So did you see it? The lunar eclipse on Friday…
I don’t know about you but things were so excited in our house.
With three young children who had never experienced a lunar eclipse before, they simply couldn’t contain themselves.
They may have been so excited due to the encouragement by their school as they were all informed that they would be stepping outside whilst the moon blocked the sun for a few minutes… but unless they were wearing protective glasses they were not going to be able to look at the event as it happened.
So I did what any other father would do and I scoured the web to attempt to purchase said lunar eclipse glasses.
They were SOLD OUT everywhere.
But I persevered. I put a call out to my social network and was advised that Safety Welding Glasses would do the same thing. I ordered a pack of 10 glasses and I informed the children that they could each have two extra pairs to give out to school friends.
Well, despite the description on eBay stating that the glasses would be dispatched for NEXT DAY delivery by COURIER, they weren’t.
If they had been they would have arrived on Thursday in time for the lunar eclipse on Friday morning. They were in fact dispatched by Royal Mail parcel service and didn’t arrive in time.
What a disappointment.
They have lost a sale. The glasses, when they do eventually arrive, will be going back and I will be asking for a refund.
I’m not sure what it is that you do but I was told something many years ago, and I cant be sure who said it, but it was to under promise and over deliver. This way your customers will be getting more than they expected and will see you in a positive light. The suppliers of the safety glasses most definitely over promised and have under delivered. In fact as of this moment they have yet to deliver.
Don’t let your (under delivered) promises eclipse your future success. (see what I did there?)
And in a similar vein I also experienced a nice experience of someone going the extra mile for me.
On top of getting excited about the lunar eclipse I had to prepare for my latest ‘iCan Speak’ Bootcamp which was to take place the next day.
While in the office disaster struck with my computer and just when I thought there was no way out for me I had a knight in shining armour show just what he was capable of.
I was so impressed with PCI Computers in Leeds that I made a quick short video to my iPhone and shared it on Facebook.
And finally, on the ‘iCan Speak’ Bootcamp on Saturday I decided to over deliver for my delegates by surprising them with a FREE signed copy of my No1 best-selling Book Just a Boy.
I have no idea when you might be able to apply the same approach; you don’t need to be in business to do this. Family, friends or the homeless man in the street can all benefit from this.
P.S. Join me LIVE for the next set of ‘iCan Speak’ Bootcamps by clicking the image below for more info.
Well, I thought I had learnt everything there was to know about public speaking.
And you’d think so after having been speaking for over 10 years and having now delivered 1,735 sessions since I gave my very first professional talk on 8th February 2005.
But last week I learned three things in relation to speaking (or at least I was reminded of them) at a Teachers’ Conference in the South of England.
First of all, at the last minute the organiser told me that I wasn’t going to be able to show my slides during my talk.
This meant I had to be even more descriptive than usual.
When I first started speaking this would probably have caused me so much stress that I would have gone to pieces.
Especially as when I first started out I relied on my slides as way of reminding me where I was in the talk and where I was going next. This is something I would urge against.
We should know our talks inside out. Relying on slides as a way of remembering, simply highlights that we haven’t prepared enough. But the first point I want to make is that we have to be adaptive as speakers. Actually we need to be adaptive no matter what we do.
Sometimes ‘stuff’ just happens; the show must go on and if we are willing and able to roll with it then our audience will be none the wiser. Which is what I did and although it wasn’t the same talk that I usually deliver they never knew. Worst of all I never got to show the stunning images of my wife and three gorgeous children. Hey Ho!
Secondly, you can imagine how foolish I felt when I arrived at this venue wearing black tie believing that it was a black tie engagement.
Now there was some breakdown in the communication as I was the only one wearing black tie. It was probably down to me; in fact it was definitely down to me.
The notes in my diary stated business dress but I was so busy rushing around that I had simply got it wrong.
But it did highlight my final point before I sign off.
As speakers, and especially professional ones, we cannot afford to under-dress.
If I had turned up in shorts and a t-shirt I would have had my audience concerned more with what I looked like than what I had to say.
I know there may be people out there who will write to me after this post to tell me that it doesn’t matter what you wear and you should feel comfortable in dressing how you wish. I disagree.
