Terry Mclean is a clear exponent of present times, a professional who understands what cultural awareness implies in every way. English-born, he is fluent in seven more European languages and wisely polarizes his professional skills. He is a communication expert that is especially focused on intercultural differences. A continuous, inexhaustible development of his actual and potential capabilities – in a few words, his main assets – has made Terry a master of reinvention. He can now pride on a rich, multifaceted career, and tell us about his world-wide experience. We have had the pleasure to speak with him about it.
P-B: Barcelona, 1991…what was it like? What was your first impression in terms of work, people, the city itself….? Could you speak any Spanish at all, or did you have to learn it from scratch?
TM: Barcelona 1991.. ( I still have my first diary entries from the first week) is an onslaught on the senses….Visually Breathtaking, the architecture, the landscape… the people… People you don’t know– LOOKING at you!! the girls!!!!
The Noise of cars, motorbikes and…. PEOPLE talking, laughing, shouting, singing I had read that Spain was one of the noisiest countries in the world, it is true!! And I love it… It is so alive!! I FEEL so alive!!
The Smells of food ( for and English person food in shops is usually hidden away under plastic) drains, Ducados, perfume….the sea… The Taste of the food – tomatoes don’t taste like that in UK!! The Coffee is real!! Touch – people you don’t know touch you here!!!
Above all it was the sense of freedom and potential in Barcelona that excited me, filled my blood with oxygen and adrenalin.. I slept on average 3 hours a night for the first 3 months, I was a man on a mission. I knew nobody, had nowhere to live, spoke no Spanish – though I spoke fluent French and some Italian, had a job that didn’t start until end October and didn’t pay till end November…
So I had 2 months during which time I had nothing to lose, in a city about to take on the Olympic Games and which was a land of opportunity, where everybody seemed to believe anything was possible.
P-B: You once mentioned you started singing in the streets of Barcelona – which shows you can sing too. What did you learn out of this experience? Taking into account your proactive attitude to life, I am sure there is a useful lesson beneath.
TM: So I had had this vague idea that I wanted to get into theatre and performance to do as a side activity/ semi paid hobby to supplement my teaching and satisfy my Bohemian tendencies, while not risking too much ( the conservative tendencies exerting their control).
On the first day on the Ramblas however, I saw many performers on the street ( I have always played guitar and sung in the street since I was 16) and with the Adrenalin pumping it was hard to resist.. I then met a Dutch/Morrocan street mime artist called Toni and I collected money for him. Watching him work the crowd just made my ambition grow and eventually I just got up in front of the Café Opera and sang two songs from Jungle Book Acapella. I made 900 pesetas in 5 minutes… and I knew then that I had found a real passion…peforming and entertaining people.
I Threw myself into music and theatre. After that day on the Ramblas, I spent every moment I could learning songs, I bought a guitar, met other musicians, formed 2 groups, played solo in restaurants and told everybody I met that I was looking to get involved in theatre, music, TV, Film… anything I could think of in the Entertainment Business.
Within a month I was working as an actor in an Educational Theatre company and within 2 months I was earning more in music and theatre than my salary in my teaching job.. which by this time had started – and in which now I had no interest whatsoever! I must apologize to my students at the time, I probably wasn’t a very good teacher then, my focus was elsewhere!
What did I learn? Until then I was always criticizing myself for being lazy and not being dedicated to work….. Finding my passion and realising I could live from it, made me realise that real motivation comes from love… love of people or love of an activity or anything… I worked endlessly at my music and theatre, I never stopped, I wasn’t lazy I just hadn’t found my passion yet…
I learned that when you have that motivation you can achieve anything you want, you simply create it in your mind and put it into action . the external factors and obstacles do not matter, you overcome them. The limits? You set them yourself.
Before Barcelona, I used to be sceptical about dreams and goals… I had to “ see it, to believe it” Since that first week I know that that’s the wrong way round if you want to achieve your ambitions. Now I believe first… and therefore I can see. It sounds religious doesn’t it?? I am an atheist and I am telling you, believe it and you will see it!!
P-B: Teaching has become a passion, you really enjoy interacting with people and, at the end of the day, learning a new language is simply and purely the very first stage of communication. P-B: What is in your opinion the most important quality in a teacher?
T-M It took me a while to re-connect with teaching. I was a University teacher in Montpellier and Rome and a TEFL teacher in London and Barcelona. I really loved it, as you say the connection with people and interacting with them is really important to me. My classes were more like Stand Up comedy routines and I am not sure how much the class learned, though they certainly laughed a lot!
