Ian Hawkins

Speaker, author, conference moderator & coach


Public speaking

Great Women: a personal list #1

To mark 100 years since (some) women were granted the right to vote, I thought I’d celebrate some of the women in my life who’ve made it substantially better. Kicking off: Nadine Dereza.

Continue reading “Great Women: a personal list #1”


This Detail Matters

You learn a lot as you go along in this professional writing business. Most of the time the learning is instinctual, and occasionally you’re asked to codify it for an article or an audience. It’s an uncomfortable process, and then you find that whatever you’ve picked up in the writing school of hard clich├ęs was said years ago by Stephen King.

Here is one thing that I’ve never heard before, and like the irritating click baiter I long to be, I’m going to put it after the jump. Continue reading “This Detail Matters”

Opening Joke

This morning, I was flattered by an approach from someone I like asking for a little coaching on a speech she was due to make the following day. As we were heading towards the same tube, I took the compliment and asked what the issue was. ‘I’m making a speech on young people and housing credit,’ she said, ‘and I’d like to open with a joke… Do you know any good ones on young people and housing credit?’

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Speaker Coaching: what is it?

‘And what do you do, Ian?’
‘I’m a speaker coach.’
‘Really? And what’s that?’

As you will know, reader, a good business idea can be pitched in fifteen seconds, or written on the back of a beer mat. I don’t know how fast you read, but thank goodness this forum allows me the luxury of a very large beer mat.
Continue reading “Speaker Coaching: what is it?”

Swellboy Blog in FT How To Spend It Magazine

If you’ve landed here following the link from the FT How To Spend It Swellboy blog, then welcome!

Check out the coaching tab on the left, or simply drop me a line to and we’ll talk about your coaching needs and how I can help. I’ve worked with some of the best in the business at look forward to adding you to that exclusive club!


Three big mistakes a speaker can make

Part of being a coach for speakers involves being able to take a step back, evaluate a client’s performance, and head off problems. As an account manager at Britain’s top speaker agency JLA, I booked hundreds of speakers for every kind of event imaginable. I always followed up an event with a request for feedback, so none of this is my wisdom, so much as it is my former clients’. I’m going to take the top three criticisms, and you’ll see there isn’t anything that you can’t put right. It isn’t rocket science, which is good, because I’m coaching a rocket scientist at the moment.

1. Not taking a brief
Garry Richardson is sports presenter of Radio 4’s Today Programme. He tells me: ‘It always amazes me that some people turn up at a dinner without a clue what the event is or who they’re talking to.’ Garry is an after dinner speaker at events all round the country, and for him a brief is critical. ‘If there are seventy Americans in the audience, they’re not going to get a joke about racing commentator Murray Walker.’ He also needs to know the dress code, what the purpose of the event is and who the key people in the room are. ‘I like to give the boss a gentle ribbing if I can.’ Such attention to detail is a sign of professionalism: Garry cut his teeth in working men’s clubs and rowdy sports dinners. I’ve no doubt he could turn up five minutes before speaking and do a decent job if he wanted to – but that’s emphatically not how he likes to work. How can you please a client when you don’t know what the client wants?

Garry’s JLA page

2. Inappropriate content
Caspar Berry talks about risk. ‘Every decision we make is the result of us balancing the risks with the rewards. When someone hires me as a speaker, they are making an investment of time and money that they hope will pay off.’ Caspar’s presentation includes games of pure chance, as well as games like poker which include a large element of decision-making. ‘I can tailor my presentation to most of the briefs that I get,’ he says, ‘but if they want something really specific that I don’t feel I can deliver, I will always say so. If I go out and don’t do what they want to the best of my abilities, that doesn’t benefit anyone.’ It’s a helpful attitude to take: nobody likes to turn down business, but doing so could be the first step of building something more valuable than an individual job: and that’s what Caspar now has – a reputation. Understand what a client doesn’t want and make sure you don’t do it.

Caspar’s website

3. Didn’t get key messages across
Disability is still one of our society’s big taboos. For Paralympic gold medal winner Marc Woods, it’s a taboo he confronts as soon as he steps onto the platform. ‘I immediately break the ice with an audience by having a joke about only having one leg. When the audience sees that I can laugh about it, they can relax and laugh about it too. I show race footage of athletes with different kinds of disabilities, but by that time, the audience isn’t thinking about how disabilities hold people back, they’re thinking about how these people use strategy to become the world’s top athletes.’ The moral of the story is: see things from the audience’s perspective. If there is a barrier between you and the audience, it’s your job to overcome it.

Marc’s website

All of these come down to understanding your client and audience. I think this is absolutely key. I often have clients asking me how to overcome jitters and on-stage forgetfulness. I always turn this around: if an audience is on your side, you can get away with anything. There are techniques for calming yourself, and memory, but an audience that likes you will understand your nerves and forgive you looking at your notes.

The key message is: the effectiveness of your speech is half-decided before you step onto the stage. This holds whether you’re a motivational speaker or a comedian. I saw Bob Mills hosting a charity night when, unexpectedly, the lights flickered, the microphone cut out. A second later, normality was restored. Bob flicked his eyes skyward and quipped to the massed ranks of the Coal Board Benevolent Fund, ‘So much for nuclear power.’ A great demonstration of someone making themselves integral to the event.

A good speech begins with the first time you talk about the brief. Remember: if you’re talking to an audience of sixty people, every minute of your speech is an hour of their time. If you speak for an hour, that’s nearly two weeks of someone not doing anything. Add on the cost of the room hire, catering, and the time it’s taken to plan the enterprise, and you should have a different perspective on the event. Even if they paid you nothing (and I sincerely hope this isn’t the case) it’s still incredibly expensive for them to have you there. The client clearly thinks this is a big opportunity for them to use your knowledge to improve their business – don’t waste it!

You are being paid for the privilege of filling this space with whatever you like, and if you don’t feel the weight of this responsibility, you should ask yourself if you are as good a speaker as you think you are.

Questions? Comments? Get in touch: or tweet @sillymrhawkins


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