I recall once speaking at the Harrogate Conference Centre for a couple of women who had recently left The Apprentice on TV and one of the women (who frankly should have known better) walked on stage to introduce the day in bare feet. I think her shoes may have been causing her problems so she decided that she would be more comfortable not wearing shoes.
If I had been coaching her I would have urged her to try out her shoes before the event and not back stage moments before she entered stage right. Thankfully I looked smart and hopefully I did not have anyone distracted while I shared my message. Lesson: Better to over-dress than under-dress.
And lastly, this was an after-dinner speech, which meant that I didn’t get on until just before 10pm.
We had arrived at 7pm, which meant by the time the three-course meal had been served along with tea and coffee, the audience had been drinking alcohol for close to three hours.
There was an event back in 2007 that I spoke at, that first highlighted how difficult speaking late can be when the audience has been drinking alcohol.
Some people were the worse for wear and the odd person was being inappropriate. I’m not suggesting any of the teaching staff had been inappropriate…. well, ok I am.
There was one gentleman who was sat with his wife who seemed to be a little uncomfortable as I spoke. So much so that he spoke to his wife for most of the talk. Afterwards I approached him to ask if all was OK only to be told to “Go away” by his now drunk wife.
All a little uncomfortable for me and the organiser informed me that this particular teacher was a just as problematic in school.
So last week I decided that I would no longer speak after dinner and that the only time that I would speak at such an event if I were to be asked, was if it was before dinner and more importantly before people became drunk. Only speak if you are completely happy with doing so.
Of course you may be one of those people who has to speak but is terrified of doing so and I’m not suggesting you turn down every single opportunity to speak because you will undoubtedly be unhappy about speaking.
But if this is you then I urge you to grab the bull by the horns and get along to one of my legendary speaker training events where we will have you feeling far happier to speak than you are now.
Click here to find out more info & to secure a ticket to the Leeds event: on April 24th
Click here to find out more info & to secure a ticket to the London event: on May 16th
Wow! What an incredible weekend. The launch of the ‘iCan Speak’ Academy far exceeded my expectations and is one day I’ll not forget in a hurry. In fact one of the delegates caused the hairs on the back of my neck to stand up. (I’ll explain why in a second.)
Below you will see a group shot of the 50+ people that attended the ‘iCan Speak Showcase’.
And here are a few Facebook screenshots from people that attended:
So back to the opening paragraph, and me telling you about the hairs on the back of my neck standing up…
In the audience at the ‘iCan Speak’ Showcase was a lady called Anna and finally for the very first time she found the courage to overcome her life-long fear and spoke in front of an audience.
And not just a small audience either.
As I said there were around 50 people there to witness something amazing.
Not only did she find the courage after just a few of the ‘iCan Speak’ modules but she blew us all away.
She had some of the audience jump to their feet and give her a standing ovation.
In fact if you take a look at this photograph you can see me pointing at the hairs on the back of my neck, which were also standing!
So how was she able to do this with no prior experience?
In my opinion she epitomised exactly what The ‘iCan Speak Academy’ is all about and that is about creating Authentic Speakers. If you were looking for perfection, she wasn’t that. If you were looking for amazing slides, she didn’t have those. If you were looking for a slick successful businesswoman, she wasn’t that either (although for all I know she might be.)
I speak at events all over the world and I see hundreds of speakers, many of who will be speaking at the same event as myself. And one of the biggest let downs I see – and often from slick successful people from business – is that they simply don’t speak from the heart.
But that’s exactly what Anna did.
She shared her story in just a few seconds and she did it with confidence, passion and authenticity. And she won over our hearts and minds. And for those who were in the room we felt a burst of emotion from a lady who would stand alongside any leader I’ve ever had the pleasure to listen to. She was truly incredible. What you don’t see is that after she finished I actually stood on my chair to applaud because of how proud I was.
When it comes to speaking to any audience: Authenticity is Essential.
This is what Anne had to say after the event ended.
‘I got the courage to stand up and speak, the motivation to be more than I am and the determination to be the best speaker I can possibly be. Thanks so much. Anna’
If you want to learn how to speak authentically, with confidence and passion, I highly encourage you to secure a ticket at our upcoming ‘iCan Speak’ Bootcamp in Leeds or Gatwick.
