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Speaking from Sea Level…


“You’re doing what..? Speaking on a cruise ship..? Why..?” These were only some of the barrage of questions I fielded when I announced that I was going to speak on the Cunard Liner Queen Victoria. “You’re a Mountaineer and boats are at sea level..!” I certainly hope they are as I’ve never seen a liner fly, but let’s get past the obvious shock. Besides being a mountaineer, I’m also a speaker.

Being on stage is one of my favourite places to work (second only to the mountain) and I’ve spent years working at improving my art. Can you ever achieve perfection..? I don’t believe so, but you can always improve. If anything, fighting to achieve perfection is one of the most destructive journey’s that anyone can undertake. It a lesson I’ve had to continuously remind myself of, as I’ve spent years beating myself up over it. As I spoke about in my last blog, I’m my harshest critic. For all I’ve learned in my 46 years of life, I need to let go and forgive myself now and again.

I’ve always suffered travel sickness. Some of my of my earliest childhood memories were on the bus from Belper to Derby with my Mum. I was lucky to make the eight miles in one piece. School trips were a nightmare (so i didn’t go on many), therefore you might ask what on earth I’ve been doing to myself in becoming a mountaineer. International travel sometimes hurts, but i keep doing it. I’ve collapsed off more planes and buses than you can imagine and kissed more runways and car parks than I can remember, but when I arrive, I’m in my element. Therefore you can imagine that with some trepidation my sister and I boarded the Queen Victoria, bound for the Baltic. Thankfully we left the Solent in good weather and slipped eastward into the channel. I felt relaxed and thankful for this silent exit, but a Force 8 gale with 7m waves awaited us as we approached the Baltic. I felt terrible, and so did half the other passengers. Not that I was thankful in any way for that, but at least it proved me human. I retreated to bed and hid under the covers until peace returned.

Before the crashing and bashing, I opened with my first presentation of the journey. Cunard had given me 45 minute time slots, and i decided to break my Mt. McKinley keynote into two. Though it can be delivered in a shorter timescale, we were on board to relax, and not speed off at 60 knots. The Royal Court Theatre provided an excellent venue, although being stuck at a lectern isn’t usually my thing. I prefer to work the stage and the audience, but everywhere is different. We as speakers need to be adaptable to every room, every theatre and every venue. All went very well and after the turbulent early evening, I ventured out into the ship again to dine and relax with interested passengers. On board ship you have a captive audience and there’s always plenty to discuss after you present. I completed the McKinley story with a second lecture, before we docked in Copenhagen. Denmark is hardly the mountaineering capital of the world, but at least it was cold. Ice clawed at the water’s edge and the famed Little Mermaid was surrounded by white rime. We explored the snowy city on foot, touring palaces and palisades, before taking a rather impromptu ferry journey back to the QV. She made quite a dent in the skyline as was always easy to find.

As darkness fell, we slipped out of harbour bound for Hamburg. The weather picked up again, but the combination of medication and magic wristbands kept my sea legs in one piece.

Hamburg was also cold, but wet and grey. Still, armed with a map I guided my sister around the streets as I can’t do the formal tour bit. I enjoy much more exploring many of the unseen parts of any city wandering in unusual shops and meeting people. My language skills are awful, but we enjoyed a street level experience and then something strange happened. As we slipped our moorings and headed out towards sea, we were treated to a fireworks display whilst an entire hotel sang ‘Rule Britannia’ in full voice.

I completed my four keynotes, speaking about ‘How Modern Communication is Destroying Adventure’ and why we look ‘Over the Horizon’. You may, or may not agree with my thoughts, but people wanted to hear my opinions. They are based on over 25 years international mountaineering and adventure experience, therefore they have a good background. If you’re not experienced in your topic, people will soon see right through you.

So what did I think about my cruise experience..?  Apparently I have now have joined the illustrious ranks of cruise speakers, such as Lord AshdownJohn Humphrys, John Blashford-Snell and Edwina Currie.  It allowed me to sit, think and make some decisions.  Some of those may become apparent over the coming months, but for now I’ll quietly sit on them and reflect.

So what tips can I give about on board speaking..?

You have a captive audience, so don’t be surprised if you receive questions left, right and centre as you sail. As far as I’m concerned, professionalism dictates you should always be courteous and conversational, but also concise. You don’t always want to talk the afternoon away as you need to preserve your voice, but answer people’s questions well. You need rest as much as anyone else, but I’m the last man to skulk in my room. I often sat in public areas, reading or writing and though people did say hello and ask questions, I got plenty of time to myself.

Whether you like it or not, you’re a celebrity on board, so act like one. No I don’t mean make the papers for the wrong reasons, but act professionally and respect everyone’s views and thoughts.

You must be careful of the food. No, I don’t mean the quality as it was excellent, but just the pure quantity. It would be very easy to slip into an eating competition. 24 hour buffets, three course everything, unlimited sugary, sticky, chocolaty things and so much more awaits your insides. If you don’t want to come off two stone heavier, watch yourself.

You may be asked for an interview for the on board TV channel. Treat it like any other TV interview and remember, it will be repeated again and again during your voyage. Your presentations may be recorded for the on board channels and consistently repeated, so expect questions regarding something you spoke about days ago.

Beware copyright laws. I know lots of speakers who use images, videos and music from the internet, with no permissions at all. You’re on very dodgy ground, particularly if you’re in US waters (so I’m told), so either use your own material or get permission. I purposely removed videos I’m allowed to use in education from my keynotes as the last thing I need is a court case for infringement.

You may have an international audience, spanning numerous generations, so put any measurement units into something everyone will understand. You might speak about miles and kilometres, pounds and kilos, so get your facts right.

Beware any images with a nationalistic undertone such as flags etc. You might not find them offensive, but some cultures might.

Always look at the venue well beforehand and get a sound and stage check organised. All these will put you in a good position, should IT fail or the ship be in bad weather when you’re on stage. Arrive early and keep to your allotted time.

Deliver your keynote professionally, sign books if requested, learn the names of all the relevant staff and have their contact details at hand, say thank you, but most of all – enjoy the journey.

In fact, it’s no different from how you’d act and behave when presenting on land, is it..?

My thanks to Carnival UK, Cunard and all the staff on board the Queen Victoria for their help, and for all the passengers and guests who came to see me speak…

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