You don’t have to be perfect, you just have to be honest: Simon’s a-ha moment after years of striving for perfection. Tune into this episode of Speechless to hear Simon Bucknall’s most memorable speech making moments, deconstructed by co-host Maryam Pasha. In this live masterclass, you’ll learn how to become an editor of your own experiences, when to use dialogue in your talks, and why a good story is all about honing, honing, honing…
[00:00:00] Maryam Pasha: You are listening to Speechless, the new podcast from storytelling experts, Maryam Pasha and Simon Bucknall. Hit for now to learn how to tell stories that changed the world.
[00:00:18] Simon Bucknall: One day I remember I was running a public speaking workshop in a school, and you can imagine, right, 30 boys, 15 years old. So for me it was a dream assignment, cuz what they really wanted to do was spend a whole day hanging out with Harry Potter's dad doing [00:00:30] public speaking in their own classroom. Right.
[00:00:31] Simon Bucknall: And the headmaster warned me beforehand about one of the boys. He said, watch out for Stevo. You can be a little bit challenging. That boy. All right, well, no kidding, right? Stevo was a nightmare all day. And he was the joker in the class. Always mucking around. No, never taking things seriously. Cracking jokes.
[00:00:48] Simon Bucknall: He wasn't nasty, but. It was hard work, let's put it that way, until at the end of the day, each of the boys stepped up to give a speech on a topic of their own choice. And [00:01:00] who do you suppose came in to listen to them at the back? Headmaster came in bat row of the classroom. So up comes Steve shabby jacket, scuffed shoes, and I'm sitting there thinking, oh God, what's he gonna say?
[00:01:13] Simon Bucknall: When you look at me, you'd probably think you're a joke, but I'm not. Probably think dead end kid probably end up in a gang, but I won't. Come on Edma. Be honest when you look at me. You must think Steve O must be, he won't do anything with his life, [00:01:30] but I will. Now. Steve O wasn't perfect far from it, but when he was, was honest.
[00:01:42] Simon Bucknall: Not just with his audience, but with himself. And I remember sitting there thinking it was like he was looking in a mirror saying, this is what I believe, this is who I really am. And if you could have seen the impact he had. Imagine the headmaster's face, like Chin hits the floor because there's me and Oxford graduate for years going through [00:02:00] life thinking, I can't possibly be honest.
[00:02:01] Simon Bucknall: I've got to be perfect. And yet here's a 15 year old boy with none of the advantages I had. Teaching me is the other way around. You don't have to be perfect. You just have to be honest. And as I look back at my life, I thought, have I been that honest? Have you,
[00:02:21] Simon Bucknall: and that's one of the stories in a speech that you know, well because of course it was part of the speech that TEDx London and of course it, you know, the web kind of delivered there. [00:02:30] It's, it's, it's kind of, you can tell that it's from a, from a speech if you like, to a large audience rather than it being literal conversation.
[00:02:35] Simon Bucknall: But nevertheless, it's a. Yeah, it's, that's definitely a moment. I remember, I've done, well over the years, I've worked with thousands of young people in schools. Boy, I remember Steve-O.
[00:02:47] Simon Bucknall: That
[00:02:47] Maryam Pasha: was great. So I love that story, Simon, and it isn't the first time I've heard it, but I think it's a testament to the story that every time you tell it, I am. Totally engrossed in it. Um, [00:03:00] and if I deconstruct it a little bit. Mm-hmm. So first of all, let me ask you some questions about it. Yeah. Why did that moment really stand out for you?
[00:03:07] Maryam Pasha: Like the first time you identified that conversation, what was it that you thought, like in the moment, did you think this is gonna be a great story? Was it that you reflected back?
[00:03:22] Simon Bucknall: That experience took place in a, uh, south London State secondary school about, well back in probably about 2011. [00:03:30] So it's quite a few years ago. And with young people in schools, I, I saw and have heard, been privileged to hear countless really, really powerful stories and, and experiences and, and speaking performances.
