A Rousing Talk, With Quite A Lot At Stake

John-Paul Flintoff, speaker

Recently, I was invited to give a rousing talk.

There was quite a lot at stake for the people who invited me. And for me too, I guess.

Triodos is a bank that lends to non-profits and other good causes. It was launching its first consumer account, and wanted to use its AGM to draw attention to the ways consumer banking can affect society, for good or bad. Which is to say: if you put your money in certain banks you may be supporting some pretty awful practices.

But what may have worried Triodos more, on the day of the AGM was the danger of supporting awful practices by putting funds into a speaker (me) who might turn out to be a bit useless.

No reason why they should doubt me. I have a perfectly decent track record. I’ve addressed audiences of as many as 5,000 people at once, on four continents, and run workshops for thousands of senior executives, entrepreneurs, artists and performers, marketers, school students, prisoners, and change-makers.

But hiring a speaker can be hit-and-miss – as perhaps you know already. It’s especially awkward when you know the speaker is going to improvise (of which more below). And when as many as 750 people are coming to your event. They’re not all customers yet. Some of them are journalists, from national media. And you really want to make a good impression.

But let’s switch point of view for a moment.

Without holding myself up as any kind of great expert, or indeed the greatest orator in the history of civilisation, I was happy to be part of an event designed to encourage people to think about the important topic outlined above.

If Triodos wanted me to deliver some kind of rousing call to action, I was keen to oblige.

The bank’s managing director, Bevis Watts, told me he’d like me to encourage each one of the hundreds of people present to take action, as a result of something they heard on the day.

Not necessarily to apply for one of the bank’s new accounts – much as Triodos might like that – but to do something.

I felt confident. But success or failure were not entirely in my hands (obviously). Here’s what I told somebody about what I was going to do, half an hour beforehand:

I’m going to be talking about how to change the world. I’m going to be challenging people to think about how they can do that – and they know they can do that, because they’re doing it already. But they can do it even better, and with a bit of thought they can make an even bigger dent in the things they want to change…

You can judge for yourself whether I managed it. From my point of view, the biggest challenge was following some other very good speakers, including my brilliant, funny and charming friend Rob Hopkins, of the Transition Movement.

Having no clear idea what Rob or any of the other speakers might say, I was going to have to make it all up at the last minute. What made it harder still was the short time I was given: roughly one-third as long as the usual TED talk. About six minutes, as I recall. Six minutes! You can’t say much in six minutes. But that’s all I had.

So, how did I do?

PS. If you are even mildly interested in having me speak at your event, I’ll explain how I work if you get in touch, here

PPS. Or if you would like to read more first, look at this…

First published May 2017. Updated on publication of A Modest Book About How To Make An Adequate Speech, in February 2021