140 countries, and every 2, 3 years make their index. And that you can see how your country is doing.


PAUL:       On the other hand, I worked with that professor Arnold Bakker, and he looked in to the 12 questions and he researched it. And he said, well it’s not really scientifically proven. On the other hand, it’s a good indication. That’s why I love to work with both parties, because Arnold Bakker is working in 10, 15 countries and Gallup is working in 10 times more countries. You should always look at the different sides, but what is proven by now is that you need to know your core values and, and that’s what I ask audiences. Do you know what your core values are?


PAUL:       And a lot of people don’t know them. They have no idea.

WILMIEN: Ja, people have a vague idea but if you never go through that thing, and almost compare the values against each other. Because yes, I’m responsible yes, I’m I have integrity, yes, yes. You can say yes to so many values…

PAUL:       Ja.

WILMIEN: But then there’s still a list of 20, 30. I sometimes do a value assessment with my clients, and then they like okay, there was like 20 but what is my top 5?

PAUL:       Exactly.

WILMIEN: And it’s a type of thinking that you have to put into it.

PAUL:       Ja.

WILMIEN: And it opens up so many understanding if you can really put your hand on those top, top 5. It doesn’t mean that if responsibility is not in your top 5, that you’re not responsible. You are, but it’s not as important as probably something to say in your organisation that’s very important to me.

PAUL:       Yeah what, what I ask my clients is not only to use words, but to make a sentence with it. I can say integrity, but what does it mean?


PAUL:       Is it that I’m black, white, or do I need to understand why people are doing it. I had a discussion with Landi Jac, and she challenged me because I said integrity is one of my basic fundaments. And she said I don’t believe you. Transparency leading into integrity, and I thought that’s a beautiful one. Because then you connect two important words, but you make a sentence out of it, that people can understand. People can doubt that it’s really true. So, I say my family is my central focus. It’s what I think is very important to me to come back to. It’s my loading, my charging area where I get new energy. I think it’s nice when you have 3 to 5 core values that you can put into a sentence, so people can understand the words that you use.

WILMIEN: I listen to your example with integrity as well, that yes, integrity is important, but it might not be the root of everything. The root might be transparency, and for you logically transparency leads to integrity. For someone else transparency might lead to something else. But you say if there is no transparency there won’t be integrity. Where other people say integrity might for them be brought up. And it’s interesting, especially the one around fairness, and I see it between my 2 children. My daughter believes fairness means, I treat her differently with her special talents. For my boy fairness means, the rule is fair and consistent between the two.

PAUL:       Ja.

WILMIEN: And that type of fairness is so different depending on which child I look at.

PAUL:       Ja, but I, I think that’s a great example that, that you can use to see that when you only mention a word, that people can still misunderstand what your core value is.

WILMIEN: Absolutely.

PAUL:       So, when I see the list of 400 possible core values, I challenge people to pick 10, and then find a sentence that fits 4 or 5 of that core values.


PAUL:       Because then when I’m in a discussion, I can say hey, this is what I mean, and do you understand what I’m saying? So, I see a lot of companies have customer satisfaction, and I have no clue what it means for them, and for those customers. It can be something totally different. So, explain it to me, and put the explanation on the websites. So, I can read it, understand it, and then decide do I want to work with you.

WILMIEN: Yes, yes. No, that makes abso… I like the idea to fit it in to a sentence. I definitely going to take that further. And um ja you know, I’m, I didn’t realise I’m also working on core values as much as you do, because you go from the engagement entrance, and I go more for the culture entrance. But it is so important and what I sometimes do, I don’t know if you know a interrelational diagram? If we meet each other again I need to show you that. But that is also a very practical exercise, to help people to find the core, and what is the driver force and what is the, the outcome.

PAUL:       Ja.

WILMIEN: Because many times things are important, but the outcome is important, but do I really understand what’s driving the outcome.

PAUL:       Ja.

WILMIEN: It’s so important to get to that point.

PAUL:       Ja, absolutely. And the fun part is for me from an engagement point of view, if you know your purpose in life, that’s more difficult than core value I think, because why do we live, why do we behave like we behave. If you can put then your core values in to sentences, then you can connect it with creating energy. And we know from research, that you will have your personal energy and you will have your job energy.


PAUL:       And job energy can be the culture within the organisation. When it’s open, when it’s, when it’s treating you fair and you have good culture and good feedback. A manager who thanks you for what you doing, then you will create energy within your organisation. But you need to look into your personal life as well, and to see what is your loading dock, as I call it. Because we know how to recharge our phone, and our computer, but we not sure how to reload ourselves.

WILMIEN: That’s very true.

PAUL:       And then, then we need to find what that energy source is in our lives, that gives us that energy. And it can be your character, your positiveness whatever. Your coping style, but we need to be aware of it, and it’s a kind of discussion that we don’t have within companies.


You can learn more about Paul, here:


Send me an e-mail: wilmien.wilmiendavisconsulting.co.za

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