SpeakHub spoke to Adham Abdelsalam, former Nile FM Radio Presenter and current Innovative Brain at Brainquill about his career and how public speaking helped him become a success.
SpeakHub: You’ve moved on now from presenting on an everyday basis. But there was a time when you had to wake up every day and use your voice to entertain a city. When did you realise that you could do that?
It was kind of a life defining moment for me when I was in university. Like many young Egyptians, I graduated high school with absolutely no idea what I wanted to do with my life and then someone mentioned the faculty of Logistics and Supply Chain Management at the Academy for Science and Technology, so I joined that and I graduated with a major in Supply Chain Management and Logistics – but don’t ask me what that is because even though I graduated in it I still don’t know what that is. But while I was at University I joined an organisation called AIESEC and that is one of the things that literally helped define who I am. I also joined a plethora of student activities and student run organisations including MUN and MAL, and every time I’d go in I’d find myself gravitating toward the Human Resources Departments; coaching people, talking to people, presenting, and connecting with people. Every time I landed a job or responsibility in that area I would like, BOOM! – it would take off, like nobody’s business. For me it was so much fun. That’s when I realised I had the potential for this – I could be good at this. So you start honing your skills and slowly you learn how. Granted, the first time I ever walked on stage and presented in front of a number of people – you know – I wanted to “pee my pants”…I’ve come a long way obviously now, but I can still get a little bit of a jitter when I walk on stage or talk to a client but I think that’s all part of what makes it fun. I was no good with numbers so….
SpeakHub: So would you say that some people are just good at speaking whilst others are not? Can people learn to do this?
No – I don’t think it’s as simple as that. I would say that some people are born with more of an affinity towards certain things than anything else. So you can practice as much as you like but at the end of the day you will never be AS GOOD as say Roberto Carlos – I’m old I choose old examples – those with natural affinity. I mean he was born with the affinity of having that super leg and if he didn’t train on it he would still have the affinity. So it’s a matter of finding out what you’re naturally inclined to and then you work on that like hell.
SpeakHub: When you were on Nile FM, what was your show all about?
Well the genre of music is pretty much standard at Nile FM. It is mostly based around Top 40 pop music, but what makes one show different from another is the presenter, and the kind of different games and things they do on the show. So if you listen to Mark and Sally for example – they are fantastic – and if you listen to Zaina – equally fantastic – but it’s different because of her style and the things she does on the show. So I was on from 8 to 10, Sunday through Wednesday and mine was all about puns, and fun, and humour, and games that were very, very silly and just lots of laughter. I just wanted to take people’s minds off the drive and makes you giggle – ‘cause you know what Cairo traffic is like.
SpeakHub: How did you prepare for a show? Were you ever nervous? Does any particular moment stick out?
There is one particular time before Nile FM when I had to give a presentation – about 6 years ago. I was working at a consultancy company and we had this extremely important meeting and a lot of money was riding on that presentation and that pitch so I had to nail it absolutely 100%. It was in front of some of the biggest tycoons and business people in all Egypt – like billionaires. So I went in – I did my presentation. I was supposed to be for like 20 minutes and I was absolutely on fire – I felt I was “killing it”. So I’m about 15 minutes into my presentation and my belt buckle broke and my pants just dropped to the ground – I’m not making this up (laughing) and to add insult to injury I just happened to be wearing boxers that had like bright hearts and smiley faces on. So here I am standing – literally with pants around my ankles – in my boxer shorts, in front of some of the most important business people in all of Egypt. I don’t know what came over me but for some reason I was like – to hell with it – what happens, happens, so try to make the best of it! I turned around, pulled my pants up, tied the belt back up the way you would tie a shoe-lace and I turned around calmly and just asked, “Did anybody see anything?” And they were all like, “no,” and so I said, “…and that’s exactly what we’re all going to say in the police report.” Everybody started laughing. Everybody started feeling more comfortable – and you know what – it worked. I went on with my presentation. It was a success. We got the deal. It taught me a very valuable lesson. It is totally ok if you mess up. There is no problem if you miss a beat or say something wrong. The problems all come – not from the mistakes – but from people panicking. Audiences are just human beings and can be super generous. We all make mistakes. It will be ok if you own it. If you start panicking – you make the audience nervous and that’s when they start disconnecting from you.
On my first day at Nile FM – I was a rookie obviously – so I used to sit away from the board and just speak when someone told me to speak. But I remember the very first tie I was on the board and was in charge of the board I accidently took the entire station off the air for about 14 seconds – which in radio time, is a lifetime. I pressed the wrong button. What a disaster right? But it was ok because I owned it. I was the very first person to ever come on air and admit exactly what I had done. I literally told everyone that it wasn’t a technical problem – I’d screwed up…..and it was ok.
SpeakHub: What other tips would you give to young people who want to be better performers?
Firstly, and I know it’s cliché, but there is a good reason for that. Practice, practice, practice. Get a bunch of your friends, sit them down, and do your presentation in front of them. Get a couple of dogs and sit them down and speak to them – if they bark in a certain way then you know you’re on to something.
Secondly, never try to imitate someone else. I use humour in my presentations – that’s my thing. Some of my colleagues who are better than I am, don’t use an ounce of humour in their presentations and they get the job done. The reason is because they are comfortable in their own skin. They are doing what comes naturally to them, and relying on what appeals to them. Some are very serious, some are intellectual types, some are very poised. Work with what you’re comfortable with because if you’re comfortable – everybody else will feel comfortable. Never try to imitate – find your own thing.
SpeakHub: We are in Egypt. Egypt has it’s own language. Is English speaking important?
Well.. you know I love Arabic. I think it’s a beautiful language. I don’t think kids should focus on being an English speaker at the expense of being an Arabic speaker. But I really do see the value of being a good English speaker. That is the reality. When you travel anywhere, when you meet anybody, English is the standard. It is the standard for business, for interviews – especially when you travel abroad – and I believe travelling is one of the greatest achievements and experiences you can have – so definitely speaking English confidently and expressing yourself in English well, is of paramount importance.
Former Nile FM Presenter, Adham Abdelsalam is a currently the innovative brain at Brainquill, an Egyptian based firm that specialises is producing tailored learning and training programmes for business clients. Adham is also a standup comedian, and a keen sky diver and has conducted a couple of major comedy shows.