At these one-day Workshops you’ll discover:
- Stand & deliver: How to look the part on stage. Concentrating on your non-verbal communication.
- Start with impact: How to grab the attention of your audience from the very start.
- Spice it up: Learn language techniques that will enhance your delivery and set you apart from other speakers.
- Silence the cynic: How to silence even the most cynical of audience members.
- Vocal variety: Learn techniques that will give your voice the edge and help connect with your audience in ways you may have not considered in the past.
- Involve your audience: Be a stand-out speaker by involving your audience in ways that most speakers are not willing to do.
- Own the stage: The stage is your home and your audience need to see that. Learn how to use it with impact.
- Put it all together: Delegates will be expected to deliver a short presentation by the end of the day which will be far greater than the one they gave as an introduction.
- And much, much more….
I hope to see you at the ‘iCan Speak’ Bootcamp in Leeds (March 21st ) or Gatwick (May 16th)!
We interrupt your day to bring you this from our ‘iCan Speak Academy‘ on the spot reporter. Please be aware there is no flash photography in this item.
On my travels around the UK speaking at various events I get the pleasure of seeing some great speakers: But there is always two sides to a coin and that means I see some who are …well, not so great. Or at least they could make even more impact if only they were made aware of just a few small things. Some may say that I am splitting hairs here but I believe it’s the splitting of those hairs that we grow.
Earlier today I saw a speaker who I had seen before and he was great and I’d say he’s improved since I last saw him. I watched him at work and loved his energy. I won’t mention his name here but he’s well known for his energy levels so at least he’s consistent and the energy in the room was cranked up to the MAXIMUM. Now this is fine and to be honest I’m quite an energetic speaker myself but I simply had to let him know how he could have made even more impact than he did.
Of course I asked for permission to give him a little feedback: After he agreed I then pointed out that his energy is fantastic but at the very beginning when he made his profound statement he really should consider standing still rather than bouncing around the stage.
It’s not important right now what he said but my point is that if you ever find yourself in a similar position, delivering something profound or extremely important then in my opinion, you really should stand still, make your statement, let it sink in and then continue with your presentation.
His response “I get it”.
As I said: I’m spitting hairs.
Whilst I have my hair splitter out I should also mention that he really was a great speaker.Towards the end he almost moved me to tears. I’d have been surprised if there was a person in the room who didn’t feel what I had. And then a few lines later he finished. Then the person who was chairing the event stood up and I almost spat out my popcorn when she didn’t even mention the speaker. She simply said something along the lines of “Ok, what’s going to happen now is we are going to split up and visit whichever breakout room you chose when you arrived this morning……” She was reading this and it was obvious.
Come on people! We can’t ignore what’s going on around us. As my friend and fellow speaker Nigel Risner often says “If you are going to be in the room, be in the room”.
In other news……
I was sitting in my car at my local car park, enjoying a few
minutes on Twitter. As I sat there, I saw a small sports car race into an empty space behind me as though its driver’s life depended on it. Out of my mirror I could see her jump out of the car and SMASH! Her car door went straight into the car to her right. She jumped out and ran from her car without even locking it. Gosh, I thought, something serious is going on here.
But my heart went out to the owner of the car that had just
been whacked. Any driver reading will know how annoying it is to return to your car to find it dented, especially when you discover how much it costs to put these dents right. (As you will read later I am certainly no angel when it comes to these matters.).
I made my way over to the two cars and sure enough, she had caused an enormous dent. I was so angry at this woman and decided I would do what I thought was the right thing. I returned to my car and took out a sheet of paper to write out an explanation of what I had seen along with the registration number so that I could leave it under the windscreen wiper of the damaged car. It felt like the right thing to do. As I was returning to place the piece of folded paper on the windscreen the frantic lady was returning back to her car. I had been caught in the act – it felt a little uncomfortable.
“Hi, you probably didn’t notice, but when you got out of your car you dented this car parked beside you. I know how that feels as it happened to me recently,” I said, trying to sound non- confrontational. She just looked at me as though she was assessing the situation to find something suitable to reply with.
