Today marks World Voice Day. From Argentina to Australia, Greece to Ghana and Slovenia to South Korea, events are taking place to celebrate the uniqueness and value of the human voice. In different accents, different languages and with different tones, people will sing, speak and share about the importance of being kind with and to your voice.
So who would you talk to? How many of us would seek a conversation with a speaking great such as Barack Obama, David Attenborough or Oprah Winfrey (or, of course , any of the great speakers from Speakers Buzz! )?
When launching Speaker Buzz, we set out to make a big difference to the world, in our own small way, by showcasing inspirational speakers who give life-changing talks.
Having started with 5 speakers, our roster has grown to almost 20-strong with bookings across the UK and beyond. And now we are taking the next step with the launch of our own events which we hope will further inspire people and change lives.
To coincide with Autism Awareness Week (1-7 April), our speakers broadcaster Stuart Cosgrove and communications specialist John Hatfield will host two special events sharing their experiences of being fathers of autistic children.
photo Peter Sandground
A conversation with fathers about autism’ events
The ‘A conversation with fathers about autism’ events will take place on Monday 1st April at Glasgow Film Theatre and Wednesday 3rd April at Whitespace, Edinburgh.
With more than 700,000 autistic people in the UK, and more than 50,000 in Scotland, we want to put autism on the agenda.
Broadcaster, author and media personality Stuart Cosgrove will be speaking publicly for the first time about his six-year-old son’s autism diagnosis. Stuart is a widely recognised media figure having been a senior executive with Channel 4 for many years, a successful author and one half of BBC Scotland’s ‘Off the Ball’ team.
He will be joined by John Hatfield who has a teenage son with Asperger syndrome.
John is a media and communications specialist and board advisor to the National Autistic Society.
Intimate and informed events
The ‘A conversation with fathers about autism’ events will focus on the personal experiences of these two fathers who are at two very different stages in their autism journey. The aim is to encourage more fathers to be open about their own situations and experiences.
Having an autistic child can put pressure on relationships, with 80% of marriages affected by autism ending in divorce.
The intimate conversational events will see Stuart and John share their experiences of autism in their families. The pair will discuss the physical, mental and emotional impact of autism in a family, educational and social environment.
The events will be suitable for parents or carers of a child with an autism diagnosis, those concerned about childhood development, professionals working in education, social care or the third sector and employers wanting to understand autism’s effect on their workforce.
Sharing experiences of autism
Stuart said: “I’ve never spoken publicly about my son’s diagnosis, but it is obviously a huge part of my life. I’ve been researching all aspects of autism and the neuroscience since it entered my world. When I was introduced to and met John, I got more out of the two-hour conversation with him than I had done from any medical journal, book or meeting I’d had.
“His honest and frank insight into his experience as a father of a son with autism allowed me to learn so much more and I hope that by sharing our experiences in this way, we can help others to learn about this condition.”
John added: “My teenage son has Asperger’s syndrome, which is a form of autism. This is a topic I’m very passionate about and through my own experiences and my work with the National Autistic Society, I want to help debunk the myths around autism and highlight the incredible achievements of autistic people.”
Tickets for each event are £13.25 including booking fees, with a donation of proceeds being made to the National Autistic Society.
At Speaker Buzz, we focus on inspiration with impact and making a difference to people's lives and the world – but how do our speakers define this?
Craig Mathieson, polar explorer
"By showing people that all the barriers which are holding them back in life can be removed. By simply believing in them and their aspirations, fantastic things can be achieved - after all that’s now my job."
Gavin Oattes, former primary school teacher and stand-up comedian turned motivational speaker
"For me, it’s all about if I can inspire and empower someone to make a positive change, take positive action, feel happier, see something in a different light."
Martin Stepek, mindfulness specialist (pictured above)
"If a word I say or write, if a tiny little thing I do makes another person feel less unsure, confused or fearful, or happier or feels hope and possibility, that's making a difference. Every moment is a field of potential, the opportunity to turn something painful into something pleasant or at least more bearable. Apart from making sure you have the essentials to live life - food, clothing, shelter - only kindness matters."
