Rebel public speakerI received an invitation to speak at The Law Society conference earlier this year and a couple of weeks ago I went along and gave my talk “Flexible working – what’s new?” The conference organisers were clear at the outset what the timescales were for receiving my presentation slides. I politely let them know I wouldn’t be sending them four weeks in advance, to meet their printing schedule, because I often tweak right up to the moment I deliver.  This post is about being a rebel, creativity and public and the trigger was occupational psychologist, Adam Grant (whose terrific 15 minute TED talk is live now – a great accompaniment to breakfast or lunchtime walk)

I know it can be tough to challenge, especially if you think you’re in a less powerful position than the person or people you’re provoking with a new idea, but my experience is that challenge is often well received if positioned in the right way. I explained my lack of conformity as being of benefit to the delegates: my mind keeps whirring in the days running up to the conference and if new bits of research or stories come to light in those days (as they often do) I’ll weave them in and participants then get a very fresh experience.

I don’t really like public speaking because it takes me so very long to prepare. Typically I get an invitation four – 12 weeks ahead of time and as soon as I accept I get all my initial ideas down on paper. Then I put it on the back burner and as things pop up (thanks to a part of our brains, the reticular activation system, that stays on low level alert noticing ideas and cool things that relate to the subject at hand) I add them to my ‘brain dump’. Typically two weeks before I give my talk I read through all I’ve collected, work out the main message and produce an outline. In the week before I’m due to deliver I craft the words, produce a deck and start practicing. It’s a timely business and often unpaid so I only do things where I can potentially spark a change that matters to me or where there’s a clear benefit for the business I founded three years ago, The Talent Keeper Specialists. As an aside it really hacks me off how many self-employed women get asked by wealthy organisations  to speak to groups of women on International Women’s Day without getting paid. Typically it’s the internal women’s network who’s doing the asking and they often have a tiny or non-existent budget…but I won’t get started on how internal women’s networks need to change to better serve women in this post. (You might like episode 79 of the Broad Experience podcast if you’re interested in this theme.)

It turns out, according to Adam Grant, that my way of prepping is synonymous with the behaviour of original thinkers: we are quick to start and slow to finish. I really do recommend his talk as there are some other great gems in there such as why you’re better off hiring someone who uses Chrome or Firefox web browsers than Safari or Explorer users and why mild procrastinators are more creative than ‘precrastinators’ (people who get things done as soon as they are given a task).

For those of you who have stepped out of corporate life to pursue other ventures I hope this final thought from Adam Grant inspires you to greatness:

“You won’t get judged on your bad ideas. Originals have lots and lots of bad ideas. The greatest originals are the ones who fail the most because they try the most. The more output you churn out, the more variety you get and the more chance you have to stumble on something truly original.”

P.S. Prepping for public speaking, honing negotiation skills and pitching are all themes I coach people on. I’m currently half way through “Talk Like TED” by Carmine Gallo and do recommend if you need to become more compelling in your oral communications.


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