The story of my first (and greatest) speech

Oxford Brookes Students' Union Freshers' Handbook 1993 The Last Edition TLE

My illustration for the front cover of the Freshers’ Handbook, 1993

I don’t recall how it came about, whether I volunteered or was chosen, but at age eight, there I was, my first solo performance in front of a large audience (the whole school).

I was performing a song about the Venerable Bede, dressed in character as the Venerable Bede, or rather in a costume made out of a black bin liner with string tied around my waist. My Dad had made a little gold harp out of balsa wood for me to hold. The only nerves I had about my world premiere, which were slight, were directly connected to me hoping I got it right and remembered all the words. I just wanted it to work.

Since then I’ve never been fazed by performing in public. Not only that, I wanted to seek it out. When my younger brother was to appear on the school stage as Shakin’ Stevens (singing ‘This Ole House’) but was too nervous last minute to do it, I went on with him to give him confidence. (I was ten.)

But they weren’t speeches. And although I’d performed hundreds of times with my guitar, in bands, doing comedy, I was 22 before I gave my first, proper ‘speech’.

I’d been voted into the Students’ Union as Communications Officer. This was in an age before emails, before texts. The best method anyone had ever used to get a message across up until this point was by doing a poster (and they were of course in black and white).

But I took the concept of the ‘communications’ part of the role to heart and became fascinated about how public performance didn’t just entertain, but was also the most effective way of getting over certain types of information. The type of information that can be transmitted by a personal presentation is that which instructs an audience to think about something or actually do something.

I knew about entertaining. But what about informational content? How do you get that over?

So when I had to give that first speech to Freshers about why they should get involved in the Students’ Union, I knew there were a few facts I had to consider:

1. There were 1000 of them, who had been queueing all day during the long enrolment process. The Students’ Union part of their tiring tour was their last stop

2. They would enter the lecture theatre that I had as my stage in five batches of 200. I would have around seven minutes with them. I would have no slides, no overhead projector, no PowerPoint (it didn’t exist)

3. They would more than likely be bored, tired, nervous and would have never heard of a Students’ Union or know anything about what it had to offer

4. My goal was to get them to contribute to the Students’ Union magazine which I edited.

So that set the scene. I had to deliver a speech that took those facts into consideration, which gave me these conclusions, based on the above points:

1. I would have to be entertaining and different to grab their attention

2. I would have to be clear and succinct. There was no time for endless data

3. I would have to make one clear, actionable point

4. I would have to engage them on an emotional level, to make them feel that they had to contribute for a positive emotional reason and that they felt safe to do so.

What I didn’t realise at the time was that I had not only worked out the four most important points for my first ever proper talk, but I’d created a blueprint for every talk I would ever give. I certainly didn’t realise that what I’d worked out from first principles was also the template for every great speech ever made by anyone (ignorance and modesty would prevent me from realising that until now).

So what did I do?

As soon as the first batch of 200 were seated, I jumped up onto a desk that was at the front of the room and I asked a frightened bunch of eighteen year olds,

“What am I doing up here?”

There was on course no answer likely to be forthcoming, so I went on.

“By next week you will have forgotten almost everything anyone told you today. But you will remember the idiot who stood on the table.

“You’ll remember me because I stood out, did something unusual, unexpected.

“Most of you in this room will, in three years time, get a degree. Most of you will then apply for a job along with everyone else from every other university in the land. The employer won’t be patting you on the back because you have a degree, begging you to take the position because everyone will have the same kind of qualification. What they’ll be looking for will be for something else. What else has this person done? What else are they capable of? What makes them different? What makes them stand out?”

I sold them on the idea that getting involved in student societies was the key to creating that difference. And of course the easiest way for them to get involved in something big was for them to contribute to my magazine.

Prior to me taking the position, the student paper had just eight pages with eight people having written for it (and about eight people read it).

By the time I had delivered that talk five times that afternoon, our new magazine, The Last Edition (TLE), became Britain’s biggest contributed to student magazine. We had 38 pages (16 issues a year) with around 60 contributors in each issue, contributing all sorts of things.

I asked one contributor why he had come forward after the talk. He said that he was the sort of person who never got involved in anything and considered himself far too shy. But seeing me on the table made him feel able to climb the foreboding stairs to the offices and hand in his poem to be published. I made him the poetry editor. Then he became my deputy. Then when my two years in the job were over (you could only be voted in twice), he became editor. And of course he’s still a great friend.

I’d learnt that every speech is a motivational speech. You can’t use a talk for the transmission of data, you have to move them into thinking and doing.

So when I have to give a talk today, and want to make it effective, I look back at those four points and try to stick to them.