[00:03:40] Simon Bucknall: Um, that's one of the few that I, I still remember years on, so, What was it? I think at the time I knew that he was doing something very courageous, and you could see from the reaction in the room. I could tell, right, this is, this is big. But I don't think, in my mind I was thinking, oh wow, this is a standout from all the other things.
[00:03:58] Simon Bucknall: It was just, yeah, this is, [00:04:00] this is an important moment for this boy. And uh, and there were lots of others over the years working with young people that I, that I saw as people, took some emotional risk. And he spoke obviously with it, honestly. But, but you know, the. I think actually what made that experience more memorable is something that isn't included in the story, at least for me personally.
[00:04:16] Simon Bucknall: Right. Which is that there's, there's quite a bit of detail around that experience, which I don't include in the story that I've just told in that version. I had to cut it. Which one of the brutal things about storytelling on purpose is that you sometimes have to let go of detail that actually is really quite meaningful [00:04:30] to you, but may not be needed to.
[00:04:34] Simon Bucknall: Achieve what you're wanting to achieve message wise. So at, at the end of that day, say 30 boys, they all give a speech. And the way that was set up, this is part of the Jack Petsy Speak Out challenge. And it's a program delivered in 450 plus schools. And each school runs a workshop and each school puts forward two speakers to represent their school, uh, against, alongside a series of, uh, all the other schools in their borough.
[00:04:56] Simon Bucknall: And for this school to decide on the two, they wanted six to go [00:05:00] forward to speak in front of the whole year. Well, I got to decide who the six were, and so obviously everyone got a certificate in there when I was thinking, right, who are the six speakers? And there were five others. And I thought, well, Steve's definitely getting one, because that was, that was magic.
[00:05:11] Simon Bucknall: And I deliberately left his certificate to last when I announced the six that were going through to represent their year group. And, and actually, I mean, even now, I, I kind of feel it that I can remember holding and they knew there was one more. Person to be announced and the headmaster was there, and I don't remember the look on Steve O's face before I announced it, but [00:05:30] when I announced his name, I mean, it was like he had won the football pools.
[00:05:34] Simon Bucknall: I mean, it was just unbelievable. There was cheering in the room. He came up, I mean, and, and, and that actually. I, I, I really, really did feel it then. And I feel it still now. Yeah. Uh, and he went forward as one of six speakers in front of his year group. The year group then voted. He was, voted as one of the two speakers to go forward to represent his school.
[00:05:52] Simon Bucknall: And I went and I did see him at that borough final. Now, just to just make clear, this is, this is the real world. This is not the sort of fairytale, he did [00:06:00] not then win in the competition, the borough final, but he got the opportunity to represent his school and. And, and I, and I did see him. I went back to the school and I saw him a year or so later.
[00:06:10] Simon Bucknall: And this, I do tell using the speech, um, be a little bit further in the speech to say, he came right next to me and he literally said, sir, sorry, I'm making my first album. It turns out public speaking isn't his thing, but music is, yeah. So. So I think that's, it was that feeling that really hit me. But when I looked at what I wanted to [00:06:30] achieve with the speech, which was all about being honest with yourself as well as with other people, I, it, I I had to focus on what you heard in the story.
[00:06:38] Simon Bucknall: Yeah. Which was his moment of vulnerability and honesty in front of the audience, rather than the fact that he won a top six speaker certificate. Cuz actually in a way that, that almost belittles the importance of what he did and it wouldn't work. But, but actually that's what made it memorable to, for
[00:06:53] Maryam Pasha: me.
[00:06:53] Maryam Pasha: Yeah. So I'm actually gonna, so this is so insightful because I'm actually gonna pick that apart a little bit. Mm. Because what you [00:07:00] did here is you, you became an editor. So not just a storyteller, but kind of an editor, curator of your own experience. And I think. To just pull this out. You asked yourself, and I think when you're a speaker, you have to ask yourself this question, what is my core message?
[00:07:16] Maryam Pasha: Like, what is the thing that I'm trying to communicate with this story or with this moment? And then be brutal with editing. Mm. So for you, the second part of that experience may have been more [00:07:30] dramatic in some ways. Um, But actually it's the first part. The part that you did tell Yes. That serves your, the through line serves the message that you're trying to communicate to the audience.
[00:07:42] Maryam Pasha: Yes. And I think it's why it's really, really important for you to have done that process, to have said, you know what? How do I take this story in service to what I'm trying to communicate rather than let me just tell all of it. Mm. And so it, you know, it might land, it might not because it loses a focus.
[00:07:59] Maryam Pasha: Yes. All of that other stuff [00:08:00] is great. I wanna hear it now because I'm invested in Stevo. But in the beginning it's that, that the prepared piece that really lands. Yeah. So I think deconstructing that a little bit is, is quite, it, it's quite amazing that that focus.
[00:08:14] Simon Bucknall: Yes. That. Yeah, that's right. And it, it's, it, it all comes down to what is it, what, what's the real purpose for telling the story?
[00:08:21] Simon Bucknall: Yes. Which of course is the difference between literally just telling stories and conversation where we tell things for the fun of it, and just as part of, you know, just swapping life [00:08:30] experiences and so on, versus really telling a story with intent. Yeah. It, it also, I think, helps to explain why. Everyday conversation, the same story related by two different people.
[00:08:39] Simon Bucknall: One can be really funny and one not, you know? Yes. The editing is key. And, and, and any self-respecting sound comedian will, will say that, you know, the, the changing literally one word can make a huge difference. Yeah. And that pruning, pruning, honing, honing, honing, honing, honing, uh, less is more. Um, but it is, it is brutal.
[00:08:54] Simon Bucknall: And, and I think so many, and, and I think it, it, it is always a bit of a journey to get [00:09:00] through. The, the clutter and to really get to, you know, to go from a lump of coal to a, to a gemstone. Right. Also, but that, but, but that, but, but that's the reason I think that that's what makes a, a hard hitting, powerful story stand out.
[00:09:14] Simon Bucknall: Uh, it's not that there's necessarily. Some big spectacular in the story. It's that it's honed down to what? To its absolute essence and sometimes very, very, every day seemingly ordinary experiences can be hugely [00:09:30] powerful, whether it's funny or inspiring or tragic or otherwise for that reason because they've been honed, right?
[00:09:35] Simon Bucknall: Yeah. Whereas a spectacular experience with too much fluff around it simply won't have the right Im won't have the same impact,
[00:09:41] Maryam Pasha: but there's something. In what you're saying that I think is important to be really explicit about when you are cutting and honing and editing, it doesn't mean you're cutting stuff that's bad sometimes you can be cutting and editing out stuff that is your favorite bit or, or, or actually just as beautiful and [00:10:00] well told and well-written.
[00:10:01] Maryam Pasha: You know, it's not about good from bad, that's not the right, um, metric. Right? Absolutely. The thing you're cutting is focus. Does this serve. The, the message I'm trying to convey, and I think that is where people trip up.
[00:10:14] Simon Bucknall: Yeah. A absolutely right. Absolutely right. Yes. It's, it's, it's relevance for the audience.
[00:10:18] Simon Bucknall: Yes. Not is this good or is this bad? Brene
[00:10:20] Maryam Pasha: Brown has this great thing where she talks about writing her Ted talks. So she says, she writes it, she cuts half of it, she mourns the half that she's cut. She then cuts it again in half. [00:10:30] Yes. And then mourns that half and what she's left with is a quarter. And you think about how good she is as a speaker, as a writer, as a performer, and you think.
[00:10:38] Maryam Pasha: That three quarters that she's cut was probably gold, right? Yes. But it didn't serve her message. And I think that if you. Or someone who is gonna speak more and more. You're actually not just developing a skill as a speaker, you're developing a skill as an editor. Yeah,
[00:10:55] Simon Bucknall: absolutely. I love that phrase you used earlier about the, a curator of your own experience.
[00:10:59] Simon Bucknall: Yeah. I I, [00:11:00] I'm gonna write that down. Right. And the good news, of course, is in terms of resourcefulness, is that because any experience has multiple dimensions and facets to it. This one is obviously with the case in point, there's what he said. There's the, there's the aftermath, you know, on that day. Him then coming to represent the school by then seeing him a year later, you know, there's a number of different elements, not all of which get told, but, but from that, in my head, one single experience, which is my contact with [00:11:30] this, this young out of 15, there's actually multiple options.
[00:11:34] Simon Bucknall: Storytelling wise. And there's also multiple options message wise. And so I think often people feel like, oh, I've gotta have this, you know, arsenal of like a hundred stories to be a story. You know, you don't necessarily need many. If you've got identified, just say half a dozen, uh, meaningful experiences, they have to be meaningful.
[00:11:50] Simon Bucknall: That's, that's important for some reason. Then you'll find there's always gonna be different ways in which that particular experience can be sliced, diced, and applied for good
[00:11:57] Maryam Pasha: intent in this situation. Yeah, I think it's different [00:12:00] rappers I was talking to to a student yesterday about this, and she had this.
[00:12:03] Maryam Pasha: Very powerful, very personal core. And I was like, you don't need to do this like 20 different ways. You keep your core the same, but your rappers will be different depending on your audience. And there's something very powerful if you can hone in on a story like that. That is so. Meaningful and, and you've worked on it so much that you can actually tell it for different purposes.
[00:12:24] Maryam Pasha: Yes. Yes, yes. Um, I wanna, I wanna do some more deconstruction. Hmm. Um, so you, [00:12:30] you know, there's this editing and serving the core message. There's some other things that you did there that I think, uh, let's, let's reveal. Hmm. So one of them is repetition. You had, and I always think of when pe, when speakers use a, a phrase or a word over and over again, it's like the baseline of the talk.
[00:12:50] Maryam Pasha: It creates like a beat for the listener. And you were like, honest, honest, honest, honest. Like, you know, and it, it keeps me as a [00:13:00] listener going along without feeling like I'm being. Like you didn't do it so much that you kind of slapped me over the face with it, but enough that it felt like a beat in music.
[00:13:11] Maryam Pasha: Is that something that you are, like, is that something that you did, like you were clear on repeating that phrase over and
[00:13:18] Simon Bucknall: over again? Well, particularly the latter stages there about what he was, was honest and have I been that honest? Have you, of course the word honesty is used quite a bit towards the end, although the word honesty doesn't, it's, it's not said by him.
[00:13:29] Simon Bucknall: No. Uh, [00:13:30] it's, it's, it's milia. An outcome or a feeling that, or a meaning that I derived from listening to him speaking. So, so I think in the telling of a particular story, in terms of the details of the story, there may not necessarily be a refrain. Of course. Where there is an echo in the speech is, is with his dialogue.
[00:13:45] Simon Bucknall: When you look at me, dot, dot, dot, when you email@example.com, do I think the ancient Greeks for star applauding? Is it Oh yes. It's anaphora. Is that, I mean, repeating of a phrase, we shall fight them on the, we shall fight them, we shall fight them. Um, so, so, so there is, but, but that's, that's. Uh, [00:14:00] incidental, I think in the context of an overall speech or presentation or, you know, when, when you're putting the story in, in, in relevant context, then Absolutely.
[00:14:07] Simon Bucknall: Yes. Uh, you know, the world championship speeches is typically a seven minutes. Obviously with a TEDx talk it might be, say as much as 18. Maybe it's last 15, 12 minutes, 10 minutes, maybe even only five minutes. And, and I think, yeah, the, the, the echoing of just like a chorus line or a refrain in there is so, so helpful.
[00:14:23] Simon Bucknall: And the, the choice of language is absolutely key and in the full blown. Well the, that story both featured the TEDx [00:14:30] London as you know, and also was part of the speech, um, that I, that I took to the semi finals of the, the World Championships in 2017. And, and that the message of, uh, you don't have to be perfect, you just have to be honest.
[00:14:42] Simon Bucknall: Mm. Features a number of times in the speech. Yeah. And I don't think anyone would be any doubt as to what the speech was about, which is say honesty. Yeah.
[00:14:50] Maryam Pasha: There was something else you did there that I think. Felt like it really elevated it and it feels like, uh, a skill that's harder to master. And so I [00:15:00] wanna ask how you've developed it, which is dialogue.
[00:15:03] Maryam Pasha: Mm-hmm. Right? There's dialogue in this story. Um, and that is much more difficult to do. How do you, how do you craft that?
[00:15:16] Simon Bucknall: Well, the dialogue is, is so, Helpful, I think in storytelling and intuitively we do it, but the beauty of good dialogue is that even if you don't, uh, change the voice at all, still for the listener, you hear the voice of [00:15:30] the character rather than the speaker. Yes. And, and, and that's what, and it's so, is so different.
[00:15:35] Simon Bucknall: The reporting. There's a big difference, isn't there? Between, there was a boy who stood up and made clear to people that he actually wasn't quite what they thought he was, is very different from, you'd probably think you're a joke. Yeah. But I'm not. Yeah. Now in, in, in the, so the crafting of the dialogue, I think the key thing is, is revisiting the, the voice of the character and I.[00:16:00]
[00:16:00] Simon Bucknall: A and in a way, I think relaxing into it. Yeah. Not to think too hard if you, if you overthink dialogue, it's not gonna sound real. But many people I've noticed with, with clients I've worked with over the years have, even though they can do and use dialogue intuitively when, you know, chatting about stuff when asked to do it on purpose, find it quite difficult and slip into putting the word that in, you know, said that.
[00:16:21] Simon Bucknall: And then of course you're into reported speech. So it does take a little bit of conscious effort to Oh, interesting.
[00:16:26] Maryam Pasha: Say that, that, say that again. Actually, that's a really interesting thing. [00:16:30] So, dialogue. Yes. Tell me, tell me that again.
[00:16:33] Simon Bucknall: Yeah. So, so it's, it's, it's colon quotation marks. It's not the word that, so Steve o said that he was not gonna end up in a gang.
[00:16:43] Simon Bucknall: Doing drugs. He did say that, but that's me reporting what he said. It's very different from Steve O. Stepped up and said, you probably think you're gonna, I'm gonna end up in a gang, but I'm not. Now, now that, that, there of course, is dialogue. And that's code quotation marks. Quotation marks, yes. So the word that slips in as soon as that [00:17:00] happens, right.
[00:17:00] Simon Bucknall: That gate, that's the gateway to store, to, to, to dialogue is to think literally open quotation marks. And it can feel a little bit weird to do that on purpose.
[00:17:08] Maryam Pasha: See, this is why I think. When you are gonna craft something like this, that you do have to sometimes write it down and look at it. Mm. Yeah. Because you can easily have the first pass written it in that kind of reporting style and then gone back and thought, okay, actually I do wanna make this dialogue.
[00:17:24] Maryam Pasha: How do I do that? Yes. Um, ab absolutely, because I do think that that's quite, I think it's, [00:17:30] it really elevates, whenever I hear someone tell the story and they've got that dialogue in it absolutely elevates it to another level.
[00:17:37] Simon Bucknall: Yes, yes. And and that's right. And, and I think yes, in as a writing skill, people will typically, I.
[00:17:43] Simon Bucknall: Default to reported speech or to, or to just rational summaries. And this is featured in just in the last few weeks, working with a client, preparing for an agm. Yeah. And time and again, there'll be, and this is, this is like the polar opposite of talking about a boy in a school. These are, uh, investors [00:18:00] talking about particular businesses and their performance and so on and, and time.
[00:18:03] Simon Bucknall: And again, you get phrasing in, in the written. More essay like version of, of the story of this business. Comments like the, you know, this was a business where the, the founder was keen to work with a true partner who really understood their business and would enable them to expand internationally. And Dunam is very different from, uh, in that first conversation with the founder, it was clearly he said to us, look, I need someone who [00:18:30] really understands my business and I want to go international, but I can't afford to do that with the wrong partner.
[00:18:37] Simon Bucknall: This is like a very different Now, of course, one of the ob, one of the obstacles is that when people are in writing mode, often will tend to be in that more rational part of the brain and therefore we're not thinking really about dialogue. And it would, it would seem a bit soft and fluffy unless it's some sort of impressive quote, you know, you know, as the great philosopher once said, then I put a quote of dialogue in.
