“When I was told that I would never walk or talk again it put fire in my belly.”

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In the BBC 2 series Employable Me, a programme that follows people with disabilities as they attempt to find work, Speakers Corner opens up a public speaking career for disabled businessman Andy Ibbott. Below, HRZone speaks to Andy about his inspirational journey to recovery and reemployment, and with Managing Director of Speakers Corner Nick Gold about the company's experience on the programme.

Becky Norman, Deputy Editor, HRZone: Andy, can you tell us a bit about your professional career before having a stroke?

Andy Ibbott: I was the Managing Director of the California Superbike School for 19 years. We operated in the UK, Norway, South Africa, Ireland, India and travelled to many other exciting locations. Before that I was the Road Tester Editor of Motorcycle New and Fast Bikes.

Following my stroke in 2011 I went from full on to what seemed like nothing.

Becky Norman, Deputy Editor, HRZone: After your stroke, you were told you would never walk or talk again. How did you feel at this point? And what led you to defy expectations?

Andy Ibbott: When I was told that I would never walk or talk again it put fire in my belly. I was told that I would never be able to walk without a stick but I now no longer need one, with the exception of when I used one during the Marathon Des Sables to keep my speed up. I have had three operations on my neck and, with a lot of hard work, I now have 75% of it back and am still trying for more.

Becky Norman, Deputy Editor, HRZone: You rose to the amazing challenge of the Marathon Des Sables – completing seven marathons in six days in the Sahara Desert. What urged you to take this on? 

Andy Ibbott: I was due to do the Marathon Des Sables in 2012 but the stroke got in the way of that! During my recovery I heard that Scope were given places for the marathon in April 2016 so I immediately picked up the phone. I requested three places, one for my physio and friend, Jon, and one for my friend Rob.

Both were fantastic team mates who helped me through every step of the journey. I knew that the event was going to be incredibly tough and it certainly was! From the outset, my philosophy was that I would not let nature bring me down – you have to get up and just keep on going.

Becky Norman, Deputy Editor, HRZone: Can you tell us about your experience at Speakers Corner, where you explored a career in public speaking? Is this something you will continue to pursue?

Andy Ibbott: Definitely! I thoroughly enjoy speaking to people about my experiences and encouraging people to challenge themselves no matter what their bodies or minds have been put through.

If you look past missing limbs and difficulties with speech and look at what an individual can offer the company you could find the perfect employee.

I am learning a lot about public speaking and still doubt myself from time to time, but I will persevere and eventually, you never know, I might get an agent to deal with my many bookings!  

Becky Norman, Deputy Editor, HRZone: How have you found your career search in recent years? Has there been many challenges or have you been well supported through the process?

Andy Ibbott: I spent a whole year firing CVs to a multitude of companies. I was applying to jobs five or six times a day, 365 days a year – applying for all kinds of roles from a company director to cleaner! Only two employers got back to me. It was a tough and gruelling experience, hence why I jumped at the chance to be involved with ‘Employable Me’.

Becky Norman, Deputy Editor, HRZone: Do you feel that workplace discrimination against disabled people and those with long-term health problems remains a big issue?

Andy Ibbott: I truly believe that employers should be more willing to see the potential of people like me – just like Speakers Corner has done. If you look past missing limbs and difficulties with speech and look at what an individual can offer the company you could find the perfect employee.

I understand that there might be some added complications when employing a disabled person such as changes to the office environment and more regular breaks but, ultimately, you will get an employee who works incredibly hard and appreciates the opportunity that you have given them.

Becky Norman, Deputy Editor, HRZone: Nick, what led Speakers Corner to get involved with the BBC Employable Me programme?

Nick Gold, Managing Director, Speakers Corner: We are always on the lookout for new speakers who have a message that will help inspire, educate and challenge our clients and their delegates at their events. The message needs to be combined with the speaker’s ability to deliver on stage to all different types of audiences.

Andy approached us as a new speaker and the journey of his career, to his stroke and his motivation for recovery was one that had so many messages that people could draw inspiration and learnings from. We felt we needed to understand more about his style, content and experience, so we invited him into the office to speak to us.

Following the introduction of the Employable Me series, we had a long chat with the producers and internally, as we were conscious that we didn’t want to compromise our ethos of honesty in terms of feedback to the speakers due to the narrative of the television series.

The producers were excellent and reassured us that this was exactly what they were looking for so we were more than happy to get involved.

Becky Norman, Deputy Editor, HRZone: How did you find the experience with Andy? What did you hope to showcase to him and viewers?

Nick Gold, Managing Director, Speakers Corner: From our perspective, Andy came across as someone who was just at the start of his speaking career. The content was rich and extensive but slightly unstructured, and his delivery needed some work to make sure he was hitting the key points. I was really pleased that the whole team contributed both positive and constructive feedback.

In a society where those with disabilities or health problems can often be sidelined or ignored, we think it is immensely empowering and liberating to ensure these minorities are given a platform, an audience and a voice.

One of the key areas we were looking to put across to the viewers was that although the world of speaking is incredibly accessible – being an industry that is inclusive, diverse and open – to be a truly great speaker requires work, dedication and a clearly defined strategy.

Helping the speaker understand their messages and where they need to focus on is something we can work with them on. 

Becky Norman, Deputy Editor, HRZone: How does Speakers Corner work to ensure that people with chronic health problems and/or disabilities are treated fairly and given the necessary support to progress in their career?

Nick Gold, Managing Director, Speakers Corner: We are privileged to work with speakers from all different backgrounds and we’ll always ensure they are given the necessary support to deliver their messages to the relevant audiences. Whether this be ensuring the stage has adequate accessibility or making sure audio description software is available, we’ll make the necessary provisions possible.

In a society where those with disabilities or health problems can often be sidelined or ignored, we think it is immensely empowering and liberating to ensure these minorities are given a platform, an audience and a voice.

 

About Becky Norman

Becky Norman bio photo

Deputy editor for global online publications HRZone and TrainingZone. As a newcomer to the worlds of HR and L&D I am keen to hear from the community, so please do say hello via our social channels!

My past editorial experience includes working on science communications content, international development policy reports and craft magazines.

Outside of work, I enjoy cycling, eating vegetables and drinking posh gin.

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