The confidence trick

‘Fake it till you make it’ has been a meme or a slogan or a motto even, since the old king died. But confidence is a fragile thing. Even Grayson Perry, that celebrated, ebullient and larger-than-life artist who’s even higher profile than usual right now due to his lockdown TV series ‘Grayson’s Art Club’ (UK Channel 4), appears to have suffered from a lack of confidence. At one time he did, anyway. I learned this from an article he wrote ‘Letters to my 16-year-old self’ or words to that effect. He wanted his younger self to have more belief that his life would go well. ‘Confidence’ he wrote, ‘is the most important thing, because it allows one to fulfil one’s potential.’

But how do we get it if we haven’t got it? How do we get more of it?

Self-esteem is another way of putting it and maybe a more central quality, of which self-confidence is an aspect or a manifestation. I have been amazed at the number of times I’ve met people who seem to be confident on the outside but actually suffered from lack of self-esteem. Maybe they were applying the ‘fake it till you make it’ thing.

Self-belief is another way of expressing it and that’s maybe the best way of describing the quality we’re looking for.

What I do know about confidence is this: It’s context-specific. Should be obvious but maybe it’s not. I’m confident at some things, less so in others, and not at all in others. Anyone who is supremely self-confident in all aspects of their life is either very lucky or deluded.

The other thing I’ve learned is that confidence can be cut and pasted – or maybe copied and pasted, from one are of one’s life to another. A practical way of proving that is the practice called anchoring, or the circle of excellence, that I first learned from NLP (neuro-linguistic programming) practitioner Dianne Lowther. I learned the technique of capturing, or anchoring, the emotions from previous success, in order to improve my performance at an event. I was confident that the event would go well; simply wanted to find a way to become less jittery three or four hours in advance of the event, which was speaking at a fundraising dinner. Not only did the technique work in that way, it also enabled me to engage with other people at the event in ways I would not have done previously.

Context, cut-and-paste. Those are the two key things I work with. Then the next thing is the difference between confidence and self-esteem or self-belief. They are of course tied up in the broader issue of personality. Are you an extrovert or an introvert? Or something in between? Or does it vary from day to day, from hour to hour? If so, you’re normal.

Because I’m a coach and not a therapist, I tend to deal in the present and the client’s picture of the future, not the distant past. Yes, we might deal with the recent past if there’s a pattern of behaviour that still persists and which inhibits performance or belief of both. But we don’t usually deal with what happened in your childhood, for example.

Maybe that’s something missing from our armoury. For example, I once had a client who on the face of it had a supremely successful professional life. But after questioning at a deeper level than I usually go (helped by the fact he’d completed a psychometric questionnaire: a most helpful tool), it transpired that he was still trying to prove himself to his parents. At that stage I think both his parents were dead; but nevertheless those scars run deep. Memo to self: one size doesn’t fit all. If I think about my own childhood, a long time ago, I recall that we were encouraged, implicitly if not explicitly, to believe in ourselves. Our parents would not have expressed it that way; but that was the outcome. Some kind of osmosis, maybe.

I still remember the best stage production I’ve ever been involved in. It was nearly ten years ago: a production of Richard III in a small pub theatre in Bristol. The director (a multi-talented young man called Tristan Darby) succeeded in getting us all to maintain the beauty of the pentameter, and yet to portray the inimitable drama of the play … and I still don’t know how he did it. I don’t recall a single ‘note’, i.e. the verbal critiques you receive or don’t receive at the end of each rehearsal. His work too was done by osmosis, as far as I can work out.

Parenting sometimes works like that. If you get it right, the child believes in him- or herself and that is a priceless legacy. Worth more than all the money you can leave them. On which subject: the richest man I know once said to me: ‘giving loadsa money to your kids is the worst thing you can do for them.’

‘Discuss’, as they say. Or they did, back in my rather traditional schooldays.

To conclude: if I, and my ex-wife, have given our daughters a reasonable measure of self-belief, then we’ve done our job. Maybe the most important job of our lives.

‘Tell them what you’re going to tell them …’

It’s always great to discover new angles on stuff you’ve been working with for years. As the saying goes, it’s what you learn after you know it all (or maybe you think you do) that counts.

How do you feel when confronted with a microphone?

A few years ago I was speaking about presentations at the breakfast meeting of The Business Club in Warwick. The invitation came through the good offices of my good friend and market research guru Nick Thomas. Nick tells me that the club has folded since, but he hasn’t.

