Author Archives: Alan Elston

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Being Shot…

As I lie there on the snow groaning like a man who’s been shot, I wonder why I persevere with this sport. After all learning to snowboard isn’t an essential life skill. Whilst I can ski quite well, riding a snow board has been a real challenge.

It got me thinking about learning to do new things. One of the great pleasures of life is to learn something new, to be a novice again, to feel a certain loss of dignity and to believe that you will never get the hang of this. Of course one does, I have just got back from a week in the mountains and realise that if you stick with it, you can always make progress. Snowboarding is starting to feel good now.

As an International Event Host, learning my trade over the years has been a bumpy road. En route there have been a number of lessons learned, though I am glad I have stuck at it. Recently someone asked me what’s important and I have chosen 3 thoughts that might just help as you step out onto the stage:

Positive Visualisation:
Watch those who you believe are good at it. See what they do well, and then mentally visualise yourself being as good as them whilst developing your own style. By setting that target you are projecting your success forwards and programming your thinking into becoming great. Sounds like tosh? It worked for me.

10 000 hours:
As an esteemed colleague once said to me, if you want to be that good you have to practice for 10 000 hours. Anything that is worth having takes time to master. So be prepared for a long journey and stay positive.

Enjoy the Ride:
Sounds like a cliché though the most exciting part of learning to do anything is the progress you make along the way. As human beings we are programmed to want to achieve, whether you are learning to present on a stage or snowboard or anything else – enjoy every small step of the journey and celebrate each success. You will reach your end destination soon enough. Don’t wait until you become good to enjoy it.

Final Word:
Learning something new can with the right attitude be a wonderful experience. The challenge is to focus and stick at it. Soon enough what you thought was impossible becomes easy and enjoyable.

CIT Agency Forum August 2014 174

Election 2015 – From The Heart…

A week is a long time in politics, new cabinets have been selected, new leadership contests begun and political comment in a heady frenzy. Cast your mind back if you will for a moment to the resignations of those not elected into power just over a week ago.

The speeches of the broken leaders battling to hide their personal devastation focused in a farewell speech. It reminded me of men about to be executed, politically at least as they make their final and desperate plea to be remembered well in the hearts of their people and establish their place in history.

Nick Clegg was first, after the most crushing defeat, he stood with incredible dignity and power as he delicately balanced his own personal emotion with resignation. He accepted full responsibility for the outcome and shone a tiny glimmer of light for the future of his party. He was powerful, credible, articulate, humble and dignified as he took his final political bow – for now at least. I was captivated by what he said and my admiration for the man increased because he was authentic, believable and real.

Ed Milliband was next, walking in to a fanfare of applause from his faithful. He raised his hands like a triumphant Dictator amongst his people. His speech, whilst well written with all the potential to build to heady delight, I felt it was blundered and disappointing and left me feeling unsated. He lacked the conviction and authenticity that I craved to here.

Finally, out came David Cameron, demur wife by his side, he paraded like a man fulfilling his own destiny. Whilst obviously exhausted from the political marathon, he was triumphant. Any smugness was veiled with that lovely British modesty that we pride ourselves on. He thoughtfully gave recognition to his former colleague and rivals and reiterated his political promises. I did feel brighter when he spoke of our national pride, what an exciting time it was to be British and his optimism for the future of our country. It was good to hear.

So as the political wagon rolls on, we watch with interest. What mattered for me was that for once they appeared vulnerable, passionate and dare I say it, truthful. Reiterating in my mind that the power to move people through speeches comes not from political spin, but rather when we speak from the heart.

Thoughts on Election

Election 2015…

As our politicians prostrate themselves at the alter of democracy, we the voting public get to choose. It’s not a perfect system, though there’s no better available alternative. So we are subjected to a political bun fight of promise and mud slinging that reaches its climax today.

This blog has no political view, we all know what we think and you have no wish to hear my views. Though I am particularly interested in the way they have spoken and delivered their message throughout the election campaign.

Such a gruelling task of endless Town Hall speeches and barracking from a public who challenge every word and question your motive must be the toughest gig ever; as they try to win hearts and minds and maintain some credibility.

Having watched them and from my personal point of view of a Speaker and Event Host, there seems to be a number of factors they share:

Passion:
Each of the candidates is absolutely passionate about what they are saying to the point where I feel at times they over power their audience and can loose credibility.

Personal Style:
Looking at the main party leaders alone, there’s the one who has taken to gazing like a puppy dog at the camera and walking ever closer to his audience, which has the impact of getting in your face like a drunk at a party. There are the pursed lips of conviction from a man who ‘wants to be clear’ which makes him look like he is trying to hold a yawn back or possibly worse. Finally, here’s the one with the look of a school boy stuck in the middle of it all, as he tries to explain himself to the headmaster.

Controversial as this may sound, I feel they are all stuck between a rock and a hard place. They offer themselves up to be judged and ridiculed like no other profession, have to make a difficult political system work whilst judged by a cruel media and critical populace. I think they have done a pretty good job in great adversity to deliver their message clearly, professionally and with a passion of conviction rarely found in the commercial world. Where else would a leader be subjected to such scrutiny?

