Write your own introduction

As well as speaking for a living, I often act as the MC or compere at an event.

It’s not rocket science. I  tell people where the fire exits and toilets are located and glare at them until they switch their mobile phones to silent.

Then I pop up in between speakers, make a few light hearted comments, based on what they’ve said.  I always challenge myself to think up new comments for each event, based on what the previous speaker has said.

That way,  people think, ‘what he says isn’t brilliant, but at least he’s made it up today, and it’s specially for us, so we’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and they clap and maybe even pretend to laugh.’

At least I think that’s what they’re doing.  It’s so hard to focus when they start throwing things.

There was an episode of Friends, where Ross made a list of five celebrities who Rachel would allow him to sleep with. It was  like a Get out of Jail Free card allowing him to crack off with someone famous, without risking his relationship.  Off the top of my head I remember that Uma Thurman and Winona Ryder were on the list, along with Elizabeth Hurley and an ice skater. Possibly Michelle Pfeiffer as well, but that might have been on Chandler’s list. Anyway that’s not important. What is important is that he’d laminated the list.

By covering the list of his five chosen women, he’d set them in stone. He could carry that list around in his pocket without it getting creased. It meant he could have that list ready at all times, just in case Winona or Liz were down the laundrette. He could produce it triumphantly and claim his reward. Maybe after hearing his chat up lines about dinosaurs and robotic dancing, they would decide to forgo the chance of a bit on the side with a fossil hunter, in favour of a return to Beverley Hills, but at least he had the card with him.

And so we come to the point of my story.  You’ll be glad to hear that there is one, and you haven’t read this far for nothing.

When I speak at an event, I hand the host a laminated cue sheet. On it I have typed my introduction. This is how I would like to be introduced. It does not vary. It is always the same. I know if off by heart. I can make sure that the MC  gives me just the right build up.

My laminated introduction takes away the wildcard element.  Occasionally I’ll be introduced as Jeremy Nichols or Nicholson, but at least the bulk of what I want them to say will be correct. You can’t cater for hosts who are stupid, sloppy or have forgotten their reading glasses.  But at least you’ve given yourself a fighting chance of getting off to a flying start. I think of my laminated introduction as a golf tee.  I may end up playing in the rough at various points during the next hour, but at least I know my opening shot will be off a raised tee, giving me every chance of hitting it straight down the middle.

But how many of my speaking colleagues have a printed introduction which they hand to the compere at an event? In my experience it’s less than half, which I think is a disgrace.  OK you don’t have to have it laminated, that’s just me . I get nervous before speaking and often spill things!

As the host of events, I’ve lost track of the number of speakers who say they are happy to be introduced however I see fit.  Worse still they hand me their biography and want me to pick something out of that! I give them a chance to get off to a flying start and they don’t take advantage.

Here are a few comments from speakers  who I’ve asked how they want to be introduced to the stage:

*Just say I’m a Marmite speaker, you either love him or hate him.  (really? I hate you already)

*Just say he’s written a couple of books and he speaks all over the world.   (no kidding, you’ve written some books, whoopee do)

*Just say he’s a professional speaker who is well known in business circles. (you’re well known? Maybe I don’t need to say anything?)

One speaker at a recent event,  who had no printed introduction, handed me a few handwritten lines, scribbled onto the back of a flyer. There were a couple of very good points, which made me think his talk would be brilliant. Unfortunately, he mentioned those very same points in the first minute of his talk.  The audience must have thought, yes we know that mate, the compere just said that.

I hope he didn’t see me roll my eyeballs into the back of my head. But I think he did.

Avoid the hazards and the rough with your opening shot. Write your introduction out on a sheet of A4. And if you really want to make my day, stick it in the laminator.

There’s a lovely laminator here.

Jem  – pulling out what’s left of his hair- 26th February 2010    London, England

Get back on the stage

You’re brilliant. You should be on the stage. And there’s another one leaving in fifteen minutes.

This is an old joke from the days of the Wild West, as told by members of the National Speakers Association of Dodge City.

Of course, stage coaches are long since gone. They would have been gone a lot quicker if their wheels hadn’t gone backwards in the old films. Something to do with motion capture and frames per second.

But the point remains. If you are good, you should be on the stage. If you speak for a living, get on that stage. If you have to speak at events because of your expertise, get on that stage. If you are invited to a venue, to speak to an audience and there is a stage at the front of that audience…..stand on it. Do not get off it. No matter how much the room starts spinning, plant your feet firmly and command that stage.

If you get off that stage and start walking about in the audience, you have stopped being a speaker and you have become a trainer.  Not that there’s anything wrong with trainers. I own several pairs. They are very comfortable and supportive and make me feel like running.

Of course when times are hard, like most speakers, I do my fair share of training. But I keep it quiet. The training page of my website has a WordPress widget which is an animated librarian who makes a Shush noise.

No of course it doesn’t, but here comes the point of this article. (It’s a bit like the L’Oreal advert where you have to sit through a lot of hair flicking, before you come to the science bit.)

I compere events, where there are many speakers across the day. I watch in horror as speaker after speaker, leaves the stage to wander among the audience. They’ve probably been to some session on presentation skills, where they are told it makes them appear more human, if they connect with the audience. Let me tell you, this is nonsense.  If you are on the stage people can see you better because you are in the light and you are raised up. They can hear you better because that’s where the microphone works best, without feeding back on the speakers.  Besides who wants to be human? No-one pays to hear a mere human speak, they want a guru.

The other week I was at an event, where six  out of eight speakers left the stage during their talk.  It meant the people in the front were having to crane their necks round to see them. The camera operators were struggling to find them in the dark. The shorter speakers might as well have been in a hole, for all we could see of them. (Yes I admit it, I’m only5’8″, that’s why I like the stage.)

You don’t have to stay on the podium or behind the lectern. It’s OK to move about, whatever Toastmasters tell you. But it’s not OK to get off the stage. It just isn’t. Not unless you are luminous, tall and have a very loud voice.

God invented stages so we could stand on them.   OK maybe it wasn’t actually God, but Jesus was a carpenter and he probably built a few stages for the Nazareth Speakers Association in his time.  When he was talking to his followers he probably couldn’t afford a stage, so he would stand on a hill. We’ve all heard of the Sermon on the Mount. Well we wouldn’t have heard of it, if it had been the Sermon in the Hollow, because no-one would have been able to see or hear Jesus.

So the next time you are onstage talking to an audience and you are tempted to go amongst the people, please don’t. It’s not big and it’s not clever.

I would have given individual feedback to all the so called speakers, who wandered off the stage in search of the common touch, but they wouldn’t have thanked me for it. I’m not Simon Cowell.  Besides, they all had more than enough feedback on the day, because they wandered too close to the loudspeakers!

Jeremy Nicholas  – 19th May 2010 – David Lloyd, Hampton, Middlesex, UK

(If all the world’s a stage, where are the audience going to sit?)

Speaking in South Africa

I’ve just arrived in Cape Town after a brilliant three days at the Professional Speakers Association of Southern Africa (PSASA) in Johannesburg.

I was the only European speaking on  the main stage at the event at Emperors Palace.

It was a brilliant convention and I met some lovely and inspiring fellow speakers.  I’ll post some pictures and audio clips  in my speaking tips blog over the next few days, so pop back later in the week to have a look.

But at the moment, I’m shattered and I want to spend some quality time with my wife, drinking wine and listening to the ocean.

Jem       Peninsula Hotel, Sea Point, Cape Town      2nd May 2010

Sound decision


I’ve just missed out on a speaking job for a bizarre reason.

It was to compere the end of season dinner for a well known English football club.
(Not West Ham, but not one of our rivals, so stop looking at me like that, it was a paid gig!)

They contacted me. I gave them a quote and they gave the job to someone else.

I never mind missing out because someone has undercut me on price. But that wasn’t the reason.

It turns out the chap who got the gig, has his own sound system. He turns up with microphone, amplifier and speakers.

It’s always disappointing not to get a job, but I’ve no plans to become a roadie just yet. I used to be the face of football on Channel 5 you know, till my hair fell out. So I won’t be buying a transit van just yet.

Now where’s that box set of Saxondale?

Picture courtesy of Dianna Bonner

The man with his head on upside down

It’s been raining a lot lately, so it must be time for the cricket season to get underway.  In fact it’s the earliest ever start to a county championship season.

I filmed at Derbyshire this week. The county have performed a huge about turn. After years of playing with the sun in their eyes, someone had the bright idea of rotating the pitch ninety degrees.  So now at the end of the day, when the sun is setting low in the western sky, it doesn’t matter, because they’re playing north/south.

Why on earth didn’t someone think of that earlier. Well to be fair, it’s only a problem late in the day.  In the old days they would have stopped before the sun was dazzling the batsmen.  Since the innovation of day night games, which start in the afternoon and finish under floodlights, there’s been problems. 

Cameraman Neil films as they move the floodlights

I met former Derbyshire president, TV presenter Nick Owen at the ground. I was surprised. I knew he was chairman of Luton Town, but I didn’t know of the link with Derbyshire. He told me he’d been a fan all his life, and his mum used to be the scorer at Buxton cricket club.  He’s definitely not a glory hunter, Derbyshire haven’t won anything in seventeen years, and can boast only four honours in their history.

Nick told me it had been embarrassing when ‘sun stopped play’ during live games on Sky. So he was delighted the pitch had been moved round.

Not sure what Neil is doing here, but he’s keen, so I let him get on with it.

At Trent Bridge I met the man with the most distinctive beard in test cricket. Hashim Amla is a South African batsmen who’s come to play for Nottinghamshire. You’ll recognise him as the man who looks like he has his head on upside down. He sports a magnificent WG Grace beard, but with a shaven head.

Me and WG

He gave me a cracking interview for TV. His beard is part of his strong muslim faith, which also means he refuses to wear alcohol sponsorship logos on his kit. Up till now, his wishes have been observed, and it won’t be a problem at Notts who don’t have any beers splashed across their shirts. Well not till after the game anyway.

With Hashim’s beard and Ryan Sidebottom’s trademark curly locks, it looks like being a hairy season for Nottinghamshire.

Jem  – Nottingham  9th April 2010

Ski cross

My mate Dave is a big Hull City fan.  Last season he was at the Boleyn for the match which marked my return as the announcer. It was a brilliant night, I walked around shaking hands with everyone and was so happy to be  back. Especially when we won under lights to restart our season.  I think the Hull fans were a bit surprised when the West Ham announcer wandered into their end to chat to one of their own.

Yesterday, while we were beating Hull again in a vital game, Dave was nowhere to be seen. He’s so worried about Hull being relegated, he’s taken drastic action. He’s upped and moved to Canada for a year with his wife Nicola.  They set off a month ago with no jobs to go to, but lots of ideas. Amazingly Dave landed himself a job at the Winter Olympics opening ceremony. From the picture on Facebook he appears to be a snow sweeper.

I haven’t thought much of the winter olympics so far. Last time we swept up in the curling. We’ve always been good at the housework related events.

But then came a win for Amy Williams from Bristol in the skeleton.  I’m a big fan of BBC drama Being Human, so I know most Bristol young folk are either vampires, werewolves or ghosts. I didn’t know there were skeletons there too. I really must visit my nephew Chris who’s at university there, to make sure he’s not in any danger.

And today it’s been the best so far at the games. What a brilliant event Ski Cross is. Four people on skis racing over a BMX style course with two going through to the next round. It reminds me of speedway a bit. Apart from it being on snow and downhill and without the motorbikes.

The ski suits they wear look like they’ve come from Fat Willys. They are the surfers of the ski world. I’m sure I heard the commentator say one skier was disqualified because his trousers were too tight. He could tuck them into his boots.  I’m not sure why that would mean disqualification. Unless Graham Poll is a ski cross referee.

Jem – London-  21 Feb 2010

Blue Peter

When I was a kid, Blue Peter was a top programme full of educational features.

This week I have seen Dick and Dom making pancakes on Blue Peter, plus a song by the young pop combo who are so poor they have to share the single name of Jedward.

I should point out that I only watched out of the corner of my eye and with the sound turned down, because I was in an edit suite at the time, putting together a cutting edge TV feature.  However, most angry letters to the Daily Mail  begin with the phrase, ‘I didn’t see it myself, but I was outraged to learn……’  (I don’t read the Mail myself, as it outrages me, but I’m led to be believe in the existence of such letters.)

What is going on in the world? Blue Peter used to be educational.  If you wanted to muck about you turned over and watched Magpie.  That was what commercial television was for.

Are really going to produce the leaders from tomorrow by teaching them how to make batter based snack products?  It was hard to tell the ingredients with the sound turned down, but these looked a bit like French pancakes to me. They were certainly a bit crepe.

When Jesus went into the wilderness for forty days and forty nights, he knew he needed to carb up, like marathon runners do with a pasta meal the night before a race.  That’s what pancake day is all about.  Shrove Tuesday, Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday, call it what you want, it’s all about stocking up for the long haul ahead. It’s about getting ready to make a few sacrifices in your life, like giving up chocolates for Lent or going camping in the wilderness.

It’s not about dicking about in da bungalow and seeing how much mess you can make by battering each other. It’s certainly not about putting a Jedward wig on a Blue Peter dog while the tuneless, high-haired, halfwits leap about scaring the rest of the animals.

I remember the days when Janet Ellis was sacked from Blue Peter because she set a bad example to youngsters by giving birth to a young pop star, Sophie Ellis Bextor.  Presenters have always had to be whiter than white. Richard Bacon was sacked for having a diet coke, I seem to half remember.

I’ve still got my Blue Peter badge from the day I made a film for the programme. I got into the last three to become a presenter, having made it through the rigorous and notorious trampoline audition.  But did I get the job?  No they gave it to Anthea Turner, who after a good start spoiled everything by selling her wedding for the price of a bar of chocolate.

So that’s what this is all about. It’s not about wigs on dogs or messy cooks, it’s about not getting a job back in the early nineties, when I still had hair.  Well I never realised that’s what was going on in my subconscious.  This blog may well be turning out to be a bit dull for you the reader, but I tell you what, it’s saving me a fortune in trips to my analyst.

(I should point out in case my Mum reads this, that I don’t have an analyst and this is poetic licence. Even if it doesn’t rhyme.)

Jem    19th Feb 2010   On the couch

All of my funniest ‘And Finally’ TV reports all in one place for your Friday amusement- Jem
(includes Stilton Elvis, Shark House, Rabbit Hotel and Little Britain)

Union Jack

I’m greatly enjoying Chris Evans on breakfast on Radio 2. He’s quickly established the programme as a feelgood way to start the day that appeals to the whole family. Much as I loved Terry Wogan, he’d handed his show over to his contributors, and it had begun to show.

One feature I particularly enjoy is the Wrong Bongs. To the sounds of the Bongs of Big Ben, Sally Traffic runs through the mistakes they made on the previous programme, as spotted by the listeners. It’s a brilliant way to encourage interactivity. There’s nothing the British public like more than correcting mistakes.

On this morning’s show there was a correction. The Union Flag had incorrectly been referred to as the Union Jack by the sports Johnny. As anyone who’s worked at the BBC for any time knows, it’s a real bugbear with navy types. It’s only a Union Jack when it’s flying off the back of a boat, otherwise it should correctly be referred to as the Union Flag.

However, I think that is a load of nonsense. If enough people call it a Union Jack, then that is what it is. If you asked people to draw a Union Jack, they would draw a Union Flag. Everyone knows what you mean when you say Union Jack, and if you don’t I’ve carefully posted one at the top of this page.

English is an evolving language. Words change and we need to change with them. It’s not latin, it’s not a dead language, it’s a vibrant ever changing language. Mother Tongue is an excellent book by Bill Bryson which shows how British English and American English evolved in different directions. But it’s all English innit?

And that’s why I have no truck when people try and tell me stadia is the plural of stadium. I speak English not latin, so for me the plural is stadiums. Either form is acceptable, but try telling that to the Old Skool buffers who complain. They probably don’t spell skool like that either!

I once interviewed English football hero Jack Charlton who’d been manager of the Irish national team for a while. When he arrived in Dublin he was greeted with banners saying, ‘Go Home Union Jack.’ He should have told them he had never been tied to a flagpole on a boat in his life. But perhaps he had. I have no details about his private life. Although he did tell me he fell asleep in front of the Pope during a Vatican visit, which didn’t go down very well in Catholic Ireland.

Now how did I get onto football? This was meant to be a blog about radio and my old mate Chris Evans. Did I mention he used to be my regular squash partner? But that’s a story for another day.

Bong! It’s not Sally Traffic it’s Lynn Bowles. Bong! That’s probably not how you spell Lynne. Bong! etc, you get the idea.

Jem – Monday Feb 15th 2010 – Nottingham

My interview with Paul Smith

Here’s my interview with fashion designer Paul Smith.
Paul fell into fashion by accident, when he was knocked off his bicycle.
During his long recovery he befriended some fashion students, fell in love with their teacher and with fashion itself.
He’s never looked back. I love his shoes and always wear them to give me added confidence when I speak at big events. (Luckily he’s the same size as me!)

Too mean to pay to hear me talk? Here’s some free speech.

One of my most popular talks is ‘Putting the U in Humour’. It’s aimed at business people who want to get their message across more effectively by keeping their audience entertained.

Its a 30 minute keynote or a 60 minute interactive workshop.

The main message is to forget telling old jokes and concentrate on using amusing stories from your own real life.

It also deals with the way humor varies around the world, even the spelling!
Plus what is acceptable to different audiences, how to write funny stuff and why you should avoid being a clown. (Unless you already have a big red nose and a car that keeps falling to bits!)

Click below to watch it, and contact me if you’d like me to deliver the talk to your organisation.

Jem – Jan 2010