James Hewitt
Blog Newsroom Nordic Business Forum 2018 Past Events

Journey to the Speaker Contest with James Hewitt

After our first ever Speaker Sourcing Contest this year with 171 applicants, the qualifying rounds in Helsinki, Stockholm and Oslo in May and June, and the exciting final in Stockholm in August with 6 finalists, we got our first ever Speaker Sourcing Contest winner: James Hewitt, head of science & innovation, Hintsa Performance with the topic The Key To Sustainable High Performance. James won the exciting final with the prize of €30,000 speaker fee and a spot in the speaker lineup for Nordic Business Forum 2018.

Now it’s again time to look for future speaker talents, and find out who has what it takes to become the next Speaker Contest (formerly the Speaker Sourcing Contest) winner walking on the stage of Nordic Business Forum 2019! As the speaker applications are now rolling in, we would like to turn our attention one more time to this years’ finalists to offer an inspiration boost for all the aspiring speakers wishing to grow their speaking careers as one of the NBForum2019 speakers!

To start with, we interviewed this year’s talented winner, James, about his journey at the NBForum Speaker Sourcing Contest. So, speaker talents, get ready for some inspiration and tips!

Journey to Speaker Contest interview

Nordic Business Forum: James, could you tell us what were the reasons you wanted to participate in the Speaker Sourcing Contest 2018?

James Hewitt: My colleague told me about the Speaker Sourcing Contest after she had seen it advertised on social media. I was intrigued but felt too busy to create the video to apply. However, she persuaded me, set up a camera in the office, and recorded a 4-minute clip, where I shared some ideas that I thought could resonate with the NBF judges.

With my topic, I wanted to share a mixture of inspiration, new insights from my ongoing Ph.D. research as well as practical tips for the audience.

NBForum: How did you decide the subject of your presentation?

JH: Peak performance is a deep and multi-faceted theme, so there are many good reasons to talk about it. However, from my perspective, one of the most important reasons to speak about peak performance is that the notion of what peak performance is, and what factors underpin it, are so frequently misunderstood.

We often confuse causation with correlation. A ‘successful’ CEO may be famous for all-nighters, the ‘grind’ and the ‘hustle’, and it’s tempting to think that this must be what it takes to reach ‘the top’ (whatever that is). However, many of these individuals rarely pause and explore whether a more sustainable approach, that emphasised both working hard and resting well, could help them to perform more efficiently and effectively, and reduce the personal cost in the process. What if health and wellbeing was the foundation for high-performance, not something we need to sacrifice to achieve our goals?

NBForum: Could you tell us a bit about your journey in the Speaker Sourcing Contest?

JH: I had no idea how the video would be received, so I was delighted to find out I qualified for the semi-final, in Stockholm. In the following weeks, I spent a lot of time creating a 12-minute presentation. On the day of the semi-final, I was pleased with my performance, but the other competitors also delivered great presentations. When I found out that I’d qualified, my first emotion was relief, and then a sense that the ‘real work’ was about to begin.

Following the semi-final, the Nordic Business Forum arranged for a coaching session, to refine the presentation. I’ve had increasing numbers of opportunities to speak at events, but I’m very much at the beginning of my speaking career. Consequently, I was eager to learn as much as I could. The coaching session surpassed my expectations. Professor Alf Rehn, my coach, provided an incisive and valuable mix of observations and practical advice which completely transformed my approach for the final.

Arriving at the final, I knew I was ready to deliver my best performance. After all the contestants had delivered their presentations, I was on the edge of my seat. When I realised I had won the public vote, I was pleased, but the outcome of the judge’s deliberations would be the decider. When Aslak de Silva, Nordic Business Forum CEO announced me as the winner, I was absolutely delighted. It was an incredible honour to win among a fantastic group of competitors, and a great privilege to have the opportunity to speak at such a high-impact event, at this stage in my speaking career.

15 years ago, I used to be a full-time racing cyclist, and as I was practising and preparing the presentation for the semi-final, I was surprised to notice the same competitive sensations that I used to feel when I was racing. These sensations persisted through to the final. I felt excited, a bit nervous, and I realised that I needed to apply the same techniques I’d used when I was racing to increase the likelihood that I’d perform at my best on the day.

NBForum: What did you get out of this experience?

JH: The journey to winning the Speaker Sourcing Contest was a reminder that there is always more to learn. I was also reminded of the value of choosing to engage with challenges that aren’t essential but are meaningful. I didn’t need to put myself in this high-pressure competitive environment, but choosing to enter the competition brought many benefits: some very practical, such as the advice and guidance which will continue to improve my speaking and presentation skills, some more relational, as I was reminded how many good friends and family members I have, as they provided me with so much input and encouragement.

NBForum: Do you have any advice for someone else wanting to participate in the contest?

JH: I used three principles while I was racing, that turned out to be equally applicable to this very different kind of performance:

  1. Focus on the process, not the outcome: This meant taking the feedback from my coach, and using it to prepare as well as possible, which was in my control, without worrying what competitors may or may not be doing, or what the outcome would be.
  2. Work hard, rest well: In my work and research, I spend a lot of time-sharing ideas and insights to help people enhance their cognitive performance, sustainably, so it was time to take a dose of my own medicine. I was disciplined about working hard to prepare, but also took time to rest and recover, prioritising getting at least 7 hours sleep, even with a hectic travel schedule in the weeks leading up to the final.
  3. Trust the training: As the final approached, it was natural to feel the excitement and nervousness growing. I intentionally reframed these sensations as the ‘signal’ from my brain and body that I was ready to perform, as I had done countless times as a racing cyclist, and committed to be confident in the preparation that I had put in, in advance.

Nordic Business Forum 2018 – James Hewitt: The Key to Sustainable High Performance

About Speaker Contest

We are on the lookout for a game changer. Nordic Business Forum is hosting its annual Speaker Contest (formerly the Speaker Sourcing Contest) – with qualifying rounds in Helsinki, Stockholm, and Oslo – in which we hope to discover ingenious talent, innovative concepts, and intriguing perspectives from professionals and first-timers alike. Speakers who impress the judges and make it to the final round will compete to win €30,000 and a spot in the speaker lineup for Nordic Business Forum 2019.

Are you working on the next big thing? Have you got an inspiring speech that you have always wanted to try out in front of an audience? Do you think you have what it takes to speak in front of thousands of people?



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