15 years and 3000 theatre performances later, and after forming my own theatre company ( CLEVERPANTS) with my great friend James Humber, I realised that while the fun and glamour of music and theatre were huge motivations for me during my 20’s and 30’s, I was now missing some depth. So when training and coaching appeared in my life, I saw the opportunity to enjoy a profession that combined my passion for interaction and communicating to groups and my passion for education and personal development.
Learning languages is a valuable tool for self development in my opinion. For a teacher I think it’s really useful as it helps you develop that most important quality.. Listening…When you learn a new language you have very little to say. To learn you are obliged to listen and this is the best thing that can happen to you! It is the only way to begin to Connect with and Understand other people.
P-B: How did you move from teaching to Corporate Communication?
T-M Let me share a secret with you… the only time my mind is really at peace and relaxed is when I stand up and interact with a group, whatever the context. I find 1:1 communication much more challenging, though I am getting better all the time! Perhaps it’s less a passion, more a need!!
When still an actor in 2002 I went to an audition for a job as Corporate Host/ MC for a sales conference in Barcelona in French. I got the job and it was a revelation to me, a huge success… they laughed at my jokes! All of the same techniques I had been using in TEFL and with European teenage students for 10 years ALSO WORKED WITH CORPORATE ADULTS!!
From that success I got asked to do more and more hosting jobs and then people started to ask me if I could help them with their public speaking….and finally after years of combining this extra work with theatre, I was seen by a UK training company, while hosting a conference in Paris and they asked me to come and work with them.. Now five years later, training, coaching, motivational speaking, Presenting, is 90% of my work and I feel more fulfilled than ever, everything is in place and aligned.
P-B: Changing the subject, you are fluent in seven languages…what led you to learn so many foreign languages? Have life circumstances had anything to do with it, or you just did it because you liked it?
T-M : When I was 12 at school I was OK at French ( 1st year exam 67%, 7th in class) and I understood the logic of Latin. In the summer of 1976 we changed our caravan holidays in Kent for a caravan holiday in the South of France ( St Tropez). My mum took the same amount of food to cook of course ( my parents didn’t, and my Dad still doesn’t, like “foreign” food – foreign “muck” – he says).
I have to confess that my interest in French increased enormously during that holiday, due to the main motivation of teenage boys.. girls! In this case, French girls, Beautiful French girls!! I came home with lots of letters I needed to write to Christiane, Benedicte, Muriel… and by the end of the 2nd year at school my French exam result was 99% – 1ST in class ahead of the French boy in class Jean-Pierre Bailly!!
I never looked back and then when the chance came to learn German I did that too and by then the teachers were saying I was a “ natural” for languages ( a concept I struggle with as I think all humans naturally acquire at least 1 language!). I BELIEVED them and adopted this multilingual ability as part of my identity so I just kept going. Living in Italy gave me Italian, touring theatre in Portugal for 10 years gave me Portuguese and 2 chinese daughters has helped me open my brain to Mandarin..
It comes back in the end to 1 thing.. I LOVE languages, so I am motivated. As Sir Ken Robinson says in his book “THE ELEMENT” we should be encouraging our children to do find the thing they love doing and just keep doing it, eventually doors will open – as if by magic, as has been the case for me.
P-B: From your own experience as a multilingual professional, what would you recommend to students of foreign languages?
I would say first congratulations, you are joining the ranks of the future generations!
Secondly, diversify your language families if you can. Many of your competitors will speak Spanish, English, French, German, Italian etc..To get a University/ College type depth of knowledge of Arabic, Chinese/Japanese, Russian as well as Latin/Germanic languages will make you really special.
P-B: And how do you see Spain nowadays, in terms of language learning, as compared to what it used to be twenty years ago?
T-M I think it has improved quite a lot. I really admire the Spanish parents who invest so much energy in their children’s English and now Chinese. I wish UK parents had the same attitude to other languages – but where there is no perceived “need” there is no motivation!
In the theatre shows in schools we noticed a big improvement over the years in understanding of all the audiences ( reactions from students 20 years ago were typically comments such as “ habla en Cristiano”) .
Music and TV help a lot and I still think getting rid of Doblaje ( as is the case in Portugal, where the level of English and French is higher) would help. It would also help if just ONE of your Prime Ministers could speak English well. Prince Felipe speaks it very well so I’m sure it’s worth the investment for Rajoy to have a few classes – might help him with his negotiations with Frau Angela!
P-B: A professional MC, presenter, communications coach/trainer and actor – TV and Film, theatre director, corporate host, trainer and presenter. How can you manage to do so many things? and which one do you enjoy most?
