Be a speaker - and sail for free

Painter Zhu Hong (above), 46, taught mobile-phone painting on a 14-day round-trip Singapore cruise in January. He paid $560 in agent's fee for the trip. Mr Coen Tan (left), 34, took a 19-day cruise from Singapore to Sydney last October. He paid $1,23
Mr Coen Tan (above), 34, took a 19-day cruise from Singapore to Sydney last October. He paid $1,235 in agent's fee to speak about relationship management on board.PHOTO: COEN TAN
Painter Zhu Hong (above), 46, taught mobile-phone painting on a 14-day round-trip Singapore cruise in January. He paid $560 in agent's fee for the trip. Mr Coen Tan (left), 34, took a 19-day cruise from Singapore to Sydney last October. He paid $1,23
Mr Coen Tan, 34, took a 19-day cruise from Singapore to Sydney last October. He paid $1,235 in agent's fee to speak about relationship management on board (above).PHOTO: COEN TAN
Painter Zhu Hong (above), 46, taught mobile-phone painting on a 14-day round-trip Singapore cruise in January. He paid $560 in agent's fee for the trip. Mr Coen Tan (left), 34, took a 19-day cruise from Singapore to Sydney last October. He paid $1,23
Painter Zhu Hong (above), 46, taught mobile-phone painting on a 14-day round-trip Singapore cruise in January. He paid $560 in agent's fee for the trip. PHOTO: RENNIE GOH

Singaporeans are signing up as speakers on cruise ships in exchange for a cruise holiday. Paige Lim reports

Do you have professional public speaking experience and enjoy engaging an audience?

Is there a subject matter you are qualified to speak on?

Do you fancy a heavily discounted holiday onboard a cruise ship?

If you answer yes to the above questions, you could be the person cruise liners are looking for.

There is a growing number of Singaporeans taking on temporary jobs as enrichment or destination speakers on cruise ships that sail around South-east Asia. The voyages last from seven to 80 days.

An enrichment speaker conducts educational, enrichment and entertainment talks on any topics, such as gemology, forensic science, aboriginal culture, arts and crafts and taiji.

A destination speaker, on the other hand, will talk to passengers about the next port of call. This includes providing information in areas such as the geography, history and attractions of the place.

While some cruise companies source for speakers directly, others go through recruitment agencies. One such agency is Australia-based Eventz In Paradise, which ties speakers up with ships departing from ports in South-east Asia, Japan, Australia and New Zealand.


Passengers onboard a cruise learning taiji, taught by a temporary cruise-ship speaker. PHOTO: EVENTZ IN PARADISE

The agency's director and owner, Ms Laureli Blyth, 65, says: "A cruise offers many other activities onboard, but these talks are more personal. In daily life, most people are too busy and don't take the opportunity to attend talks. But on a cruise, they have the time to do so."

While speakers are not paid for their work, they are rewarded with a cruise holiday for two adults. They get a standard cabin to share with their companion, all meals are provided and they have complete access to onboard amenities and activities.

But they do have to pay an agency fee.

Eventz In Paradise charges $65 a day, though the fee may be discounted if a speaker has to go onboard at short notice. Ms Blyth notes this is "about a quarter of the cost" paid by a regular passenger. Cruise holidays typically cost $3,000 to $5,000 a person and the daily rate is $120 to $149 a person for a standard cabin, she adds.

The speakers have to speak only on "sea days" - when the ship is at sea - for around an hour each day. A 10-day cruise typically has four sea days.

With more one-way and round-trip Singapore cruises touring the South-east Asia region in recent years, the demand for Singaporean speakers on these ships has grown, says Ms Blyth, whose agency works with cruise lines Celebrity Cruises, Princess Cruises and Royal Caribbean International in the region.

She began opening up placements to Singaporean speakers in January last year for the September-toDecember cruise season.

A check with flight services firm Sats, which runs the three-year-old $500-million Marina Bay Cruise Centre Singapore (MBCCS), revealed that the centre had more than 90 ship calls and about 393,000 passengers between April last year and March this year.

For the current season (April 1 to March 31 next year), at least 15 new ships are expected to make their maiden calls at the centre.

