Episode 171 – Ges Ray

Ges sings his heart out and is a banker


Ges delights in building your confidence in public speaking, making the keynote or workshop fun, memorable, and with instant takeaways that you can use immediately. Built on four decades of commercial roles (including Bank Manager!), lots of singing and four decades of Public Speaking, delivering workshops, Keynotes, MC and even radio broadcasting, Ges delivers an effective mix of business & presenting experience to equip you and your team with the skills to speak in public.

Ges Ray is a retired banker and public speaking coach who re-discovered his love for choral singing after leaving it behind for 25 years!

In this episode, Ges and John touch on the psychological impact of being able to express your true self and how singing is a stress reducer for Ges.

Episode Highlights

• How Ges started singing in choirs
• How Ges re-discovered his love for choral singing
• The proven benefits of choral singing
• Ges’ banking connection with the royal family
• How sharing your passion in the workplace can improve personal networking
• The impact of being yourself
• Retirement preparation and breaking away from your work title
• Cultural differences of working in banking from the early 1900’s to now

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From Banking to Public Speaking, via singing!

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    Welcome to Episode 171 of the Green Apple Podcast. This is John Garrett. Each Wednesday, I interview a professional who just like me is known for a hobby or a passion or an interest outside of work. It’s someone that you wouldn’t think as being the stereotypical banker or accountant or lawyer. These passions make them stand out like a green apple in a boring red apple world. To put it in another way, it’s encouraging people to find their “and” as in my guest Ges Ray. He was a banker “and” a choral singer, which isn’t something you hear every day for sure.

    I’ve got a quick favor to ask. If you like the show and are listening on iTunes or your favorite android app, don’t forget to hit subscribe, so you don’t miss any of the future episodes because I love sharing such interesting stories each and every week. This week is no different with my guest, Ges Ray. It’s going to be so much fun, Ges. I’m so excited to have you on the Green Apple Podcast.

    Ges: Well, ditto. Thank you. It’s a fantastic pleasure to be here even from across the pond in the UK.

    John: There you go. No, I’m international. I love this. This is so fantastic. It’s going to be so much fun from when we chatted a couple of weeks ago. I’m just excited to share this with everyone. But maybe, I know you’re not in banking anymore. Maybe in your own words, what are you up to now?

    Ges: When you have to walk to the front of the room or maybe walk to that business expo because someone’s nominated you to do the speaking slot — and actually at that precise moment, you’d rather run out of the room screaming than stand on the stage to go speaking in public — that’s how most people in the world feels. What I do now is build your confidence so that when you leave your chair and walk up to the front of the room, even though the butterflies had just gone to World War I dogfight attack position to destroy your stomach lining, I can give you the tips and tricks to actually stand there, look and feel confident and give a nice warm handshake with your audience.

    John: That’s perfect. That marries your banking life with your choral singing life perfectly, which is really cool.

    Ges: Absolutely. The background to all the training I had in the bank was second to none, absolutely amazing training. Even I was in a role where we were working on a program that involved a radio program. My foresight most of the time, put a couple of us on a professional course to learn how to use a radio mike and actually be on radio programs. Where else are you going to get that sort of training in professional services and particularly in banking? That’s what I say because it was a wonderful introduction to life.

    John: Yeah. No, that’s fantastic. Really cool. Really cool. But before we get into it, I have my 17 rapid-fire questions to get to know Ges on a new level here. If I’m going to get on a plane, fly to the UK, then we’re going to sing together. First of all, I’m a terrible singer. It’s going to take a long time to get me good. But I can hum along. I guess I can whistle. I’m pretty good at that. But I have my 17 rapid-fire questions. Let me fire away here on. All right. Do you have a favorite color?

    Ges: Mauve.

    John: Mauve. Okay. Wow. That’s a first. How about a least favorite color?

    Ges: It was going to be beige.

    John: Because that’s totally different. All right. How about do you have a favorite actor or actress?

    Ges: Ooh. Now, that’s a very good question. There’s a UK actress. Oh, Jenna Coleman. She’s on the UK Doctor Who program from a few years ago.

    John: Right.

    Ges: I think she’s amazing.

    John: Yeah. Absolutely. How about a favorite sports team?

    Ges: My sport was rowing.

    John: Okay.

    Ges: It’s the UK Rowing Team who just keep winning those Olympic medals.

    John: Right. That’s fantastic. I love this already. This is so good. Would you say you’re more of an early bird or a night owl?

    Ges: Actually, I’m an 11:00 in the morning person really.

    John: Okay. Right. Right in the middle. I love it. How about more Sudoku or crossword puzzle?