She looked down at the car beside hers and seemed shocked at what she had done. She explained with her rather posh voice that she had wanted to get to the bank before it closed. You see, it was life and death after all. She then tried to rub the dent away without any success. She must have felt as though I was telling her off as she then turned to her own car and began pointing out all the small dents that she had on hers. As if that was a good enough reason for her not to have any thought for the innocent car owner! She got into her car and raced off. I
couldn’t believe her behaviour.
I made my way to my office. As I parked my car, I spotted a young lady I recognised sitting in the car beside me. She was smoking and flicking the ash out of her sunroof onto her windscreen. Classy. She was one of the dance teachers who taught young children how to dance in the building where I had my office. I had recently discussed with the owner the possibility of bringing my two eldest to see if they would enjoy it. When I got out of my car I noticed that the young lady had stopped smoking but there was a half- smoked cigarette on the floor beside her door, still smoldering. I was disgusted (I know I am beginning to sound like a grumpy old man) at what she
had done, so I walked over to her car and asked her to wind
down her window.
“Oh hi!” she said in a very enthusiastic voice, obviously
recognising me from the chat about my children attending
her classes with her boss. After I had replied with my own “Hi” I asked her if she felt it was appropriate to drop a lit cigarette on the ground. Like the older lady earlier she just looked at me while she thought of her reply. I was astonished at what she came up with:
“Yes, cos it’s biodegradable.”
I thought this was a terrible answer and most probably wrong. I wasn’t sure whether or not cigarettes were biodegradable so I didn’t want to get into a debate. I told her that we seem to have different opinions on the matter. I left her surrounded by her smoke and made my way to the entrance. One thing was for sure, there was no way that any of my children were going to be taught to dance by someone possessing such opinions.
Two different incidents – both on the same day – which were examples of individuals acting as if no one was looking or that no one was going to challenge them.
I’m not suggesting that I am an angel and never step out of line. All of us do at some stage. But thinking and writing about those incidents made me think about the things that I do or sometimes don’t do.
When I was younger and driving one of my first cars, I confess that when driving out of a car park I dented a car door myself.
I did exactly what that lady did and although it was an accident I did not do the right thing. I thought no one had seen me so I sped off. I hadn’t been driving for long and I didn’t want my already expensive insurance to be affected. As I write this I am slightly ashamed – I had forgotten all about it as it’s around 15 years ago, but it’s funny how writing can bring back memories that we have locked away. Three days later I received a letter from the police as someone had taken my number plate as I left the car park and I had been reported. I knew what I did was wrong and it was a valuable lesson to me.
More recently, I found four lottery tickets outside my local
shop. I couldn’t believe it. It was around 6.30pm so the lottery was not to be drawn for around an hour. As I put them in my pocket I wondered what would happen if I had a winner. What if I had the six winning numbers: what would I do? Well it was obvious what I would do. I would find a way of giving the winning ticket to the rightful owner. I publicly announced my find just in case I gave in and decided to try to keep the winnings. My wife completely agreed with me that we would hand the winning ticket over should it win. It felt exciting to think that if it won we would hand it back. I imagine that most people would keep the winnings, but of course it would be
wrong, wouldn’t it? I’m sure you would have handed it back –wouldn’t you?
Would you do anything different if you knew that all your
actions were seen by others? Maybe those close to you or those who look up to you, your children or possibly your parents. One day, I decided that whether people were looking or not I would do what I thought at the time was the right thing. Let’s say your every move was being watched and the best bits were going to be played at your funeral. Would that alter what you did – or didn’t do – in relation to your day?
Text copyright Richard McCann: Taken from his latest book iCan: Two Words That Can Change Everything. Order your copy here: http://www.richardmccann.co.uk/shop/ican-book/
You can imagine how angry I was can’t you? You have probably experienced something similar yourself. You return to your car and the wing mirror is damaged or even worse, someone has crashed into your car and driven off.
I’m not sure if you can imagine how angry I was as I wasn’t really. I was disappointed but within a micro-second I did what I usually do when I am faced with some kind of hardship or challenge. I told myself that the situation could have been much worse.
They had not pranged my car and if they had, heaven knows how much that would have cost. It was a wing mirror. No more than a couple of hundred pounds, if the whole thing needed replacing.