TM They are all different and all the same…( except TV and film maybe) They are based on the principles of Connecting with people and Understanding them and their needs… What’s in it for Them, rather than What’s in it for Me!
I enjoy them all, I cannot give a preference, though perhaps the one I miss most when I am not doing it is that of Musician/ Singer..as it is the one where I feel I can be most myself, where I can be truly free to express my relationship with the world.
How do I manage to do them all? Passion!
P-B: In the same line, how does one become a Master of Ceremonies? it is not that common in Spain – as a job, I mean.
TM It’s very popular in the USA ( eg The OSCARS) and in the UK and is also big in Jewish Culture. Events companies and companies are always looking for Compères or an MC to host their events and conferences.
It is a post that is sometimes difficult to sell in as many people think it is easy to do and that the CEO can do it…or somebody from Marketing!
However it takes a great deal of skill and a good MC will add huge value to your event by doing all the Housekeeping and making sure the audience are listening to the presentations by managing their energy levels and attention span.
P-B: Taking into account your restless, incombustible profile, is there anything left for you to do?
60% of the jobs that our children will do don’t exist yet!! I don’t’ know what I don’t know! Ha, ha, ha!! I am sure there is a lot left for me to do, most of which I can’t even imagine yet! If I can imagine it then I will do it.. as an example I know that I will work more as a minister officiating non religious funerals, to help people make that transition when a loved one passes from life to death. This is a vital function I believe and one that neither the State or Religion does very well at the moment. Our relationship with death in Europe is very distant and we cannot deal with it…This I believe may end up being my definitive mission in life.
P-B: And you also are a Master Practitioner in NLP. What does it stand for, and how does it complement your other activities?
TM NLP stands for Neuro Linguistic Programming and it is a very useful tool for anyone in the human communications business. It has helped me understand the relationship between thought, language and action and underpins all my communications. It has made me a more powerful speaker, a better listener, a more effective professional and a more focussed person.
P-B: And talking about presentation skills, the other day we had the opportunity to assess a few of them in a business event, could you tell the difference among the British, the Americans and Spanish speakers on the grounds of their presentation skills?
TM I knew you would ask me this…..!!!! Like everybody I love to generalise and then say “ but you can’t generalise”! Of course you can it’s fun! As long as you don’t take it too seriously!
Generalising, I think the Americans I know seem to have a lot do confidence about speaking in public… however they are not always the best listeners to an audience especially when they are non-native English speakers.
The British and Irish have a natural theatrical gene and that disarming sense of humour, but also need to realise that their mother tongue is just a dialect now and a very rare one! Global English is not very similar to English English
The Spanish use their humility to win over audiences and could probably do with some of the confidence of the Americans..
OK THAT’S THE GENERALISATION, now for what I REALLY think!! I think presentation styles vary less on cultural differences and more on Social Styles.. the 4 types of behavioural styles that all humans adopt according to the context they are in but tend to prefer one or 2 dominant styles that are more comfortable for them. Knowledge of these styles and the motivation behind each one provides a lot of power and influence. Obama uses this knowledge in all his speeches. If you want to know how to use it too…. I can train you!
P-B: You see many executive profiles everyday, in Spain, UK…etc. What is the future leader profile like? in other words, how do you see “the professional profile” in a few years, in terms of leadership.
TM I believe that the future leaders… the successful ones anyway will use the “democratic” and “coaching” leadership styles more. Hierarchies are becoming flatter in business, we are understanding that motivation of employees increases productivity and it is no longer enough to say “ do as I say” or even “ do as I do”. To tap in to people’s creativity and to keep them interested in your business you need to understand what drives them and coaching and listening are the very effective ways to do this.
P-B: To finish with, remind me of your pitch – it had something to do with how your question influences the answer you get…
TM Yes it’s not just what you say but how you say it… and also I have learnt that everything in life is a mirror for you and your behaviour…This may seem esoteric but actually it is Physics according to Sir Isaac Newton
“For every action there is an equal reaction”
In a presentation, if an audience is not listening then you probably haven’t understood their needs.
If a colleague is annoying you then you are probably doing or not doing something similar to them.
If you are complaining about the what you are getting from life then think about what you are giving.
And finally… “ If you want to know what someone is really like, don’t listen to what others say about them, listen to what they say about other people” OR Cuando Juan habla de Pedro se sabe mas de Juan que de Pedro”
It’s all a mirror, a reflection of you, so if you want the world to change, change yourself first because we don’t see the world as it is, we see the world as we are.