Search
  • Francisco Mahfuz

E2. Hacking Your Way Into Speaking (and Humour) with James Taylor



Below is an AI-generated transcript and therefore it may contain errors.


Francisco Mahfuz 0:00

Hi everyone, Francisco here. Just before we get started, I wanted to share something I'm really excited about. I recently launched the story powers bootcamp, a course that teaches you everything you need to know about how to find craft and tell stories that work. But it's not just an online course, because you get personalised feedback from me for all the practical activities in three hours of life coaching to work through any challenges, or focus on specific projects. So it's like if you bought a cookbook, but the chef came along with it. So go to story powers.com and click on Course, all the information you need will be there. So please check it out. And if you love the show, and would like to support us, you can go to buy me a coffee.com forward slash story powers. I drink about five coffees a day, so any support would be much appreciated. All right on with the show.


Welcome to the story powers podcast, the show about the power of stories that people tell them and why you should be doing it too. I'm your host, Francisco mahfuz. My guest today is James Taylor. James started his career managing high profile rockstars is now an in demand keynote speaker, an internationally recognised leader in business creativity and innovation for over 20 years has been advising companies like Apple, Sony, Johnson and Johnson and Toyota on how to build innovative organisations unlock creative potential, and increase productivity. His first book, super creativity, augmenting human creativity in the age of artificial intelligence comes out this year. If that wasn't enough, he also hosts two podcasts, three international summits, and helped speakers launch and develop their careers. Who said that men can't multitask. Ladies and gentlemen, James Taylor. James, welcome to the show.


James Taylor 1:57

Thank you so much. Thank you so much for having me on the show today. It's an absolute pleasure to for us to spend little bit of time talking.


Francisco Mahfuz 2:02

James, when I when I first met you, one of the first things I thought was, how confusing it must have been to work in the music industry being called James Taylor. And my first thought then was Why doesn't he just use his middle name? But I understand that might not have helped, right? No, that's


James Taylor 2:22

your I have a so my name James Taylor, and obviously is very famous. There's a number of famous musicians, but the most famous is an American musician, singer songwriter, but my middle name is Kirk ki RK and so then you hear like James T Kirk from start, so I was not never gonna win. Funnily enough, I got to a film students contacted me recently from goldsmiths, which is a great film school in London. And they they're making an entire programme, a documentary about people that share names with famous people. So the interview like myself, the, the I think they interviewed John Licari, they interviewed people that just got famous names. And differently, I think I've shown some of the ones that they had a Boris Johnson, I think the so it's both good and as bad as memorable, but it's also you can easily get lost as well.


Francisco Mahfuz 3:12

I hadn't realised when I asked that question that you are James, Kate, James Kirk T. Yes, exactly. Exactly. Well, your parents did not make your life easier in that regard. Not as we as we know, that hasn't stopped and your speaking career has been going extremely well. So I wanted to take you back and ask you about your origin story. I mean, how did you decide to become a speaker? And how did you go about getting your first gig?


James Taylor 3:42

I actually it was funny. The other day I was having to do a clear out of a gap garage, like a lot of us are probably doing just now, during we were having this conversation during the time of lockdown. And I was going through and I found my original. Also my original accounting documents from the age of 10. So this was me getting my first paid gigs to going on stage at the age of 10. And I think and I found it was 30 pounds, about 40 euros or there abouts. To go and do this. And I at that point, I was a musician. And so I was a 10 year old drummer. And I was getting paid to go up on stages. And the thing is, my father was a musician. My grandfather was a musician. So I come from a long line of people who are used to being on stages. And I kind of looked at that. And I, I had kind of very fond memories of just going up there and having an impact on stage and being able to kind of work with an audience and how fun that is. But then, like for many of us, what happens is you then go to college and you're University and you leave and you go into the world of work. And for me, I ended up around about the age of 18. I kind of pivoted a little bit. I really enjoy business. I love the world of business and entrepreneurship. And so I decided to make a little bit of a move because I'd been on stages for a yours at this point. And I've actually toured or travelled a lot of different countries. And I decided, you know, I'm going to do, I'm actually going to help other musicians get on stages. And and do that. And so that's kind of what that's kind of what I did, I moved to really being the artist manager of managing lots of different artists. And then we kind of like fast forward a little bit around about the year like 20, I'm trying remember. So we're in 2008. So probably 2017, I had a big birthday, a birthday with a zero on the end. And I decided, you know, I spent the past so many years decades, kind of helping build artists and build their careers on stages. I thought, actually, there's something I want to say in the world. The stories I want to tell, there's transformations, I want to have happen and people. And at that point, I decided to make the transition going back on stages again, and so it almost feels like coming home.


Francisco Mahfuz 5:55

And I think I've heard you tell the story of, of you pitching that first gig. I think I've heard that story. And it was, it was such a DIY type of approach to it. That I want to get that on, on the show do do through ride sharing that, you


James Taylor 6:17

know, is the hacker in me, you know, the because before I now live in United Kingdom, but for a while I was living in California and Silicon Valley. And one of the things that Silicon Valley teaches you is this kind of hacker minimum viable product, lean startup type methodology. So when I decided to become a speaker, I had that in my head, I had that, okay, how I realised lots of people have built their speaking businesses in different ways. But what would a lean startup way of doing it be? And the way that a lean startup would do is you have an idea, you create the most simple basic version of it, put it out into the market, get some type of validation, and only then do you make the kind of final thing or version 1.0. So the way that I did it was I sat down, and I mapped out, okay, I put together a one page PDF, on the kind of speech that I would like to give what the topic was, what the title was, what the description was, what the learning outcomes were. And I kind of put this document together was one page PDF. And I'd never hadn't written the speech by this point, it was just an idea in my head. And then I went out there, and I started pitching it. But me for this speech, I hadn't given the speech at this point, and by various different kind of being quite fortunate, I kind of looked and found other conferences that book, similar speakers to myself or speakers to talk on, on creativity. And I reached out to a number of them, and one of them came back and said, Actually, yes, we'd be interested in you come and giving this speech. Then the second question was, what would your Phoebe I had no idea. So I reached out to a good friend of mine, Frederick car and as a Frederick, any idea what why should cook for free because I've never done a proper paid speaking gig. And he just said, Just tell them that your fears and just pick a number. So I said my fee is $10,000. But I'm willing to do it for whatever you paid last year's keynote speaker. And I actually I think, I think I maybe said my fuse $15,000. And by military, whatever you paid last year speakers, and I think last year, they previously paid the speaker $10,000 US dollars. So that was my first speaking gig. So this point, I've signed, I've done the deal to go and speak in a couple of months time in this was actually in the Middle East, this particular gig still didn't have a speech, no speech. And so this is not too dissimilar from let's say, a movie maker or a director or a screenwriter, they'll they'll they'll sketch out the idea, and then they'll go and sell it first, and then only they'll they'll make it. So I now had a few months in which to write a speech, kind of work the speech up and then finally go and deliver it. So all I did is at that point is I just reached out to a whole bunch of different organisations close to where I live. And I said to them, can I come and speak, I'll speak for free. But I'll only speak for 20 minutes. Because at that point, I didn't even know that I could give a 16 minute speech. I just thought that America is built up in 20 minutes segments. And let's see how that goes. And went out. And the first few were pretty bad. And then they gradually get a little bit better than you can find out what the audience reacts to well, oh, I can take that story. I could tell that one again, people like that one, or it feels like that. And I would film every single presentation I gave I'd watch it back and I would see the linkages and see what was weak on it. And I would change that up or switch that up. And by this process of doing like 2030 speeches, free speech is just going out there and giving almost the same speech but refining every single time trying to improve it every single time. Throwing away what doesn't work, keeping what does work, adding new things and by the And of those few months, I'd had a, I basically created a 60 minute speech which I then went on to, to go and deliver. And it looked like it obviously been giving a speech all my life. But that's not the that's that wasn't really the case. So you just kind of have to put something out into the world test that see what kind of response you get back and then think, okay, how can I, how can I now make this and I just had enough stupidity or confidence, depending on how you look at it, to know that I could, somewhere in me, I could I could create that speech.


Francisco Mahfuz 10:29

Did you have speaking experience, stage speaking experience before that?


James Taylor 10:35

Well, I be on stages a lot, obviously, as a musician, so I was very, very comfortable on stages. I, so that was okay, I produced events, live events, and mini conferences and things. So I kind of knew from that side as well, in terms of going up and giving presentations, the only kind of things I really done was I previously involved and standing for parliament in the UK. And, and that's a very different style of speaking. So your your fundamental, you're going to persuade, you're given 20 minutes on stage, that you and your two or three competitors are always trying to get the seat, and you go, and you go up. And then what's what that really taught me was not so much about how to structure a speech, because it's very different giving a speech where you're just looking to persuade, as opposed to speech where you're looking to kind of inspire and educate and entertain. But what it did teach me is how to do q&a. Because if you think about it, if you go live every single week, for months, you go into rooms of hundreds of people, and pretty much 95% 99% of the people hate you. Okay, so So and they want to see you fail, and they want to trip you up. And they want to see you make a fool of yourself. Now the great thing is when as a professional speaker, now when I go and speak on stages, and anyone should, unless you're speaking into my politics, but it pretty much every other case, whether you're going speaking as a friend's wedding, or you're giving a speech in a company, or you're giving a speech or a conference, pretty much everyone there is wants to see you succeed, which is great. So you're already winning, you know, kind of just getting up there. But what the the going and speaking to rooms of people that didn't notice he didn't like me, but he didn't like yesterday, my my politics or wherever I was, I was saying is it teaches you very good about how to improvise on stage taking something to accept ABC accept bridge, and then comment. So you say, Yes, I understand that thing there, you Bridget, you find some way of bridging it to actually what you want to say. And then then c is the thing you would actually really, really want to say is how you comment on it, and you're putting your particular angle. So that's very good. We're just now where used to be a regular keynote would be 45 minutes and 15 minutes q&a with virtual keynotes that we have to do a lot now. It's maybe 30 minutes, Keynote, 30 minutes q&a, because people ask a lot more questions, virtually on online presentations, because they feel much more enabled to ask questions, which is really good. So you have to be a lot more sleight of foot, and a lot more willing to improvise. And that that's kind of what I learned from doing all that.


Francisco Mahfuz 13:18

Yeah, I found that I like Q and A's, I think a lot of people, I don't know if the people hate them, or perhaps because they just don't feel prepared for whatever an audience can can throw at them. But I tend to find that the q&a is the easiest version of speaking, because involves, I mean, obviously involves preparation. But you can only prepare it so much. You know, there's only you know your stuff, or you don't know your stuff. But apart from that, that should be the case regardless of what you're going to do. But what you don't have to worry about is you don't have to worry about, okay, well, how do I feel this next 45 minutes or an hour with all this interesting content? Well, people are going to ask me stuff. And if I know what I'm talking about, I shouldn't be able to respond to them. So you know, I, personally have got quite a format.


James Taylor 14:06

I think that the interesting thing I mean, if you when you have to go up on stage, if you're giving a speech, you're only really talking about 0.01% of what you know, on a topic on that particular. I mean, if you really know your topic, if you're I mean, I speak on creativity. So, I mean, I've got not hundreds but nearly 100 books on on that one topic. And I think about this all the time. So when I go up and give a speech, I might give a speech for 30 minutes on one tiny little bit of that topic. And then when it comes to q&a, that's when you get to show you really know your topic, because it might come from a completely different angle you're not expecting and that's when you get to know where someone's an expert on something because they'll say they can suddenly go deep, all that stuff to the back of their mind. They can pull on that. And also actually a good actually I've seen this happen a number of times I don't think people should feel bad about doing this is if you get asked a question and you feel it's outside of your, your domain of expertise, and you feel that you if you can't really give a good, quick, good answer to it, it's okay to say, I don't know. I don't really? That's an interesting question. I don't know the answer to that question. You've made me think about that question. I'm going to go and kind of look at that. And I think that's sure obviously shows a vulnerability, as well. But it also shows, I think, to audience as long as you don't overdo that you're not seeing it all the time. But you do see a little bit of that. It's actually quite nice for an audience's perspective, because it shows that you're, you're humble to recognise you just don't know everything. You can't be an expert on everything.


Francisco Mahfuz 15:41

Yeah, there is this. There is this approach, where you say, you know, the beautiful thing about creativity or storytelling, is that it just never the learning never ends. Yeah. And that question you just asked me is my next project reloading because I don't actually have a good answer for you very right now. Yeah. Yeah, I want to go back to something you said, when you were when you, you were talking about putting together that first speech, and you just touched on something else now, which is, you have all this knowledge. And you have to condensate it in 3045 minutes an hour, in a way that not only is informative, but also it's entertaining, is inspiring, and all of that. So I know that I tend to focus a lot on stories, humour is something I tried to build in every speech I ever give. And I know you have sad, I think this is from your speaker, highlight reel, that you think visuals are a key component of talks. And I think your line was, the visual visuals are what people remember. That, to me was counter intuitive. So I just wanted to pick your brain of why you think that and how do you actually use it?


James Taylor 16:48

Yeah, I mean, cuz if we think about storytelling, there's there's, there's auditory storytelling. And then there's visual storytelling, as well. And I just learned this from having seen speakers over the years. And if I really think about like those speakers, who, if I close my eyes, I can remember what they said. And it was one speaker in particular, on my topic of creativity, Edward de Bono, and he would talk and his there was nothing, there's no fireworks, it wasn't a Tony Robbins style of speaker jumping around the stage or anything. But he would have I don't remember, overhead projectors, like the acetates for the pens. So his whole thing was like he would just like have you be seated during his presentation. And he would sit and write little doodles and little diagrams on the overhead projector, which projects on the big screens behind it. And if I close my eyes today, I can still remember those images. Now, obviously, that is, if you're a more visual learner, which many people are, I find the majority of people are visual learners. So that's why I say, for some people, you know, they can hear that story. And they can, they can inhabit that or they feel something and that's, that's there, they've got that kinesthetic memory. Or, for the vast majority, I like 75%, I've always felt that has been a visual thing. So I have to be very conscious of what visuals, I'm kind of putting up there. So that's why the visual thing is quite important to me. I'm always thinking from from a, from a visual standpoint, I can I can structure ideas very well visually. And then they need to, then I would automatically then go into the words after that they need to can see see it in my head.


Francisco Mahfuz 18:31

It's an interesting counterpoint to what I've come across many times. And it's just something I might have gotten from Kendra Hall, who, as you know, is one of the top if not the top speaker on storytelling at the moment, which is that she you argue she argues that whenever you're telling a story, the last thing you should do is put up an image of what you're saying, If what you're saying is something that the audience could relate to. So I think the example she gives, I think in her book is that when she talks about her perfect house, the house of her dreams, and she says, when I say the house of my dreams, you are now picturing the house of your dreams. So if I put up a picture of mine there, your brain is going to go well hold on. That's not what I was picturing. My mind wouldn't look like that mine will have you know, less floor as a pool, whatever a different colour. But she says is, when you do that you've now taken the capacity of the audience to co create the story with you and imagined in the way that makes sense for them. And again, obviously, that doesn't mean that visuals are not going to work in a speech. Obviously, they do work. But I find it interesting that when it's a story, the argument and I've seen it from other people other than her is let people create the visual in their own minds instead of giving it to them ready.


James Taylor 19:56

No, I mean, I think I mean, there's absolutely valid I think what where, you know, something like that I'm thinking of just now if I go and speak in Saudi Arabia, or if I speak in the UAE, I'm speaking to Emiratis for example, unlike if I were speaking in Europe, or my home country of the of the UK, the idea of a great holiday of vacation for most people here is a beach, you know, sandy beach, golden sandy beach, you know, clear blue ocean. That's that's the that's kind of ideal. When I go and speak sometimes in the Middle East, when I talk about imagine that that is the ideal place for you feel fully free. I'll put like a almost like skiing type places because I know a lot of my Emirati friends, that's their, that's their idea of of that kind of time. You know that, you know, because it's because there's almost the opposite. We love the opposite of what we don't have, like, so if you grew up in a really cool country, you like warm things, if you want country you like cooler places, or, or mountains. So So I think, yes, you kinders right, in that in that standpoint, and obviously, you see great novelists doing that I'm reading a book just now. And I actually watched the film first before I read the book. So when I'm reading that book, now, I kind of don't have to work as hard, because I've got the images of those actors that play those characters. Now, if I'd read the book first, and then watched, you know, the film, I would have a completely different sense of that as well. So I think there's there's some things where you actually want your audience to work hard, use their brains. But then there's also times I think, you want to make it easy for your audiences as well. And you don't want to, you don't want to make them work too hard. I mean, you want to treat all these audiences like the smart people that they are. But at the same time, you've also we have this kind of reptilian brain, that people make decisions in a very deep part of their evolution, so that you can play with that as well as a storyteller.


Francisco Mahfuz 22:01

Yeah, and it's the point you're raised about the cultural side of it is a very interesting one. Because for anyone who uses a lot of visuals, it must be a bit of a landmine, when you're getting started, if you're speaking all over the world, to figure out what what images are the correct ones to be using, you know, in the Middle East, and then if you go to Asia, we surely whatever we understand, as well as almost anything, you know, behaviour alone, what's appropriate, what's not, I mean, this is this is something I've never, I've never spoken outside of Europe. And the one thing I'm terrified about is trying to be funny in places like Asia.


James Taylor 22:43

Yeah. Yeah, I mean, and it's difficult because, I mean, my, I think humour, I'm not an expert on camera humour on stage. I remember trying it very, I remember trying a number of different things very early, I tried, doing kind of real Joseph Campbell, Hero's Journey style structures of things. And for me, it just felt too egocentric for me. Because, and then I switched up, okay, let's, let's place the the hero is the audience member, let's place them as on it as the hero, I could just never, I just couldn't kind of get it. I just it didn't work for me, as well. I remember also with humour, trying a few times, we're okay, I'm going to put in some, some not long jokes, but you know, kind of like funny lines and different things. And remember going on a comedy writing workshop to learn a couple of techniques there. And I just found you know, what, you know, from from my audience, I just want to take the top of their heads off, I just want to blow their minds. And so there's a style that that that works very well for. And I love going and seeing speakers who just build new joke after joke after joke. And I think that's amazing. But for my own because I speak so much globally. I have to use humour in a very subtle way. And I think people I've seen that do this very well, is the future is called Mike Walsh. I don't know if you know, Mike Walsh at all.


Francisco Mahfuz 24:14

I think I've heard I've heard him. I've heard you talk about him. And I've seen him somewhere. I'm sure.


James Taylor 24:19

He's I mean, he's a great speaker. And he's he's from he's from Hong Kong, his father was Irish. So he has the ability to be very future quite serious at times. And then you'll throw in little things. And it could be visual gags, or it could be just little any, and that is not over done. I think if you're if you're working more for American audiences, then I tend to them push up the humour aspects, because that those audiences audiences would tend to demand a little bit more just speaking very generally. Then if I'm speaking in Asia, or if I'm speaking India, for example.


Francisco Mahfuz 24:55

Yeah, and because I, I've, you know, it's always been my style. To try and put as much humour as I think the speech supports, and usually, it supports quite a bit. And I like that it's creates contrast, because if you're going to go to something more serious and more dramatic, that break between we were laughing, laughing, laughing and now of taking you somewhere you didn't expect works really well. But that's one of the reasons why public speaking is always going to be somewhat scary for me. Because there is no, there is no point I think that you get to, to know that your humour is going to work. I mean, unless it's the same audience, if I'm speaking to people I've known for years, or if I'm speaking to, you know, a very specific type of crowd, I know that what humour is likely to work with them. But even so you never know that every single line you expect to be funny is going to land. So to me, that's always as part of the thrill of it is figuring out what works and what doesn't. And, you know, very often not what you expect,


James Taylor 25:57

yeah, I'll often have in the start of the first few minutes for speech, I'll I will try a line. Or I will try something simply for the reason I want to be able to take the temperature of the room. How far can I push this? How, you know, how much do I want to use humour, because, frankly, my own personal humour, the humour I enjoy, uses a lot of puns, a lot of play on language. That's because, you know, in Britain, we tend to use a lot of that type of humour. But if you're speaking to an audience, when 95% of the people in the audience that English isn't their first language, you're going to go completely over a lot of people's heads. So there's, it's not going to work as well for the audience. So yeah, I think this time, I'll throw things out into the audience like, Okay, this audience, they, they get kind of like big movements, like quite large kind of humorous things, or this audience is more subtle. They like, you know, there's one speaker I remember talking to a while ago, she's a former fighter pilot. And she, the way that she uses humour is very nice. She will use humour, whenever she's talking about a client that she's worked for, where she's, she's done something, she creates some transformation for the client in some way. It's very easy to be boastful in that situation. You know, I, I worked for, you know, Apple, and we did this amazing thing that uh, so what she does is every time that she mentioned a funny story, or a story, where she's talking about success or results that she's delivered for a client or accompany, she will always make fun of herself slightly. So she will sit, you know, she will say, I'm never going to there's going his presentation just up there, I suddenly realised, oh, my, I had a lot of my tights or, or, you know, I hadn't Sung, she'll just say something, kind of it makes fun of herself. But at the same time, she's also knows that she's placing the story of, oh, you work with Apple, or you work with such and such. So it's quite a clever way of doing it. Or in this


Francisco Mahfuz 27:51

politically charged times we live in self deprecation is perhaps the only safe form of humour. Yes, to many land mines out there. And it's interesting. It's interesting to say about taking the temperature of the room because one thing, one thing I've, I've evolved with using humour, and it's something that I hadn't necessarily thought of it that way, until a good friend of mine who who does a lot of silent humour. You know him Michael Boulet. Yeah, he, well, he told me, is that the problem with using humour right at the start, because ideally, I want to get a laugh right at the start, is the context. You know, if people are expecting you to be funny, that tends to be fine, assuming that the humour is good, but if people are not expecting you to be funny, they might just miss a joke. Or they might miss what you're trying to do there because they don't know to expect it. You know, so you're going to say something, and they're going to go, but is this funny? Is this meant to be serious? So I have this this line is very uncommon that I do many dramatic speeches, right? But I did use this line a while back in in my Toastmasters Club, and the line was, and so I was the straightest face I could muster. I said, a few days ago, my wife said, The scariest words I've ever heard, Francisco, I'm pregnant again, in the room burst out laughing. And you know, it was a serious speech about, you know, my misgivings as a parent in, they just assume that I'm going to try and be funny, and they were just laughing their heads off. And the opposite happens as well is people don't know that you're going to be funny. And you say that and go, Oh, yeah, no, if that sounds like you're really scared about that. So you know that context and people know when a bit what to expect, means that you perhaps need to start soft with whatever you're trying to do. And then you know, crank it up to 11. As the speech goes,


James Taylor 29:50

I mean, also you think about in the role of let's say, the way that comedians would do I know a lot of speakers are big fans of comedians and they watch a lot of comedians and And then you know that with comedians, the way that they'll, they'll often roll up jokes, so that they'll, they'll get, they'll kind of create this little wave going, they'll start you know, they'll they'll say something, it's kind of funny gets a little bit of a laugh. And then they might anchor it, they might use a catchphrase or a phrase, and then they'll roll up another one unless crashes by building this kind of tsunami of laughs that you can gradually build. Now that's great onstage great often in smaller audiences as well. Try and do that virtually. Try and do that when when you don't you have no feedback from the audience about what's happening that's a little bit more challenging. So the medium does affect what you do. And the other thing is, some people are frankly, just really, really funny people. And my wife is really funny. She's always coming up with funny things. She could be a script writer, no problem. She's always really funny stuff. So there's a little bit of a secret within the speaking industry is a number of speakers. I know professional speakers, use joke writers, gank writers, like a comedian would do because some, some comedians are just brilliant, and they write all their own stuff. And other comedians who hire joke writers, and there was all you know, there's always a thing if you go back to like, Woody Allen, all these great, great comedy writers would write gags for other people and other people were a bit Bob Hope or whoever was delivering it at the time. So if you aren't, you'll find yourself naturally funny. Oh, you're kind of humour is not the human you think's going to work particularly well, you've tried, it doesn't work terribly well on the stage. That is a song that one you can maybe collaborate with, and write things together. So he or she could get a sense of your voice, what your voice is, understand your, you understand your audience, but they can help you. They could write jokes, without some kind of brainstorming ideation sessions, however you want to do your writing. So it doesn't all have to come from you. If you're really struggling, this vise that if you're really struggling with, with humour, and you want to have a lot of humour, in your presentations, work with someone who has developed a craft of doing this, who thinks about this all day and bring their brain works that way and collaborate on it?


Francisco Mahfuz 32:08

What I have typically advised other speakers when they when they come to me and say, Well, you know, can you help me make this fun year? My first port of call is always say, you don't have to write the material, you just need to find the material. So quotes tend to work very well. I mean, it's not, it's actually very easy to find funny quotes about whatever subject you want. Now that there is Google and I sent say to people when opened with something funny, but don't trust your ability to write it, just Google whatever subject you're talking about, and funny quotes, and you're going to find lots of things. And there is no real reason why you need to be the one that generates the content the same way that I think whatever else you're doing with with a speech, Keynote, or otherwise, if you're not necessarily the most inspiring person in the world, find someone who is and bring that into your speech. You don't I think, in your keynote, or at least one of your keynotes I've seen you had a video of I think was Jackie Ma. Yes, Jack Ma. Yeah, yeah. So you know, you don't need to be the, you need to be the guide that shows them all this interesting stuff, you don't need to be the one that actually said it. I mean, that would be so much arrogance to, to present.


James Taylor 33:25

I think on that on that keynote, the slide either just before the slide just afterwards, is I tell a story about a kid walking up mountains, my parents just walk up mountains dress in a kilt. And that's an example of one where I can talk initially, very straight, you know, almost like my parent may walk up these mountains dressed in a kilt about building resilience. And then gradually over time, if I sense it's an audience I can play with, I will be much more dramatic in that and use much more humour about, you know, the kilt thing and what Sunday man's kilt in Scotland, you know, some, you kind of have to, you're gonna have to kind of play with it. The other one you just mentioned that I mean was, I mean, there's all these little, if you don't do a lot of humour, you can just use very simple like the rule of threes on humour. So you just say, you might say, you know, often the way that I have to think about it is a, b, and then make see a little bit bizarre and a bit of a bit kind of like weird. And that's just a very, very simple little technique. You know, you could use this in your bio, your James Taylor is known for speaking about creativity, artificial intelligence, and and the fish are so I don't know, you can just you can use these. And this is what you obviously when you study and you look at comedians, this is the stuff that that they can teach us.


Francisco Mahfuz 34:48

Now that you're mentioned killed, I must share with you my killed story. I don't think I've ever told you this. So I have I have one of my best friends got married in South Africa a few years ago. And he is his bride was Scottish. So they, for some reason decided to have a Scottish traditional wedding. And he went and dug up some Scottish, you know, great, great, great grandfather, whatever to justify it. So all the best men were men to wear kilts. So they sent us instructions on how to do it. And I gave them to my wife because I'm completely, you know, inept with anything to do with clothing. And she was supposed to take my measures, and she didn't send it out. And they and they, they made the cute to measure. But there's, as I got South Africa, and I was trying it on, we figured out that it didn't fit particularly well. And then by you know, looking a bit deeper into the subject, we've we realised that my wife measured my waist and not my hips. So the only way I could wear the kilt was much higher than it was intended. So the cute stayed the ended about three fingers above my kneecap. So I was wearing a cute miniskirt throughout that whole wedding


James Taylor 36:09

style like on that could be a good new look.


Francisco Mahfuz 36:11

Yeah, I mean, I've got I've got pictures, they're not pretty. You know, there's nothing, nothing I could do. But But brave it.


James Taylor 36:18

I mean, this is like, it's all my different cultural differences as well. Like one of the thing I just always do whenever I land an airport, wherever I am, is I just had to talk to the the the driver, or the tax driver, or the Uber driver. And I asked him about food. First of all, like what, like what's really good food, right? What's What would you what kind of food you yearn for. And so that gives me a little bit if I if I want to use food I mentioned, I usually mentioned some making food because it's universal. And I'll mention the dish, if I'm speaking if I'm speaking in Istanbul with the dish of that place. But then the other thing I'll often ask them is like, like he's like really funny here. Like who's who's, you know, what's been happening, any kind of funny news has been happening recently, or pick up newspapers or you'll, you'll just pick up things along, you're going to steer away from politics and religion. Usually, this is kind of quite useful, can little bits of information there just makes it sit in a in a particular place? They know, they know that you're there, and you haven't just kind of dialled your presentation in?


Francisco Mahfuz 37:21

Yeah, no, those are very good tips. I think as long as anytime you can get something local, into a speech, you know, if you can do something with the room, people that spoken just before you, that's amazing. But yeah, I mean, if you if you if you know, if you can tap into the, into the zeitgeist of that particular place, then then that has to count. You know, there's be points towards your your speech, when people realise that you actually have some idea of who they are, and not just of your subject.


James Taylor 37:51

And the other thing you have to remember is a lot of my audiences, I speak to our corporate global conference, and they'll come to a particular city, very few of them are from that city. And actually, they usually have very little time to explore that city, as well, when they're there. So you know, classic example, at the end of last year, I was speaking in Barcelona, YUTAN. And, you know, in Barcelona, obviously, a fascinating history of a place, but I was talking about this conference, it was very about innovation and things like that. So I went to the forecast Cafe, which is in Barcelona, which is where Picasso used to go and hang out and all that kind of stuff. And I took photos of myself and the waiter there and like learn a little bit of background story of the thing. And I then put that into my speech. Because many of those executives, they're literally just going to fly there, do the event and then leave, they're not going to get a chance to explore Barcelona. So I always like felt it was my part of my job. My role, if for any of those global audiences, is to give them something of that place, when they when they go back. Or maybe even just like, if they've got like a morning the next day or an afternoon on speaker. He mentioned this place that Picasso used to go and how cool would that be to go and have coffee with Picasso used to go and have coffee? And I think that's that's, obviously if you're a local speaker, that's even better, because you can really give people insights. But I love researching the history of the places before I go there.


Francisco Mahfuz 39:15

Let me switch gears slightly to the business side of things before we completely overrun our time. So the what I wanted to ask you about business is you've not been doing this for that long. But if I recall correctly, last year, you did 50 keynotes.


James Taylor 39:34

Yeah, I think I think a little bit I think was maybe 52 or 53 in the end.


Francisco Mahfuz 39:38

Okay. So which is which is a pretty high number of keynotes. I mean, I think that there are maniacs that will do a lot more than that. But I think for any, any speaker that is getting that type of number of keynotes in they will be pretty happy with that. So what I wanted to ask you is, what do you say would you say is the one factor that has been responsible for you to be able to scale the business up so quickly, in the time you've been doing,


James Taylor 40:06

I think probably the one of the biggest ones is fish where the fish are. So it'd be very easy lobby will get started. And they if you think like a marketing funnel, like we, you, you get awareness at the top, then you try and get interest and then you get desire, then you get, you know, if people to book you for things, I didn't have time to build up this big brand. And to go from the top, the top side, and also so much in brand building is out with your controls anyway. So I thought, You know what I'm going to get started at the very bottom of things I'm going to so let me give you a classic example here. Someone is typing in the phrase, keynote speaker, Barcelona, is a very different stage from someone that's looking just typing in the phrase motivational speaker, as an example. So I always focus initially on I want to be as late in the process of someone making a decision on booking a keynote speaker speech. So those people on social media or social media or whether they're in, you know, they're going online, or they're going on YouTube, or whether they're speaking with a bureau, they're asking certain types of questions. They're freezing in certain types of ways. And so I really went to that first. So let's just okay, there's that having a conversation with those people, you're much more likely to convert, then if you have a conversation with someone who's just saying, Oh, I'm looking to we've got a conference happening, and we're wanting a motivational speaker for it? Well, first of all, conference is our paid speaker. Where is the conference? How big is the conference? a motivational speaker motivational is just is a flavour. It's not a topic as such. So if I if I find someone that's looking for innovation, keynote speaker, Amsterdam, I want to be there. I want them to find me there. Because that's a completely different conversation you can have, so I just invested a lot of time resources and thinking, how can I own that place, and be there. And for some people, it's just, you know, you're trying to build relationships with bureaus, because people are having conversations with bureaus have money, and they're looking to buy speakers, whereas someone that just can searching more randomly, often, they weren't.


Francisco Mahfuz 42:26

Yeah, there is something about the graft, or the, the bare bones approach to, to getting booked to speak that it's, I think, something that a lot of people just have no real idea about, I and I remember listening to the stories of many different speakers and how they got started. And they all start sounding the same after a while, because a lot of them will say, you know, I was contacting a lot of, of bureaus of conferences, or whatever. But in most cases that involved it never didn't, I don't think it ever involved, oh, I built this massive brand online. And then they tried selling myself as a speaker, it was almost always, you know, start from the bottom up, contact, a lot of people get yourself visible in the right places, but but it was usually a very bottom up approach. It's I don't think I mean, I'm sure there's plenty of people whose career is the well known in your field, then do a TED talk, and then get launched as a speaker. But for I think the most people in the circuit seem to be a very bottom up approach, perhaps not as coordinated and thought out from, from a technical point of view as yours seems to have been, but the top down approach doesn't seem to be common for anyone who's not a celebrity in their own right. And is that to be my impression?


James Taylor 43:46

Yeah, I mean, they're very different types of there's, even when we talk about speakers, we have what we call like keynote speakers, like myself, and we're usually getting brought in by a company or an association and getting paid to come and give a speech, we're not selling anything on the stage, we're just, we're just inspiring, educating, entertaining. And then there's those platform speakers who are going on stages, they're probably speaking more than me, but they're selling from the stage, or they're looking for you to buy me buy their programme or do something. And those folks tend to be much more marketing driven. Whereas the keynote speakers are more sales driven. So it's just different parts in the funnel. And I'm not saying that the one is better than the other. In fact, you could, I could easily argue that the the top earning speakers in the world are platform speakers, not keynote speakers. You know, keynote speakers were a little bit of a, this kind of small grouping, I guess. The majority of the highest earning speakers in the world, I would cost them as platform speakers, whether as your your Tony Robbins, for example, or it could be Jack Canfield, or, you know, there's so many really Speaking for them is about getting people into their products into their services. And they're, they're brilliant at it, and they're fantastic at it. But that's not the kind of speaking that I ever wanted to do. Because it's a completely different skill to do that is a selling a real selling from the stage and being able to make people do things. And I just never felt comfortable with doing that.


Francisco Mahfuz 45:22

Yeah, I've been to I've been to one of those events before. And I, you know, having done a lot in sales in my life, and to some extent, still still doing so because most of the things I talk about, will have a very, they will have a sales angle to them, which is a lot of how you apply storytelling in the corporate world. But yeah, I've that didn't feel particularly great to me, though, the thing that I imagine helps them is that they're not the ones typically doing it. And I was in a Tony Robbins event. And he's he's amazing. I mean, I was three hours long it was his presentation, which I know for him is for him is. It was incredible. When we were dancing throughout and we were emotional, great. Then he gets off the stage. And some random guy goes up there in sales in the way that probably no one has sold anything since the 1980s. To me, it was always just strange that you would that that would still be the approach to to selling those products from someone who's clearly so much more persuasive in his own right. But you know, obviously, it works for him. So I guess that there is,


James Taylor 46:34

yeah, it's, it's a completely different model. And if that is your space, and you love that, especially in the world of personal development, then that's kind of the established model. Most of the people I speak to their their executives of global companies, and if you were to try and sell them something in that kind of way, it would just feel weird, frankly, and it just, it just wouldn't, it wouldn't align with what they're about, they're trying to do as companies. And also, I think we're going through another stage again, in terms of a certain level of ethics, in terms of how things are done. More generally. And this is because the millennials are really pushing this as well, that I think things are going to take another move. So for example, it's not uncommon now that I'm talking with clients, and they're asking me, which philanthropy do I do? What organisations do I do I support to fund things like that. Now my case is very good. I'm big into animal animal welfare and animal rights. And so I That's my thing. But that's a very different conversation. Usually we had 10 years ago, with with often buyers, because many of the buyers now are a younger, and they really want to know, what is your purpose? What more can a purpose driven?


Francisco Mahfuz 47:50

Are you missing the stage just yet? Am I missing the stage?


James Taylor 47:55

No, not missing, missing, I'm missing the travel. And I love you know, I mean, this is the thing about this job, this was a professional we get to do as speakers, is we get to go to amazing places and meet incredible audiences. And I know some speakers. I know a friend of mine and speaker based in Las Vegas, he doesn't speak outside the Las Vegas, there's enough work in Las Vegas, he can happily just every night go. And that's what he's engineered. And that's set up. And he's very successful. That for me, that would drive me completely insane. I love going to different places meeting trying different foods, seeing the history of the place. I love that. That's the bit that I'm missing. I'm not necessarily missing jumping on to the stages at the moment. It you know, it didn't, it doesn't feed my ego or anything to get up on stage and have 500 people you know, applauding? That's not there's never been a big driver for me. I'm missing a little bit the interaction do you get with an audience? Just just that that side? I love that. You know, the Q and A's and things. That's always good fun. We can do a lot of that virtually. So yeah, I think we are asking amongst time, maybe I'm going to be climbing the wall to that point. I just want to get on stage again. Who knows? Yeah, I


Francisco Mahfuz 49:15

think I think climbing the walls. This is a scenario where a lot of us are, are envisioning perhaps a little sooner. Because if I if I'm not mistaken, you you don't have children, right? Yeah, no kids. Yeah. So I'm finding that the biggest challenge of doing anything virtually is that there's nothing virtual about a three year old running around the house in the newborn at the same time. So my biggest online challenge is getting the interruptions not to bursty in interviews.


James Taylor 49:49

And I also I was having a conversation with someone the other day, He's based in Florida, and it got so bad. He his productivity was so low and his and his wife was awesome. are writers well, they're what they actually did is they rented a little cottage around the corner from them in the morning, he goes there from like 8am to 12. And does always interviews and does always work and things. And then he comes back meet, they have lunch together, and then his wife goes, and she goes to the cottage, and works does all her work there in the afternoon. And that way, it's allowed them not to, you know, you know, be able to get stuff done and spend time time with the family. But yeah, that was very I can imagine. So it's a real, it's a real struggle with noise. And I'm, I'm seeing all of my speaker friends suddenly have to create home studios, and, and some of them love technology, really geeky and totally geeking out on this and talking about different types of cameras, and others just can't wait till they can get back on stage again.


Francisco Mahfuz 50:47

Yes, I think I fit into that latter camp, particularly because I'm not a very technical person. And the last thing I ever had to worry in my life, when speaking was technology, you know, I in on purpose, used few or no slides, depending on the length of the speech, I'll do the whole thing without a single slide. And now all of a sudden, that's been turned upside down when I have to worry about the lighting and that sound, and all these things that are never part of the of the concerns. But you know, you you evolve with the times. And there's there's a there's a very interesting times and forever for those of us who are lucky to be to be busy, who are lucky to be able to focus on on learning. I mean, there's there's no no end to the amount of of learning and improvement we can we can give to ourselves and our careers. If we take the time to face the challenge head on, instead of trying to hide hide under under a tree and pretend that it's just going to go away a lot sooner than realistically it will.


James Taylor 51:54

Now I think another way of thinking about it is the way the actors work, which is they'll work on a theatre on stages almost every single day for like three months if they're doing a stage show. And then they'll go and work on a movie, where they're frankly sitting around in their RVs all day until they get that one thing they have to go and do like one line. And then you go back and they're hanging back board, or people do TV, which almost feels like a day job. They go there in the morning, leave at three in the afternoon. And and so these are all different ways of actor doing their craft and then sharing sharing their craft. And I think as speakers, that's what we're gonna find we're gonna there's gonna be times where we're going to be travelling a lot on the road, it's going to be times where we're going to be at home doing virtual end times we're going to be doing creating online programmes, online courses, coaching, whatever as well. They're just different mediums and you have a preference for once an actor might prefer theatre as opposed to film. But but each of them you can they can they can feed off each other. If you can do them well together.


Francisco Mahfuz 52:56

James, it sounds like we could talk for four hours, but I can hear I can hear the the aforementioned three year old about to burst into my room. So let before I forget, let me ask Where can people find you.


James Taylor 53:12

So if they're interested on my speaker side, they just go to James taylor.me their interest in creativity and things like that. And if you're interested in learning about how to become a speaker or public speaking or speaker training, Speaker business training, go to speakers you.com a speaker's you.com


Francisco Mahfuz 53:28

Perfect. And thank you very much for your time. I was good. It was good catching up. And I hope that the next time, but maybe not the next time but soon, we can actually do this the same person as we were meant to do AlphaGo and couldn't


James Taylor 53:43

absolutely take care of yourself. Francis, thank you so much for having me on the show today.


Francisco Mahfuz 53:47

Alright everybody, thanks for listening. Take care of yourselves and until next time



Recent Posts

See All

After 100 episodes, what storytelling lessons have I learned? Well, a few, so here are 23 for you, and they cover: why stories matter, what do you use stories for, where do you find them, how do you t