I think you should give them a go too.

This is just one of the key areas of my presentation skills training programme, called Magnetic Communication. It’s about using your creativity to design and deliver a speech that works, especially for scientific and technical talks with high content and data which are often perceived as the hardest to make compelling.

I promise you it can be done.

Magnetic communication presentation skills trainingIf you’re in a scientific or technical organisation, you might like to take a look at this masterclass about this topic, available as in-house training as well as for CEO groups.

Ayd works with people and businesses to explore and unlock their creative ideas in ways they may never have thought possible, to inspire innovation.

Book Ayd to deliver a presentation masterclass in your organisation or to speak about the Power of ‘What If?’ and Inspiration for Innovation at your conference.

For more interesting info see:

The anatomy of a dinosaur business

anatomy of a dinosaur business right brain thinking

The meteor that will wipe out dinosaur thinking in today’s world has already hit. And just like the crisis that befell the dinosaurs 60 million years ago, whatever it was, it didn’t wipe them all out overnight. There was an extinction phase during which a few species waddled on before finally becoming extinct and known only to us in the fossil record.

We are living in a new extinction phase now. How can we survive and thrive in this rapidly changing landscape? How can we stand out, add more value, cope with different expectations and be remarkable?

To survive, our creativity needs to be unlocked and applied in new and challenging ways. Only the agile and the warm-blooded innovators will make it. Those that are inflexible and dogmatic will not. We all need to step out of the imagined boundaries that keep us small and embrace our true creative potential.

But what is a dinosaur business? Here are the main characteristics shared by both the extinct giant reptiles and the soon-to-be-extinct businesses:

Dinosaur businesses are:

Designed to perform only one task, to hunt in one particular way.

They’ll never be able to truly embrace social media, new technology, relationship marketing and selling.

Lack of vision: Unable to see the big picture.

They may have great systems, but the constituent parts don’t always work as a coherent whole, all working together for a common aim. There’s no inspiring vision or direction. They’re focused solely on the bottom line, never looking up to see how their purpose may need to change.

Low I.Q. due to small nerve centre.

Decisions are made by a small group of people, usually all the same type of people from the same type of background who come up with the same ideas. They don’t seem able to inspire ideas from the rest of the workforce, let alone trust and implement any of them.

Cannot hear advice and unable to process and respond quickly to new information.

With operation systems being so inflexible and out-of-date, they’re unable to make changes due to new data, cultural changes, economic changes, market or attitude changes.

Incapable of manipulating situations and people in a delicate and personal manner.

They can’t inspire people to do their best, don’t share in a vision and treat people as a ‘resource’ that is nameless, stripping people of their personality and individuality. In return they get a bland workforce who work to live rather than live to work and couldn’t care less about the business, watching the clock to see when they can get away to do something worthwhile.

Needs to consume a lot of resources just to stay alive.

They’re so heavily loaded with personnel, buildings and plant that it takes a fortune just to keep the doors open. They probably waste a lot of resources too. Lean is not a word they have heard of.

Slow moving.  Unable to change direction quickly.

The momentum of their operations is so old fashioned and set in stone that they struggle to modify anything even when they see the need to.

Can’t regulate internal temperature, not totally self governing. Reliant on external bodies.

They’re often reliant on banks, investors and shareholders who can limit their movement and changes. Often a change in a law can throw a massive spanner in the works.

Powerful and strong but ungainly and cannot function without causing damage to the environment.

From massive energy usage, having to heat and cool large offices, fuel for large fleets of vehicles, unnecessary round the world shipping right down to departmental waste and individuals not caring about spend, they waste resources and create massive environmental footprints.

Cold bloodied, lack of care or compassion

From the extremes of environmental pollution and slave labour to careless health and safety measures, they caee about the bottom line over and above everything else, including people and communities (and often the law).

Cannot function without being destructive and competitive. The only strategy is to attack and consume.

Collaborate and share are words they don’t recognise. Their purpose is the be the last one standing and don’t care who or what get’s in their way. It’s war.

Don't tell the dinosaurs - right brain marketing for business

You may think those attributes are found only in massive and long established businesses. But you have a think. Do any of them apply to you too? If so, shake off the dinosaur and embrace the quick thinking vitality of the creatures that will very soon inherit the Earth, making it a better place in the process.

If you’re in a business, you might like to take a look at this masterclass about this topic, available as in-house training as well as for CEO groups.

Ayd works with people and businesses to explore and unlock their creative ideas in ways they may never have thought possible, to inspire innovation.

Book Ayd to deliver an innovation workshop in your business or CEO group or to speak about the Power of ‘What If?’ and Inspiration for Innovation at your conference.

