Late October: literary events, lozenges and linctus!

Review: Southbourne Literary Society meeting, Bournemouth, October 2012

On 17 October I was asked to go along to a meeting of Southbourne Literary Society in Bournemouth. This was something I had decided to do anyway as I had seen how they had lost their stalwarts Mr Hall and Mr Hilliam and I wanted to see if I could help them by becoming more involved (more about this in future posts).

As always, there were two speakers on the bill (something which I believe makes this Society unique in the Bournemouth area and perhaps much further afield).

The first talk was in the form of an interview (loosely based on a well-known radio show!)where President John Bonsor asked Eileen Rawlings about her favourite books. These ranged from children's literature through classics to contemporary literature and each extract was expertly- delivered, whether moving or amusing.

Between readings, Eileen told of her life in Bournemouth, including her teaching career and early involvement with the Brownsea Open Air Theatre

Although her teaching experience is probably mostly responsible for her excellent delivery, I suspect that the stage time from her am-dram years and even her dance training all contributed.

Public Speaking Tip #501: Any performing experience can be useful when it comes to public speaking.

Eileen's late husband Keith was an Honorary Alderman of Bournemouth, having served on the council for 19 years, and wrote Just Bournemouth, a very respected history of the town.

The second talk was 'My Life in Opera' by Roderick Kennedy, a big man with a personality to match. The time flew by as he told of his schooldays in Bournemouth and how he went on from amateur dramatics to singing all over the world with great names like Monserrat Caballe, Jose Carreras and Luciano Pavarotti. Roderick is a very mobile speaker and really brought his stories to life - without ever singing a note of music! He had made notes for his talk but rarely referred to them and we could have listened to many more of his anecdotes. Afterwards he took questions from the audience.

I have to confess that I know virtually nothing about opera and wouldn't have gone out of my way to hear a talk about it but I was enthralled.

Public Speaking Tip #502: An expert speaker can bring a specialised subject to life for a non-specialist audience.

Weymouth Manor Townswomen's Guild, Dorset

On Monday 22 I gave an evening talk about Patrick Campbell to Weymouth Manor Townswomen's Guild at the Radipole United Reformed Church Hall. My last visit to them was back in May 1997 but I remember it very clearly.

On that occasion, following a series of four talks which I felt had only been moderately successful, I gave my Freelance Comedy Writer talk its first major revision in the 17 months that I had been a speaker. Some content was dropped and new anecdotes and observations which I had been mentally rehearsing and refining for weeks were added, I started using a few props and an anecdote which had previously been left towards the end was now moved to somewhere near the start of the presentation. The talk was transformed and continued in this form until its next overhaul some three years later.

This is how it goes sometimes. If you have a dodgy speaking experience amongst a number of really good ones you may just write it off and continue as before. But a string of consecutive bookings that don't go well should lead to a spring clean of your material - whatever the time of year!

Public Speaking Tip #503: A few bad or just mediocre presentations may prompt a revamp of your speech content. This is your chance to try out new material, discard or reword the parts you have never been totally happy with and perhaps change the order. Just be sure to keep your 'bankers' (the bits that always go well).

On this occasion I didn't have such a great talk due to my cough but I got through it, helped by some lozenges. It was great to see this Guild still going strong and well-attended after all these years. My thanks for the lift back to the station.

Probus Club of Gillingham, Dorset

The next morning I had an early start for a short-notice booking for Gillingham Probus who meet at the Olive Bowl. My topic once again was Patrick Campbell and this was very well received by the mixed audience, especially as I had fewer problems with the cough.

Chatting to the members afterwards, I was delighted to speak to one who had been at school with Patrick Campbell's younger brother, the novelist Michael Massen Campbell. That's one of the great things about giving talks: you never know who is in the audience. Over the years, I have met many relatives of famous people and, at one luncheon, even found myself seated next to a former Governor of Bermuda.

