How to Be Unique

I gave a talk at the Global Speakers Summit in Noordwijk in the Netherlands in April entitled, ‘Unique’. It was essentially about finding out who you are by looking at what you’ve always done. Below is 12 minute edited version. I discussed my realisation that what I do now with my work is exactly what I was doing when I was last given the choice, when I was aged 7 to 15. To find out what and how, you’ll have to watch the film.

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Do you employ drones or a creative strategists?

Dalek new paradigm blue strategist

Dalek Strategist

There are two types of people: creative people and non-creative people. They are not born that way, they decide to be that way. Sometimes they behave in one way in a certain situation, say being a monotonous drone at work and yet a creative genius at the weekend on the sports field or with the children.

The problem in most businesses is that they may say they want creativity and creative people working for them but what they manifest is mindless monotonous drones.

Creative people in business do not sit there doodling or daydreaming (but if they do you can bet they’re onto some big idea). Creative people innovate better ways of doing things. They naturally follow the path of progress. They can’t help making things more interesting. When channeled, these attributes always lead to increased profits.

Dalek new paradigm red drone

Dalek Drone


If you have sales people: they need to be creative sales people because they need to create new relationships and create new sales opportunities.

Sales Drones do not create new sales opportunities. neither do they know how to up-sell new offerings to existing customers.

If you have administration people: they need to be creative administration people. They’re job is to make things work smoothly and there are always problems they need to resolve and there are always processes that can be made better.

Admin Drones just do filing.

If you have managers they need to be creative managers: handling people and their relationships is a complex task with many factors constantly changing. Motivating people to do their best is a skill that is bespoke for each individual. Problem solving skills and emotional intelligence are needed more than ever in such a role.

Manager Drones annoy good people who then leave and join your competitors.

If you have staff that deal with customers they need to be creative staff who deal with customers. Creating great customer service is the most underdeveloped method of increasing sales and profits. Knowing how to handle problems or how to create value added extras that turn customers into advocates is a creative skill that’s worth its weight in gold.

Service Drones annoy customers who then post on Twitter how bad your service is.

Don’t employ drones, and even more importantly, don’t turn your employees into drones. Good people who get fed up and leave their jobs usually do it because they weren’t appreciated. A great way of getting good people to stay and excel is to allow them to use more of their skills and talents in their role, to have more responsibility for their role.

Research has been done that the amount of perceived self determination within an organisation is directly proportional to increased profits and success of that organisation. Using or converting people into drones is like running your business with everyone having one arm tied behind their back, or chaining employees to a desk (which is exactly what so many companies actually do if you think about it).

I can show you how to turn your drones into productive, inspired creative strategists who not only do a better job with their current role, but are capable of innovating areas around them. Some businesses (and of course most employees) would be offended to have people described as ‘drones’. That may be the case but when the economic climate is more challenging, the risk of drone conversion is even greater. I can show you how to avoid the dangerous slide into drone manufacture, to help you get even more from the good people you have.

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How to be funny

Graham Davies the Presentation Coach

Graham Davies signing his books

I was honoured to be at the launch of Graham Davies’ book launch last Thursday in Mayfair in London. Graham Davies is not only a great presenter, ex-barrister, brutally funny after-dinner speaker and MC, he’s also the UK’s greatest presentation skills coach.

Which is why the book is usefully titled, ‘The Presentation Coach’. Anything else wouldn’t have said ‘presentation coach’ in quite the same way.

Nearly 200 people attended the book launch including, I’m told, lots of top new MPs and some very rich and successful people who were treated to champagne (in the form of a speech from Neil Sherlock) and then a sausage on a stick in the form of a speech from Mr Davies himself.

Comedy, as they say is a funny thing; the business of being funny is actually quite serious. Getting laughs with your presentation is only relevant if you want your talk to be remembered, and get paid lots of money.

What I’ve learnt from Graham is simple: take your presentations seriously: plan, prepare, research, enhance your performance persona, practice and continuously find places to perform. But don’t take yourself too seriously. You can tell from watching Graham Davies that he is so accomplished, he is able to be totally spontaneous and yet totally in control of the platform, while at the same time, punctuate each point he makes with an outrageously funny gag.