For more interesting info see:

RAM on against the critics

Paul and Linda McCartney RAMIn my last article on criticism I focused on John Lennon. Let’s have a look at what happened to Paul McCartney who had to deal with criticism in a different and more prolonged way.

McCartney had, unlike John, lived his life almost without any form of criticism at all, right up until the end of the 60s. Then it hit him hard. Blamed for the acrimonious way the Beatles split up and appearing to attack the other three and their business decisions, it placed McCartney as the outsider. The press and the public seemed to always side with Lennon and the others. While Lennon’s first solo efforts were seen as deep, McCartney’s were seen as shallow. He suddenly found himself in a place where, just a year or so earlier he was hailed as Britain’s greatest songwriter, responsible for YesterdayMichelle, Eleanor Rigby, Sgt. Pepper, Hey Jude and Let it Be, his new efforts were seen as pale and trivial.

Today we know better. Listening to Every Night and Maybe I’m Amazed of 1970’s McCartney we can imagine that a followup to Abbey Road would have been every bit as great.

In 1971 McCartney recorded his second solo effort and his first post-Beatles LP, entitled RAM. He’d been in a panic as to what to do following the split. The pressure to deliver something spectacular must have been enormous. His solution was a great one: just do what would be fun. He retreated to his Scottish farm and with the help of his new wife Linda, created the new album.

When it was released it face almost universal scorn. Lennon reportedly hated it (it contained secret messages to Lennon encoded in the themes of the songs Too Many People and Dear Boy). Even Ringo, who nearly always managed to stay positive and not take sides said that “there wasn’t a good song on it”. However it did spawn a massive US number one single with Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey.

Everyone, including McCartney’s own record company despised the fact he’d credited the album to ‘Paul and Linda McCartney’ and the ‘fan’ backlash against Linda continued. That had begun with his marriage to Linda in 1969 – how could ‘their’ Beatle, leave beautiful and talented Jane Asher (she left McCartney by the way) for this plain, American divorcee? Paul took his family on tour with him throughout the 70s with his band ‘Wings’ and Linda sang (and played) in the shows and on the records, giving rise to the joke, ‘what do you call a dog with wings? – Answer: Linda McCartney.’

But what makes the story of RAM all the more curious is that in May 2012 it was re-released in remastered form, on multiple CDs, DVD box sets and as 190g vinyl record to universal acclaim, with radio stations and rock magazines showering praise and awards on it.

They even went as far as saying that RAM was McCartney’s best ever album.

And Linda turned out to be a devoted wife, loving mother, talented award winning photographer, famous celebrity chef, founder of and instigator of soya protein vegetarian food. When she tragically died from breast cancer in 1999, everyone loved her.

So it just goes to show, even when you face what seems like universal criticism, you can never really be sure of the context, which might be different for every critic. Getting criticism doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve done a bad job. People will always have their own agendas and reason for slagging you and you work off.

So take care. You may well have just produced your greatest work too.

(In 1995, the famous and successful comedian and actor Stephen Fry disappeared. His friends got worried. It was because he’d had a bad review for a show. He said he’d felt as low as he thought possible. If his talent and his track record wasn’t enough to fend off just one bad review then it’s no surprise the rest of us suffer.)

Ayd works with people and businesses to explore and unlock their creative ideas in ways they may never have thought possible, to inspire innovation.

Book Ayd to speak about the Power of ‘What If?’ and Inspiration for Innovation at your conference, or in your business. A great way to open your event or as an after lunch energiser.

For more interesting info see:

Gratitude and Forgiveness

Fortunately there’s no such thing as time travel. And even if there was, I wouldn’t be travelling back to this month, ten years ago with any advice for my former self.

The past has gone and everything that was within it has gone. The light that lit the past has gone out. The energy that powered the past has been transformed. The atoms that shaped the past have moved on. Nothing remains of the past except the faint echo of memory.

A photograph isn’t the past, its atoms here in the present, shaped in a pattern that mimics where light fell onto a light sensitive substance long ago. Even we are not the past. The atoms that make up our bodies change with every breath and we have an entirely new body every ten years or so.

So the past doesn’t exist and the future is out of reach. We approach it on the slow train at the speed of one second every second. Although we can’t see into the future, that slow pace allows us to shape what we’ll find there by the time we arrive in it by what we think and do today.

The way to get more of what you want in your life and less of what you don’t want is to focus on what you have that you do want and celebrate it and be thankful for it. This is what we call gratitude. I can now say that I’m grateful for everything that has happened in my life because of what I’ve learnt and the changes I’ve been able to make because of those events. That doesn’t mean I’d rather it hadn’t happened in quite the way it did, but since that was what was required to get me to this point, I’m not making a fuss. To be grateful for everything requires one extra giant step and that is perhaps the hardest one to make. But to be truly free of what has happened to you in the past, you must be ready to forgive.

