Like Riding a Bike

I love cycling. And living just outside of Geneva, Switzerland, I am spoiled by the options that I have. I can ride along the shores of Lake Geneva, or along hilly roads that take me through spectacular vineyards. I can climb the Jura Mountains and, if I am feeling ambitious, I can throw the bike in the car and in less than two hours be in the French Alps riding some of the mythical climbs of the Tour de France.

My memories of that time revolve around bruised elbows and scraped knees; around falling down and getting back up. Again and again and again. Until one glorious day when my father let go and I stayed up! I remember that feeling of exhilaration to this day. And I remember feeling proud that I had persisted even when it wasn’t fun.

Over the years, I have logged thousands of hours and tens of thousands of kilometres cycling all kinds of terrain in all kinds of weather. But it all began long ago when I first learned to ride a bicycle as a young boy.

In his blog post from 8 April 2017 (see below), Seth Godin takes us back to the time when we learned how to ride a bike. And how we learned by doing it wrong, over and over, until we learned how to do it right.

Even if you have never been on a bicycle, you have learned some skill the same way that people learn how to ride a bike. By making mistakes but sticking with it; by falling and getting back up on the bike again.

You learn public speaking the same way. Not just by taking a course or watching TED Talks or reading this blog. By getting on stage and speaking. Over and over and learning from your mistakes.

That’s how you become a good cyclist. And a good speaker.



Like riding a bike

by Seth Godin

People talk about bike riding when they want to remind us that some things, once learned, are not forgotten.

What they don’t mention is how we learned. No one learns to ride a bike from a book, or even a video.

You learn by doing it.

Actually, by not doing it. You learn by doing it wrong, by falling off, by getting back on, by doing it again.

PS – This approach works for lots of things, not just bikes. Most things, in fact.

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  1. This is a funny coincidence. I recently gave a speech about embracing failure because that is how we learn the best and I used learning to ride a bike as one of my examples.

  2. I’m trying to bring my kids (who now know how to ride a bike) to understand this same principle. I keep falling down and scraping my knees in the process, but I persist. 😉
    However, as a fellow cyclist, I can’t resist commenting that the person riding that bike needs to give the chain a thorough clean. Also, that is not where you should put your feet on the pedals.

    1. I agree, Pablo. On both counts. I rejected photos of sleek, lycra-clad racers dashing like gazelles through golden sunflower fields in favour of a more common scene when it comes to bikes. It might not be great form, but at least he is pedalling!

  3. I’ve been riding as an adult for decades and It just occurred to me while reading this that I have no recollection of learning to ride a bicycle. Maybe I block out the negative — the stumbles and falls? Perhaps to my detriment? Or as a coping mechanism? Interesting food for thought!

    1. Interesting comment, Bob. If I stop to think about it, I have vague memories of falling or having to put my foot down again and again. It could be our propensity to remember the good aspects of a situation. Here in Switzerland, I have done a lot of “cyclosportifs” – organized rides that are not races but they are gruelling. The toughest I have done is the Alpenbrevet – – I have done the Silver once, the Gold once and the Platinum twice. That last one is 280 km with five huge mountain passes. You are looking at 11 to 12 hours in the saddle. I suffered on some of those climbs but my memories are all of the fun of the challenge and the pride at having finished the ride. Cheers!

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John delivered a keynote address about the importance of public speaking to 80 senior members of Gore’s Medical Device Europe team at an important sales event. He was informative, engaging and inspirational. Everyone was motivated to improve their public speaking skills. Following his keynote, John has led public speaking workshops for Gore in Barcelona and Munich. He is an outstanding speaker who thinks carefully about the needs of his audience well before he steps on stage.

Karsta Goetze

TA Leader, Gore and Associates

I first got in touch with John while preparing to speak at TED Global about my work on ProtonMail. John helped me to sharpen the presentation and get on point faster, making the talk more focused and impactful. My speech was very well received, has since reached almost 1.8 million people and was successful in explaining a complex subject (email encryption) to a general audience.