The discussion during my talk reminded me that there are many ways to skin a cat. For example:

I described and demonstrated a technique for managing stress before a presentation. I’d learned it from NLP expert Dianne Lowther of Brilliant Minds. She called it “The Circle of Excellence” and it’s explained in detail on pp 68-70 of her book ‘Introducing NLP for Work, A Practical Guide’.

In the Q&A, club member Helena Lapworth commented that she’d used these NLP techniques in her own work. Of this ‘circle of excellence’ tool, she said, “we call them anchors & triggers.”

Whether you call it circles of excellence or anchors or triggers, I can attest that I’ve tried this technique and it works. If you want to know more, get in touch with me, or see the link below.


There’s an old saying about public speaking that’s been used for ever and a day: “Tell them what it is you’re going to tell them. Then tell them. Then tell them what it is that you’ve just told them.”

As that phrase used to be used by Army officers, I knew the technique as the Sandhurst method, after the famous Army staff college of that name. However, after my speech at Warwick, business club member Caroline Woodward came up to me and said “I know that technique as the “News at Ten method.”

Of course! That makes perfect sense. News bulletins have headlines both at the beginning and the end. And millions of us watch or listen to broadcast news. Not so many millions are familiar with Sandhurst, so ‘the News at Ten method’ is the description I’ve used ever since. Thank you, Caroline!

As I said at the beginning, it’s what you learn …

Further reading on The Circle of Excellence (aka anchors, aka triggers): see ’Introducing NLP at Work’ by Dianne Lowther.


I take a particular interest in the challenges of ageing. This is no more than enlightened self-interest, because I am now in my seventies. I write about it from time to time on my blog and it is my next book project.

I also broadcast about it from time to time, because I have a show on community radio here in Bristol: the wonderful community station, since you asked. On my radio show which I often co-present with my colleague Jim Currie, our particular interest within this field is people who have reinvented themselves. Jim and I feel that reinvention is better than retirement, provided you’ve got your health of course.

We play lots of music too, especially from the golden years of the Great American Songbook. So when I think of people who have reinvented themselves, one who died fairly recently at an advanced age was Doris Day. She was for a long period the most successful and well-paid entertainer in the Western world and her whole life was a series of reinventions. Doris (even her name was a reinvention) began intending to be a professional dancer and maybe no more than that but in her teens she suffered an accident, the details of which I forgotten, and as a result she was bedbound for some time. During that period she listened to the radio a lot and naturally heard the popular singers of the day. This was the 1930s, so people like Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald etc. Lying there in her bed she started to imitate them; their phrasing for example, so that when she recovered she decided that she wanted to be a singer too.

Her early days as a singer were with the big bands, first with Bob Crosby (Bing’s brother) and his Bobcats; and then Les Brown and His Band of Renown. With the latter she had one of her most enduring hits, “Sentimental Journey”.

A friend of mine who’s a very gifted and critical singer always said that although she didn’t care for all of Day’s repertoire, she was always ‘not just on the note but in the middle of the note’.

Later in life she became a successful actress. She is best known for her many innocent romcoms with people like Rock Hudson, James Garner etc giving rise to the phrase ‘I knew Doris Day before she was a virgin’. However she also showed herself capable of straight roles such as Love Me or Leave Me with James Cagney. Here’s the final scene:

After many years at the top of the show business tree she finally stopped performing and became a high-profile animal rights activist.

Her attitude of reinvention gave rise to what I think is one of the best quotes of the reinvention game:  ‘I never retired, I just did something else.’

Stage fright … the key to a magical performance?

Much has been written on the subject of public speaking nerves. If I want a suitable quote on this or any other matter, I look first to an American writer and humorist who never lets me down.

There are only two kind of speakers: (1) the nervous; and (2) liars.’ (Mark Twain, 1865-1910)

That gem, as true today as it was then, is the subject of a short video I recorded last year for my YouTube channel ‘The Mottoist.’

Like the inimitable and often-quoted Mark Twain, I said in the video that yes, most people are nervous when speaking in public. Not all, but most. There’s even a word for it now, ‘glossophobia’, and we’re told that 75% of the public suffer from it.

Not just the general public but stars from every genre of the performing arts. Dames Judi Dench and Janet Baker. John Lennon. Leonard Cohen. Stevie Nicks. Henry Fonda. The list goes on.

So back to my headline at the top of this piece, and maybe the key takeaway, from the aforementioned Stevie Nicks (she of Fleetwood Mac, if you’re not into rock): ‘If you have stage fright, it never goes away. But maybe the stage fright is the key to that magical performance.’

The good news: stress is helpful, provided you can manage it.

Want to know more? Message me!

Here’s a link to the video:

Wedding speeches: high crimes and misdemeanours

The best man as wannabe standup comic

I find the subject of wedding speeches fascinating; but for me it’s a part-time project. Therefore, when writing The Wedding Speech Handbook , I consulted many people whom I shall call ‘wedding professionals.’ By this I mean people who have a full-time business providing wedding services. Their input was of great value, especially with regard to the things they regarded as a ‘no-no.’ Here are some examples of ‘high crimes and misdemeanours’ according to those wedding pros. Most of them are covered in a little more detail in Chapter 10 of the book.

Lack of personal context to stories

This was the ‘#1 crime’ reported by professional storyteller Polly Tisdall and it absolutely mirrors my own view. Because humour is so valued in our culture, jokes by a best man have for years been seen as a necessary feature of his speech; but not everybody is a gifted joke-teller. Far better, in my view, to tell stories that feature the bride or groom, how they met, etc. Yes, of course the stories can be funny but the essential point is to make them relevant to the occasion.

And please, please, please don’t find jokes on the Internet. Thanks to that very Internet, a joke that you think is brand-new might well be known to half the audience. And it might also be thought tasteless by the other half. Bear in mind that most wedding audiences are very diverse, especially as regards age. This is one of my major bugbears and it’s well illustrated by the cartoon above, which is by the talented David Lewis.

Not being heard

These days most venues have a PA system available. That’s helpful but it does put a premium on microphone technique, so I’ve included a section on that topic in the book. Fortunately my daughter Madeleine is a professional actor and singer, with plenty of experience of using mics, so she wrote the section for me. There are also tips about choice of microphone types; and for those situations where PA is unnecessary or inappropriate, I’ve also added a section on voice projection.

On PA, a word of warning from photographer Giles Bracher: ‘if you’re going to use a lapel mic (which of course presupposes that there is a sound man on hand and that he doesn’t mind switching the mic over from speaker to speaker) and if you should need to use the loo between the time the mic is fitted and the time you actually stand up to speak (Mother Nature ensures that this occurrence is common), be sure to check that the mic isn’t switched on!’

Failing to prepare properly

Giles Bracher again: ‘My pet hate is speakers who think it’s OK to just turn up and chat.’ In my view, that shows disrespect to the couple, the event and the guests. In our culture the speeches are a big deal at a wedding and a speaker’s preparation should reflect that fact.

Going on for too long
Most wedding speeches are between five and ten minutes. However, I have heard horror stories of speeches lasting over an hour. By which time some guests had departed for the bar or the loo, or had dozed off.

Photographer Tasha Park says: ‘keep it short and sweet. Even the best speeches become difficult to listen to after the 15-minute mark’. And venue host Brigid Holdsworth told me about a wedding featuring three garrulous and adoring best men, where the speeches took two hours in total.

The dreaded booze

One or two drinks before speaking is of course a great temptation, but the meaning of ‘one or two’ depends on your constitution. Only you know your tolerance for the stuff, or at least you should. I know some people for whom the first two drinks don’t touch the sides.

I was once doing some work in a cafe and two strangers at the next table looked ideal candidates for my informal research: men in their thirties, extrovert types who wouldn’t object to being quizzed. I asked if either of them had spoken at a wedding recently and both said yes. ‘So how many drinks did you have beforehand?’ The first answered: ‘five or six pints of beer, just to take the edge off’ and the second: ‘I was so nervous beforehand, I couldn’t have faced it without getting hammered first.’

Luckily, most speakers take the matter more seriously. One of my coaching clients, speaking at his daughter’s’ wedding , said that before speaking he had ‘half a glass of wine. I’m a control freak: I wanted to get it right.’ However, at my suggestion he had a reward in his eye-line during the speech: a very large glass of whisky, his favourite tipple, visible in front of him but not to be touched till after the speech.

Hypnotherapist Sharon Stiles told me about speeches at two different friends’ weddings, where the respective best men’s speeches were both ruined by too much drink. See my book for more on that.

Not consulting the other speakers

This is an absolute no-no in the case of multiple best men, which as you’ll probably know has been a trend for some time. But for any speaker, nobody wants to hear the same story twice. Consultation is useful anyway: after all, which of the bride’s father and the groom will thank whom? Best to sort those details out in advance.

Speaking too fast

This is a natural reaction to the stress of the occasion. The remedies: rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. Record your voice (you’ve probably got a voice recorder app on your phone) and listen to it! Better still, play the recording to a partner, a friend, your dog.

(OK, I lied about the dog; they are famously poor judges of anything said by their owners. As Aldous Huxley said, “to his dog, every man is Napoleon, hence the constant popularity of dogs.” )

For more on high crimes and misdemeanours, see The Wedding Speech Handbook, Chapter 10: ‘Tips From the Professionals’.


