Archive for December, 2009

I’m Ragist*, I’m organised and I’m effective

Monday, December 28th, 2009

This year I once again boycotted Christmas. I went to parties and enjoyed the company of others but when it came to the, exchange of gifts ritual, I declined to be involved. My family are aware of my position and now accept it in a slightly uncomfortable way as if I were some kind of recovering alcoholic abandoned amidst their alcohol fuelled revelry.

It has taken me years of reasoned argument followed by actions of sheer bloody mindedness (after I discovered that reasoned argument had no effect) to achieve this state of acceptance. It has not all been in vain though. My bow wave of resistance has slowly rippled through to my immediate family and although they still exchange gifts,  each member now only buys one gift of limited value in a ’secret Santa’  scheme. This is at least better than the indiscriminate orgy of consumerism that existed before my intervention.

This year, I felt the need to explain to people outside of my family my environmental position a lot more succinctly and effectively. I realised that the word ‘environmentalist’ was too vague and limited for what I wanted to communicate and so I looked for examples that are around today that achieve an immediate understanding of a concept. I found the word ‘vegan’ to be particularly potent.

There is no equivocation with this term. A vegan is a hard core vegetarian who does not exploit animals in any harmful way. There may be the odd grey area – eating honey or not – but the concept is well understood and respected by everyone familiar with the term.

Such a word was needed for my purposes. A term that described in an instant my position regarding the senseless waste and destruction of the planets resources, a term that identified me with other members of the movement so that every time someone heard the term, an image of a growing army was formed in their imaginations. And this army would have power. As my post title suggests, we would be organised and have the ability to impose that power onto deserving targets.

Thus, a new member would perhaps send an email to all their family and friends and announce their conversion to Ragism. Some might ask, ‘what is that? and an explanation would be offered – “we aim to smash the marketplace.”

Immediately, the recipient would understand that this person chooses to ‘conserve’ rather than destroy (except that which is most destructive to the planet) and that Christmas in particular is a focal point of their beliefs. They would learn that a Ragist does not believe that consumerism is a necessary part of the economy and they would know that a Ragist does not buy anything that is not needed. As a result, they should not expect any Christmas cards or gifts from a Ragist. The more committed Ragists will even refuse to accept any gifts bought for them at Christmas time should someone feel the need to challenge their beliefs. Thus, if you are ever asked “What do you want for Christmas?” you need only reply, “It’s OK, I’m Ragist.”

In exactly the same way that Christianity usurped the Saturnalia celebrations to further its own ends, so will Ragism hijack the Christmas period to further its anti consumerist/pro conservationist message. In fact the winter solstice would be a good day to nominate as ‘Ragist day’.

Eventually I see the movement extending its influence by organising damaging boycotts on certain practices or companies it finds particularly destructive and which are vulnerable to such boycotts.

Here is a start of some other ideas that can be associated with Ragism as it grows into a quasi belief system.

  • I am cynical of mainstream media.
  • I collaborate rather than compete.
  • My passport is a badge of my oppression; I belong to the earth.
  • I do not accept that selfishness is the inevitable motivating force in society.
  • I respect and observe rituals that reconnect me with nature.

*Ragist is a suggested name, partly due to my Rage Club and partly due to the successful campaign to get Rage Against the Machine to be the Christmas number one (I am ware of the irony – you had to buy product A to prevent product B from being the most popular, however the symbolic nature of the campaign is useful).

Dick Whittington goes to Marlow

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2009

SatNav for the Soul cartoon

For all the years that I have been a member of the Professional Speakers Association, I never attended the annual convention. But after each convention, at the subsequent Chapter meeting, I was always made to feel like Dick Whittington hearing stories about London; the streets of the convention were paved with gold, I was told, every encounter resulted in some nugget of wisdom or information, a priceless experience. ‘It can’t be that good, surely?’ I thought to myself.

So this year I decided to find out, especially as I had got myself involved in an x-factor style speaking competition, which would have its conclusion at the convention.

And thus, on 14th November at twelve o’clock, I was stood at the check-in of the Crowne Plaza hotel in Marlow. The programme kicked off at 12.30 pm and I was being told that I couldn’t have a room until 2.00 pm. – I needed a shave and a shower after a long journey and somewhere to dump my stuff – what sort of organisation was this?

Dick Whittington had arrived in Marlow.

After the welcome meeting and lunch it was time to see and hear some of the gold I was promised. Here are some edited highlights.

Valda Ford is an American lady. That’s the positive stuff over with, now here’s the constructive criticism. Someone should have advised her that a British audience is a different animal to an American one.  I’m not familiar with American audiences, but extrapolating from the content and structure of her speech, I’m guessing that they are incredibly slow at following a story and spend most of their lives waiting around in airports. Maybe she did something remarkable later on which redeemed her speech, I wouldn’t know because after ten minutes I had lost interest and I went to check into my room and tidy myself up.

The half hour showcase slots I found most enjoyable. What I liked about these was the intimacy of the gatherings. Maybe forty people maximum at each showcase. This is a very demanding set up for any speaker as they are eyeball to eyeball with their audience and can detect any energy fluctuation in the room. Should the speaker lose the attention of the audience there is absolutely nowhere to hide. Equally, should the speaker fire the imagination of the audience then there is no better place to be.
Just one small concern though, at what point does ‘research’ becomes plagiarism?

Here’s some gold though that Jeremy Nicholas (couldn’t his family find him a real surname) inadvertently gave me after his half hour showcase about hunour. He told a story (ironically enough) about Bob Monkhouse being accused of plagiarising a Harry Hill joke. In response, Bob produced a film of himself using this same joke decades earlier. When I later asked Jeremy what the joke was he admitted that he did not know. This immediately suggested that the story could be apocryphal and that everything Jeremy had said was unreliable. I’m not saying it was, this is just how the mind works. So at last, a coin of value was given to me; always know more material than you deliver.

Then it was my turn. The candidates x-factor style speaking competition was, strangely and disappointingly, a closed session. When I asked those in charge as to why this was they gave an unconvincing answer about protecting the competitors’ feelings when the feedback was being given by the judges. Yeah, right. If you can’t stand the heat, don’t try to be a chef.

As I didn’t eventually win I can’t say too much about my impressions of this event as they would be highly subjective but what I learned was this; speaking is easy to criticise but hard to do.

If the competition is run again, I would suggest that a comprehensive list of guidelines be issued to all competitors with specific criteria of what the judges are looking for. I was the only competitor to use PowerPoint for example and I was criticised for doing so. It might have been easier if the rules simply stated, ‘No PowerPoint’. And if it is going to be an x-factor style competition, then at least make it a competition and allow an audience (and maybe even give them a vote).

Friday was concluded by a speech from Alvin Law. I had not seen Alvin before and apparently, as people later told me, he had put a lot of work into his presentation. It showed.

For those who don’t know, Alvin was born without arms after his mother had taken the notorious Thalidomide drug. Technically he is ‘disabled’ although after seeing his performance you would be hard pressed to say in what way. The man is a superb performer. His fire-cracking voice alone commands attention but with the addition of impeccable timing and physical dynamics he was simply irresistible on the night.

There is a story of an old man who sits by the side of the road just outside a large town. A traveller stops and talks with the old man. He asks him what the people are like in the town that he is are about to visit. The old man asks him what the people were like in the place that he has just come from.
“Ah, they were mean and wicked and couldn’t be trusted.” Says the traveller.
“Ah, alas, in this town, the people are just the same,” replies the old man and the traveller continues on his way.
Some time later another traveller comes along the road and asks the old man the same question. Again the old man asks the traveller what the people were like in the place he had just come from and the traveller answers, “They were friendly and helpful, always generous with strangers.”
“What luck!” cries the old man. “In this town, the people are just the same!”

I guess a convention is just like that town; you find what you are expecting to find. I was looking for soul gold but to be honest I didn’t find a great deal of it.

Warren Evans was a puzzling paradox. He spoke about platform mechanics. Now, for any speaker coming onto the stage, the first few seconds are crucial for establishing credibility but when you are an ‘expert’ on this very subject, the first few seconds are absolutely critical.

We waited expectantly for the extra special demonstration of how it should be done. Then we waited some more. Then we waited while Warren scrabbled about at the front of the stage trying to get something to work. Then, after some uncertainty, Warren sauntered onto the stage.

I’m starting to think that this is some brilliant artifice for demonstrating how not to do it, but no, the dialogue between Warren and Roy Sheppard, the moderator, make it apparent that this was unprepared for. This is like the time and motion expert turning up late for his lecture. But it gets worse.

Warren made it absolutely clear in his presentation that as the speaker you should completely own the stage and dominate it at all costs. Then he invited one of the technical crew to come onto the stage and give a speech about technical stuff whilst he himself sort of hung about at the edge of the stage waiting to come back on.

I’m not making this stuff up. It actually happened.

That said, Warren was rather endearing in his ‘devil may care’ attitude and it was sufficient for me to forgive him these contradictions.

Meet the pro’s left me bewildered. This was a group session where the attendees visited three tables of their choice, one after the other, and heard a professional speaker talk about their products and sales practices for twenty minutes. What was it supposed to achieve? I got the overriding impression that the presenters were simply selling to me. Was this supposed to be of benefit to the presenters then and not to the audience?

I once went on a Greek holiday and was unfortunate enough to get involved in a ‘free lunch’ offered by a time-share company. As you can imagine, the free lunch was paid for with hours of relentless hard sell that I stoically resisted.

Simon Zutshi’s presentation was similar to that day in Greece except that this time there was no free lunch on offer. If Simon’s values and beliefs reflect those of the PSA, then, quite frankly, I don’t want any part of it. If they don’t, why was he given time on the platform?

Philip Van Hooser minted up a bit more soul gold during his speech. He is one of the few people that I have met in the PSA who get’s it. He told a contemporary story where he advises his daughter, who is studying economics at the time, that, ‘There is no normal anymore.’ Strangely though, he didn’t push this point. Maybe he knows when a particular audience is ready to hear a tricky message.

Tim Gard finished off the evening in style. His humour was original and accessible. I found some more gold here too. For the best part of an hour, Tim was utterly sensational. Then for the rest of the time he was merely great. Always leave the audience desperate for more. They will talk about you afterwards to others and make every effort to see you again.

The Sunday morning session with the panel of bookers answering questions from the attendees had one significant moment. Someone from the audience asked the panel (in particular Brian Chernett, founder of ACE) what they thought of the PSA in terms of representing quality speakers.

“Not much.” replied Brian.

In the silence that followed you could have heard the fart of a fly. What was the point then, of being a member of the PSA?

Good question and one that I have been asking myself more and more in recent times. The PSA seems to be taking a direction that is different from my own (or maybe the PSA is standing still and it is me who is moving). Whatever, I did not find sufficient gold in Marlow to convince me to renew my subscription to the PSA. It is time for me to move on even further.

I would like to thank everyone in the PSA who helped me to get where I am today (even if I did not make the Mayor of London) and I wish you all memorable journeys.

Can I make one last suggestion? Perhaps the slogan for next year’s convention should be changed from a vague and meaningless ‘Spirit’ to an absolutely naked ‘Authenticity’.

Navigate well my friends.


A day to celebrate

Monday, December 21st, 2009

I asked my eight year old daughter what was special about today. She thought for a moment but no answer came.

“It’s the 21st of December,” I said.

Immediately the answer came.

“It’s the shortest day of the year,” she remembered.

“Correct!” I enthused. “After today, the days start to get longer. We ought to celebrate the winter solstice in some special way.”

She thought for a few seconds then said, “Why don’t we have the shortest party of the year?”

Is this why we have children, for the comedy gold?

Awesome, awesome, awesome

Sunday, December 20th, 2009

Temple Works conversation

Friday, December 18th, 2009

I was talking with Matt Edgar at the Temple Works party in Leeds on Wednesday and we discussed the accelerating pace of change that is happening in our society today. Or at least I was because Matt’s position was that this idea was a myth. As a history graduate, he believed the rate of change occurred at a constant speed throughout history  (this is how I interpreted his premise anyway). I totally reject this polemic for reasons that I won’t go into now but today I suddenly realised what we were actually talking about. We were really discussing the rate at which power is transferred.

The disruption that occurs after a societal earthquake has its epicentre at the relevant power base. That’s all that matters when we consider change. The adaptability, innovation and creativity that people will need in the coming years refers to their retention of power (for the majority of people this simply equates to their ability to access the means of survival – food, water, shelter). The speed of change is secondary to this concept.

Here’s an example. When Copernicus came up with evidence that pointed to the earth revolving around the sun, the peasant working in the field was unaffected; the sun came up, it went down. However, the world of the church was turned upside down. Their entire power base was threatened. Everything they knew was, potentially, wrong. They would need all the creativity and innovation skills they could muster to overcome this threat. Should they fail, then there might be a change that the peasant would eventually detect – ‘Ah, a new boss, science instead of church. Still working in the fields though.’

A more modern example would be the banks. The banks have a near monopoly on wealth creation as they supply credit. That is their power. When the system threatened to collapse because the myth of confidence was exposed most people would have been immediately impacted (you see, change has accelerated over time) but the people most affected would have been the bankers. Some innovative thinking was required to save their power base because in the event of a collapse people eventually look for an alternative. Of course, if the change is too rapid, then no amount of creativity and adaptability will help.

In the coming years, the people most threatened by change will be the current rulers – the multinationals. The sheer scale and rate of change will be unprecedented and it will be those who demonstrate the greatest innovation and creativity who will benefit the most in the ensuing power shift. Just make sure you are one of them.

Cartoon 7

Wednesday, December 16th, 2009

SatNav for the Soul cartoon

A Russian ending

Thursday, December 10th, 2009

This article explains that Hollywood makes alternative endings for films destined for international release (aren’t they all destined for international release?). The American ending is the one where everything turns out fine (i.e. the Americans save the world all by themselves) and is tacked on for Western Industrial nations. The Russian ending is, as the title explains, the one they make for Russia and it is where everyone dies (apparently, this fits in with the Russian temperament).

This explains my shock of watching Beneath the Planet of the Apes many years ago. At the end of the movie, everybody dies. It was such an unexpected outcome. I realise now it was unexpected because I had been fed a lifelong diet of American endings. Their insidious propaganda had indeed had an effect on me, I only became aware of it when a Hollywood film broke ranks and dared to suggest there may be alternatives. You don’t notice how bland and processed your cultural diet is until you taste an exotic flavour. I liked the taste and wanted to discover yet more flavours.

Of course it could have been a huge mistake by the distributors and they released the Russian ending version to the American market. Imagine that! It would be like a politician mixing up their statements and sending the public one to their mates and the private one to the public. Wouldn’t we be surprised at its content!

Actually, no, not any more for my part. I’ve extrapolated enough information out of the publicly released scandals to realise it’s far worse than most people would dare to imagine.

I can empathise with a country like Iran. The American propaganda regarding their nuclear ambitions is typically Hollywood. I can imagine Iran’s propaganda is far more convincing; we are being threatened by a nation that possesses weapons of mass destruction and has actually deployed them on a civilian population, not once but twice! – we need to defend ourselves in any way we can!

You can spray as much glitter as like over a turd but that fact alone should suggest that Americans could be the bad guys.

How many social networkers does it take to change a lightbulb?

Wednesday, December 2nd, 2009

Backstory: I posed this question in my introduction to a Linkedin group, just to demonstrate how my creativity workshops can fire the imagination. I didn’t have a ‘punchline’ because I had just thought it up as an appropriate ‘teaser’ for the internet group.

Anyway, Ned Hoste, a member of the group, read it and took up the challenge. He sent me his suggestions which in turn encouraged me to think up some of my own.

Anyone like to contribute?

Ned’s solutions;
How many social networkers does it take to change a lightbulb?

One to do it, and a million followers to comment on style and technique

How many social networkers does it take to change a lightbulb?

One to change it, and one to blog about 10 best lightbulbs available.

My solutions;
How many social networkers does it take to change a lightbulb?

“Lightbulb!? Man, that is soooooo yesterday.”

How many social networkers does it take to change a lightbulb?

“Have you Googled it?”

How many social networkers does it take to change a lightbulb?

The answer will be with you instantly once I have posed the question to the network.

How many social networkers does it take to change a lightbulb?

This answer has been removed for breaching forum rules.

The art of civilisation

Tuesday, December 1st, 2009

The art of civilisation