What do you focus on when things don’t go well? How bad the situation is or how far worse it could have been? It’s a choice and it was a similar mindset that helped me when mum was killed all those years ago. Ok it couldn’t have been much worse after mum had died but I told myself that her suffering was over and that we were about to start a new life with dad. Naive I know but it helped me and that approach has been with me ever since.
Today I went to my local garage only to be informed that the motor with the mirror was intact so it was only a new mirror. £65 all done. With a motor it would have cost another £200. If I had got angry about it the culprit wouldn’t have known so the only one feeling the anger would have been me.
It’s one of my first and possibly most important messages within my iCan Keynote presentation. There really is a ray of sunshine in every dark cloud.
Have a great week.
Bonus and much deeper message:
If you have read my latest book ‘iCan’ you will know that around 20 years ago I hit a car door as I reversed out of a car park. I didn’t do the right thing and I drove off. Days later I received a letter from the police. Maybe this was Karma paying me back. I think I got off lightly in comparison.
You can order a signed copy of iCan via my shop on this site:
Hoping this week will be a memorable one for you. Speaking of memories: I had one of those events in my life occur last week that will never be forgotten. If you have ever heard me speak or read my books you will know that there is an extremely special teacher in my life who I will never forget. Mr Hill, my English teacher, was the one who thirty-one years ago, encouraged me to enter the public speaking competition at school, which I went on to win. Well, Mr Hill came to see me speak last weekend after making contact with me after me speak about him on the Jeremy Vine show on BBC Radio 2.
It was fortuitous that I happened to be speaking at the iCan Event in Leeds, which he was able to get along to. It was an amazing feeling to have him watch me and also for him to get a massive round of applause from the audience. It was made even more special by the fact that my wife Helen and the three children were able to get there too. All in all a fantastic day and one I wont forget In a hurry.
I’m sure we all have one of those teachers, one of those bosses, one of those members of the public who did something for us which means we will never forget it. But it does raise the question of when did we do something that was so selfless, so amazing, so charitable that whoever benefitted will remember it in 30 years. Or is what we are doing going to be lost in the memories of those we crossed paths with along with all the other meaningless stuff we often found ourselves doing. I’ll leave that with you.
Well its finally happening. After months of meetings, emails and phone calls I can confirm that we are finally moving forward with the film adaption of Just a Boy. We’ve agreed the deal for Tony Klinger to write the screen play and Executive Produce the film. We have a great team involved and in coming weeks I will be announcing more about the film and the exciting community project we will have running alongside the making of it. I always had at the back of my mind when I wrote Just a Boy that one day it may be seen on the big screen around the world. 10 years after it was published it’s finally happening. I’m trying to contain my excitement for now but its certainly one of my most interesting years.
Here I am with Tony moments after signing the agreement.
To celebrate the start of the development of the film we are giving away 2 tickets to iCan The Event which takes place on the 17th May in Leeds. We have a whole day of inspiration with 7 speakers for your empowerment including myself and you will hear just how the universe intervened to make the film happen which is absolutely amazing. All you have to do is take a look at the line up and email us to tell us who you think is the youngest speaker taking part.
Then email liz with your answer. liz(at)icanevents(dot)co(dot) uk You have until Tues at 8pm to get your answer in.
We hope to see you there.
Every once in a while we come across individuals who stand out for doing something incredibly amazing. A few days ago I met one of these people. Natalia attended my recent speaker boot-camp as she has now decided that she wants the world to know her for something other than what she had been known for in the past.
In 1997 her schizophrenic father Bruno murdered her mother Elva when Natalia was just 17 years old. One can’t imagine how painful that must be and how confusing and complicated it would be for a young girl. Remarkably Natalia eventually found the courage to forgive her father before he passed away. She wrote about her journey in her incredibly inspiring book ‘Unconditional Love’ in 2008, which I have read twice now and highly recommend it.
In memory of her mother she decided that she would do something incredible. She decided to save the life of a complete stranger by donating one of her kidneys. I don’t know about you but I find this absolutely amazing. She was nominated for and won her self a Pride of Britain award recently and you can see her being presented with it here.
My English Teacher Changed My Life.