Andy Yen

CEO, Proton Technologies

John gave the opening keynote on the second day of our unit’s recent offsite in Geneva, addressing an audience of 100+ attendees with a wealth of tips and techniques to deliver powerful, memorable presentations. I applied some of these techniques the very next week in an internal presentation, and I’ve been asked to give that presentation again to senior management, which has NEVER happened before. John is one of the greatest speakers I know and I can recommend his services without reservation.

David Lindelöf

Senior Data Scientist, Expedia Group

After a morning of team building activities using improvisation as the conduit, John came on stage to close the staff event which was organised in Chamonix, France. His energy and presence were immediately felt by all the members of staff. The work put into the preparation of his speech was evident and by sharing some his own stories, he was able to conduct a closing inspirational speech which was relevant, powerful and impactful for all at IRU. The whole team left feeling engaged and motivated to tackle the 2019 objectives ahead. Thank you, John.

Umberto de Pretto

Secretary General, World Road Transport Organization

I was expecting a few speaking tips and tricks and a few fun exercises, but you went above and beyond – and sideways. You taught me to stand tall. You taught me to anchor myself. You taught me to breathe. You taught me to open up. You taught me to look people in the eye. You taught me to tell the truth. You taught me to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. I got more than I bargained for in the best possible way.

Thuy Khoc-Bilon

World Cancer Day Campaign Manager, Union for International Cancer Control

John gave a brilliant presentation on public speaking during the UN EMERGE programme in Geneva (a two days workshop on leadership development for a group of female staff members working in the UN organizations in Geneva). His talk was inspirational and practical, thanks to the many techniques and tips he shared with the audience. His teaching can dramatically change our public speaking performance and enable us as presenters to have a real and powerful impact. Thank you, John, for your great contribution!

Sara Canna

HR Specialist, World Health Organization

John is a genuine communication innovator. His seminars on gamification of public speaking learning and his interactive Rhetoric game at our conference set the tone for change and improvement in our organisation. The quality of his input, the impact he made with his audience and his effortlessly engaging style made it easy to get on board with his core messages and won over some delegates who were extremely skeptical as to the efficacy of games for learning. I simply cannot recommend him highly enough.

Thomas Scott

National Education Director, Association of Speakers Clubs UK

John joined our Global Sales Meeting in Segovia, Spain and we all participated in his "Improv(e) your Work!" session. I say “all” because it really was all interactive, participatory, learning and enjoyable. The session surprised everybody and was a fresh-air activity that brought a lot of self-reflection and insights to improve trust and confidence in each other inside our team. It´s all about communication and a good manner of speaking!"

Jon Lopez

General Manager Europe, Hayward Industries

Thank you very much for the excellent presentation skills session. The feedback I received was very positive. Everyone enjoyed the good mix of listening to your speech, co-developing a concrete take-away and the personal learning experience. We all feel more devoted to the task ahead, more able to succeed and an elevated team spirit. Delivering this in a short time, both in session and in preparation, is outstanding!

Henning Dehler

CFO European Dairy Supply Chain & Operations, Danone

Thanks to John’s excellent workshop, I have learned many important tips and techniques to become an effective public speaker. John is a fantastic speaker and teacher, with extensive knowledge of the field. His workshop was a great experience and has proven extremely useful for me in my professional and personal life.

Eric Thuillard

Senior Sales Manager, Sunrise Communications

John’s presentation skills training was a terrific investment of my time. I increased my skills in this important area and feel more comfortable when speaking to an audience. John provided the right mix between theory and practice.

Diego Brait

Director of the Jura Region, BKW Energie AG

Be BOLD. Those two words got stuck in my head and in the heads of all those ADP leaders and associates that had the privilege to see John on stage. He was our keynote speaker at our annual convention in Barcelona, and his message still remains! John puts his heart in every word. Few speakers are so credible, humble and yet super strong with large audiences!

Guadalupe Garcia

Senior Director and Talent Partner, ADP International