Monday, 4 July 2016

Why I have set up a training company

Zoe, Nick David and Natt
Clockwise from top left: Zoe Battley, me, David Yeoward and Natt Tapley
Last year I started hosting awards ceremonies. That side of things is going well and I enjoy it. Through the awards hosting and some of the corporate media work I do I've spoken to a few people who need public speaking skills as part of their job - either in front of an audience, or whilst someone is pointing a camera at of them.

It's learnable, but it's not something most folk get much practice at. A lot of corporate offices are full of bright young things emailing each other, rather than speaking on the phone. David Hepworth writes about this on his blog. His post immediately reminded me of my first job in London, working at a music PR company in Soho in the mid-nineties.

We had phones, a fax machine and a 28K dial-up modem for two ancient macs which we used mainly as word processors. Watching Tim, Paul, Shabs (especially Shabs), Asha, Shazia, Elliott and Nihal do their thing on the phone gave me an understanding of the performance art of business. The hustle. How to project yourself as a competent, confident, entertaining individual. My colleagues had no problem acting out to me, their peers or their clients. For them it was a natural progression to hold forth at pitch meetings or stand on stage and say clever things to large audiences.

Nowadays it might be entirely possible to go through the first ten years of your career without having to address an audience of any size, let alone appear on camera.

And then suddenly, you're expected to. You pick up a cause, you start a new business, you're made a senior manager. You have to espouse a perspective to groups of people who may not care a fig about you or the idea you're selling. Your career can depend on how well you perform. How do you make that work? What are the tricks? Where do you start?

I am surrounded by self-confident gobby sorts at the places I am lucky enough to work. Telly-land is not a place for shrinking violets. Hosting awards ceremonies plugged me into a world of people who have huge amounts of drive, talent and expertise, but when it comes to standing on stage and addressing an audience, or projecting themselves on camera, some of them have no idea. Why should they? They've never needed to.

But now they've reached a level of seniority which requires them to speak to people or talk on camera, and do it well. And they need someone to teach them either from scratch, or to tweak and refine what they do into something properly inspirational. Hence my new venture.

I've got together with some lovely people (see above - Natt was the nice man who trained me up in comedy writing and performance for Comic Relief - he's now a contract writer on Have I Got News For you) who know what they're doing, and between us, we are helping clients develop everything they need to articulate their stories and give them the right level of impact.

This is not about teaching people how to game a TV interview. That's not the sort of work I'm interested in and it's not compatible with my work as a journalist. This is about helping people with the theories of storytelling, preparing a pitch, winning a pitch, writing skills, engaging an audience, body language, memory techniques, stagecraft, adrenaline management, crowd-wrangling, microphone technique, being funny, speaking notes, what to wear, what not to wear, how to work with TV/AV crews, conducting a technical rehearsal and all the other stuff a lot of people just don't know the first thing about.

On a practical level, it's relatively straightforward. We need a quiet room with access to caffeine. We've got an HD camera, projector and laptop. We make you write. We make you speak. We make you tell jokes. We can film and watch you back as many times as you like. We work you hard, but we can make a positive difference to your public speaking skillset in one day. And we make it fun and friendly, too. If you're hiring us for a specific event, after the initial training day one of us will come down to the venue with you before you take the stage and make sure you're okay.

Yes I'm doing this to make money, but I'm doing it because I enjoy it. It's a joy to help people find a way of confidently speaking with intelligence and clarity about a subject which is often their passion. Showing people how to keep things together and project confidently on camera is something which took me a long time to work out (as many early editors of mine will attest). I'm happy to pass those skills on.

If you want to have a look at our website, please do. If you are able to forward our details to someone who might be looking for this sort of thing, I'd be grateful. We're aiming at senior level corporate clients for one-to-one or two-to-one training, but the whole thing is bespoke. We take your desired outcome and design the training so it works for you. If you have a cohort of people you want to sort out we have an arrangement with an organisation which does company-wide training at manager/sales exec level for the likes of Mercedes and Porsche, and one of our trainers is a founder of Never Second, which does deep level business proposal training. We will scale up according to your needs and pitch accordingly.

Just in case you were wondering, I'm not about to start easing up on the work I'm doing for the BBC and ITN. I have a contract with the BBC and I'm thoroughly enjoying the reporting I'm doing for ITN. Over the last few weeks I've interviewed Jeremy Corbyn, Theresa May, Michael Gove, Nigel Farage, Boris Johnson and spent a busy afternoon the day after the referendum on one of the TV gantries outside parliament. It's a good time to be in the news business and I intend to remain part of it for as long as they let me.

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