Mr Hill, my English Teacher had no idea that the seed he planted in 1983 would flower into something that would enable me, someone once terrified of speaking, with little confidence and low self esteem, to be able to speak all around the world to audiences as large as 3000.
Aged 13, attending one of the worst-performing secondary schools in Leeds, I was encouraged, by him to enter the school’s public speaking competition, after giving a 5 minute talk to the class. I ultimately won the competition, giving a talk about pigeons, as my father raced them at the time. Mr. Hill was able to see beyond the second hand clothes, the scruffy DIY hair-cut from my step-mother, and everything he may have heard in the staff room about my history. As far as the staffroom was concerned, my story began when I was 5 years old. After a night out drinking with her brothers, my mother was brutally murdered by the serial killer Peter Sutcliffe: “The Yorkshire Ripper”. What Mr. Hill was unaware of, was that life had always been tough, and the story really started long before that fateful night. Until then, I lived on the Scott Hall Council estate with mum, dad, and my three sisters, under the watchful eye of the Social Services who placed my three sisters and I on the ‘At Risk’ Register. They had good reason, and the file that I now have at home is testament to that.
Dad left when I was aged 4, and his replacement was even worse than dad, who had a tendency to resort to alcohol and violence, back then. Mum’s new boyfriend came with even more problems, especially for my sister Sonia, who was abused by him at the age of 6. We were both given drugs by him on one occasion, which was a terrifying night where we both hallucinated. He was eventually sent to prison for beating my mother up, so the Summer of 1975 was one filled with happy memories: visiting the funfair, which visited the field at the back of the house where we lived; playing on the street with all the other children on the estate; all without the fear of mum’s boyfriend, or dad, for that matter.
Any semblance of a normal life evaporated on the 30th Oct 1975 when mum went out for a night on the town, drinking with her brothers. The babysitter left around 10 pm as she had school in the morning, and we were kept awake by our youngest sister, Angela, crying through the night. With no sign of mum, Sonia, the eldest, did her best to reassure and settle her. Finally, we all got some sleep.
At 5.30am my sister shook me awake to tell me that mum still hadn’t returned home and that we should go out to look for her. With our coats on over our pajamas, we left the house and wandered the streets looking for our mum. After a walk down the path on the field at the back of the house we arrived at the bus stop and waited for her to arrive, sure she would be on the next bus.
She never did return home, and before long the police arrived and took the four of us away from our home, never to return again. We arrived at the local children’s home, where we remained until early the following year. The only thing we were told was that our mum had been taken to heaven and that we were not going to see her again. We later discovered that mum had been murdered that night by the serial killer Peter Sutcliffe, and that she was the first of 13 women who would lose their lives at his hands.
It was a night that will be forever etched in my memory.
After mum’s funeral, which we didn’t attend, we set up home with our estranged father and his new girlfriend, and the next chapter of our lives begun.
I believe what happened to mum that night helped shape the mindset that I now have. The situation was so bleak and difficult to cope with that I found a way of telling myself that this had happened to give me a better life: a life away from the pressures of living on that estate; of having nothing. I also told myself that mum was no longer suffering.
It’s as though a survival system kicked in to find a way of making the situation easier for me to cope with, and this positive mental approach to challenges is the result. The ability for each of us to focus on the positive in any situation is one of my key messages in the presentations that I now give. It began for me almost 40 years ago, and has been with me ever since.
As the new chapter in my life started as my sisters and I moved in with our father, I was optimistic than things would turn out OK. However, life didn’t turn out to be as great as I had hoped. My father continued with his drinking, and some of the things he did were extremely cruel. The worst thing that I believe he did was to drown the pet dog in the bath because it annoyed him, but he didn’t stop there. Every one of us experienced violence from him at some time or another. My step-mother probably came off worse as he beat her one night so badly that he broke her rib and she was forced to flee the house, on her hands and knees, in the early hours of the morning. Despite the things I say about him, he did have his good side too. He was quite a funny guy, and, when he hadn’t been drinking, his heart was in the right place.