    Ges: I don’t have the brain for either. I’d rather read a book.

    John: There you go. Okay. All right. How about a favorite animal? Any animal at all?

    Ges: Cat, definitely a cat.

    John: Cat. Okay. All right. How about more oceans or mountains?

    Ges: Oceans.

    John: Oceans. Nice. How about when you’re on an airplane, more a window seat or aisle seat?

    Ges: Oh, aisle seat. It has to be specifically two thirds of the way down the plane on the back on the left-hand side, so there are clear view out on my right for making sure there’s space around me, very specific.

    John: Nice. Okay. Yeah. As a banker, I have to ask you. More debit or credit?

    Ges: Credit, definitely.

    John: Credit. There you go. Do you have a favorite number?

    Ges: Forty-two.

    John: Forty-two. Is there a reason why?

    Ges: It’s the meaning of life in accordance with a book whose name has escape me. The answer to the meaning of life is 42.

    John: Oh, right.

    Ges: Yes.

    John: Yeah. That’s fantastic. All right. How about more suit and tie or jeans and T-shirt?

    Ges: Now, jeans and preferably a T-shirt, all floral, really interesting shirt because it’s a reaction to four decades of wearing suit and tie.

    John: Right. Four decades? Oh, boy. How about more Star Wars or Star Trek?

    Ges: Ooh, it’s got to be Star Wars for me.

    John: Yeah. When it comes to a computer, more of a PC or a Mac?

    Ges: PC, although I do use apple tablets. But for the laptop itself, it’s got to be a PC.

    John: Right. I guess, what’s a typical breakfast?

    Ges: For me, it’s a fruit smoothie.

    John: Ooh, nice. Good answer. The last one I’ll ask you, the favorite thing you have or the favorite thing you own?

    Ges: Favorite thing I own is actually — I think it must be a fountain pen that have stayed with me for many, many years from when I used to sign my letters as a bank manager and still writes absolutely beautifully.

    John: Oh, that’s really cool. That’s really cool. Very neat. Yeah. Going on to the choral singing, how did you get started with that? Were you singing as a child and then just kept at it?

    Ges: Absolutely right. In fact, it’s a path of many people who sing. As a youngster, I got involved in a church choir. I was one of those innocent, smiley faced, cherub-looking singers with cassock, all the garb that we use to wear in church choirs many years ago. I sang as a youngster. At school choir, I learned how to read music. But like most people, when life takes over when you leave school and start working life, you don’t have time. It all disappeared for about a quarter of a century. Then when I was in my mid-forties, there was the opportunity to sing with a local choral society. I’d rediscovered my love of singing, always wonderful, wonderful.

    John: That’s very cool. That had to be a really neat feeling when you rediscovered that.

    Ges: Yes. First, as an adult, you’re creeping at the back of it, “Can I do this?” But if you’re on a big enough choral society that welcomes new singers, it gives you the chance to find your voice again and realize that actually, yes, you can get back to singing and to be part of a group of people. Here’s two scenarios for you, John. One, as part of something called the Leith Hill Musical Festival over here, which has been going since 1905 with Ralph Vaughan Williams as its conductor in the 1900s, I was part of my choir joined with other choirs and can be one of 300 voices on stage singing a major work.

    The other year, Verdi Requiem, 300 voices, 82 piece orchestra taking the roof of the auditorium. That’s one extreme. But here’s a lovely one with one of my choirs. We went on tour in Paris in France. There were about a dozen of us sitting around the table just having an evening meal in Momoka where the artists gather. We were just enough voices for each part. We started singing just a cappella, just voices. Before we knew it, the whole world have stopped around us and was listening to our little choir of a dozen people just singing. That is just wonderful, absolutely wonderful.

    John: That’s really cool. Especially when it comes to singing, I mean that’s something you can do anywhere at any time type of thing like you proved just at a restaurant eating. You just start singing. I’d rather be a part of the 300 person one because then I can just mouth the words Milli Vanilli style. But that’s really impressive. It’s also cool how such a range there where it’s such a powerful 300 person. I mean just the volume and the intensity with that versus just a casual twelve person thing. It’s all still singing, which is neat.

    Ges: It is. It’s actually been proven in recent studies to be helpful in the world of mental health. Singing in a choir is actually a therapy that’s recommended. If you’re having a bit of trouble in life and you want to find your Mojo again and actually lose some of the blues in life, — not seeing them, but the blues that affect us on a Monday morning when we have to go to work — singing in a choir is actually a recognized therapy for that. You’re amongst some colleagues. You cannot focus on anything else other than the rehearsal for a couple of hours. It changes the way your brain works. You come out in a completely different mood after a heavy day. Singing is a wonderful therapy.

    John: Absolutely. I mean you’re connecting with people on a different level which is neat. That human connection is what keeps us from getting down too much with the anxiety and depression and stuff like that. That’s really neat. I mean this was something that you rediscovered while you worked at the bank, yeah?

    Ges: You’re absolutely right. It would have been a time when I was an old fashioned proper bank manager, which we used to have in the UK before the crash. My job was a Relationship Manager to high net worth personal clients. I spent my life looking after incredibly wealthy people, absolutely amazing people. Just taking part in their lives, helping them shape their lives and building really strong personal relationships, that was quite intensive. When I rediscovered singing, it was such a wonderful thing to a really hectic day. You might’ve been putting together a really tricky mortgage application for some really tricky clients as they are. The only requirement was to come home. Put all that to one side. Go and join your friends. Sing your heart out. It was such an antidote to the pressures of day to day financial services life.

    John: Absolutely. So like you and the Queen or friends, like that kind of rich? No, I’m just kidding.

    Ges: Well, there was a connection. I was part of a bank called NatWest which our private bank’s arm was called Coutts bank. Actually, the queen banks with Coutts bank. I have actually been to the floor in Coutts in the Strand in London in the UK where all the documents from the Royal Family’s banking history are kept in a special library. You may laugh at that. But there is actually a connection between what I used to do with the Queen.

    John: That’s really neat. I think it’s great how you recognize that. Then I love how you referred to it as an antidote from a stressful day and that it cures that, if you will. It’s a good stress reliever and get you out of that mode. Because if you stay in that mode all the time, I mean you’ll just burn yourself out.

    Ges: You’re so right. Today’s life doesn’t help, does it? Because when I started work more years ago than I care to mention, the only communication devices, the only technology available was an old fashioned telephone where you dial the dial to ring the number and a bank secretary who would type your letter. Communication time was I dictate my letter to the secretary. Being one of the junior members back in those days, I might get it back two days later with mistakes. You then sign it, post, put it in the post to your client. They would receive it a day or two later and do the same process back to you. That might be a week before you got the communication back.

    When you went home, you went home. There was nothing to take home with you. Compare that with today’s life where even you and I are on call 24/7 effectively with the devices in our pockets, with communication. My youngest daughter is out working this evening. She’ll probably send me some pictures on WhatsApp shortly. We’ve always got that particular connection there 24/7 in today’s lifestyle. We had to take a moment out of that. Turn your phone off, no notifications. Just focus on singing and the pleasure of creating incredible harmonies with other people. Then you can come back and rejoin today’s world.

    John: Yeah. That’s so fantastic, man. I love that. Is this something that you talked about at work at the time?

    Ges: Probably at first, no. There’s a wonderful American psychologist who I absolutely follow. She’s one of your tribe, Amy Cuddy, who’s well known for her TED talks, 49 million views I think on a TED talk last time I looked about some “How You Stand Affects Your Posture,” et cetera. She talks about things like Impostor Syndrome and also the fact that everyone thinks in today’s world that the whole world is looking at you. When you’ve got an interesting hobby like that, suddenly I felt as a member of the male species in an office environment, “Should I be letting my guard down in this professional world? When I’m dealing in foreign exchange and dealing in all sorts of bits and pieces to do with the banking industry, should I be letting people know that I sing? It’s not exactly a theme for work.” I was probably reluctant at first to admit that I did it.

    But interestingly, once people know that you do follow a hobby like that, it’s not long before others who do the same poke their head round the corner over a cup of coffee and say, “You know, Ges, I sing in XYZ Choir.” You’ve now got a conversation. You’ve got especially networking in today’s terms. You’ve got a communication thread with people on a level that you wouldn’t have when you’re just looking at work over the desk. It’s a relief. Not just in your own mind to make you feel better but you’ve now got another network that you’re building with your tribe, fellow singers.

    John: Yeah, absolutely. Then you have a connection with them on a whole different level that translates to how work is being done with them as opposed to someone that you maybe don’t have that connection with.

    Ges: A practical example, actually from the work I do now, working with a very large client and dealing with a really senior guy who manages thousands and thousands of people. We were having a meeting to work out what he wanted me to do with his team. Somehow in the conversation, we found that we were both second bass voices in choir. We like to sing the lowest of the low. His demeanor changed instantly. Suddenly, we were best of mates. That relationship has continued ever since. We established a connection above and beyond the work environment.

    John: Right. Because that’s where the magic happens, right? I mean that’s where it’s at. Yeah. Why do you think it is that that’s not our default mode to go to that?

