Jacqui Harper MBE is one of Britain's most experienced and respected broadcasters and corporate trainers. She has anchored news and current affairs programmes for BBC TV, Sky News and GMTV...
Dump all that theory. Even forget those pronouncements about positive thinking. Richard Wilkins speaks from the heart and offers himself as an example.
Wilkins calls himself an inspirational speaker, preferring the title to that of motivational speaker.
He says he never set out to be a public speaker. He went through a huge turnaround in his life, moving from wealth to bankruptcy and still managing eventually to come up smiling. His experience was such that people asked him to speak to audiences and the Wilkins bandwagon started to roll.
His message was that all people can feel good about themselves, which is how the idea of leading by example came in. Wilkins says he cannot be an example to his audience if he bowls in scruffily dressed. Nor can people take him seriously if he does not ooze that feeling of wellbeing.
The stage is set for Wilkins to tell his tale. He does not claim or want to lecture his listeners. He makes clear: “Really, I am a storyteller. People put on much bigger ears when you tell a real–life story.”
The format of a story sits well with the Wilkins approach of going straight to the heart of the listener, not the mind. “Although my story is different from other people’s my emotions are the same as theirs,” he insists. “You must get there on an emotional level as well as an intellectual level.”
He admits that this can be the difficult bit. The Brits have the same emotions as the rest of the world’s people but are more reluctant to wear them on the sleeve. Wilkins has no problem with letting rip himself and just has to find a way of releasing his listeners’ feelings. The audience often appears to be saying: “No emotions, please, we’re British.”
Wilkins usually breaks that ice with a good laugh. He has been known to tell people at the outset – quite truthfully – that he does not know what he is going to say. The people in their rows of seats giggle when he admits this. Just in case they don’t believe him, he repeats that he has no idea what he will be saying.
Wilkins speaks as he feels and this means the story is different every time it is told. For this kind of performance there is no script.
Most times the Wilkins raw candour does break the ice, probably because it exposes his vulnerability and puts people at their ease. Once when facing an audience in Denmark he expressed his genuine fear that the language barrier would be a problem and that he would be misunderstood, or not understood at all. The honesty and the show of vulnerability worked again. He had tickled the heavy Nordic sense of humour and they all laughed. They understood English perfectly, of course.
Having got the audience on his side, Wilkins passes on his optimistic message by sharing his natural enthusiasm for living. “I believe we have only one ultimate goal and that is to feel good,” he says. So he uses words and movement to spread that good feeling around his listeners.
It seems to come naturally, like his own feeling of wellbeing. He waves his arms and occasionally leaves the ground. He appears almost to dance in front of his audience. They smile and they laugh and the message comes across.
Having shared his love of life throughout his talk, Wilkins finishes on a high note. He informs the people that he feels incredible and promises to show them how incredible they are.
“I want you to imagine what the world would be like if everybody was like you,” he tells them. It is a somewhat startling, even if morale–boosting, thing to say. They may feel a little surprised, but he goes on and asks: “Are there any muggers in the room? Any terrorists or any murderers?”
Of course there are not, and the people all loosen up again. “In this way I get them to realise they are doing much better than they thought,” he says.
An earlier experience helped him to think this way. For a while he worked in a hospice, which most people would expect to be a gloomy place. Wilkins found the opposite. “People look back and realise how good their lives have been,” he recalls. “And dying people don’t bullshit.”
Having broken through the emotions barrier and shared his enthusiasm, he hopes his listeners will leave feeling “uplifted”.
His enthusiasm was born of hard experience. He boarded the commercial treadmill and made a fortune in his thirties. The recession and a broken marriage destroyed it all and he had to swap the 35–room mansion and the fast cars for an existence in a bedsit. He even contemplated suicide.
Then he realised the greatest thing he had lost was his self–worth and the rebuilding began. He has since appeared on television and has told his story on various shows, including the Kilroy and Esther Rantzen programmes.
His type of presentation must be going down well. After he appeared on The Last Word, which was compered by the comedian Les Dennis, he was asked by the production company whether he would like his own show.