I can’t remember the year or the date; though I’m pretty sure it was a Friday and it was December. I do recall it as being my best day at work – even though I wasn’t in the building most of the day or actually working.

What had happened was that, during the year, I and dozens of my colleagues had been attending an in-house training programme called Managing a Team. I didn’t have a team to manage but my manager thought it useful for when organising events, so two of us from our team duly attended.

At the end of the year, someone had decided we needed to hold a morality play-cum-end of year assessment, to show just how much we had learned. Thus it was on this day we found ourselves heading to the offices of our solicitors, where most of us would sit in a large room watching the drama of an employment tribunal unfold.

“Most of us”, because there was, after a fashion, to be some audience participation.

There were two Advocates, one for the organisation and one for the individual. There was a Chair of Tribunal Panel. These three people did this roles for a living. The other two members of the panel were collared as they were waiting outside. They would ultimately judge the whole thing, as in real life (well… not quite, as you’ll see).

The curtain rises

The story was this. A member of staff at a bus station had had pornography delivered to his workplace, and had been accessing it on his office PC, and had been dismissed. He then took the organisation to tribunal, claiming unfair dismissal.

For the purposes of this play, his line manager was played by a member of the data team. The HR Manager was played, funnily enough, by one of our bus station managers.

Guess who played the part of the pervert? Cast against type obviously.

The morning passed with me barely saying a word, as my advocate interrogated the other two. By way of background: we’d each been given a pack containing correspondence about the case, so in theory we were all well prepared, but I have to say I found the morning to be quite…dull. Probably because I wasn’t yet able to take part, just sit there and observe as everyone else was.

Take a bow

Come the afternoon… the gloves were off.

I said we had correspondence about the case but we didn’t have a script. I had no idea of the questions that were to come from the opposing advocate, or from the panel’s chair, who then encouraged his colleagues to ask questions as it was all going so well.

I ad libbed and improvised for the best part of an hour around three simple principles. I was truly sorry for my actions and recognised my actions caused offence to others; I was going through a tough time, and my mind wasn’t where it should be; I’m better now and believe I deserve a second chance.

You’d almost think I worked in public relations.

It was my hour to shine, and I took the opportunity with both hands. People remembered some of my lines years later; apparently I blamed the IT team for letting such stuff through their firewall. I don’t recall saying that but it does sound like me. Even the opposing advocate come up to me afterwards and asked if I’d done this sort of thing before.

At the end, the audience broke into small groups so they could deliberate. My advocate asked how I think it would go; I said it would probably break down by age, with older participants willing to give me the benefit while the youngsters would apply the rules rigorously. Which is indeed what happened, when they should have all found against me despite my pleading. Hey, when you’re good…

Future pointers

I hadn’t really wanted to do the day but if I hadn’t I almost certainly wouldn’t have become Chair of CIPR Yorkshire & Lincolnshire. Or stood on stage opening Pride Awards or failing to run a successful raffle draw, stood for election as CIPR President, taken part in panel discussions, done TV and radio interviews, taken the mic at Leeds Carnegie/United Ladies home games or pretty much anything that required me to ‘go public’.

I didn’t know I could do any of that sort of thing until the first time I did it.

And yet, I’m still crap at interviews!

Which is silly really, when you consider that an interview is just an hour of questions you aren’t given beforehand based around a small amount of correspondence. All you’re doing is ad libbing. After the one I thoroughly loused up in early November I was seriously considering hypnotism. Strangely, two others made the same suggestion.

Then I thought: if I can do well by pretending to be someone else for an hour, perhaps I should invent a character called “Gary Taylor” and send him to the interview instead? A confident, outgoing chap who always maintains eye contact and who can remember all the technical things his alter ego forgets as soon as he walks into the interview room, and who doesn’t get exponentially nervous the more he wants the job (applies also to women and dating).

Hm. Hypnotism might be the easier option…