• Stewart Knights

An Interview with Sir John Jones - Part 2

This is part 2 of a 2 part interview with the brilliant Sir John Jones. You can find his website here. If you haven't read part 1 yet, we would thoroughly recommend checking that out before reading this one - you'll regret it if you don't!

Where do you feel your passion comes from and how have you made it accessible for other people?

“Passion is infectious”. Sir John opened up to me about where his passion for stars came from, this being Patrick Moore on a small TV set in black-and-white. Sir John made sure to convey that Patrick Moore was a strange-looking man and the whole set wasn’t exceptional either, rather, it was his absolute passion for the stars and the cosmos that came off the screen and convinced Sir John that there must be something in it if someone could have such passion for it. In which case, he was hooked.

Much like the quote of Isabel Allende “show up, show up, show up and the muse will show up for you” and the idea of having the genius, passion is a muse which visits you. Further to this, Sir John spoke about his book “The Secret to Happy Schools” where a particularly poignant message is , “I can’t make someone happy, but I can create the circumstances in which someone to choose to be happy”. From this, it is quite clear that passion breeds passion and if you want to inspire someone to identify with something you love, you need to be truly inspired by it first.

How important are public speaking skills for teachers?

In one word, massive. Sir John reflected upon a conversation with a member of staff where he outlined that you can’t be outstanding for 5 hours a day, but you can be for 10 minutes of each lesson. In which case, all teachers should try to find something startling to start with as this helps offset the need to be engaging for 5 hours. It all starts from the beginning. If you can inspire pupils in the first 10 minutes - they’ll work fervidly for the next 35.

What is the biggest event hosted/attended by yourself and how did you prepare?

Whilst Sir John has spoken at conferences in Dubai, Denver and Scotland to thousands of people, he reflected that the biggest/most catalytic event he attended was the paradoxically small school in Liverpool with the ten people on the tiny chairs on a rainy Tuesday afternoon - as this was the catalyst for the rest of his success as a speaker.

In terms of preparation, however, Sir John suggested that truly big events call for you to be absolutely sure of your material and be conscious of not going over on time (something that Sir John freely admitted he wasn’t the best himself as he found himself getting lost in tangents at times). Furthermore, you need to be disciplined and there has to be a power of 3 - don’t ever make more than 3 points. As an example, everyone remembers “blood, sweat and tears” but no one (or at least very few of us) remember that it was actually”blood, sweat, toil and tears”.

How do you typically prepare for a presentation and what would you define your “style” as?

When we were discussing, we came to the conclusion that Sir Johns’ style was unknown - what he did just worked and he ran with it. However, we came up with some key words such as being grounded, being authentic and being believable. It is also imperative to mention that these words didn’t come from his own perception of his performances, rather, the feedback he has received from people.

We also focused upon the fact that people don’t want you up on-stage saying how good you are - which has informed his style whereby he tells stories in the third person at times to maintain anonymity and to not make the stories about him. Speakers must also embrace vulnerability and be authentically vulnerable whilst embodying the readiness principle - when the student is ready the teacher will appear. In addition, another quote that Sir John liked was “the more I practice, the luckier I get” by Arnold Palmer.

As a final thought, he suggested that the power of language is key - it has to be respected and you have to work on your key statements. Moreover, there is an absolute chasm of difference between the right word and the nearly right word.

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