Think charisma is something you’re born with?

Think again. Max Dickins – comedian, radio presenter and author – thinks that everyone has it in them to be a compelling public speaker; you just need to find your voice.

Here, Max tells us how his career in comedy has helped him to help others face their public speaking fears with Charisma Fast, a public speaking course that runs Tuesday evenings at the Theatre Delicatessen in Farringdon.


How has stand-up influenced your public speaking course?

I’ve done over a thousand gigs, so I suppose I kind of “walk the walk”. I know what an audience responds to and I know what the person speaking is going through. I’m able to fall back on my experience of going from a novice stand-up to 1000 gigs, and give my clients some shortcuts to seem more confident. It’s also about delivering material with impact and finding a way to say things that is engaging and compelling.


How terrified were you when you did your first gig?

My first gig, I remember, was above the Pack Horse pub. It was my second year of Uni. I think I was actually numb, because I don’t remember feeling terrified, just feeling…nothing. Maybe it was a bizarre survival instinct? Weirdly enough, it went really well, and so did the next four or five. I thought “blimey, I’ll be at the O2 arena in two weeks”. But everyone, inevitably, has their first terrible gig and unfortunately mine was the biggest I had done by far. It was at Wakefield Arts Centre, and I bombed the hell out of it.


What happened?

Well, you’re just not very good at that stage! You haven’t really learned to play to different rooms and different audiences, and I think my act was maybe a little too inflexible. A bit…dark, maybe? The Wakefield audience wanted a lovely chap to talk about man drawers and I did not deliver.

The thing is, the audience isn’t always right. You can have a bad gig for a lot of reasons; sometimes it’s your fault and sometimes it’s not. Anyway, I’ve had some good gigs, I’ve had some bad gigs, but it’s about learning the ropes and finding out what you need to do to get it right next time. I suppose that front line experience is my USP as a public speaking coach.


How does that ‘front line experience’ make Charisma Fast different from other public speaking courses out there?

I’ve come across a lot of coaches that are quite boring individuals, in cheap suits, who’ve bought a few public speaking books on Amazon and think they’re ready to teach others how to do it. Yet they haven’t done it themselves; they’ve got no skin in the game. My insights are hard won. I have emerged with the scars of battle. I think there’s more credibility there.


Does reading the audience play a big part in your coaching?

An important thing I teach my clients is tone. You can say pretty much anything to your audience, it just depends how you say it and when you say it. In comedy, you have to win the audience’s trust before you take them into dangerous territory – if you have a rude joke, or a dark joke, don’t start with it. What you say gets a different reaction depending on where you place it in your set.


I suppose the same concept translates to any audience.

Absolutely. You have to have empathy for that audience and choose the right angle on your material. Admittedly, if you’re delivering a speech on finance or history, the differences in your audience might not be so extreme, but you still need to apply that empathy to get the best from it.


So is a stand-up gig one of the steps of the course? Do you throw your clients in the deep end and hope for the best…?

There is no stand-up involved! It’s definitely not a comedy course, although I do help people to add humour to their speeches. We also learn by doing; I’ll set up some humorous, creative challenges that everyone has to get up and do, which tends to be amusing.

I always think that everyone has the potential to be funny, but cracking jokes down the pub and stand-up comedy are very different. The analogy with public speaking would be that everyone has the potential to be a compelling and engaging speaker, but you might need to learn a few tricks in how to present yourself.


What’s the core wisdom that you try to impart to your clients?

My biggest thing is helping people to find their “voice”. A lot of public speaking coaches will create speakers that are quote robotic. They can encourage all the right pauses, gestures, making eye contact and all that, but when you watch their clients speak there’s a disconnect between them and the audience.

I look at clients and try to draw out their strengths; they may end up being quite an idiosyncratic speaker, but often those idiosyncrasies are what make them compelling. Just look at people like the BBC’s Robert Peston, or Boris Johnson. They don’t fit into the conventional ‘cookie cutter’ mould of a perfect speaker, but they are unique and interesting.

My business is called Charisma Fast, and the reason we can make people charismatic fast is that we make the course about building on your strengths and owning your idiosyncrasies, rather than trying to build a whole new person.


So what brought you to London Money?

I actually met Martin on one of my courses, and it’s his natural ability to speak compellingly and without jargon that made me want to become a client of London Money. He’s someone who can explain the challenges of finance, and the ins and outs of the property market, in language that made real sense to me. By explaining everything in layman’s terms, you can really trust the advice you’re getting and understand it on a different level to other financial advisors, who often hide behind complex, difficult language.

If you’re in need of some simple, smart financial advice you can trust – whether you’re buying your first home, taking out a pension or anything in between, call London Money on 07961 320770 or email us .

As for public speaking, if you’re trembling at the thought of your next public speaking engagement, forget the age-old advice to imagine everyone in their pants and visit

Max’s first book, My Groupon Adventure – a journey towards life fulfilment via groupon offers – will also available this Summer

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