JoJo Fraser, mental health campaigner, author and vlogger
"Having enough passion to work hard to fight for what you believe in and in return help others. Making a lot of noise, but the right kind of noise. There is a lot of darkness in the world. Be the light. We need more light.
"A great talk can change lives. It can wake us up so our passion doesn't just burn, it blazes. This type of passion is impossible to ignore. This type of passion changes lives and saves them too."
John Hatfield, communication specialist & autism advocate
"By opening people’s minds, challenging their prejudices and raising the general level of empathy and compassion."
Cal Major, veterinary surgeon, explorer and ocean advocate
"Making a difference is to make positive change for the greater good; it comes in many forms, and I think to be the most effective it has to be heartfelt and collaborative. The desire to make a difference is usually driven by a personal connection to the subject at hand.
"Making a difference can be enormous, or something seemingly small, but even small and personal positive change can be a catalyst for far reaching movement, and I hope to help inspire and empower this through my speeches."
A great talk can change lives. It can wake us up so our passion doesn't just burn, it blazes.
Our speaker Alister Gray inspires people and organisations by encouraging positive behavioural changes. Here he looks at how to use language and words to transform your inner and outer world
One of my all-time favourite books is The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz. Its simplicity and the messages contained within are full of wisdom that’s as relevant today as when it was first published over 20 years ago.
Agreement number one states, “Be Impeccable with Your Word”.
When I first read this book, I‘d just become a Dad for the first time and the First Agreement resonated deeply as it reminded me of just how powerful our words are.
When I was growing up, I was often referred to as a “trouble maker” simply because I used to laugh and have (lots of) fun. I was told to “be quiet” and that “you think you know it all!”
Unfortunately, the self-confidence and enthusiasm for life that I had as a young boy were often viewed as a poisonous venom. One family member even said to my mum “you need to keep him in check,” as though I were some kind of wild animal. Thankfully my Mum understood me and did her best to channel my energy for life in a positive way.
Words impact on behaviours
It would be easy to dismiss these comments as “throw-away” and “harmless”, however it has been proven time-and-time again that the words we use towards our children directly impact the beliefs and behaviours they develop over time.
The word is the most powerful tool you have as a human; it is the tool of magic. But like a sword with two edges, your word can create the most beautiful dream, or your word can destroy everything around you. One edge is the misuse of the word, which creates a living hell.
The other edge is the impeccability of the word, which will only create beauty, love, and heaven on earth. – Don Miguel RuizOur words are so powerful and yet we are often unconscious of which ones we choose and how we use them.
Conscious use of language
This applies to the words we direct at ourselves as well as towards friends, family and colleagues. Being more conscious of the way we use our words and the intention behind them can have a huge impact on how life unfolds.
Words leave a lasting imprint on us, so it’s vitally important as leaders, parents, peers, friends and partners that we take heed of Don Miguel Ruiz’s advice.
As a leader, your words can be the difference between a new employee “succeeding or failing”. They can be the difference between helping an individual tap into their innate potential or leaving them swimming in a sea of low self-esteem. And they can be the difference between facilitating a powerful board meeting where everyone is in alignment versus the board becoming fractured and misaligned.
How conscious are you of the words you choose?
Let’s explore this a little further … First, let me make a distinction between ‘speaking with intention’ and ‘speaking with purpose’.
Intention is a way of capturing a feeling, it is how you would like to be received, how you would like to be heard, how you would like to feel and, more importantly, how you would like your audience to feel.
Purpose, on the other hand, is how you want your message to be received or to land. This could be in the form of instructions, a piece of advice or a narrative that you’d like others to engage with or follow. It can be a message that powerfully changes the way someone operates within the system they’re part of.
In short, intention is connected to the feeling and purpose is about the message. When you pair the two successfully together, you have a pretty formidable force.
As an example, a powerful orator like Martin Luther King Jr. comes to mind. His words, the purpose behind them and the intention contained within them, transcended the audience and continue to do so today, provoking a powerful reaction in anyone who listens. He spoke from the heart, from a place of love.
As leaders we often place most of our focus and attention on the purpose behind the message we deliver, quite often forgetting about the intention behind what we are saying. We speak from a head space and not from the heart.
“When you speak from the heart, people will listen.”
Let’s look at a scenario that you’re all likely to relate to … You go home to your partner with an idea or message you wish to communicate. Perhaps it’s an idea on how to change something within your relationship. You excitedly express this idea to your partner and expect a positive response. However, your excitement is not matched. Your partner shows a lack of enthusiasm for your idea and this leads to you feeling frustrated, angry and with an underlying sense of resentment towards them. Can you think of a time this situation or one similar has played out?
You may have experienced something similar with a business partner, co-founder or colleague?
The reason is often that when we’re delivering our message, we’re delivering it from our own perspective and for our purpose - “I think we should do this” and “I think we should do that”. We often forget that the person we’re speaking to is experiencing life from an entirely different perspective. Consider your words. Consider how they will land and how you wish for the other person to feel. This will help you speak with intention and it’s likely your message of purpose may land with the right intention too.
Use language that unites rather than divides, remove blame and criticism of the self, and watch the magic of your words transform your inner and outer world in a beautiful way.
“Being impeccable with your word is the correct use of your energy; it means to use your energy in the direction of truth and love for yourself.” Don Miguel Ruiz
Craig Mathieson is Scotland’s greatest living polar explorer and founder of The Polar Academy. Here he reflects on what inspired him and why his mission is to inspire others
In 2004, I met a Polish teenager with an artificial leg and one arm. Exhausted, he had overcome immense physical and mental challenges to complete a gruelling 60-mile ski to fulfil his dream of standing at the South Pole.
His sheer determination and refusal to be cowed by troubles that stalked his young life, really impacted on me. Our chance encounter in the freezing expanse of Antarctica would prove to be a catalyst for The Polar Academy, a Scottish charity I’d establish in 2013.
Admittedly, a charitable vision to use exploration to transform young lives affected by mental health issues wasn’t on my mind as I sheltered at the South Pole. I too was exhausted, having just completed the first dedicated Scottish expedition from the sea to the South Pole.
Undertaken solo, the Scot100Polar Expedition was a 730 mile sled haul over 56-days, in temperatures so low exposed flesh instantly froze. I’d also just been refused a coffee at the nearby US research station, for regulations forbade offering refreshments to visitors. I later received an apologetic letter from the US House of Representatives – and a large bag of coffee!
Defying the odds to explore
I wasn’t born into a family of explorers. Raised in rural Stirlingshire, I found school tough and gravitated towards my outdoor ‘classroom’ of making campfires in the woods and fishing in rivers. When I was eleven, Mr Brown a primary school teacher, handed me a book about Captain Robert Falcon Scott. I was captivated by the images of towering ice-bergs and the tough mind-set of individuals hell-bent on defying the odds to explore.
From that moment I too wanted to be an explorer. During secondary school I’d try to make my own sledge and skis from pieces of wood. I left Balfron High at the earliest opportunity with the words of a disappointed teacher ringing in my ears: ‘Mathieson – exploration isn’t for people like you!’
I joined the Navy and was soon on a ship to South Georgia. As winter descended over the Southern Ocean, I seized the chance to be part of a team that for 3 days and for 30 miles would retrace the steps of Sir Ernest Shackleton. I revelled in the raw physical and mental challenge of the Shackleton Route, battling unrelenting winds and the bitter cold. At journey’s end, I was convinced that it couldn’t be much harder to ski to the South Pole! The die was cast for pursuing what would become my 2004 Scot100Polar Expedition.
The search for satisfaction
Fast-forward to 2004 and my return to Scotland from the South Pole. I was 35 years old, had left HM Forces and had just fulfilled a childhood dream while holding down a desk job with Ernst & Young. I wasn’t satisfied.
