The Oxford Union, on 14 October, hosted a talk followed by Q&A from Jon Smith, football super-agent.
What I know about football (soccer) could be written in several languages on the back of a postage stamp, but my interest was quickened because the mainstream media suggest that football agents are shadowy lowlife, barely legal beings – bottom-feeders; and given that the mainstream media are almost unfailingly wrong about everything I wanted to learn more. I was also curious as to how and why the Oxford Union had gone out of its way to seek a talk from him. This last was quickly answered by the revelation that he had recently published a book of memoirs. When I had a radio programme, I remember book promotion campaigns as one of the best seams to mine for good interviews.
He is seated.
My mind rockets back more than half a century to schooldays and a class speaking competition. The teacher had surrendered his desk at the front of the classroom, and we were all invited to use it. All the others enthroned themselves in his seat of power. I, choosing to stand, won. Although the teacher did mention that by standing I showed more authority than the others, I have always liked to believe that there was more than that to my victory.
In The Face & Tripod, I have a chapter entitled The Communication Paradox. This paradox is essentially in how unexpectedly often it is that otherwise good communicators have difficulty with public speaking. I discuss reasons and remedies. In particular I home in on the preposition ‘with’, and commend the mindset of speaking with your audience as distinct from to. Jon Smith is definitely speaking with his audience, and I have a suspicion that by sitting he is helping that.
I feel slightly chastened. When I began teaching and coaching public speaking, nearly thirty years ago, I was a bit of a maverick inasmuch as I sensed (correctly it turned out) that the fashion for formal oratory was on the wain. I was one of the earliest advocates of the conversational-sincerity school of speaking, but I have always stopped short of recommending being seated. Jon Smith is making me rethink. He is showing me that there are circumstances when it obviously works.
He is instantly likeable, sincere, articulate, coherent, everything I would wish him to be. From the moment he starts I want to learn more. That is the equivalent of the author forcing you to turn pages. My notepad is discarded: I am too interested in what he has to say to give a damn about how he says it. And remember: I know nothing about football.
This talk is brilliant. The book is called The Deal: Inside the World of a Super-Agent. I can’t wait to read it.
And the Q&A is fascinating too. I suspect you would never guess his answer to the question, “Who is the most powerful man in football?”