Treading the boards

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Written by Alisdair Chisholm on 1 June 2014 in Opinion

Alisdair Chisholm’s recent gig in sunny Spain turns out to be more than originally planned

I drive away on a Sunday afternoon – a gig in Barcelona beckons – I get 50 miles before I remember that I have forgotten my passport. I turn around, head home, grab the passport out of the family document box, and start again.

I am still in plenty of time, and there is a sense of déjà vu to it all – valet park at Heathrow, check in, through security, glass of champagne which I order but don’t drink, buy a couple of disposable ecigarettes, on the plane, which lands, no crashing at all which is always a pleasant surprise, bang on time and a taxi into the centre of Barcelona, right to the door of a five-star hotel.

At the hotel, the routine continues – check in, check out the conference room, set up for tomorrow’s gig, head to my room, order coffee, make a few last minute notes, sleep a bit, but not too much, and rise and shine at 5am, ready for whatsoever the day may hold. Whatever, I am expecting it to be anything but routine.

I am booked for 9am to run a 90-minute session, all about motivation, for about 30 salespeople, so in theory I could be on a flight back at lunchtime, but I have actually booked, on a hunch, to stay over until the next morning.

Sure enough, at 7am my mobile pings a message from Nick, the sales director, who asks if I could meet him for breakfast; I just head downstairs, eyes wide open, knowing he will be there already, waiting and anxious.

This is Nick’s new sales team, but I have worked with him for years, spoken to at least seven of his teams, so I pretty much know what to expect.

Nick greets me with a big smile, and a bigger hug, but his crumpled suit and bags under his eyes tell me he has slept less than me, waiting to get this meeting over.

I order a couple of espressos and we find a table outside in the courtyard. We drink our coffee and talk small, and chain-smoke – him a Spanish brand and me on an e-cigarette. Round about his third cigarette he finally comes out with it.

The thing is, he explains in something of a rush, is that he has been ‘let down’ by his other speakers and he wonders if there is any chance that I might be able to ‘fill in for them’. Also, he thinks it would be nice to take his team out for dinner, and wonders if I might just know a good restaurant, and if I would like to join them and maybe, if I ‘feel like it, do a bit of an after dinner talk, kind of, and perhaps a bit of magic, or something like that’.

I have to laugh, and then the negotiation begins. I let him know that I might, just might, be able to get him off the hook, but it would involve him paying me a huge sum of money. He accuses me of being a mercenary, and I pretty much agree. In turn, I suggest that he has the organisational skills of a small and wayward child, and that he really shouldn’t be allowed to run a bath, let alone a sales team, and he says he ‘takes my point’. I make him sweat a bit, but not too much because I like him, and we soon strike a deal. Like magic, the cloud lifts from him and he is instantly lit from within, like we all are, at our best.

I spend five minutes with the hotel concierge and a restaurant in La Rambla is sourced and sorted, as are a few simple but exquisite magic props, and I am pretty much good to go. I was expecting something like this and already have the extra sessions prepared, so I head back to my room, with more espresso, to get psyched; my perfect mental state for this lovely work is hard to describe, kind of calm and hyper-alert right at the same time.

All goes well, both the day and the long night out and I head off for my early morning flight without so much as a nap. I am home before lunchtime, just as a delivery arrives, a present from Nick – 25 decks of Quality Brown Bees, out-of-print, my favourite cards and a nice touch.

The Lovely One greets me, holding my passport in her hand – turns out I travelled on my ten-year old daughter’s passport; it is not the first time, and probably won’t be the last – and wondering how it went. “All good,” I say, “just another gig.”

Good fortune.

About the author

Alisdair Chisholm is managing director of The Original Training Company. He can be contacted at


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