An interview with Nick Michelioudakis


Hi Natassa and Julia! OK –before we start, I would like to say that I’ve changed the structure of the interview a little, I just feel that sometimes it’s hard to ask the right questions if you don’t know the answers… 🙂 (…plus it would be boring if all the interviews were the same…)

Yes, well, tell us some things about teaching background (that’s to establish your credentials, you see…)

OK – I’ve been an EL teacher all my life. I’ve taught in Greece and in the UK. I’ve worked as an Oral Examiner for the British Council and also as a Presenter and Trainer both in Greece and abroad.

 I know you are also interested in Psychology…

That’s right. I am fascinated by Social Psychology and even more so by Evolutionary Psychology.

 I also know that Psychology has to do with your talk. Why are you interested in this area?

Because it helps me make sense of reality. It has the answers; from why we do the things we do (A: We think we know, but we don’t; most of what happens in the brain is below the level of consciousness) to why 4 out of 5 of our Plenary Speakers are men! (Somehow I can’t see us making ‘The Fair List’ this time round… J As to the ‘Why’, see my article on ‘What Men Are Best At’… J [ – you need to scroll down a little…]). Psychology also holds the promise that we might be able to make this world a better place – to motivate our students better and help make our colleagues happier. To quote Rory Sutherland: ‘The next revolution will be Psychological – not technological!’

 Why should people come to your session?

Well, there are ‘good’ presentations and there are ‘better’ ones; I try to make sure that my talks fall into this latter category (this does not necessarily have to do with the speaker, you understand…)

I have heard you make this distinction before (well, actually I haven’t but you have rewritten my questions!). What do you mean by ‘good’ and ‘better’?

Yes – for me this is a key distinction and it doesn’t just have to do with presentations. It has to do with learners, with activities and with teachers as well.

Could you explain this a little?

Yes. Take learners for instance; for me a ‘good’ learner is one who does what s/he has to do. A ‘better’ learner on the other hand is one who is more ‘field independent’ if you like – one who does not wait for language to come to him/her, but actively goes out to look for it.

What about activities?

A ‘good’ activity is one which is useful (e.g. generates language) and is not boring. But the acid test of whether an activity is truly motivational (= ‘better’ in my book) is this: Would the student want to do it if s/he were not in a classroom?

That sounds interesting (I see you have scripted my comments as well!). What about teachers?

🙂 A ‘good’ teacher is one who is conscientious, prepares well and tries to do her best for her students. A ‘better’ teacher is a teacher all the time (someone like Miss Brodie perhaps!). It’s a teacher who may be having a drink out with friends, then she notices something and thinks to herself ‘Ah! I could use this with my class!’

 …Which brings us to presentations. What is the difference between a ‘good’ talk and a ‘better’ one?

A ‘good’ talk may inform you about new discoveries in our field; or it may give you some activities to use with your students on Monday. Make no mistake – we certainly need ‘good’ talks and lots of them! Now let’s try a thought experiment: can you imagine going home and sharing this new-found knowledge with your partner? Let’s try another one: say tomorrow you become an administrator – or a manager. Or say you move to another field altogether; is this knowledge going to be useful to you? For me a ‘better’ talk is a talk which goes beyond the normal boundaries of ELT; it is a talk that would be of interest even to people who are not teachers.

You still haven’t told me anything about your presentation. What is it going to be about?

Well, my talk is going to be about stories. I would like to share with colleagues some truly remarkable tales! They are brief, they are striking and they contain lots of ‘morals’. They are the kind of stories that make you go ‘Wow’! And they are all true!

 So – is that all? The audience will just sit and listen?

No, of course not. After each story colleagues will be invited to reflect on what they’ve heard and discuss what this story means for us as teachers – what we can learn from it. Then I am going to highlight some key points in the story and say a few things about what Psychologists have discovered about each of them – these will be the ‘take home’ ideas if you like…

But what about stories that members of the audience may have to share?

You took the words right out of my mouth. It was actually my good colleague Michael Robbs who gave me that idea. At some point during the talk, I am going to ask people to share with the person next to them some incident from their own career (or perhaps one they have witnessed) which made a deep impression on them; an ‘A – ha!’ moment if you like; an incident which taught them something.

But why stories? What is so special about them?

Well, research has shown that stories are the best way to learn. They are our ‘natural language’. We have evolved to like stories – we are wired for stories! Research has also shown that in terms of communication stories are extremely effective. They are memorable and they are persuasive.

What are three words that sum up your presentation?

Stories – Motivation – Classroom Management.

When giving a professional presentation do you feel that you become richer in any way?

I love this question… 🙂 The reasons why we present are not that different from the reasons why we teach. As always, there is one answer that we give ourselves and another, slightly more complicated answer that may be closer to the truth… (If you would like to find out more, you can read the article ‘Why We Teach’:

Do you blog?

I don’t blog. The way I see it, a blog has to be something regular. That means you either start with a good stock of ideas to last you a long time, or it is very, very, very difficult to keep on writing interesting posts… J I prefer to write articles instead. There is the ‘Psychology and ELT’ series (you can watch some fascinating short videos on YouTube under this title) and what is for me at least a much more interesting series, the ‘Men, Women and Relationships’ series. You can find all of these articles on my site (

Which other presenters are you looking forward to seeing?

Well now, what kind of question is that? I have to mention my friends, don’t I? J So – I’m looking forward to attending talks by Michael Robbs, Igor Gavilan, Rakesh Bhanot. There are other interesting presenters too: Roger House obviously, Mandy Watkins, Zafi Mandali, Anna Petala, Dina Dobrou, Sofia Mavridi, Mary – Araxi Shachpazian and of course Jeffrey Doonan and  Julia Aliverti always have interesting things to say on music and art… I am only sorry my good friend Dimitris Primalis will not be presenting this time round… As far as the plenary speakers are concerned, I have already booked seats for the talks by Herbert Puchta and Bob Obee (oh – did I mention my great friend Michael Robbs?! :))

What tips would you give someone with little experience in attending such events?

Here is one: if you want a good show, men are your best bet; if you want substance, women are a much safer option… (I am overgeneralising here of course, but only slightly… J )


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