Pick Me

Behold the Grand Award winner of the 2014 Cicero Speechwriting Awards.

Do you remember the feeling of playing sport at school, standing in line, waiting to be picked? Thinking “pick me, pick me”.

Then finally you were picked and after a brief sigh of relief you realised you had been chosen by the team that you really didn’t want to be on.

The players didn’t include you, they never gave you the ball, but at least it was better than not being picked.

Reality shows are pushing the ‘pick me’ culture. Vote for me. Don’t evict me. Expose everything about me, as long as you pick me.

You might think you can escape it by switching the TV off. You can’t, because businesses are built with the same boundaries. Interview me. Hire me. Promote me. Whatever happens, pick me. Then following the sigh of relief you get from being hired you realise you didn’t want to be on their team either.

According to a study by Deloitte, 80% of people who are employed don’t like their job. At the same time, around 50% of graduates in Europe are unemployed, unsure what to do, unimpressed with the options of unpaid internships and desperately hoping to get picked.

I came here to talk to you today for one reason. When I finished my education I was £22,000 in debt. I had no mobile phone or computer (it was the 90s!). I was living at home with my parents, feeling lost. For a brief time, I even felt suicidal. I thought I would never be picked – by an employer, by a girlfriend, by anyone. I had no idea what to do next. Then I saw a guy giving a speech for 20 minutes and it changed the course of my life. Thanks to the inspiration he gave me I now have a wonderful life. I have a beautiful wife, wonderful son, lovely house and I do something I love everyday, while helping others.

There’s nothing special about me. If I can do this, you can do it too and probably twice as well and five times faster.

You are about to decide which path your life will take, as you leave education. Imagine this. What if you could live a life that you love? What if you could give more, earn more and live more than you ever imagined would be possible as a corporate clock-punching cog?

This is not about ‘getting rich quick’. It’s about being passionate and productive.

It’s not about “pick me, hire me and when you’re done fire me”.

It’s simply about “what can I do that inspires me?”

And what if we could start the journey to zero unemployment?
There are 19 million graduates unemployed in Western Europe. The current system isn’t working. You could try fighting with all of them to get picked for a job you might not even want, or take a different path.

So instead of waiting for someone to pick you…

…Pick Yourself.

Let me tell you how.

In 2007 I moved house and I needed someone to fix the internet and TV connection. So we called the company and soon a ‘cable guy’ arrived to do the job. It was probably a Tuesday or Wednesday, around mid-morning. When I answered the door the guy said, “What are you doing home today? Are you sick?”

I told him that I ran my own business. That day I was working from home.

“Oh I’d hate that, that sounds terrible!” he said.

“Why’s that?” I asked. It wasn’t the first time I’d heard this type of comment. In fact I used to feel the same way myself. I never intended to start a business. I just had a passion that people were willing to pay me for and before long it was my profession.

He gave me a whole string of objections. I hear these all the time. Money. Age. Knowledge. Safety. Maybe you’re thinking about some of these already.

Firstly, he said he hated paperwork and spreadsheets. The truth is I’ve never done a spreadsheet. I hate them. When I told him he looked amazed.

“But how do you get anything done?” he asked.

When I got my business started and I needed a spreadsheet I just asked around. A friend of mine said he loved doing them and so I offered to buy him a beer if he did one for me. He agreed. He’s still my accountant today, but now I have the money to pay him!

So I told him not to worry about spreadsheets.

“Well, I don’t have a business degree. I know nothing about business!” he said.

I told him that when I was 17 my Dad said to me, “Son you’re going to University to study business, because everyone needs to know about business.” I told my Dad that I would never need to know about business, because I was going to either be a teacher or an actor. Ironically, I ended up running a business where I teach acting skills to business people. We laugh about it now, but if I’d studied business I wouldn’t have taken the time to follow my passions and studied acting and teaching and I wouldn’t have a business at all.

So you don’t need to study business, I told him.

“Well, I’m just too young to run a business!” he said.

I replied, “Let me tell you a story. Two young graduates, fresh out of University, went to speak to Richard Branson about a business idea. They wanted to start a business consultancy, offering fresh advice from new graduates to big businesses. Branson told them it was a bad idea and that they should work for ten years, then start their business. They ignored him. They ignored Richard Branson! They set up their company ‘Fresh Minds’ which is now one of the 100 highest rated companies to work for in the UK.”

So it doesn’t matter what age you are. The right age to start is right now.

“But I haven’t got any money!” the cable guy told me.

When I started my business I didn’t even have a desk! No phone. I had to share a computer with my Dad. I had already spent everything the bank would lend me, maxed out my credit card and borrowed from my parents. I had just a few pennies to my name.

“You don’t need money,” I told him. Let me tell you about two businesses. I know one guy who borrowed £50,000 and set up a business. He spent the money on a fancy office, fancy computers, fancy brochures and going to fancy networking events. Within six months he had spent it all and had nothing left. Fancy that.

However, a different company I know was set up for £50. This guy bought a couple of blue lights to put under his car, to make it look like it was out of ‘The Fast and the Furious’. He drove to a bar that weekend and a guy came out who said, ‘Wow, that looks cool, can you do that to my car? How much does it cost?’ He told him £100. The guy said, ‘Great I would have paid £500!’ So the next week he drove to another bar and two guys came out. “Wow, your car looks cool, how much does that cost?’ I’ll do it for £500 he said. Within six months he had made over £50,000 profit.

So you don’t need money, I told him. In fact, my business was started for a free haircut. I was getting my hair cut one day and telling my hairdresser about all the things I was passionate about, around teaching, acting and communication. He offered to give me a free haircut if I came to teach his hairdressers how to communicate better with their customers. I was scared that I wouldn’t know how to do it. I said no. The next time I got my hair cut he wouldn’t let me go without agreeing to do it! So I did.

His hairdressers liked the training session I created for them so much that they asked me to train their entire chain of hairdressers.

Pretty soon I got a phone-call from a guy who said he ran a big engineering company and needed someone to train his staff for an exhibition. He said his hairdresser had recommended me! Since then things have grown by recommendation and word-of-mouth. We have never borrowed money from anyone. Fourteen years later we now run a multi-million pound company training 4000 people per year, around the world and I employ a dozen people. All thanks to a free haircut.

So you don’t need money, it doesn’t matter what age you are, you won’t need to fill in spreadsheets if you don’t want to and you don’t need a business degree.

Finally, as he set about fixing my internet and TV, I asked the cable guy if he enjoyed his work. He said “No, but at least I have a safe job.”

That was in 2007. Then the greatest recession our generation has ever known hit. His cable company merged with another and thousands of jobs were lost. His job wasn’t safe after all. Nor is any job really.

Before the cable guy left he stopped to ask me, “Okay, so how do you do it then? How do you run a business?”

I picked up a photo that I keep on my desk at home. It’s a photo of three guys, who are 18 years old, wearing dinner jackets. It was taken the night that we all finished school, at a British version of prom night.

“These three guys told me everything I needed to know”, I told him.

So here it is. All the advice I was ever given about how to succeed in business. This can help you, no matter what profession you go into. Are you ready? Its just three simple things.

The first guy in the photo is Christian. He taught me something I’ll always remember. There were two fish and chips shops near our school where I grew up (by chips, I mean the British chunky French fries!). Everyone at school went to the nearest one. One day Christian said to the guy who ran the shop, “Do you have any bread, I really want a chip butty!” Now if you haven’t tried this, it’s a sandwich filled with chips and ketchup, a British schoolboy’s favourite.

“No mate, I sell fish, chips and ketchup! No bread.”

“I know,” said Christian. “What if I buy some bread from the shop next door and give it to you, will you sell me a chip butty?”


So we left. We went to the other chip shop. He didn’t have bread either, but he offered to buy some. We went back to school and then everyone at school wanted one! We never went back to the nearest chip shop. Nor did anyone else we knew.

I remember Christian saying, as he ate his chip butty, “It’s not difficult is it?! All you need to do to succeed in business is just… Do One Thing Well”.

I’ve always remembered that. It has been true for my business too. When the recession first hit, my Dad told me I was going to go out of business, because nobody spends money on training in a recession. One of our biggest clients called us in and told me that they were having cut-backs to streamline their training. They had over 1000 suppliers and they needed to get down to 150. I feared the worst. We were going to lose them. To my delight, in the meeting they said that we had the highest rating of any supplier of training for them, so they were going to increase our work and wanted our help to find more good training. All we’d ever done was aim to Do One Thing Well. It paid off.

So choose one thing you love doing that other people benefit from and will pay you for. Then do it the best you can. That’s the first step.

The second guy in the photo was Ian. Ian was the brightest guy in school; he studied all day and night and even aimed to read two books per day in the summer holidays. His dream was to go to Oxford University.

He passed the entry exam and went for the interview. We wrote a good luck card for him. We were so confident he would get in we even wrote a poem on the envelope that said, ‘Oxford Ian, he’s our man, if he can’t get in, no one can.’ I went to give him the card one morning at school and he just looked at the envelope, read the poem and never even opened it.

“I didn’t get in,” he said.

I couldn’t believe it. He handed me a letter that had arrived that morning from Oxford University that said, ‘Dear Ian, you are clearly a very intelligent young man, but you lack the communication skills we require from our students, so we will not give you a place at our University.’

In that moment I knew two things. Firstly, Oxford had missed out on having one of the nicest, hardest working students they could ever imagine. Secondly, I knew that I would never be as intelligent or hard working as him, so if I wanted to succeed in life I had better get damn good at communication skills!

The problem was that I was terrible at communicating. I had an almighty fear of talking in front of people. One day a teacher had asked me to read something out in class and my whole body froze. The sweat poured off my head. My body shook violently. He asked me to sit down and the class didn’t even laugh at me. They just stared in silence.

On my 16th birthday a friend of mine gave me a book called ‘Body Language by Allan Pease’ saying to me, “Richard, you really need to read this. For all our sakes! You’re terrible with people!”

After Ian got that letter, I took this communication thing seriously. I studied every book I could get my hands on to figure out how to communicate. It’s that passion that still drives me today. I want to help as many people as I can around the world to communicate more confidently and effectively, so that they can achieve their dreams.

That’s the second step. If you want to succeed in business, in life and in relationships…you need to get as good as you can at communicating.

The last guy in the photo just gave me one simple piece of advice. Three words. I have these words in a frame in my bathroom so that everyday when I look in the mirror I can remember to live by his advice. When we were all saying goodbye to each other and life was taking us in different directions he simply said to me, “Fulfil your potential”. Those three words have motivated me every day since. Every day when my business seemed to be going nowhere. Every day when I had no work, just a passion to help people. Every day when other people thought I should ‘get a real job’. I just focussed on those three things.

Do one thing well. Become an expert at communicating. Fulfil your potential.

I’m not suggesting that running your own business is easy. It’s not. It’s really hard. It requires time, effort and dedication. But it’s not complex. It’s simple. Everyone can do it. Just find something that you love doing, that other people will benefit from, and you’ll get paid for living your passion. That’s it.

Or don’t. Get a safe job instead. Join the 80% of people who don’t enjoy their work. Or the 19 million waiting in line to get hired.

Whatever happens next for you, whatever you choose to do, remember that you don’t need to wait for someone else to pick you, in order to live the life that you want. You can pick yourself instead.

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