Networkers Networking Event. Brands Hatch Place

Thursday July 6th, I stood in front of about 30 business owners with the intention, dare I say, “hope” of engaging them in a group session which basically involved bashing plastic tubes together and then linking this apparent children’s activity into a serious business message! This could go one of two ways……….

I have been using these coloured plastic tubes of various lengths for a while now. Officially called BoomWhackers™, each length represents and produces a different musical note when struck together. With trained up teams, one can achieve fantastic results in the same way as hand-held bell ringers. (Only somewhat cheaper than a stock of a thousand bells and they won’t eat into your eardrums like a continuous stream of fire crackers!)

The tubes and I have been together for about two years. We have worked in schools, colleges, at charity events and even a business networking breakfast 60 second presentation, but never as an opener to a 30 minute presentation about business networking at a seminar.

Ok… I had a plan; who wouldn’t? During lunch I would place a pair of BoomWhackers on each chair, in a way that would produce blocks of sound in the room. “Easy” Just 40 chairs, six colours, makes six chairs of each colour with four pairs left over to boost the tiny red ‘C’ tubes. In schools I call these small tubes Little Red Riding Hoods! Don’t tell Disney, they’ll want money!!

It was a steaming hot day and the air conditioning had taken flight to a cooler climate and left the room roasting. During the excellent buffet lunch put on by the Brands Hatch Place Hotel, under the watchful eyes of meticulous event organiser Amanda Flanders from Butterfly Business Events, everyone dashed outside like the abandon ship alarm had sounded. Most taking their chairs with them instead of life jackets. This left me with a) the desired empty room to set up but b) hardly anything to set up on!! Minor panic set in!
I am writing a book on public speaking and presenting, it includes a chapter on being prepared. I need to add an addendum for “what to do if someone nicks all the chairs”

Somehow I kept calm and set out what I could. Doubling up, tripling up and sometimes even quadrupling up on some chairs to allow for gaps. As my audience filtered back with their chairs and sunburnt noses, I found myself swapping tubes, taking tubes and rearranging. Done. Result. Ready. Relax!

The ever lovely Amanda gave a pleasant but scary “build him up” introduction and I started pacing about like my cat had gone in for a general anaesthetic. Being on stage is not a problem. A professional drummer since 1985 I’ve played some great gigs with a variety of acts. Behind a drum kit or percussion rig in theatres up and down the country and abroad. Whether at Rochester Castle Concerts, Wembley Arena or the opening ceremony of the 2012 London Olympics – no problem. One, I can play a bit, two, I’m never alone and three I’m usually sat or standing behind a pile of plumbing and round stuff making a sizeable barrier between me and onlookers! This time though, just me. No microphone. No drums, no percussion rig, not even a row of three bottles of ambient still water (with the labels facing front) put out by my tour manager! No! Just me and two green plastic tubes.

I walked out to the presentation area, pushing start on my sneakily hidden timer and popping the blackout cap on the projector. There really is nothing worse than having the intro slide splattered across ones face while standing central and not using PowerPoint! (WHAT?? No PowerPoint? Yes it can be done!)
First I needed to get a BoomWhacker rumble going…tick. Then, get a room of adults to bash two tubes together FOUR times. Not so easy! Luckily the delegate who managed to srike seven times wasn’t an accountant! Soon we had six rhythms kicking off, all in time and sounding fantastic. Keep this up for about ten seconds and stop!

Getting the audience to build up a seemingly complex arrangement of rhythms is akin to building a decent business network by adding a small piece at a time. If I had shown a slide with six musical staves, with each tube colour’s rhythm on it, shouted “GO!” then walked away, I can more or less guarantee nothing would have happened apart from the blank look I give when I go into a coffee shop ask for a black coffee and I’m asked if I would like milk!

My thirty minutes was over in a time aware 29 minutes and forty seconds. Warm applause echoed around the room along with a very polite rumble of BoomWhackers.
The comments that I received were really encouraging but I wasn’t prepared for the very generous positive and enthusiastic social media posts. (They were like my late mum had posted them from the “Other Side!”)

This presentation was so important to me. Having had a stammer since I was five and being unable to say “Drum” out loud at my first networking event four years ago, this was a biggie! My first invitation to speak, my first thirty minute slot, my first time with this content and in front of some much respected speakers, three of whom I had to follow! No pressure then.

Networking is about relationships. It’s about getting to know people, making friends, sharing interests. It about the other person. Not you! In my first year I met some lovely people. Some trustworthy some not so, some unbelievably professional and some just out and out bonkers. One was remedial hypnotherapist Tim Box, he ticks a couple of the above boxes and strays into the bonkers category. I had met Tim at BNI Sittingbourne. After a short time (saving some of my story) I asked Tim for assistance with ridding me of my stammer. We arranged a taster session at his very nice Upnor practice. After I had finished barking, running around with my tongue hanging out, fetching balls and chasing cars, he decided that I could be hypnotised. After two short sessions it was done! Simple as that. Through school and adolescence I had received speech therapy and counselling in an attempt to put an end to my stammer along with the mickey taking, bullying and teasing, but to no avail. This was something that I had to endure even into adulthood. Suddenly I had a working voice.

My sixty second presentations at BNI improved. I even started to pick up Best Sixty Seconds Awards and I landed a couple of ten minute features. Who’d have thought it?
Due to family history I have a passionate interest in breast cancer awareness and I started to volunteer for breast cancer charity, Breakthrough Breast Cancer. This meant giving thank you speeches at events, meeting my MP both locally and in parliament about cancer issues and I have also given live radio and TV interviews on the subject. I even got to ask a direct question to the then Prime Minister David Cameron about cancer awareness campaign funding.

I am now doing a similar job for Cancer Research UK too and the CRUK work has expanded with a respected and rewarding ambassadorial role. I am looking forward to presenting for CRUK at the world renowned Francis Crick Institute in London in October. A 400 strong audience of CRUK staff, scientists, stakeholders and others. None of this would have happened without my voice running like four well-oiled cylinders and gaining the confidence via a very useful Andrea Barker course to use it.

For the first time I am starting to feel confident about speaking in public at even larger events, hoping my story of having virtually no voice to becoming a professional speaker will inspire people to try new routes, change mind-sets and expand their personal beliefs.

The small but extremely warm audience that day in July have boosted my confidence to a whole new level and I look forward with anticipation at speaking at many more events.
Thank you Amanda for the speaking slot and as always thank you to my gorgeous wife Sarah for continued, unceasing support.

Thank you Amanda Flanders, Suzi Fish and Andrea Barker for the photos