    Ges: To pick up on, again, the psychologist view, “Well, I’m Just like following what they tell us.” We do feel we’re being judged as human beings. Part of our condition as a human being is we feel we are being judged 24/7. It’s a challenge with today’s my youngsters generation who are constantly on social media. What are other people thinking of them? If you’re spending your life, as many of us do, this thinking, “What are the people thinking of me?”

    Then it’s difficult to step outside what you think is acceptable where you wear the same or we used to wear the same dress in financial services. It was a dark suit, white shirt and perhaps particularly a tie. It’s to try and demonstrate our individuality. Step outside that, if I’d stepped into my office at the bank wearing some smart chinos, a smart jacket and a Paisley shirt, which is something I like to wear now, I’d have been sent home to get changed. That fear of being judged, it overrides almost everything that we do. Again, to be individual is quite tricky. I’m now of an age where actually I just don’t care anymore.

    John: Right.

    Ges: I waved my Senior Railcard with pride, which is something in the UK, which gives me a discount on our office. Be different. But it took me four decades of working life to think, “You know what? I don’t mind being a bit different.”

    John: Yeah. Then what happens when you are different? Good things?

    Ges: Yes. I think as long as you’re not going nuts about it, but if you establish yourself as you, if you can just be you — and in fact, this is what I work on when I’m working with clients in the work I do now — don’t try and follow a formula. Don’t try and do points one, two, three, four, five. Essentially, just be you. But let your character come through. Then people will see you for who you are. They will respect you for who you are. They will want to be in contact with you for who you are, not simply for the job you’re doing or the title that you carry. I think that’s a lesson that took me many, many years to learn.

    John: Yeah. Because I mean that’s the thing. If it’s only because of the work, then when you’re done with work, you’re completely forgettable because you’re of no use to them. That relationship isn’t sticky. Yet if you have a personal relationship with them or — I mean it’s amazing if it is someone that sings the exact same second bass, a part that’s amazing. But even if it’s somebody that just likes to fly kites or whatever they love to do, at least you know that about them.

    Ges: Precisely. You hit a really important point actually. You hear so often listening to all sorts of programs about people’s lives. In my generation, retirement age, what do people do? If your job and your title has been you for all your working life and suddenly you retire and you are no longer your job or your role or your title, who are you? It affects a lot of people quite badly. People will go, “We’ll try and get back in,” because they’ve lost that contact with life through the eyes of which they’d been seeing it for so many years. It’s almost a bit retirement preparation if you like. Find the inner you. Develop it so you can still be you when that particular role comes to end.

    John: That’s so perfect. I love that retirement preparation. Because I mean there are some clients that I consult with, some of these executives or partners at firms that are going to retire in the next three or five years. They’ll say, “I have no idea what I’m going to go do.” That’s really frightening because, I mean, you have another 20 good years plus. I mean you have more money than you know what to spend on and you don’t know what to go do with it? That’s really frightening.

    Ges: Isn’t it strange that most people in working life would look at them in almost envy? You’re going to have nothing to do. You’re going to have all that money. But actually, the insecurity of being in that position actually ends people’s lives quite often because they just stopped being. That’s quite frightening.

    John: Yeah. Because the higher up you go, the more pressure under and the more you double down on the work. Because I mean it is important because it’s what pays the bills. But you can be both. That’s what you proved, which is be a successful bank manager but also have an outside passion or interest that enhances your job and makes you better at that and makes you more relatable, which is really cool. I remember when we talked the first time about how you found an old bank manual from the early 1900s of what was considered appropriate about marrying others.

    Ges: Oh, yeah. We’re going back a long, long time. I was in a lending office where we assessed all the lending applications that came up from branch. It’s quite a serious, intense atmosphere. But there was a cupboard with some of the old banking instruction manuals in it. I think it was about the 1930s. But it laid out quite clearly that if you wanted to get married, you had to ask permission of your employer.

    John: Right.

    Ges: Imagine that today. Even more interestingly and perhaps more frightening in today’s world, there was a pecking order of the house that you could buy. If the top guy in the area had a four bedroom detached house — which in the UK is quite large — if he had a four bedroom detached house in an acre of land and if you were the next layer down, you could not buy that level of housing because it had to be seen that you were a level down from that person. Even buying your house was controlled by the organization that you worked for. It was signing your life away. It was amazing, the way things used to be in those times.

    John: Right. And just how professionalism has evolved and what we considered to be professional. Clearly, all of these changes have happened. We’re getting more work done at a faster and better rate than ever before. It doesn’t actually impact your job at all. It enhances it, which I think is really neat. I guess how much do you feel like it’s on the organization to create that culture where it’s encouraged to share those passions and interests? Or how much is it on the individual, like in your case, to just let it out in small conversation and then create that little circle of people that are in on it, I guess if you will?

    Ges: I think the balance is changing. Because certainly, when I was younger, it was all on you, the individual, to make that happen yourself. But the whole area of mental health — and mental health at work is actually quite big in the UK at the moment. It’s big globally, a lot of conferences going on. People are appointed mental health ambassadors in large organizations. Certainly, from what I see, what I read and when I meet other people in networking environment, organizations are taking on more responsibility. Because they recognize that in order to be more productive to themselves, in order to have employees that are going to stay with them. Because in my days, you signed your life away for 40 years. Now, people move on quite quickly. In order to keep a workforce that wants to be with you, it’s important to the organizations to create the right atmosphere and the right mental health structure for their employees. Now, part of that, in my view, it’s enabled them to have their hobbies, talk about their hobbies. If you’re doing something like, “My passion is singing,” it is going to help you in the work environment as well as help you personally. “Go sing,” is my instruction to everyone.

    John: Right. Just everybody goes sing. What if I’m really bad at it? “No, you’ll get better. It’s something that you just practice, right?” It’s just, “Go with it.”

    Ges: You hit another really interesting point. You said to me, “Ges, I can’t sing.” Usually, if someone says to me, “Ges, I can’t sing,” I would just quietly ask a few questions. I won’t do it here to reveal your innermost self. But often, you go back to something in childhood. Maybe at school, a teacher said, “Ooh, Fred or Freda, you shouldn’t be singing. You stay out the choir.” Or a close relationship, an aunt or an uncle has just said, “Ooh, that was a bit flat.” That registers in the mind of a seven year old for the rest of their lives. They think they can’t sing. I believe personally that if your family who’d run out of ideas for Christmas presents for you found a singing teacher who understands the adult mind that thinks it can’t sing, and I can almost guarantee that half a dozen lessons later, as long as you take part and participate and learn, you’ll be singing like a canary, John.

    John: Oh, wow. There is hope. I’m excited. Yeah. Because typically, it’s in church when all the old ladies turn around. They’re like, “You know what? God still loves you if you don’t sing. It’s okay.” It’s like, “Yeah, good point.”

    Ges: Imagine six months from now, you’ve taken a few lessons with one of those professionals who has helped you. They turn around because this rich baritone voice or this beautiful tenor voice or this really rich deep bass voice is just supporting them as they sing. They will be astounded, absolutely astounded. Go, John. Go get singing lessons. Get to it.

    John: Right, before I run out. This was really fantastic, Ges, and so much fun. It’s only fair that I offer to turn the tables back on me since I started the episode with the rapid-fire questions firing away at you. I didn’t know if you had any rapid-fire questions to shoot back at me at all.

    Ges: I know the answer to this one. Singing or speaking?

    John: Oh, speaking for sure.

    Ges: Okay. Small groups or huge great theaters?

    John: Oh, huge theaters. Fantastic. Bigger the better.

    Ges: Electric cars or diesel engines?

    John: Oh, wow. That’s interesting. Because in the US, we don’t have a lot of either. You know what? I think the electric car intrigues me, so I’ll go electric.

    Ges: Okay. We’re a few years ahead on those things. Okay. Train or flying?

    John: I liked the trains, those fast supersonic trains. In the UK, you guys have some faster trains; in the US, not so much. I guess flying I’d say because it gets me there faster. I can spend more time at the destination. But I do enjoy looking out the window as I’m flying. That is neat. It’s a combination of both I guess.

    Ges: Done. Okay. Then last one — simply because one of my other passions is eating far more than I should do — would you have an Indian curry with all the trimmings or a Thai meal with all the trimmings?

    John: I’d go Indian, definitely, Indian really good stuff.

    Ges: We should share a Vindaloo curry together at some stage.

    John: Fantastic, man. Then we can just start singing. Then everyone will gather around and be like, “Is that John Garrett? He can’t sing.” You’ll be like, “Yes, he can.” Except where you’ll sing it and it’ll be like a musical start. That can be fun. Great. Well, thank you so much, Ges, for being a part of the Green Apple Podcast. This was truly fantastic.

    Ges: My pleasure.

    John: That was so great. If you like to see some pictures of Ges singing or connect with him on social media, be sure to go to greenapplepodcast.com. While you’re on the page, please click that big green button. Do the anonymous research survey about corporate culture. It’ll really help for the book that I’m launching in just a couple of months. Thanks again for subscribing on iTunes or whatever app you use and for sharing this with your friends so they get the message that we’re all trying to spread which is to go out and be a green apple.

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