My thanks for the lifts in and out from Gillingham station. There was a lovely moment when the gentleman who gave me a lift back packed up the club's PA system and tried to hand it to me at the station as he thought it was mine! Over the years I have picked up the odd paper by mistake when leaving talks (as well as sometimes leaving behind items of my own) but I have never walked off with anyone's microphone and amp!

My thanks for this testimonial from their newsletter:

"Club members and their lady guests were initially disappointed when the scheduled speaker was unable to give his talk on Stonehenge due to an appointment with the BBC. Disappointment rapidly changed to enjoyment when Nick Thomas kindly stood in at short notice".  

Christchurch Writers' Competition Prizegiving

Earlier in the year, following my talk at the Club Night for the New Forest Players, I was asked if I would like to be a judge for the Radio Plays section of the 27th Christchurch Writers' Competition. This not only involved carefully reading all the entries and selecting a winner but also delivering a strictly-timed 7-minute presentation with an overview and writing tips on the day of the prizegiving at the town's excellent Regent Centre theatre. This was on 28 October, a rare Sunday gig.

It was quite an event. During the afternoon, diector Gillian Pitt and some of the Players read and performed extracts from many of the entries. I was very impressed at how polished these performances were, especially having had so little time to prepare.

Then, after a break for refreshments, the prizegiving began. I was the last of the judges to speak after BBC radio producers Christine Hall and Viv Beeby (poetry and short stories) and Dorset Life editor Joel Lacey (articles). All three are very good speakers (actually, in my writing career, I don't think I have ever come across a radio producer who wasn't a good speaker). Each had selected extracts from the entries to read in their presentations but I hadn't as my category was drama.

As I listened to these three very good speakers, I found myself becoming a little nervous. With hindsight, it wasn't just because I would be announcing one prizewinner and disappointing all the other entrants (and many of them had been excellent), it was also the fact that the other judges were producers and an editor, whereas I am a writer; in other words, they are 'bosses' who people like me have to try and sell our ideas to!

But I was a judge too and I couldn't let feelings of being lower down the editorial ladder affect the quality of my presentation, especially as my CV includes 'professional speaker', and within a few seconds at the lectern, I had relaxed, helped by no. 7 in my Twelve Tips For Terrified Speakers.

Public Speaking Tip #504: You cannot let yourself be overawed by the other speakers in a programme of events. You have been booked as well and you need to demonstrate why.

In my presentation, I gave some writing tips based on my own experiences and those of fellow scriptwriters and spoke about the unique challenges and opportunities of writing for radio. I included the odd humorous anecdote which got some appreciation from the audience of around 100 but didn't exactly raise the roof. This wasn't surprising: the atmosphere was tense waiting for the announcement of the winner and people are often too focused on the 'how-to' of a presentation to laugh much.

Public Speaking Tip #505: Humour is a great addition to most presentations but bear in mind that it may not always have your audience rolling in the aisles. One example is when they are really concentrating on information you are imparting and how it applies to them. Another is in the tense moments before an award is announced.

There were four plays that really stood out, including one by a writer who I think could well have a future as a radio sitcom writer, but in the end I opted for a superb piece called 'The Whitewashed Wall', based around Thomas Hardy's poem of that name and written by Lou James, a first-time playwright from Wimborne Minster. It was, as I said in my presentation, the sort of play that I felt would make me abandon the multi-tasking one does when listening to the radio in order to give it my full concentration.

After all the presentations, the judges stayed in order to chat to audience members and I spoke to a couple of the playwrights who had missed out (my category attracted fewer entries than the others and so only had the one prize). They were understandably disappointed but I was at least able to pass on some market tips. It had been very close but I think the best play won.

Public Speaking Tip #506: If you have been a judge in a competition then be prepared to stay for a while afterwards, congratulate, commiserate and give feedback. It completes the event for the winner and can be of some help to those who missed out.

My thanks to organiser Cynthia Collins for this testimonial:

"Thanks again for your expert contribution to the Competition".

And from Gillian Pitt:

"Many thanks for Sunday; your input was so well put over and with some humour as well. We have had, already, some really positive feed back from those who were there even if they had not entered a play - maybe they will next year ! 

