Sunday, 19 June 2016

Rhyme Time - updated to include video

On Friday I delivered an Ignite talk at the CIPD Northern Area Partnership conference (#cipdnap16) - something I mentioned in my previous blog post. I did something unusual and delivered my Ignite as a poem.

A 10 minute poem on the subject of Amazing Workplaces.

In this blog I'll talk about why, and will try to answer some of the questions I've been asked since. If you're interested in the video recreation of the Ignite talk, skillfully done by Ady Howes, here it is.

As soon as @HR_Gem asked me to do the talk back in mid January I was keen to do it, and immediately thought of doing it in rhyme. I'm not entirely sure why.

Surprisingly writing the poem wasn't that hard. I had four months, and wrote a couple of lines or so each day. I've written poetry before but only for loved ones on Valentine's Day and birthdays and so on. This was my first poem on a professional issue and certainly my first public performance of one.

The hardest thing was trusting my own judgement. I felt it would be well received but I also knew it could go very wrong, and I wanted to check it out with the organisers but thought they'd either laugh at me or talk me out of it. I was conscious that there were some big name speakers and many with a strong academic pedigree, and I didn't think my whimsical poetry would fit with these heavyweights.

So it was hard to trust my instincts on this, and also very hard to keep my own secret. I wanted the element of surprise so didn't tell anyone other than my fiancé what I was doing (and she quickly bored of hearing the poem too). I really wanted to tell a few key people but couldn't risk it.

In the weeks beforehand I cracked a little. Phil Willcox was putting together a OneDirection parody and asked fellow speakers for lyrics. Of course my entire Ignite speech was in rhyme and lent itself very well to song, so I sent him a few and asked if he would keep my secret as a result. He did, and I'm grateful to him for that as well as for the opportunity to appear in the video, something I loved doing.

I'm towards the end. See if you can spot that I filmed it in my pyjamas. All I did was wear a different hat a few times to spice it up. I enjoyed this very much though!

So NAP came along. I was attending the Friday only, and had brought my fiancé and youngest child with me - they had a day in York whilst I was at the conference and gala dinner, and we had Saturday as a family round York. This gave the whole event a different feel but to be honest I loved this conference even without having my family there. It had a real family and very friendly feel and I lost count of the number of people who commented that they got as much value from the networking and catching up with people as they did the workshops.

It was all very well organised and ran exceptionally well.

And then it was my turn.

On stage as we were getting prepared I decided I couldn't keep my own secret any more and told David D'Souza and Tim Scott my plan. They looked mildly amused but a bit nonplussed and I don't think they knew I was for real.

Probably they thought I was mad.

And in fact so did I.

I had prepared two versions of my Ignite, in case I chickened out. The slides were the same but the spoken versions were different. One was the poem obviously but the other was more traditional presentation style, and I'd practiced both. It was only partway through the afternoon when I realised I was on last, the very last thing of the day in fact, that I decided to do the poem version as I figured if people hated it at least I'd not be embarrassed for long.

So off I went.

I'd practiced loads beforehand as I usually do, and knew my timings down to the second almost.

It was amazing to watch people's reactions from the stage as, one by one, they gradually realised that my rhyme wasn't accidental, and went beyond a couple of lines, and that I was really doing the whole thing as a poem.

My phone was in front of me on the lectern as I had the stopwatch active to manage my time, but this was bad as Twitter notifications kept flashing up as people tweeted about what I was doing, and with that and the nearby Tweetbeam on screens it was easy to see that I was having a strong reaction from the audience and VERY tempting to read these to see whether people loved or hated it, but I had to keep going and hope for the best.

Peoples facial expressions were priceless and were the encouragement I needed. These told me I was doing the right thing!

And then it was over and I vaguely remember everyone clapping and have a hazy recollection of answering two questions in the closing Q&A, but I can not remember what the questions were or my answers.

People seemed to like it very much. More than I'd hoped they might.

Talking to people immediately afterwards and then at the gala dinner afterwards people seemed to appreciate the different style of delivery, but more than a few people said that rhyme reminded them of being children and listening to nursery rhymes, with the intonation and musical quality to the words aiding retention and impact.


But as long as people enjoyed it that's the main thing.  I made some people smile, laugh, and some might remember a few things.

I was asked to record it and have, so others can see it.

I've been asked to repeat it at other conferences and may, as long as there's demand for it. And in the future I may do other poetry. But this one was special to me. It drew on a lot of personal experience and was making the point that, in HR, we have the tools to create the best workplace we've ever known, but I'm somewhat ashamed that I didn't use my powers when they were needed most, and stood by whilst others blew down my house of cards. This is a theme I'll return to in a later blog. 