I’d never really understood forgiveness properly, apart from abstractly, until this point.

I don’t believe that forgiveness means that you should necessarily forget, unless you want to. It doesn’t mean that you should be best friends with those that have hurt you. It doesn’t mean that you expect compensation in return. It doesn’t mean that your pain is negated or unimportant. It doesn’t mean that you have to justify what was done to you. It doesn’t mean that you have to take any blame yourself.

All it means is that you hold no malice, anger or resentment. It means you have no emotional attachment to what happened. It means you no longer hold a grudge, seek retribution or demand punishment. It means you have let go.

It feels like a hard thing to do, but to me it felt like a release. What’s rarely discussed is the self-benefit of forgiveness. It’s not so much a gift that you are giving to the other party but a gift that you are giving yourself.

So I had already forgiven her, but since I had no contact, she didn’t know. Then out of the blue came a text message. At first I didn’t know who it was from since I had long erased her details. She said that she knew that she deserved the misery that she was now suffering (which I knew nothing about). She said that she wanted to tell me that “we reap what we sow”, so we can only guess what may have happened to her. She then asked could I ever forgive her. I replied simply that I could and that I already had.

Life is what you make of it. The good and the bad. Every single situation can have a negative, positive or neutral angle on it. Those angles aren’t really there, except in the context of the person experiencing them, who can choose which meaning to ascribe to the situation.

So nothing good, bad or indifferent really happens to us. All that happens is that events occur. Being human creators, we naturally search for meaning in events and look for significance by stringing them together into narratives designed to fit our pre-judged criteria.

So was what happened to me bad? Obviously, I’d been cheated on, betrayed, lied to and left. Are the outcomes greater than what I would have had if all this hadn’t happened? Absolutely. Thus we notice we’re part of the complex paradox that is life. Do I wish all the pain hadn’t happened? Naturally we want to avoid pain, but what if that pain allows us to grow?

Fortunately, we don’t have the power to change the past. We don’t really have the brain power as mere humans to calculate the effect that minute changes in space and time could manifest in the universe. Fortunately we can change how we think of the past.

I’m a big fan of Doctor Who, the television series with the mysterious traveller known as ‘The Doctor’ who has a machine that allows him to travel through time and space. Even with all that power he rarely tampers with the natural flow of events. When his companions try to prevent the forthcoming invasion of the Spanish to South America leading to the extinction of the Aztec people, the Doctor tells her, “you cannot re-write history! Not one line!”. When he is faced with one of his greatest foes, the Egyptian god Sutekh, he summarises the danger by saying, “it takes a being of Sutekh’s unlimited power to destroy the future”

But most famously of all, in one story he travels back to the creation of his most dreaded enemy, the Daleks and has the opportunity to destroy them before they were even created. “Have I the right?” he asks himself, “a lot of people became allies because of their fear of the Daleks. Out of all that evil, one day some great good will come”. He decides to let time and coincidence take its natural course. He doesn’t get the result he wanted or expected but the result is good.

Some dreadful things have happened in history. But who can tell what has come to pass because of the complex tapestry of history. There’s no point in saying “oh if only I’d done such and such” or “if only things had been different”. What we have experienced has taught us the lessons, which enable us to embark on the next phase of our lives.

Can we love again? Can we trust again? Those are no more important questions than asking after a bout of food poisoning, ‘Can I ever eat again?’

The price I had to pay to gain what I now have wasn’t really so high. It was so definitely worth it. I’m grateful for it beyond measure.

Because of the changes and decisions I made after the events of ten years ago I am more healthy than I ever was. My business has been transformed in ways I could only have dreamt of. I’ve spoken to and hopefully inspired thousands of people, all over the UK and around the world. I’ve been paid money to do something I love doing. I’ve taken my guitar to Africa and sang songs for children on the beach. And of course I have my wife and three wonderful children.

All we have is today. That’s all we will ever have. But to live a happy and worthwhile life, today is all we need.

The only thing we can control is our thinking today. Our thinking today determines our actions today and our actions today determine our future. Let’s change our thinking today into even more powerful positive thoughts for an even more wonderful future.

Ayd works with people and businesses to explore and unlock their creative ideas in ways they may never have thought possible, to inspire innovation.

Book Ayd to speak about the Power of ‘What If?’ and Inspiration for Innovation at your conference, or in your business. A great way to open your event or as an after lunch energiser.

For more interesting info see: