Top tips from one Speaker to another: with Lord Stevenson

27 October 2014

Student speaking at Speakers for Schools eventLord (Dennis) Stevenson has been a speaker with Speakers for Schools since it’s launch in 2011. Here, he’s generously taken a moment to let us know how he’s navigated working with state schools and giving a well-received talks, and what he needs from schools/colleges to be as useful to them as possible.

How did I prepare?

“As I’m learning to do, I looked up the school on the website and talked at some length to the two key teachers whom I met during the process … to uncover problems, what’s happening vis-a-vis university etc.

I have found this invaluable with each of my events.”

So what happened?

“Hearing directly from the school what they hoped to achieve with the talk, I explained that I would …

  • Give a digest of my own career so that they know what to ask me questions about.
  • Talk about the pros and cons of university.
  • Talk in five minutes about the entire wisdom I have accumulated throughout my life! This give them a number of clear potentially controversial points to react to.”

What really works well for a Speakers for Schools talk?

  • “Students appreciate frankness. For instance, while speaking about university, I asked them to try to avoid being completely consumed in a relationship, since it means missing out on a lot … I’ve now done this about three times having cleared it with the teachers. It is met with interest and some hilarity by the students!
  • Impart life advice. As I look around my generation the ones who seem to be most satisfied (including people who have been in worldly terms “wildly successful” and those who haven’t) are those who had a clear set of values or a moral compass to be governed by. I also contrasted people I knew who’d become vocational teachers, those who pursued teaching because it was just a job and people who are earning a lot of money but were ruining their lives in law firms/investment banks – a big subject. This seemed to go down well with the teachers present despite my worries that it might not!
  • Make it personal. I made the point that while I’d been lucky/successful/ achieved a great deal, by far and away the most important thing I’ve done was the decision of who I married… which provoked the most wonderful “ooohs” all round the room! While engaging the students, it also brought home the importance of striking a balance between success and a strong personal relationship.”

Reflections on Q & A

  • “As always questions came slowly then with three minutes to go masses of hands went in the air!
  • I spent some extra time chatting to students too shy to ask questions in front of their peers.
  • For students wanting to ask further questions/observations/areas of disagreement, I encouraged them to get hold of my email address from the teacher heading the event.”

Thanks to Lord Stevenson for his insights on working with state schools and with the charity!

So what are the charity’s top 5 notes on giving a school talk?

  1. Schools and speakers always need to take time to speak over the phone ahead of an event, and is always attributed as the most influential part of a successful talk.
  2. Know the audience you will be speaking to and how you can relate your journey to theirs, no matter how different they might appear.
  3. Be candid and frank about making mistakes/decisions, helping students see the person behind success or a position — this is what leaves a lasting impact regardless of speaker!
  4. Students can be shy or not be used to a talk from external speakers, so don’t read shyness or odd questions as not getting through to students. Many teachers comment to the charity how students remark on an event long after it’s taken place!
  5. Not sure what to expect? Need help getting plans in place? Never hesitate to contact the charity, we can help.