Are you Extraordinary?

Extraordinary SpeakersI believe what makes us extraordinary, in whatever field we work in, is not the accolades, awards or achievements, but the character, the personality and the way we have coped with adversity in our unique ways.

It’s to this end that a colleague and I have set up a new iTunes radio show called ‘Extraordinary Speakers’.

It’s hosted by me and BBC tv and radio journalist Jeremy Nicholas with a different guest in each show.

It’s full of tips and advice from professional speakers to professional speakers but the anecdotes, stories and tips are relevant for anyone working in a entrepreneurial or expert based business.

I think the show is unique in this field due to its style of a group of speakers late at night in a hotel during a conference swapping stories of gigs around the world.

It’s full of funny, heartwarming and inspirational stories as well as the downright disasters. This is a warts and all look at the world of the speaker. You’ll learn lots and you’ll laugh even more.

One of the questions we posed in the first show was about firsts: What was the first album you bought with your own money?

I put it to you that the one you answer with is not the one you usually say. You usually bend the truth and give a better answer to make you look cool.

So it turns out there are two answers to the question: the one you say, and the real, probably embarrassing one.

It’s true when we ask each other, “how’s business?”. There’s the public relations answer and then there’s the truth.


This is our metaphor for the show. We want our guests to give us their real truth to our questions, not the usual self promotional answers which although may make the speaker appear ‘cool’ or successful, it doesn’t help the rest of us, or make for a good show.

We believe that it’s these answers that actually make us extraordinary, not the press release answers, not the one sheet descriptions, not the website copy, but the idiosyncrasies, the failures that led to the major rethinks, the real personality behind the Fonzy-like photo on the business card.

And that’s why I’m telling you that my first LP, spent with my own £2.50 (it was a double album) was well spent in 1976 on the Animal Kwackers.

What about you?

To listen to the show on iTunes click here. If you enjoy it, please do give us a rating.

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

Book Ayd to run an Innovation Ideastorm Masterclass in your organisation.

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The story of ‘What if?’

PSA NSA Professional Speaking Association convention stage

My stage. That massive screen dwarfs the guitars!

Last Friday I opened the 12th Annual Convention of the Professional Speaking Association in London. I’d planned to do something different there for some time. I’d already worked out that my talk was to be called ‘The Power of ‘What If?’. But I’d had this idea to write a song called ‘What If?’ and not only to perform it live on stage with my guitar but to record a full band backing track and have a video synced too. I knew that the venue had the largest projection screen in London so it would be a shame not to take advantage of that.

But time passed and the date of the convention grew closer. I was also involved in support for other aspects of the event and almost forgot that I’d have to get a move on to be able to work out my own quite complex idea.

Two weeks before I discovered that my normal stage suit was unusable. It had just worn out. There was a particular outfit I’d always wanted so decided now was the time to get it. I spoke to a tailor in America who had Paul McCartney’s original 1965 Beatle suit that was worn at Shea Stadium, the Beatles most famous and biggest gig, and the world’s first stadium rock show and he made me a facsimile suit, stitch by stitch perfect.

It was now a week before the gig and I still hadn’t written the song. Maybe it was too big a task? To come up with a new song that was good enough to open a show, record it, learn it AND do a video in just a few days?

I wrote the song in an evening, or at least the tune and a few words (the two words were ‘What if?’, so no great lyrical creative leap that day). I spent the next day splurging out dozens and dozens of phrases and words and selected the best to form the lyrics. I only needed 90 seconds worth, but it still wasn’t easy.

Then I started working out how to record it. I didn’t have time to get my drummer in, I’d have to do it myself, and I’m not that great a drummer. Even to keep a constant time over 90 seconds would be tough. I pulled it off by recording a few batched of 8 bars and then duplicating them to create the drum track. The next day I overlaid the main acoustic guitar, then the complex bass line (I’m quite proud of that), then two tracks of 12 sting Rickenbacker, one track of lead guitar with a wah-wah pedal and one without. Then I laid down the main vocal and two extra vocals creating a three-part harmony. All the tracks were first or second take – I knew I didn’t have time for perfection.

I then mixed the recording to create the backing track. I turned off the main vocal and the lead guitar as I’d be playing these live. Then I had to figure out the video…

I wanted the video to feature the same outfit as the one I’d be wearing on stage. The only problem was that the new suit was being held in customs. It arrived on Wednesday (the conference was on Friday, and I’d be setting off to it on Thursday). As soon as the suit arrived I filmed various segments of me playing the various instruments and synchronised it to the music, putting footage of the Earth from space in between. By late Wednesday night, it was done.

All in all it was about 30 hours of work that went into 90 seconds of performance that opened the convention.*

You can see the finished video here (this version has the main vocal turned back on).

It seemed to go down well at the event, but of more importance to me was that it served as a reminder of what can be done when you put your mind and your passion into achieving the ideal outcome for something. To my mind, I’d achieved the impossible. And although the audience would have never seen or guessed the effort that went into it, I feel it was worth it.

So my question to you is this: what idea outcome could YOU actually pull of if you put your mind and your passion to the test? What if…

The lyrics are:

What if you were brave?
What if you took flight?
What if after trying hard you got it right?

What if you had time?
What if you had cash?
What if you could find that inspiring lightning flash?

And see, realise
As your dreams came back to life before you eyes
What would we see, what would we find?
With opportunity laid out before your mind?

What if you had hope?
What if you were great?
What if you find a way to escape your certain fate?

What if you had skill?
What if you went wild?
What if you still had the imagination of a child?

(* I was pleased to have the ‘subtle’ Beatle reference in my act as it was 50 years to the day that the Beatles’ first record, Love Me Do, was released.)

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:

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: