The Stories We Could Tell

One of the top qualities of all public speakers is their capacity to surprise and entertain while they teach you. In this post, my speaking coach, Iain Davidson does just that.

On the stories we tell our colleagues, our students and ourselves!

I have just been asked to lead a conference session on ‘leadership’ and also interview a high profile international academic and chair the subsequent debate with an invited audience of fellow high-powered academics. No pressure then!

I checked out the web profiles of my fellow participants. The top guys were suitably awe inspiring and kind of scary: eminent journals, editorials, papers, books; forwards to other people’s books, government committees etc. The impressive and remorseless rise to the top of the (usually male) professorial tree, mapped out in the distant and relentless language of academic success.

These were the stories of the .25% PhDs who make it to Professor and the further % who then break through to government policy and to wielding political power.

Now don’t get me wrong, I admire the work and the intelligence and the ability in all these profiles. But I started to think that I still had no idea what these people were really like? Their strengths were obvious. Their luck was obvious! But their social media profiles were sparse at best and the web stuff very, very stilted and guarded.

I thought back to my own eccentric career profile (I am pretty much the same age as some of these senior academics) and it wouldn’t look so pretty:

1978: Admitted to Art College.

1979: Thrown out of Art College (this took a lot of work in the 1970s, believe me!).

Works as Hospital Porter with ex-miners from Fife: learns colourful pit language.

1984: BA (Hons) English and History interrupted when thrown into jail during Anti-Thatcher Riot (innocent) bailed out by Red Star Editor and personal Tutor (real star).

1985: Wins obscure scholarship and studies Masters in Anglo Saxon.

Presents rubbish paper at rubbish conference-learns nothing. Fails Latin exam.

1986: Released from ancient Medieval Library and unemployed-runs away to London squat with girlfriend. Girlfriend leaves smelly squat. Police enter smelly squat!

1988: Fired by HM Civil Service for being useless (phew!) Finds a tie, cheats at tests and joins big, bad Pharmaceutical company…enjoys big, bad pharmaceutical company because they give him lots of training and send him overseas to Florida.

1990s: Leaves company and becomes an English teacher…ends up in Central and Eastern Europe…later Spain etc. Works in Advertising…

You get the picture. I’m not sure I want the academics at the conference to get hold of this dodgy history. It’s certainly not on Linked in (you can check).

But I started to feel sorry for the Profs…these were good people who had been mega exceptional at school and university. Where can you go but up? All of them had been labelled by their university websites as “top performers” and “leading academics” with “exceptional influence”. I studied the forced but ‘effortless’ smiles, the deep leather chairs and the institutional ties. I felt sorry for them…I knew they still wanted to be roadies on a Stones tour.

I can’t wait to meet them for coffee now…I’m sure we have lots in common J

Good luck at all your conferences this year-the good-the bad-the indifferent-be a star*

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About Jonathan Downie

I am a conference interpreter, public speaking coach, preacher and researcher.
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