Don’t impress me, inspire me

We went to a symposium this summer. It was fantastic. The speakers were all amazing people who had produced ground breaking work. And to get where they were, they’d all broken rules and ignored boundaries. They’d all asked ‘What do you mean, I can’t do that?’ and found a way to do it.

We had speakers who’d left school at 16, Cambridge graduates, an artist who wants to become an astronaut and probably will. There was a song composed on stage and short films that made a whole room full of the coolest of hipsters gasp in astonishment.

There was only one speaker whose talk wasn’t all that engaging. Her work was impressive, but her presentation style… imagine Nigella Lawson auditioning for a TED talk. It appeared to be very well rehearsed, with carefully timed pauses, strolls around the stage and glances up to the auditorium. A lot of sincerity; no laughs though. The others all seemed to get genuine delight from their work. Perhaps she was a little smug; the others were self deprecating, and pointed out the problems and struggles they’d had to make their projects happen.

No one wants to hear how everything went perfectly

The best speakers that day told us about the way visitors, readers, audiences, viewers and colleagues had reacted to their work. This one talked about herself all the time, explained her philosophy, and showed us the finished articles so we could be really impressed. She showed us how great she was, and why she was on the stage and why we were only in the audience.

The talks that included the process, the pitfalls and the people involved, they were the ones who inspired us. They made us think we could do great stuff too, that maybe next year we could be up on the stage talking about our own projects. We liked them, whether they were bouncy and fast or shy, slow and quiet. The great speakers showed their human side and it brought us closer.

So we were thinking that next time we write a speech, we’ll forget about trying to appear impressively superhuman, because human will do nicely.


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