Like all the best songs, there was a lot of me in there.

Am I the HR Poet now instead of the HR Triathlete?  Maybe there's room for both.

I was genuinely taken aback by, and humbled by, the reactions people had and the lovely things they said afterwards.

But back with my family, my fiancé was already bored to tears by it even before NAP and didn't want to listen to me go on about how well it had gone, she wanted her partner back as she'd had to cart our youngest round York all day solo. My youngest child was too young to understand and just wanted to play and cuddle. My older two children weren't bothered in the slightest. It's been Fathers Day and they are only bothered about my ability as a father. I've even seen my own parents today and they didn't mention it (although they did ask if we had a nice time in York). None of my friends or sporting connections had a clue and weren't bothered either. And no one from work is active enough on social media to even know I was speaking let alone that it went well. I suspect no one will mention it to me at work this week.

Am I in the echo chamber of which Simon Heath speaks?

Back to the day job.

So I had a blast. It was a great conference. And I was right to trust my instincts and attempt something different.

To quote a line from the poem, "I've done it before and I'll do it again".

Till next time…


Wednesday, 15 June 2016


On Friday this week I'm attending the CIPD Northern Area Partnership Conference, more usually referred to as #CIPDNAP16.  I'm delivering an Ignite presentation on the theme of "Amazing Workplaces" which the conference is structured around.

It will be my first Ignite presentation although not my first speech of any sort obviously.  I'm really pleased to be contributing to #CIPDNAP16 and have enjoyed putting together my Ignite speech.

Withouth spoiling too much of it, its obviously on the subject of Amazing Workplaces and is a kind of Ignite-Max formula, lasting 10 minutes with slides advancing every 30 seconds.  My brief is to take any angle on this I choose, with only the words "Amazing Workplaces" to go on.

I didn't need to look too far for inspiration on this, as my time at GGHT gave me a tremendous insight into what an amazing workplace is supposed to be - so I'm drawing heavily on my experiences there, and adding to it with some lessons from other workplaces too and some things I'm doing in my current workplace too to make that amazing.

The Ignite format means that I have to pace myself well and means that I have to practice as much as possible to get my speech to sync with the progression of the slides and to finish exactly on time.

This works well for me.  My MBTI type is ISFJ, which for normal presentations and speeches is not necessarily a good combination.  I'm highly introverted which means I usually need to feel exceptionally comfortable before speaking to anyone, and need to do a lot of preparation and invest a lot of energy before opening my mouth.  I'm also highly structured which means that I struggle to deal with unanticipated situations and prefer to work within known environments that I can plan for myself.

And yet I'm alright at public speaking, although people are usually surprised - if their first interaction with me is seeing me on stage, they often can't equate that with the very quiet and shy person they see afterwards. And if people's first interaction with me is with the very quiet and shy person, they don't understand how I can stand up and talk to hundreds of people.

And yet speeches do play into structured introverts hands.  If they can prepare thoroughly, and familiarise themselves totally with their material, and if they can structure it in a way that makes sense to them - they can do it.

This is also why I often struggle in interview situations but excel in the presentations that often accompany them.  The presentation I can prepare for, structure myself and practice until its almost perfect.  I'm in control of that.  But the interview, unless I've been lucky enough to get the questions in advance which one interviewer I know always provides, I can struggle with.  I get asked questions that throw me because I'm not always expecting them, and am expected to give an instant answer.  If I could take five minutes to think about it and THEN give an answer, I'd get every job I was ever interviewed for.

Is five minutes thinking time such a bad thing in an interview?

Maybe.  Maybe not.

But in a presentation, on stage, you get no thinking time.  You have to do your thinking before you get up.

So that's just what I've done.

On Friday, I'm going to do something different at Ignite.  I've had five months to think about this, and I've used the time well.  I've structured, practiced and done all the things an ISFJ is supposed to do.

In hindsight, maybe the organisers of #CIPDNAP16 shouldn't have given me this much time to get ready.  I might have let myself get carried away.

But then, if we're talking about Amazing Workplaces, and if there's an Ignite presentation to be done, maybe it deserves something unusual.  Something different.

Let's see.  It might blow up in my face, and no-one might like it, and I'll just look silly.

Till next time...


PS after this Ignite speech, the next speech I have to write is my wedding speech.  There'll be no slides, no auto-advancement, and only a very small audience, but I'll probably be more nervous delivering that than any other speech I've done!