Speaker Q&A

Interview by Speakers Corner

How did the corporate speaking all start?

It probably began at university, when I was President of AIESEC, an international economics and commerce students organisation, but only really took off when I launched my first business book, Beyond Reasonable Greed.

Can you remember your first speaking engagement?

It was at high school, when I entered a public speaking competition. The topic I chose was ‘wisdom’ and I won the cup for the best speaker.

And your last event?

My last ‘event’ is really a series of events, as I am on a continuous 12 month, 20 country, 50 event ‘CSR Quest’ lecture tour. My last event in this series was for a business school in Pune, India (earlier this week), and today I am at a conference in Kiev, Ukraine.

Which event has been your favourite and why?

Addressing the Heligan Dialogue Process in Mexico City. This is a committee of the G8 and G5 countries. I found it interesting because this North-South group are at the fulcrum upon which the future is being shaped. A contrasting and equally fascinating event that I addressed was the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Cape Town.

If you could speak at any event, past or future, what would it be?

It would be an event hosted by former South African president, Nelson Mandela or (since we are fantasising here), one where Leonardo Da Vinci was participating.

Who would you most like to share a platform with?

One of the most profound thinkers and writers I have met (and interviewed), Fritjof Capra.

On average, how many times a year do you speak at corporate events?

2010 is an unusual year, with my world lecture tour, where I will probably speak at 50 events. In a more typical year, it is probably half that.

Do you use powerpoint

Yes, although I try to make the slides as graphic as possible, and to avoid bullet points.

Are you as happy speaking to 50 as to 1,000 people?

Yes, I like both ends of the spectrum. Obviously the delivery style varies, with the latter being more interactive.

How do you like to be introduced?

As a writer, social entrepreneur and eternal student on the impacts of business on society. More formally, as Founder & Director of CSR International, author of books (most on the role of business in society) and Senior Associate of the University of Cambridge Programme for Sustainability Leadership. And a poet, for pleasure.

Do you always like to do a briefing call before the event?

No. I think briefing notes and the conference topic and agenda suffice. Speakers should be given some leeway in addressing their subject.

What are the most asked for topics?

In my field (the role of business in society), the most popular topics are The Future of Corporate Social Responsibility or CSR 2.0 (as I call it), climate change & business, and creating social change through business.

Is your speech at all interactive with audience participation?

If the audience size allows it, I always like to involve the audience through questions, discussion and even group breakouts.

Do you have any funny/embarrassing speaking anecdotes you care to share?

I was once presenting on a business school campus, using a computer that was connected to the internet. In the middle of the presentation, a porn site loaded. I had my back to the screen, so I couldn’t understand what the students were laughing at. It was probably a set up, but was good for a laugh.

Your favourite film?

Brazil. There is so much that is wise, funny and disturbing in that movie that I can watch it over an over. It is a parody of our institutions, our obsessions and a warning for the future.

Favourite book?

Shantaram (by Gregory Roberts), followed closely by Possession (A.S. Byatt) and The Bridge Across Forever (Richard Bach).

Favourite holiday destination?

This would have to be Egypt. I took a trip down the Nile to all the temples. The history, architecture and ancient culture were just fascinating.

What’s your tipple – wine, beer, champagne?

I have an alcoholic sweet tooth, so it would be a South African liqueur called Amarula (a cream liqueur made from Marula fruit). I like port wine as well.

Country or townie?

I like cities, which are more dynamic and diverse, so long as I can get a regular dose of nature.