At the end of last year I received an email from the President of The Oxford Union inviting me to speak at one of their famous debates hosted at Oxford University. I’d of course heard of the Oxford Union before but I hadn’t quite realised just how many awesome people had stood before the stage over the decades. I’ll admit, I was preeeetty nervous when I responded saying “yes”. But I couldn’t preach about the importance of stepping outside of one’s comfort zone and then turn this down, could I?
The Union was founded in 1823 to protect the ideals of free speech and debate and has played host to a range of world-leading figures during its history: Presidents Carter and Reagan, Albert Einstein, Malala Yousafzai, Malcolm X, Jack Dorsey, Saint Teresa of Calcutta, President Hamid Karzai, Eric Schmidt, Natalie Portman, and Alexis Ohanian to name but a few. There’s also an ~interesting~ debate that Katie Hopkins got involved with, which was pretty outrageous as you can imagine.
The cool thing was that they said they were struck by my podcast interview with Cherry Healey back in August, discussing whether social media has killed good conversation, hence why they reached out to me. That is one of the joys of making the podcast, you never know who’s listening in!
This all made sense, because the proposed title of their January debate was “This House Believes That Social Media Corrupts Human Interactions.” I was really pleased to be invited to speak on this, as I always have a lot of say on the topic. It’s an interesting question that brings up lots of questions and perspectives, and I was excited to debate on the motion (I definitely do believe social media can corrupt relationships) and also hear what the opposition had to say. I spoke against a sociologist at Tinder and the founder of DitchTheLabel.
It was such a brilliant experience. Everyone was so welcoming. I was shown about the University by one of the students, we had drinks in the bar followed by a three-course dinner (where we said grace and then raised a glass to the Queen.) We then a professional photo shoot in one of the drawing rooms (it literally felt like a school photo) and we signed the visitor book which has signatures in it from the likes of Johnny Depp to Dame Judi Dench.
I was so pleased to be speaking alongside my friend Cherry Healey – we’ve podcasted together and been part of the BBC’s VR launch series, so just by having her there made me feel calmer. Her speech was amazing and I’m looking forward to re-watching it on YouTube when it goes live. She spoke from the heart.
I always enjoy any opportunity involving public speaking and meeting new people. I had a bit of a memory blank at the beginning of my speech (bloody nerves!) but fingers crossed it didn’t ruin the rest it too much because I really started to really enjoy it once I got into the swing of it. There’s always bit of time needed at the beginning of any public speaking to “warm up”.
Regardless, I am really happy to have done it and pushed myself out of my comfort zone. Onto the next one!
Huge thanks to The Oxford Union for having me.