Serendipity with Malcolm Gladwell in Manchester

Malcolm Gladwell – author famed for The Tipping Point, Blink, The Outliers and more recently What the Dog Saw – visited the Lowry in Manchester last night to give an insightful talk on his latest thinking.

I must confess to being a little nervous about giving my views after he kicked off last night’s talk by reading aloud a stinging blog review regarding his Oxford talk the night before – Gladwell discouraged the packed Manchester auditorium from following suit by joking that “the bar had been set high”! I am pleased to say that I disagree with the Oxford critic and thought that the talk was a masterpiece of story-telling, managing to string together a series of insightful connections and conclusions.

Gladwell focused on the power and importance of serendipity to the growth of individuals and wider society – history shows how society depends upon those who are brave enough to assume responsibility and uncertainty and search for solutions to unknowns. From explorers to philosphers to scientists to entrepreneurs to teachers the list goes on. I will not give away too much detail on the content of the talk (which primarily revolves around one key moving story) suffice to say that those who commit to stepping into the unknown open up possibilities for great personal growth and success (for themselves and wider society) but also disappointment – often in equal measure.

Aside from the importance of the message that Gladwell was seeking to communicate, I was equally entranced by Gladwell’s presentational delivery style. Here were my take-aways:

  • Open with some humour to break the ice
  • Say what you’re going to say and then remind the audience throughout the talk to keep everyone on track – the old mantra of Tell them about what you’re going to tell them; Tell them and then Tell them what you just told them rang true here.
  • Tell stories. Give examples. Gladwell rarely bleated facts. His stories spoke for themselves.
  • Make connections from the stories – help the audience out.
  • Use hand gestures to emphasise points. Gladwell often touched his forehead when he was making an insight and waved his hands to make specific important points.
  • Use differing voice intonations to add passion, pain and wistful insights to emphasise points and maintain interest. There was rarely a monotone note audible throughout the talk.
  • Be consistent with your image. Sneakers, jeans and jacket with Gladwell’s trade-mark hair style did not disappoint.
  • Surprise the audience by ending unexpectedly…..