Anika Penn nails it!

Since I began this blog in November 2012 it has presented me with rewards that went way beyond the obvious. It spurred me into exploring ways technology could enable me to work with people at a distance, and as a result my experience has been enriched by good friends in other parts of the world. One of the principal agents in this is Duncan Goldie-Scot, a tireless entrepreneur who is helping to open up the developing world by founding, backing, nurturing and incubating micro-businesses . And micro-businesses don’t stay micro.

In February of this year Duncan emailed me an introduction to Anika Penn, a bright young New Yorker with a new company that he was backing. She was going to need to pitch to investors, and could use my help.

Anika and I had three one-hour Skype sessions over the next couple of weeks, after which there was a pause while she travelled to Kenya where her business was being piloted. I expected us to speak again on her return, putting finishing touches to her pitch with anecdotal material from her Kenya trip. I reckoned without Anika’s flair and determination. From Kenya I received an email with a link to this.

I was bowled over, as was Duncan who had also received that email. She told us only that she had filmed it on the roof of a community centre in Kibera.

I habitually give to people, planning to do something on camera, a strange piece of maverick, counter-intuitive advice. Don’t be too comfortable. An element of peripheral stress can distract your mind into forgetting to introduce some of those inhibitions that get in your way. I hadn’t told this to Anika because it hadn’t come up: I thought we were preparing a pitch to a live audience. Anika had just decided to run with the ball her own way; and it looked to me as if the blustering wind had provided some of that peripheral stress. I didn’t know the half of it.

When she was back in New York we arranged another Skype chat. I was eager to find out all about this.

As I said earlier, this job has its rewards.

Jamie Oliver had a good teacher.

In February 2010 Jamie Oliver delivered a TED talk in Long Beach, California, on a theme that has obsessed him for many years, healthy eating.

Bald opening! It’s just a single sentence, so – although arresting – it hardly qualifies as a James Bond film opening, but who cares? His opening sentence preceded his introduction of himself. In a sense he grabbed our hand before shaking it. This is an excellent start, and sets the bar high for this talk.

He carries a sheaf of cards in his hand. He gestures with them, fiddles with them, slaps them occasionally, and does everything except read from them. I suspect that they contain a few prompts and are there purely for their presence to reduce his stress. I can’t fault this. He shoots everything from the hip.

Oliver has been presenting TV programmes for many years, and the nature of those programmes is such that he has had a lot of practice at shooting from the hip. There are plenty of people for whom that sentence is just as true, but who – when placed on a speaking platform – stick a script on the lectern, their thumb in their mouth, and wear an invisible but unmistakeable caption that says “prat”. There is a reason: a camera lens is not the same as an auditorium full of people; and making the transition requires the application or more effort than they could be bothered to spare.

At 1:20 he plays the audience by requesting a show of hands. The exercise has essentially no value other than making them feel involved. He does nothing with the information, but it was a good thing to do. This keeps getting better.

He produces a graph that shows that obesity kills several times as many people as guns, yet we all know that it generates a fraction of the media outrage. He plays the Brit-lecturing-the-yanks card well, and with enough charm to harvest laughs with it. He works a good visual episode in which he tips a wheelbarrow full of sugar onto the stage. It represents, for the average American child’s five year education period, the sugar consumption from flavoured milk alone. He deploys periodic claptraps, gets the required applause for most of them; and for the few that fail to bring forth fruit he doesn’t dwell but pushes on. He presents gratifyingly short video clips that pithily illustrate points he is making. This whole thing is beautifully put together, and skilfully delivered.

We may quarrel with some of his assertions: we may sit and think, “yes, but…” and many probably will. That is what discourse is for. For my part I have moments when I wince a little, because I have developed an allergy to busybody social policing in all its guises. But I am relieved that he never quite calls for the cold, dead hand of official bureaucracy to get involved. He seems less anti-bad-habits than pro-good-habits, and that is a saving grace – urging people to put pressure on industry, the retail sector, educators and themselves to learn to do better. Consumer power is preferable to social police.

Now I must replace my rhetor hat…

Whoever taught Jamie Oliver to speak this well, I salute them. Could it have been Jamie Oliver?