Alex Merry, public speaking coach

In our regular series, high fliers remember their lowest moments


Hi, Alex! Who are you and what do you do?

My name’s Alex, and I’m a public speaking and presentation coach. My job is to help people deliver high stakes presentations, internally at work, or on big stages for TEDx and web summits.

What was your #MyFirstMcJob?

A strawberry picker, when I was 12.

How did you get it?

My parents moved next to a farm in the middle of nowhere in Northamptonshire that happened to do pick your own fruits during the summer. I went down and said: “Could I earn some pocket money?” They said: “We’ll pay you 20p for every punnet of strawberries you pick and 40p for every punnet of raspberries.” I thought: “Sounds excellent pay. I’ll do it!”

How many punnets could you pick per hour?

It depended on the season. Sometimes it would be a real chore. Other times, it was really easy. I was probably picking five or six punnets of strawberries an hour, and two or three punnets of raspberries.

Why are raspberries double the price?

Because they’re half as big!

Oh yeah. How long did you work there for?

Three solid seasons. Then I progressed to a behind-the-till position, with significantly more responsibility.

What were the perks of the job?

Free strawberries, free raspberries ... They had a bouncy castle as well. Occasionally they’d have a big order like for an important village party when you had to take the job a bit more seriously. But otherwise it was very informal.

What did you spend your first paycheque on?

Most likely, an England football shirt, football boots, or football stickers. I think I earned £124 for one summer’s work, which wasn’t bad.

Did anything particularly funny happen?

It was all fun because I was only 12. But lots happened in my next job as a door-to-door fund-raiser. We were the people you did not want knocking on your door, so we’d get people shutting the curtains and slamming the door on us. We’d live in fundraising teams over the summer, and would challenge each other to deliver the charity pitch in French, all that sort of stuff.

What skills did you learn strawberry picking that you still use today?

I’d like to say it was a hard, summer’s graft, but it really wasn’t. It was just a bit of fun. I suppose I learnt it might be immediately satisfying to spend the whole day eating strawberries, but you’re not going to get paid for it. I learned delayed gratification from not getting paid up front, so I didn’t spend all of my money at once.

Are you still in contact with anyone of your old colleagues?

My parents still live near the strawberry farm so I’ll occasionally wave across, or occasionally get invited to Christmas Eve drinks. I’m still in contact with a lot of people from my charity fundraising days. We’ve built an incredible network. People who were part of that group have gone on to achieve amazing things, because we learnt the reality of hard graft, how to create something from nothing and how to create a good first impression.

Why is alumni important?

There’s something about a shared experience that creates a bond. Shared experiences underpin any relationship. It’s amazing the opportunities that crop up from people you used to work with. I’m only working with a massive corporate now because one of the people was part of the charity fundraising.

What would happen if you went back and did another season strawberry picking?

I’d probably work a bit harder and negotiate a higher pay. Maybe 40p a punnet of strawberries, and 80p for raspberries!

If you could go back in time and give yourself one piece of advice, what would you say?

“Take the path less well trodden,” has served me well in the past.




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