Speaking sense – Lessons from an Olympian

(Blog by Andrew Thorp)

Spending an evening with a room full of accountants doesn’t sound like an exciting proposition, but Les Nutter was right – that’s a misconception!  We had a wonderful time at the Imperial Hotel, Blackpool last night and met some really interesting folk.  Les, Managing Partner of Cassons Accountants and the new President of the NW Society of Chartered Accountants was on sparkling form as host of the Business Awards Dinner – I love the way he fills the room with his personality.

Perhaps even better known was the keynote speaker, Roger Black MBE, the former 4 by 400m gold medalist from the Tokyo Olympics (1991). I spoke to Roger before his slot about his experiences as a speaker – this is pretty much all he does now – and he gave some fascinating tips about motivational speaking:

  • Get them laughing in the first 10 seconds (establish a connection)
  • Connect with everyone, even the person at the back of the room
  • Make them feel what it was like to be in the Olympics (put the audience there)
  • The audience won’t remember much of what you presented – they don’t really process the intellectual content but they should feel a broader emotional connection with something you said. They feel the ‘vibe’ and it’s something rather primal.

He also told me a fascinating story about a lesson he learned some years ago from Superman! He was hired as a supporting speaker to the actor Christopher Reeve, some time after the accident that left him paralysed. Roger was on later in the programme and took the opportunity to survey the scene from high up in the balcony.

Reeve was wheeled on and the place erupted – hundreds of people on their feet applauding and cheering this much-loved personality. But after about 20 minutes the actor had, in Black’s words, ‘lost the audience’. What Reeve wanted to talk about was the work he was doing to raise money and awareness about spinal injuries. But what the audience wanted to hear was, brutally, “how do you go from being Superman to someone who’s paralysed?”

The lesson Roger learned was that you have to give the audience what they want. If you’ve won a medal or walked on the moon, they want to know about that. They’re not interested in your alternative agenda. But you have to draw some insights from those experiences, things that might have wider significance for other people.

Perhaps Reeve’s extraordinary and tragic experience struck a chord with people. Imagine someone who’s been made redundant from a senior corporate position and is now struggling to find work. Their circumstances have dramatically changed – how might they cope? It’s clearly not in the same ballpark as a paralysing injury, but it’s a trauma nonetheless.

I really enjoyed Roger’s talk. He’s clearly mastered his craft but not without the help of other speakers and trainers. As an audience we love to hear the ‘inside’ story – it was amazing to learn how the relay team of Black, Redmond, Regis, and Akabusi told their coaching staff just before the race that they’d like to run in a different order. You can imagine the looks on the coaches’ faces! But they said “Ok, it’s your decision” and of course the team went on to win gold.

The lesson there? Well, surely that’s about the power of giving people responsibility and entrusting them to perform! They owned that decision.

So bravo Roger, Les, Jill Murray and all those involved in putting on a wonderful show. Now I know for sure that accountants aren’t boring (I saw them dance and sing all night!).

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About Mojo Your Business

Mojo Your Business is an innovative training & consultancy company based in Manchester, UK. We're passionate about helping businesses and individuals perform better through effective communication. We specialise in corporate storytelling and how it applies to internal and external communication (employee relations, employability skills, leadership, relationship building, sales, marketing and public relations). More at http://mojoyourbusiness.com/
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