The outcome remains to be seen – though I would say well done to all of them for even daring to have a go.

John Denver was waiting for a flight in Washington airport in 1966. In that time he wrote the song ‘Leaving On A Jet Plane’. A pretty good use of his time wouldn’t you say considering it became the hit song that established him.

Today I am waiting for a delayed plane and wonder how to best use my time. It could be perceived as a moment of frustration, a time to think, be creative, relax, write an article or mentally prepare one self for what lies ahead.

Actors will tell you that they have a set routine whilst they are waiting to go on stage – and they rigorously adhere to it. Having done some stage acting myself I know that the 2 hours before a performance are critical as one transitions from walking in off the street, through make up, to dressing, right up to walking on to the stage. Do all presenters have a preparation process?

As an Event Host I am often asked how does one best prepare? I have some thoughts that might just help you to prepare to then walk on stage and be your best:

Mental Space: Be really clear about what you want and need to be calm, focused and ready to perform. You may want to be alone, surrounded by people, listen to music, have a cup of tea or take a nap. Be clear and create it.

Positive Visualisation: Take some quiet time to run through what you want to say, how it will feel and then visualise your success before you do it for real. If you have positive visualisations, you will tune your mind to success and move closer to making them into reality.

Focus: Avoid your day job, making calls, texting and most of all getting involved with all of the inevitable production issues that every event is fraught with. Any distortion of your focus will have a detrimental affect on your performance. You should only think about your performance – everything else can wait.

John Denver understood how to get the most out of his waiting time. What will you do with yours? The professionals understand that if they use their waiting time effectively it creates a better performance.

When the moment arrives for you to walk on to the stage, you will be focused and most of all ready to perform.

I look back on the halcyon days when everyone in the audience would give you their undivided attention. The days when your computer was desk bound, a tablet was something you took with water and a mobile phone was for making calls.

Now we positively encourage people to text, tweet and interact with us. It also means they are doing email, writing reports, it means we don’t have their undivided attention – we have to work for it!

Our event for some can be an office with free lunch. Who knows they my look up if something interesting happens, though only if it’s of interest.

Now we want interaction, we want to speak to each other and we want our views and voices to be part of the debate, to be included in the action. As a Professional Event Host, I have 3 ideas that might just help to bring your event to life:

Change the Format:
Why have a conventional stage? Why not set the venue so that your speakers work in the round or from different stages in within the auditorium? It helps people to feel engaged and part of the action. Whatever will happen next and from where?

Interaction:
Your audience should not be asked to be silent for more than 15 minutes at a time. Ask them to interact, ask them for feedback, set them a relevant question for them to discuss with each other or at the very least open up to a quick fire question and answer session. It enables people to feel part of it, that their voice is being heard and most importantly it helps people to remember and consolidate your key message.

Short and Sharp:

Keep your keynote speakers to 15 minutes. If they need longer, break their session up so they speak throughout the event rather than for a long time. It will make them feel more like an integral part of it rather than an abstract section and enables them to connect with the theme and key message of the whole event.

There is an enormous investment made in time, money and resource goes into creating great business events. The ones who are achieving the greatest results are the creative, the inspirational and most of all the ones who encourage us to talk to each other and feel part of it.

Three things you should know about teleprompting:
How to make a better connection with your audience:

It appears to be the perfect solution for a speaker. If you use a teleprompter (stand and read from a rolling screen also known as an Autocue) you have nothing to learn, the content can be instantly changed and the client keeps complete control of what you say.- Delivered well, your audience will never know you are reading. Perfect then – well not quite!

Don’t get me wrong I love teleprompters for the security they bring and the ability to get a complex message across without hours of script learning. That said, something is lost. It’s intangible though the connection between you and your audience can be lost.

Teleprompters are perfect for newsreaders or for any narrative to camera. The audience connection is through the camera not live to the audience, but for live work they should be used with caution.

In my experience as an international Event Host, there are 3 things that might just get you closer to your audience.

Know Your Stuff: Usually people who are speaking on stage are experts in their field. The challenge is how they marshal their thoughts into a coherent flow. After necessary research talk to other people about what you want to say. Get comfortable with your topic by just talking and note what works and get some feedback about how it sounds and if it makes sense. Have some bullet points just in case you loose your way.

Be Interviewed: Rather than present, ask to be live interviewed on the stage. The host will ask the questions, you talk naturally and freely. A word to the wise, invest the time in the pre interview meeting and agree what topics you will cover in advance. Then there will be no surprises and you can set identify areas to focus and avoid.

Be Brave: The most terrifying moment for any actor is the moment in rehearsal when they ‘ditch the script’. It’s the same for a speaker. Only when you let go, can you really bring your story to life and most importantly create a real connection with your audience.

Good luck. It is a great feeling and sets you apart from the majority if you just dare to try.