Royal Caribbean International and Princess Cruises have been offering more South-east Asian cruises.

Ms Chin Ying Duan, corporate communications manager of Royal Caribbean Cruises (Asia), says the cruise line currently offers an average of four to six one-way and round-trip Singapore cruises of seven nights and more. This is up from just two long cruises a year in 2011.

Princess Cruises will be extending its home-porting season in South-east Asia for the Sapphire Princess, from November this year to March next year. A home port is where a vessel is primarily based.

The upcoming season is expected to bring in about 40,000 visitors to Singapore and the region, says Mr Farriek Tawfik, director of Southeast Asia Princess Cruises.

Singaporeans speakers are sought after by cruise companies for their South-east Asian voyages, Ms Blyth says.

"Having Singaporeans onboard South-east Asian cruises provides a more local perspective on Asian culture," she explains.

"Singaporeans may naturally know the history of the region better than people of other nationalities and be more well-versed in topics such as the Silk Road or the Spice Islands."

Cruises departing from Beijing and Shanghai also require speakers to converse in Mandarin and many Singaporeans are able to do so.

It is also cheaper and easier to hire Singaporeans than overseas speakers, adds Ms Blyth, who had previously brought Australians and Americans into the country for cruises.

"Singaporeans don't have as many visa restrictions for entry into South-east Asian countries, so there's less paperwork. We also don't have to fly them in from elsewhere and have them suffer from jetlag or miss their flights."

Since her agency opened up applications to Singaporeans, she has been receiving three to five applications from Singaporeans for each South-east Asian cruise.

So far, she has placed 10 to 12 Singaporeans onboard these cruises, most of whom were referred to her by clients.

But not just anyone can be a cruise ship speaker. Ms Blyth says applicants usually require past professional speaking experience or must have professional qualifications in their chosen subject matter.

Apart from enjoying a discounted cruise holiday, Singaporeans who have spoken on cruises say the experience is more valuable than just being a regular holidaymaker.

For instance, being a speaker allows one to form meaningful relationships with fellow passengers.

Mr Coen Tan, 34, who owns a company offering training and coaching services in persuasive communication, says: "If I was just a normal passenger on the cruise, many people would be less open to talking to me. As a speaker, I'm thrust into the limelight and these talks give me a chance to connect with people because they know me and listen to my stories."

He paid $1,235 to Eventz In Paradise for a 19-day cruise in October last year that sailed from Singapore to Sydney. He spoke about relationship management and brought an assistant along.

Echoing his sentiments is painter Zhu Hong, 46, who taught mobile-phone painting onboard a 14-day round-trip Singapore cruise in January this year. It was his first time speaking on a cruise. He paid an agency fee of $560 and brought his girlfriend along.

He says: "It's easier to interact with people because they will ask questions. Normally, I will be shy to make friends and it will just be on a hello-goodbye level." He is still in touch with some of the passengers who attended his talks.

Mr Tan adds that these temporary speaking stints also impart skills on how to engage with different kinds of international audiences.

He says: "I was made more aware of Australian culture, like how Aussies take in information and the kind of jokes and activities they will react to. It will come in useful when I give talks in Australia."

However, speakers say these jobs are more suitable for those who have flexible work schedules as they require one to be away for a relatively long period.

Some professional speakers approached by agencies or cruise liners have turned down offers because they are not willing to forgo their income for a few days, says dating and relationship coach Cindy Leong, 30.

She says: "They will not speak for free, let alone pay to speak on a ship. They also can afford their own holiday and would rather go somewhere else than be trapped on a ship."

But Ms Leong, who will embark on her first cruise ship speaking stint for a 15-day cruise from Beijing to Singapore next month, believes it is a worthwhile investment. She paid an agent fee of $600.

"It's a big opportunity cost. But I think it will be good exposure for me to meet different people, speak to them in Mandarin and grow my portfolio as a bilingual speaker. These are intangible benefits that money cannot buy," she says.

"Also, the cruise is timely because I could use a break."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on September 20, 2015, with the headline 'Be a speaker - and sail for free'. Print Edition | Subscribe