Monday, 16 October 2017


Dreams are funny things, sometimes so funny that I wake in the middle of the night laughing. I rarely have nightmares. My dreams instead fall somewhere between Lewis Carrol and Tom Stoppard

Last night I was asked to help a Roman Catholic Cardinal make a speech about a project that had gone wrong because the people in charge had ignored their brief and struck out on their own. This prelate was surrounded by advisors who were unable to help. I scribbled this down on a piece of paper as a starter: “It was disobedience that did it. Well disobedience is and was at the start of everything wasn’t it?”

The Cardinal smiled and nodded.

It’s the word “disobedience” that reminds me of the blind John Milton waking every morning and dictating the next stanzas of his epic poem “Paradise Lost” which contained over 10,000 lines of verse. He claimed the poem came to him in his dreams. Its first lines are:

“Of man’s first disobedience and the fruit 
  of that forbidden tree, whose mortal taste
  brought death into the world and all our woe”....

Some poem – some dream – some magic.

Sometime in the mists of last week I read an article about why presenting matters more than maths. Certainly in business no one is a catastrophic washout any more. Virtually everyone can get by. But getting by is being able to drive just going forwards and turning left. To survive in a competitive world you have to do three point turns, emergency stops and react to changing circumstances.

Our current and now ageing presentation tools like autocue and PowerPoint are like crutches to stop us falling over. But we can do better than that. We have to be a bit of a magician.  Maya Angelou said:

“I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel”

Presenting an argument is like acting – getting people to suspend their disbelief – creating memorable thoughts in their heads not firing bullet points at them.

Theresa May should have surfed her misfortune – easy to say - by binning her speech and saying after a dramatic pause – “get me a bloody glass of whisky and then we’ll carry on”. Don’t carry on driving with a flat tyre which is what she did. She didn’t make the most of this little disaster; she got sympathy but not admiration. But what she inadvertently achieved was Maya Angelou’s last and most difficult learning - making people feel.

I’m reading Robert Caro’s Pulitzer Prize winning biography of Lyndon Johnson and the Senate in which he describes some of the historic speeches in defence of retaining the Union in America and, initially, averting Civil War. Great Speakers like Henry Clay and Daniel Webster, people unafraid walking and talking and of making a passionate presentation; orators who persuaded, cajoled and seduced people into changing their minds.

Maths and mere facts pale next to such magic.

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