Just had a great review for ‘Back to the Black’. What makes it really gratifying is that it comes from a chartered accountant who also writes about personal finance. Here it is:


I have just completed reading this book and came away more informed about personal debt and the different planning methods to get debt free.

As a personal finance author myself I found this book to be well written and clearly laid out, anyone in debt can pick up a copy and learn strategies to adopt/ implement in these stressful situations. This book is like having your own personal debt coach guiding you in your decision making process to financial stability.

Michael Mac Mohan breaks down the debt topic into digestible bite-size pieces that makes it easy for a person to come up with a plan/ strategy for getting out of debt. There are some touching debt stories/ case studies that are inspirational and would help motivate others who find themselves in similar situations.

I would recommend getting a copy for yourself if you are in debt or if you know someone in this situation.

Neala Okuromade, FCCA, author of ‘What’s Your Financial Gameplan?’

Back to the Black on free promotion



Breaking news!

The Kindle version of Back to the Black …. how to become debt-free and stay that way (second edition) will be available as a free download from 1st – 5th March inclusive.

The promotion applies to all territories.

Here are the links to access your free copy during the promotion:


US / worldwide:


Sherlock’s Hardest Case: How to Write an Unforgettable Best Man Speech


221b Baker Street

Image by hknong via Morguefile

Sherlock Holmes is wrestling with a difficult problem at 221B Baker Street. So problematic, in fact, that he sends an urgent summons for help to Detective Inspector Lestrade. As Lestrade arrives – with a full backup team, having left a crime in progress – Holmes, played by Benedict Cumberbatch on BBC-TV, holds up a slim book entitled How to Write an Unforgettable Best Man Speech. “This is hard,” he says. “The hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.”

If you should ever need to do that “hardest thing” and make a best man’s speech, don’t rush out to your favourite bookstore, be it Amazon or bricks-and-mortar, to find a copy of that book. Sadly, it doesn’t exist. (I say sadly, because that episode of Sherlock went viral and it would have been a fantastic piece of product placement.)

YOUR OPINION SOUGHT … wedding speeches on screen

A good friend told me that it would be an interesting exercise to analyse that now-famous speech, and I’ve decided to ask my readers for their opinions on it … and on other wedding speeches on screen, both TV dramas and feature films.

There are of course millions of real wedding speeches now on YouTube but I’m looking for fictional ones, because I believe that their lessons are more easily remembered. Benedict Cumberbatch, as Sherlock, has millions of fans (aka Cumberbitches), but that’s not the only reason for writing about his now-famous but fictional speech.

The other reason is that the latest series of the drama has just finished on BBC TV – personally I didn’t like the way they developed this last series but that’s just my opinion, though I know I am not alone – so maybe you fans are suffering withdrawal symptoms.

The Sign of Three: solve a crime or two, write a speech

This speech came, as any Sherlock fan will tell you, in an episode called The Sign of Three, broadcast in 2014. Sherlock has been invited to be Dr Watson’s best man, to his surprise and confusion. Simply writing it is, as he tells D.I. Lestrade, “the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.”

Your turn to comment!

So here’s the survey. What do you think of Sherlock’s speech? If you were planning a best man’s speech, what lessons, if any, would you take from it?

Here is a link to a video of the speech, via our old friends at YouTube:

That link takes you to almost the full speech, apart from a section at the beginning where Sherlock reads out the messages from absent friends; or, as he says: “First things first: telegrams! Well, they’re not actually telegrams; we just call them telegrams. I don’t know why. Wedding tradition, I suppose. Because apparently we don’t have enough of that already.”

This is all fiction, of course; but I think there are some useful lessons that can be learned from it. Do you agree? If so, what are they? And what do you think about what he does at the very start – reading the so-called ‘telegrams’ – which isn’t in this video?

If you want to see that part too, the only version I found on YouTube isn’t of great quality and has subtitles in Dutch; but here it is.

And for a final piece of background, here’s a transcript of an interview with Steven Moffat, who was Executive Producer of the Sherlock series and who wrote the speech, talking about this episode. He says he always wanted to see Sherlock as a best man. (That idea was his, not Conan Doyle’s:  in the original novels, Watson marries Mary Morstan between stories, off-screen so to speak). Moffat’s thoughts are very instructive.

Please post your comments: I’ll post mine soon. I will also post links to posts about this episode by other bloggers, so that you can compare your views with theirs.


That episode of Sherlock? It’s called The Sign of Three.

Other fictional wedding speeches from movies and TV dramas? I’ll be posting in coming weeks about other onscreen speeches. Watch this space!