Wednesday, 12 March 2008

"S'cuse me Sir, Sir, you're rubbish Sir"

I have pitched to billionaire Silicon Valley VCs. I have presented alongside Bill Gates to an audience of 1,000 geeks. I have lectured MPs and Lords on data protection in a committee room at the Houses of Parialment. I have been interviewed on TV in front of an audience of millions. But there is nothing more terrifying than what I got up to yesterday morning. Being the guest speaker at school assembly to 120 15-year old boys. YIKES!

The great thing about talking to students is that you get immediate feedback. They don't bother too much with being polite. If you are boring, they fall asleep right in front of you. If your killer jokes don't work, they just look at you blankly. If you ask for questions, they look steadfastly at their feet. Or the "cheeky one" puts his hand up and says "S'cuse me Sir, why are you talking rubbish, Sir?".

But I enjoy it. Whenever I am asked to speak to students I try to make the time. Because if you do manage to say something that connects with them, they actually engage with you in a way that most business people have forgotten how to. There is none of the lazy "seen it all before" cynicism that you get from some grown-up audiences. If you say something interesting, the eyes open, they sit up, lean forwards and you just get the sense that perhaps you have inspired someone to head off in a direction that they might not have done.

So, off I trotted to Assembly at 8.30am. Actually these lads were very well behaved. They shuffled in to assembly quietly, in orderly lines. The teacher said "Up, boys" and they lept to their feet like a well disciplined army to say "Goodmorning Sir". Then I ranted at them for about 20 minutes (a handful of slides with pictures, not bullet points, punchy and outrageously bold statements, the odd mention of money, cars and sex and you can't go wrong).

I finished my talk (about building web businesses) and the teacher barked "right applause you lot" so like a dutiful Soviet-era audience they clapped formally in unison.
Then I went for it. "Who wants to see my cheesy magic trick?"

This got them going. "Go on then, Sir" a few muttered sceptically.

So I climbed up on a chair, wobbled a bit, reached upward and hey presto, performed my cheesy trick.
There were gasps of amazement. Some boys even shouted out loud. Teachers hushed them. I smiled and left the stage and this time they burst in to spontaneous applause and excitable chatter.

So, my advice is this. When faced with the scariest audience in the world - a few hundred teenage students - make sure you've got a cheesy magic trick up your sleeve.
Oh and by the way, I'm also available for Weddings and Bar Mitzvahs :-)


Tony Stansfield said...

Come on then Tom. What is the cheesy magic trick?

Lenn said...

Yeah Tom ... Do tell :)

A magician never reveals his secrets but he can tell us the trick