In the world of conference speaking, people often use the phrase ‘The Big Take Home’ or ‘The Big Take Away’, and almost any guide to public speaking will tell you that all presentations should have one. It’s a perfectly valid piece of advice and I always find it useful to decide on the main point I want people to leave with, even before I start writing a speech.
A friend and I were discussing this concept and playing around with the idea of applying it to aspects of real life - what was The Big Take Home from last night’s dinner, or this morning's trip to the shops, or even your childhood? When it came to this last category, my friend fell silent for a while to consider the question and then told me that she thought the singular over-arching message she took away from her childhood was, “Why can’t you be better?” I found this revelation heart-wrenching.
She explained that her family had had high expectations of her, so if she got 95% in a test, they wouldn’t focus on how well she’d done, they’d ask her what happened to other 5%. When her parents came to hear her singing in the church choir, they would invariably lavish praise on one of the other choristers, with the implication (to my friend at least) that they’d prefer their daughter to be more like this other child. And she had more stories like this.
My friend wasn’t maudlin about her family, she explained that she’d given up on pleasing her parents long ago, but nevertheless she gave me food for thought. It’s all too easy to imagine our children take for granted that they are loved and supported, that the big, important stuff gets through to them despite any smaller, less positive messages along the way. This may not always be the case.
My Big Take Home from the Big Take Home conversation, was that I need to communicate more readily, more clearly and more often, the precise message that I would like children to take away with them from any encounter with me. Each and every interaction, no matter how small, contributes to their bigger picture and I’m very keen to be part of the process that leads them to have a better Big Take Away from their childhood than my unfortunate friend.
I was recently reminded of ‘The Liver Birds’ the 1970s sitcom starting Nerys Hughes and Polly James (check) as a couple of flat sharing girls carving out their own lives in Liverpool. I was around six when it first came out. I remember sitting at the top of our stairs with a pal from school ‘playing’ the girls. It was my life’s ambition to move to a city and share a place with a girlfriend. It’s commonplace now, but at the time such an arrangement was anything but. The Liver Birds were so different from any other portrayal of women on television at the time. They were my heroines, showing me that I didn’t necessarily need to marry a man to get out of the familial home and on with my life. I loved them.
We can’t achieve anything that we can’t imagine ourselves doing. It sounds obvious, but it’s easy to forget how potent this truism is when it comes to our children. How our children think about themselves, how they imagine they are is the most powerful influence on how they think about their own future.