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April 11, 2022

Catchphrase


Jack is a highly paid motivational speaker with a secret. Bibi is his coach and she has a secret too. What could be the key for both of them to tell each other their secrets?

Could it be the catchphrase that Jack's old sheepdog Billy always said to Jack? 'Who dares, wins?'

A transcript of this story is available on my website: www.behindthebottomline.com

Music by  JuliusH Pixabay.

Image by Pixabay

This   story first appeared in Business Spotlight.

Transcript

“… and remember what my old sheepdog Billy taught me:  who dares wins!”

There was an explosion of lights, rock music blasted from the speakers and Jack Pagett marched to the front of the stage. He stood smiling, waving left and right, pointing at somebody in the audience and …

“Cut!”

The music stopped and Jack looked across the empty auditorium to the projection box where Tony King was watching the rehearsal.

“What’s wrong, Tony?” he asked, shading his eyes from the spotlights.

“How many times have we told you, Jack? Point and give a thumbs-up. A thumbs-up! What’s the problem?”

Jack frowned. “But who am I giving it to?”

Tony exploded.

“For Chrissake!” he screamed. “Bibi? Do your bloody job!”

I went on stage with a bottle of water, my heart thumping as it always did when near Jack. As he drank, I explained that the finger point and thumbs-up gesture was not meant for anyone specific.

“Each member of the audience wants the illusion they’re your friend, Jack. It makes them feel loved.”

“Ah,” he said sadly. “So, I’m faking love now?” He shook his head and I found myself feeling a little bit more guilty.

At that time, I worked for Tony King. He ran an agency called King’s Speech which provided top speakers for company conferences. Design thinking, environmentalism, digitalization, as long as the show was entertaining, companies were happy to pay.

But Jack was different to Tony’s other speakers. They were mostly ex-salesmen, but Jack was originally a sheep farmer that Tony had met by chance on a farm in New Zealand. He was likable, but more importantly, charismatic. Not because he was brilliant, but because he could take funny farming anecdotes and connect them with the topics that companies wanted to hear about. Audiences loved him.

When he joined, Tony asked me to look after him, even though I was about to leave the agency. I’d had enough of the phony catchphrases our speakers all used and I wanted to write a novel.

“It’s all bullshit, Tony,” I’d said. “‘Who dares wins!’, ‘When life gives you a lemon, turn it into lemonade!’ I’m sick of it.”

“Yes, but Bibi, this guy’s special. Coach him for six months and I’ll give you enough money to write your novel without living off packet soup.”

But two years later, I was still there. You see, I fell in love with Jack, but although he was always nice to me, he never seemed interested in anything more. So, I stayed and gradually turned him from a sheep farmer into a corporate motivational guru. He earned good money, but I saw (because I watched him closely) that every clichéd catchphrase or cheap presenter’s trick that I taught him, added a grey hair to his head. This made me feel guilty, but the only alternative was to get him to go back to his sheep. I couldn’t do that.

That evening he was talking about corporate environmentalism for an audience of car salesmen. He didn’t like the speech I’d written for him, and as we went through it after lunch, he was sulky.

“It’s all greenwashing,” he said.

“It has a great title,” I said, trying to be patient. “’Global warming isn’t cool!’”

“Oh, very clever,” he sneered. “Wonderful use of your writing skills. What happened to your novel?”

I was speechless.

“You’ve got this comfortable life writing stuff you don’t believe in,” he continued. “I think…”

 “That’s enough!” I snapped. “I’ve wasted two years of my life because of you! But after tonight I’m resigning!”

“ ‘…because of you’?” he asked. “How’s this my fault?”

I paused. I couldn’t admit I was crazy about him.

“True, it’s not your fault.” I said, heading for the door. “Forget it!” Then I ran away, turned off my mobile phone and hid in my hotel room.

Before the show started, I went down to the projection box to supervise the technical side for the last time.

“Music and lights,” I said to the technician as Jack walked on to huge applause.

“Thank you, thank you! Now, what do you know about … sheep?” he began. Everybody laughed.

“Not much? Well, they fart and burp. A lot.”

A big laugh, but this was not the speech I’d written.

“Thirty litres of methane a day. That’s a pretty stinky animal and not good for the planet. Not as bad as your cars, but that’s another story…” They laughed again.

For two years he’d told people they should only do the things they believe in, he said. But what about himself?

“I’m a sheep farmer. How can I talk about cars and the environment when the only thing I really understand is an animal that farts and grows fifteen kilos of wool every year? ‘Stick to your knitting!’ my grandma always said. Well, she was right about part of that I suppose …”

The audience loved it.

“Anyway, I need to go back to my sheep. But I can’t go alone. You see, there’s this person I used to work with…”

He’d wasted two years being too afraid to tell her how he felt about her, he said. But now he’d upset her and she wouldn’t answer his calls. I could feel the technician looking at me.

“You see, I’ve finally got my courage together to invite her to visit New Zealand for a holiday. Maybe she could begin the novel she wants to write while I look after my sheep. So, this is my question to you all and whoever is listening in the projection box at the back: do you think I should ask her?”

The silence of two thousand people holding their breath filled my ears. Then the technician gave a little sob.

“Say something,” he said, pointing at a microphone. “I’m begging you!”

I paused for a moment, then picked it up.

 “Well,” I said to Jack and the audience. “What would your old sheepdog Billy say?”