Harish Bijoor
Jul 04, 2013

‘Clean’ practice has replaced ‘best’ practice: Harish Bijoor

After 10,000 hours of corporate speaking across the world over the last 18 years, the author reflects on emerging - and returning - priorities and realities

‘Clean’ practice has replaced ‘best’ practice: Harish Bijoor


I started speaking professionally to corporate audiences 18 years ago. The first few sessions happened by chance. The MD of a company or the head of an industry body got in touch and asked me if I could and would speak. The ‘would’ and ‘could’ were equally important.

My first session was a tense one. Loaded with content and sleepily loaded in delivery terms as well. I learnt the art, science and philosophy of public speaking gradually on the way, honing my skills of delivery one talk at a time. Therefore, I am grateful to every talk in these 10,000 speaking hours journey to date. Every hour has shaped me. Taught me. And I am still a learner.

From coal miners in Poland to marketers in Goa…

I have spoken across 28 countries to diverse sets of audiences. I have spoken to coal miners in Poland, women-empowerment groups in Iran, retail practitioners in Istanbul, advertising folk in Paris, and marketing folk in good old Goa. I have enjoyed every talk, as the audience is forever changing. As is the locale.

Talk requests in the old days came from staid old corporate bodies. Most of these talks happened at their corporate headquarters or in a hotel nearby. Over the last 10 years, things have changed. Most companies prefer to take their breakout sessions at exotic locations. This has taken me to some 88-plus locales I had only heard of in exotic-geography trivia books.

While my talks have taken me all over the world at large, which my business strategy-consulting avatar would never have, my standard grouse is that I never get to enjoy the place I go to. More often than not, it is a rushed visit. Long hours of travel by air, and then road, and at times by river-boat (like the last one to Thailand), only to repeat it all over again in hours on the way back to yet another engagement.

One is never satisfied. Right?

Changing audiences

Talk requests today come from a motley set of bodies. All willing to pay the price you command. Talk requests come from companies of the old economy as well as that of the new economy. Today, I speak to audiences from brick and mortar companies to e-ecommerce companies with equal gusto. I speak to industry bodies, universities, at externally organised conferences, women’s groups, charities, travel bodies, country groups, VC and PE investor groups, overseas companies seeking India immersion sessions, and boringly lots more.

In the old days (18 years ago), the fee structure was and had to be modest. I remember my first talk got me a princely fee of INR 3,000! The times have changed now, and if the multiple is higher today by a big multiple, I do believe it is a function of delivery, reputation, content and what the talk brings to the party. No one simply pays you the fee you command. Every unit of your fee has and offers a meaning.

I feel a negotiation is an insult to the calibre of the speaker. Also, remember, a talk is a very important input at your conference. This one hour can change direction radically. It can have your team up and motivated, or down and de-motivated. Paying right for it is an important part of your key business decision. What’s the point of saving a lakh of rupees and risking team spirit for the year ahead? Also, if you pay peanuts, you get monkeys!

Evolving priorities

Audiences over the decades have changed. In the old days, audiences were passive and sat imbibing top-down stuff. Today, audiences are much more active. Today, audiences want to be a part of the talk, and today audiences are all about peer-to-peer sharing. My tone, tenor and decibel of delivery has therefore changed over the decades. As a corporate speaker you need to calibrate your delivery to your audience as it changes.

The changes aren’t all serious. Another change I notice in audiences is the style of dressing. In the two decades gone by, audiences were largely straitjacketed into suits and ties. Today, corporate audiences are shedding their amour and in turn their clothes. Surprise! My last talk in Tokyo was to a bunch of telecom professionals who were in Bermudas and beach shirts! Even in Japan!

So what else has changed?

Today, clean governance is a big issue of interest. Clean practice has replaced best practice. ‘Cost at all cost’ was an issue in the past. Today, clean cost overrides just plain old cost. Today I speak of ‘guilt free’ practice as the new mantra as opposed to ‘low cost’ practice. Ethics and good governance practice is the big story as well.

All this just means that good governance, inclusive habits, clean work practice are all coming back into fashion. ‘Old fashioned’ is the ‘new fashion’. It’s back to the vedas, as I call it. Back to the good old ways of doing things. I speak of ‘marketing karma’ extensively. It’s a subject that is fashionable. It’s a subject that is the future. I speak of ‘clean’ marketing as opposed to ‘savvy’ marketing!

In the early years, audiences were very besotted with the West and its best practices. The gold-standard of good benchmarks came from the US, UK, Europe and even Japan. Things have moved on since then. The gold-standards today emerge from our backyards, even. Sometimes from the organised sector, and more often than not from the unorganised!

Harish Bijoor is CEO, Harish Bijoor Consults Inc., a brand and business strategy consulting practice with presence in India, Hong Kong, London, Dubai and Istanbul. He also speaks to corporate audiences across the world on motivation, people-management, brands, marketing and business at large. He is active on twitter @harishbijoor


Campaign India

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