The feat of that Polish teenager had convinced me that many teenagers in Scotland, battling with issues like anxiety and crushed self-confidence, could also use exploration to positively transform their lives. In the months following the Scot100Polar Expedition I spoke about my Antarctic experience to hundreds of wide-eyed teenagers in dozens of schools. On each visit I could spot those pupils who didn’t believe they’d ever achieve anything in life. Just like I had, they felt isolated and invisible. I wanted to help them.
I shared my thoughts with family and friends for a Polar Academy. It would focus on helping ‘invisible’ school-kids change their lives through exploration. Chris Tiso, CEO of Tiso Group, the outdoor retail specialist understood my vision and pledged support that continues to this day. Other friends also signed up but in the main I was met by a wave of cynicism and indifference.
Building self-confidence for young people
To prove the viability of my vision, I identified a 15 year-old teenager from Falkirk called Chris Struthers. A troubled lad, his life options were few. With the full backing of his parents, we trained for 9 months and in the early spring of 2006 left Scotland for the Arctic. Within weeks, we stood at the North Pole. Navigating and camping en route, Chris had co-led every step of that tough sled-haul and he returned to Scotland brimming with self-confidence. The impact of the experience was profound on Chris and his family. He buckled down, passed exams, graduated from university and has pursued a successful career.
Invigorated by my success with Chris and supported by my wife Michele, in 2013 I finally had the support in place for a Polar Academy. I had also just been named Explorer in Residence by The Royal Scottish Geographical Society (RSGS); the first person to be conferred such an honour in 129 years.
The first expedition
How time flies. In 2014 I selected the first ten pupils from schools in North Lanarkshire to be part of the inaugural Polar Academy Expedition Team. Those teenage boys and girls, aged between 14 and 17, were all battling with inner demons. Over 9 months, supported by their school and parents, they committed to relentless physical training. During the likes of energy-sapping tyre hauling, to simulate a sled being pulled over snow, a sense of teamwork developed and self-confidence grew.
As I write, teenagers from Bathgate Academy in West Lothian are hard in training for the 5th expedition to Eastern Greenland in March 2019. Like those before them, each will haul a 45kg sled over the ice for 10 days. Supported by my hand-picked guides, the participants will navigate, cook and camp in the snow while also conducting field research. It’s no school trip. Indeed, The Polar Academy has been described as Europe’s toughest youth training programme.
Crucially, following the expedition every participant must undertake a series of speaking engagements, giving a personal account of the challenges encountered and fears overcome. Since 2015, over 60,000 pupils have heard from a participant of The Polar Academy, the aim being to inspire others to overcome personal challenges and pursue their own goals.
Physical and mental transformations
After completing an expedition, I’m always struck by the participants’ stark physical and mental transformation. No longer withdrawn, they exude self-confidence and a ‘can do’ attitude. Scott Graham, a lecturer at Edinburgh Napier University recently joined The Polar Academy as our Exercise Physiologist. Over the next ten years, Scott will measure the physiological and psychological impact of the charity’s methods on participants. Initially, he will focus on the ten-strong expedition team at Bathgate Academy.
Scott’s research will add further to my conviction, supported by feedback from parents and teachers that the charity makes a real difference to the young people it engages. Wholly dependent on donations, it’s only the need to annually find over £170,000 to operate that keeps bold plans for further growth in check.
However, recognition of the charity’s positive work also comes from unexpected quarters. On account of my own polar expeditions and exposing youth to field-science during Arctic exploration, I was recently invited to join the illustrious Explorer’s Club. Founded in 1904 in New York, its membership includes astronauts like Buzz Aldrin and the most famous deep sea and mountain explorers. To be part of such company is truly humbling.
My acceptance into the Explorers Club should also underline to youth, that whatever your background and personal circumstance, life can get better. Dream big and once free from the shackles of self-doubt, even space can be explored.
This article was first published by The Scotsman