To be ‘funny’ on stage you can’t just rely on just being funny.

I’ve found, quite painfully, that being humorous is a wonderful thing to be but it’s not enough to be ‘funny’. Fortunately there are no recordings of my standup shows from the Edinburgh Fringe in 2006. All of my talks are humorous. It’s how I am all the time. It’s a state I find natural. It is the right-brain techniques I’m good at which allow me to cope with unexpected sudden change or problems when I’m on stage. It allows me to cope with heckling and to engage and win over audiences. But on its own it’s not enough to be actually ‘funny’ as my first audience found out back then. I spent the whole of the next day writing gags for the following night and performed a whole new show to claw back a tiny bit of self-respect by getting the greatest of gifts any ego can every receive: laughs from an audience.

Being funny is not a right brain skill as you may expect. It needs the addition of the cold, ruthless discipline of the logical left brain to be able to analyse and pinpoint the right one-liners, well timed gag setups and short routines. It’s the planning and detail that allows you to move from humorous to funny. To be funny we need both right and left brain working together.

And that’s why I’m reading ‘The Presentation Coach’ and that’s why you should too.

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Speaker on Design and Branding at the AEO Conference

Ayd Instone AEO conference speaker creativity branding design

I spoke on Visual Intelligence – the secrets of creative design at the Association of Exhibition Organisers at London Olympia in January. The talk was about how businesses need to understand and commission creative design. As usual I encapsulated part of the message in a new song.

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What would YOU do with a billion pounds? I dunno.



Speaking at schools recently I came upon scenarios and attitudes that I didn’t expect and that, although subtle, are more damning to the future of the children (and therefore our society) than at first they appear. I started off the talk with a simple warm up question: What would you do if you have a billion pounds? I make sure I tell them what a billion is as it’s so out of our ordinary experience. A billion is a thousand million. It’s a lot of money. That large Euro Lottery rollover win recently was only £30 million. So a billion pounds will buy a lot of stuff.

The question is really one of aspiration, imagination and to a certain extent goal setting. The answers I hope to see are big, bold, creative thinking ideas, hopefully as far-fetched as the question. What actually happens is underwhelming. There are a always a few good ones, ‘buy a football team’ or ‘buy a mountain and run my own skiing centre’. There a a few obvious and vague ‘give some of it to charity’ – with rarely a specified charity or amount. But from a group of sixty children, the vast majority fail to think of anything beyond the dull, ‘go shopping’. For what? They don’t know. Bare in mind the task is done in small groups, privately, written down with no onus to share publicly. It is not fear of being seen to be foolish that stops them (which does stifle imagination and creativity dramatically).

What appeared to be the cause of the astonishing lack of, well, anything, was perhaps a roadblock in being able to answer the question at all. After talking to some teachers I came to the conclusion that the children couldn’t answer the question because they were unable to guess what answer I required. They were using their brain power to try to figure out what I wanted from them, to pass the test, to be give correct answer. They had been trained at school to absorb information and then regurgitate it in a particular fashion to please the system. Their whole being was geared up to pleasing or satisfying the system. They were trained in the didactic of right and wrong, true or false. They had to give the truthful, correct, winning answer. Imagination, creativity and interestingly, personal opinion, desire and future thinking didn’t come into it.

This, in my mind is dreadful and a sad indictment. Is it true that our children are having their imaginations undeveloped as we condition them to give the required answers that are easier to mark and to filter for statistics and charting? Have we created sausage factories, churning out conditioned little parrots with no thoughts of their own and no ability to think of them? Without nurturing hopes and dreams, without encouraging imagination and opinions we are setting up children to lives of mediocrity at best and years of misery through low self confidence and worthlessness at worst.

I asked the question, “Who here thinks they are capable of being a creative genius?”. As you’d expect, out of 60 only four hands went up (as two of those were teachers). So I asked a control question, “Who here thinks they are a complete dullard who wouldn’t recognise a good idea if it bit them on the nose?” An astonishing 60% put their hands up.

I asked the teachers a question we should ask ourselves, “What are we teaching these kids?”

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