[00:18:55] Simon Bucknall: But, but in, in everyday life, we don't tend to default [00:19:00] to putting dialogue in when we are writing. And then of course that plays out the speaker notes or the script then plays out in how it's actually delivered. But the other thing, of course, is that people sometimes get caught up on, well, I can't remember exactly what they said.
[00:19:12] Simon Bucknall: Yes, and therefore I couldn't possibly quote them. Well, a, they're probably not gonna mind that much. But secondly, as long as the essence of it is fair and true, I think that's legitimate. Okay. So I I, I, I'm certain that Steve o did not to say precisely the words that I said earlier, although [00:19:30] is the essence of it, you probably think, you probably think, you probably think, but I'm not.
[00:19:34] Simon Bucknall: He absolutely did say that. And therefore I, I'm cool with that. You know, this is not about a literal, you know, word for word detail, recollection of, of reality. Uh, so that that sometimes gets in people's, in, in people's way. Oh, I, I, I don't quite know how, how to position the dialogue because I can't quite remember.
[00:19:52] Maryam Pasha: This is also valuable actually. This is that crafting piece. I think that often I. I know you talk about, I talk [00:20:00] about around how you, you pay attention to these little details, it can really make a difference. Mm. Yeah. You have the big picture stuff, which we started with, like what's the message, what's in service to the message, et cetera.
[00:20:12] Maryam Pasha: But then this is where you really are taking the fine tuning and I think. It's just always so impressive, Simon, to watch you do it,
[00:20:20] Simon Bucknall: quite frankly. Well, that is, that is generous of you to, to say so. But it's, it's quite fun. You know, it's really great fun. As long as, as soon as you give yourself permission to just relax into it and enjoy and say you, [00:20:30] I mean, I mean to, for, for any speaker, any storyteller, to, to, to.
[00:20:34] Simon Bucknall: To take pleasure in, in reviewing and assessing and then retelling and relating experience in life. I say, and the joy, the beauty is that we do do it all the time. It's just about switching on that, that purpose. Mm. Uh, flipping the, the purpose switch and thinking, right, actually I could do that bit more with this if I honed it in this way or that way.
[00:20:53] Simon Bucknall: I should say also that with dialogue, it sometimes it can be used in the context of a far shorter story that seemingly. [00:21:00] You know, uh, less spectacular. So, so I can remember for example, some years ago and I wrote the, the only reason I remember this by the way, is cause I wrote it down. I thought, this is just genius.
[00:21:09] Simon Bucknall: I've gotta remember this. I was on the London Underground, it was about half past 10, 11 o'clock at night. And, uh, there was a guy who'd clearly had too much to drink walking down the platform. And he was, he wasn't being, you know, rude, but he was, he was being quite Larry going, oh, hello, hello. How are you?
[00:21:23] Simon Bucknall: And then in the opposite direction. I just happened to catch sight of a priest. You could see, you know, dog collar or whatever, coming down the opposite direct. Oh, he said, who [00:21:30] forgive me father for I have sinned. Didn't even bat an eyed, the priest. He simply said, I know. And kept walking. I just, I just, I fell about laughing, you know?
[00:21:40] Simon Bucknall: And. Right now, I don't know what the purpose of that story might. I mean, it's just this lovely little moment. I just, and of course the dialogue is key, you know, key. Not the drunk met the priest and that it, you can't report that. You have to have to show that. Yes. And you just never know when these things might come in handy.
[00:21:56] Simon Bucknall: Cuz if you've got 'em in a story file, then you might say just for, for [00:22:00] seemingly little reason, reference it in something like, say a podcast called Speechless.
[00:22:11] Simon Bucknall: You've been listening to Speechless, the podcast from storytelling experts, Maryam Pasha and Simon Bucknall. Hit follow now to keep learning how to tell stories that changed the world. And if you enjoyed it, please leave us a rating and review. Until next time, speak less, say more.[00:22:30]