I grew up, not only in fear of my father, but also in fear of the, now-notorious, Yorkshire Ripper. The 5th person to die was a 16 year old girl called Jane MacDonald, who lived just 7 houses away from where we lived with mum. When he killed Jane, who I was told baby-sat for us, although I couldn’t remember, myself, I began to believe he was going to kill me, too. I went off the rails and began shoplifting, I broke into my primary school, and I became an incredibly angry young child. I ran away from home after arguments with my father, and on one occasion slept in a portaloo, which I came across on a local building site.
As mum’s killer continued his murderous campaign it became an enormous media story, which meant I was continually being asked about mum, and back then it was something I felt ashamed about, especially when they asked if she had been a prostitute. It meant that I viewed everyone else as being better than me; I had little in the way of confidence, and my self-esteem was extremely low. Mum’s killer was finally arrested in 1981 and finally the people of Yorkshire could breathe a collective sigh of relief.
Two years later, in my first year of High School, my English teacher took me to one side and had those softly spoken words of encouragement with me. I remember feeling quite proud that he had selected me out of the whole class to encourage to take part. I decided on my talk and over the next two weeks practiced it every night so I knew the talk inside out. I was determined to make Mr. Hill proud, as well as my father.
On the day of the competition, Mr. Hill took me to one side, again, before we all entered the hall, and asked me how I thought pigeons found their way home. I was pleased that Mr. Hill was interested in my topic and I explained how I thought they did it. During my talk, which I did without notes, unlike my competitors, I brought out a pigeon which I had taken with me in a basket and had hidden in the wings. It was a great performance, and I was shaking whilst I spoke, but I got through my talk. Once I finished it was time for a question from Mr. Hill: “Richard, thanks for an illuminating talk. Can I ask you how you think pigeons find their way home?”
I could have run down off the stage and hugged him. He had primed me in the corridor for this question which allowed me to answer it confidentially. I don’t know whether Mr. Hill asked all those taking part their question before they entered the hall, but one thing I do know about Mr. Hill, is that he wanted me to do my best. He was able to see something in me that I couldn’t see for myself. I would never have dreamed of getting on that stage. I received a fantastic round of applause as I walked back to my seat. The next day in assembly was when we discovered who won. I had to fight back the tears when it was announced that it was me. I, with my background, had achieved something worthwhile, at last.
What I didn’t realize back then, and I’m sure Mr. Hill had no notion of, either, is just what he did for me that day. As I often say when speaking at events for those in the teaching profession, for them, they may never see the fruits of their labour, but one thing is for sure: they are planting seeds; they are helping shape the future lives of those they teach; and in some cases, they might just be the one who changes the whole direction of a young person who they come into contact with. I’m sure that many of those in the profession can trace back their desire to teach to a teacher who connected with them, who was able to engage them, and was able to inspire them to make a difference in the lives of others. I have spoken now in over 400 schools, both to students and staff, and one thing I am aware of is that there is always space for a few more Mr. Hill’s in the world.
For the next few years at school I became a slightly more confident teenager, but with continuing problems at home I left school and home at the age of 16. I did not return to school for my exams, and moved in with sister, Sonia, who by now had a flat of her own. I had a couple of low-level jobs initially, simply to bring some money in. My first job was working in a trouser factory, ironing. After that I was a kitchen porter in a hotel in the city center. I decided, then, to join the Army, and signed up for 9 years to make a life for myself.
I didn’t tell them about how mum died and said she died in a tragic car accident, which they believed. After my basic training I was posted out to Germany where my regiment was based, and, to begin with, life looked rosy. However, later that year a magazine was published about The Yorkshire Ripper; my secret was out. People were asking me about mum again, and it felt similar to how I felt when I was younger – I was vulnerable, lacking confidence, and feeling lost. This culminated in me going on a drunken rampage around a village in Germany. When everything came out about my past I was placed on a psychiatric ward for a number of months, firstly in Germany, and then back in Woolwich where I had carried out my basic training. I was discharged from the army on medical grounds. I then came back to Leeds, moved back in with Sonia, and got myself a job in a warehouse, stacking boxes.
Here I met another Mr. Hill although this one was called Stuart Hardy and he was the Warehouse Manager. He also decided one day to take me to one side. This time it was to tell me that they were about to move stock control from clip boards to a computer system; he had been keeping an eye on me and wanted me to be in charge of this. I was absolutely thrilled! Once again, he was able to see something in me that I hadn’t been able to see for myself.
I grabbed the opportunity with both hands and contacted someone I found in the Yellow Pages who wrote a basic stock control system for the company. Having this responsibility did something to me. I wanted to prove Stuart was right to choose me over others who had been there longer. The new role came with a pay increase, and over the next couple of years I was earning enough to save for a deposit on a house which I bought in 1994. I remember feeling the proudest person on the planet at this achievement. Until them I had always imagined people that owned their own homes were from a world I would never be part of.
My joy was short-lived. Others in the warehouse were in the habit of going out and taking drugs and, foolishly, I went along with them. What I could never have imagined was that eventually I would lose my job, two friends would die, and finally I would be arrested and sent to prison on a drug dealing charge. It was one of the lowest points in my life, and the way I got through this difficult time was to tell myself that it was supposed to happen for me to be given an opportunity to turn my life around.
And that’s what I did.
I stayed out of trouble, got my head down, and got through my prison sentence. One of the weirdest things was knowing that this was the same prison that mum’s killer was sent to, when he was first arrested. I walked out of prison, eventually, and got myself a job, once again working in a warehouse. This enabled me to keep my house, which I was so thankful for as it looked like no one was going to give me a second chance. Within a month of working in the warehouse the Production Manager asked me to come in to his office which worried me slightly as I needed to keep this job to pay off my arrears.
It turned out that Adrian was another Mr. Hill character. The company was growing rapidly and he needed someone to work alongside him in the Production Office and he wanted me to fill the role, over all the others who worked in the warehouse. I will never forget the way I ran from work up to Sonia’s to tell her what had happened. One thing I have always tried to do, no matter what I put my mind to, is be the best that I can be, and it’s another one of my simple but key lessons in life, which have served me well on my journey.
The company continued to grow, and me with it. Within 3 years I had my own small department and the increase in salary meant that I was able to pay off my mortgage arrears early. I changed my circle of friends by taking up salsa, and received some counseling for my insecurities. Then, just when life was going well, my sister Sonia was arrested for stabbing her boyfriend, albeit in self-defense. I decided that I simply had to do something drastic to help her, although what I did was, perhaps, a little naïve: I wrote a book to tell the world what we had all been through. I thought that somehow this might stop Sonia going to prison.
My English was poor so I got someone to help with it. I had no idea that the book would sell over 400,000 copies and be published in many languages. It was a No1 Bestselling book, and in some ways liberated me from the feelings of shame that I had about my past. I no longer had to look over my shoulder and worry about what people did or didn’t know about me.
After appearing on TV and radio during the publicity for the book, I was asked by a local authority if I would come and speak at a conference that they were hosting for those that work with them to reach families. I was terrified but I knew that if I did it, it may help with my lack of confidence.
Back then I was still a nervous wreck when meeting people, let along speaking to a crowd. I did hear that one publisher turned me down after meeting me, because they thought I would not be very good on TV speaking about the book. I spoke with a psychologist around this time and was told that I should accept that ‘I was as good as I was going to get’, and that I may never overcome my fear of public speaking. I guess he wasn’t a Mr. Hill character and I decided to put his well-intended comments to one side, and accepted the invitation to speak.
Although I did a terrible job at my first attempt, I’m grateful that I persevered and got some help with my speaking as I have now become one of the busiest speakers in the UK. I have spoken almost 1500 times since that first presentation in 2005, as far and wide as South Africa, Switzerland, Malaysia, and I will be speaking in both Germany and Canada later in the year. I am now a Fellow of the Professional Speaking Association and last year was President in the Yorkshire Region. I have also coached two Premiership Footballers with their presentation skills, and regularly host speaker bootcamps around the UK and within organisations.
I may have left school with no qualifications but I left with something else. Mr. Hill was an incredible teacher; able to see what many others couldn’t; able to connect with me; able to inspire me to raise my game, and to do something I could never imagine myself doing. What will never be known is how far reaching his actions will be, or for how long the impact of those actions will be felt.
To every teacher on the planet I say this: Never underestimate the potential that lies within each and every young person you come into contact with, and, possibly more importantly, never underestimate the difference that your words of encouragement may have in their lives.