We hope that you found the event enjoyable , it certainly is one of the important writing events of the year and it would be great if ,when the time comes around next year, you will consider doing a repeat performance!"

The answer to both questions is yes, so I am a  judge again this year.

Salisbury NHS Retirement Fellowship

My last booking of the month was for the Salisbury NHS Retirement Fellowship who meet at the city's St Francis Church. That lingering cough affected another Patrick Campbell talk (I'm sure retired health service employees must feel a certain helplessness when faced with a coughing speaker!) I resolved to keep taking the medicine.

One bright spot was getting a booking for November 2013 before I had even begun this talk. It happens sometimes and I love having dates in the diary for the following year. Some speakers don't like being booked too far ahead but I find it very reassuring.

Public Speaking Tip #507: Being booked as a speaker a long time in advance gives you a feeling of security as well as something to build on with further marketing.

And the speaker with the cough greatly appreciated the lift back into Salisbury on that very wet afternoon.


Here is my 500th Public Speaking Tip: Don't be a 'one-speech-wonder!'

Recent work and then that tip... 

I'm going to publish my 500th Public Speaking Tip in this post but first I will tell you about some recent talks and training. You may notice a theme developing... 

CAMEO at St Mary of Bethany Church, Woking

I had two talks in August. The first was in the hall of the St Mary Bethany of Church in Woking for their CAMEO (ie 'Come And Meet Each Other') group. I enjoyed speaking to them and my thanks for the lunch, tour of the very busy church and lift back to the station. The talk I delivered, incidentally, was a mixture of My Life as a Freelance Comedy Writer and the Power of Humour in Everyday Lifejust two of the many talks I have available...

Coaching a club speaker

The following week I spent a 3.5 hour session with a speaker who had booked me for my service offering coaching for Women's Institute speaker auditions and club speakers. During the session we worked on delivery, discussed the particular types audiences that they speak to and I suggested various additional markets. I also suggested variations on their presentation for other types of audiences.

I was delighted to receive this testimonial:

"Just wanted to say a big thank you for your coaching on Tuesday. I gained so much information from the session and am filled with ideas as to how to go forward. Thanks for all the input you gave me, I really appreciate your generosity in sharing information that must have taken years to glean. I shall certainly get busy. And I'll work on my presentation, bearing in mind the points you made. I thoroughly enjoyed the session. Thanks again.".

Me too. It was good to work with such a focused speaker.

Orpington and Chislehurst National Trust Centre, Kent

Two days later, I spoke about My Life as a Freelance Comedy Writer to the Orpington and Chislehurst National Trust Centre who meet at the town's Methodist Church, a booking I got on a recommendation following my talk last year to the Orpington Video and Film Makers.

I must admit that I had been a bit surprised when their President and Programme Secretary Mr Dyer told me that there might be 200 - 250 in the audience. After all, this was an August meeting and any groups that even bother to hold meetings in the summer have lower attendances - don't they?

More than 200 turned up that night! I have often mentioned about how great Kent audiences are and a large Kent audience is even better. My thanks to Robin, their sound technician, and to Mr Dyer for the lift to the station. A terrific evening and I would very much like to speak there again so before leaving I reminded them that I have further titles.

(Have you worked out that theme yet?)

Black tie dinner for the Friends of St Andrews, Hamble-le-Rice, Hampshire

I spoke on 21 September at a fundraising black tie dinner dinner for the Friends of St Andrews at Hamble-le-Rice in Hampshire. This group does amazing work maintaining the beautiful 12th century Priory Church of St Andrew, the Apostle. They also raised the funds that built the very busy Priory Centrewhere the event was being held.

The three course dinner (all cooked by the Friends) was of a professional standard and during the meal I really enjoyed speaking to Father John Travers. These events are well-supported (there were 73 tickets sold) and many supporters travel some distance to attend. They were a good audience for My Life as a freelance Comedy Writer and I received many compliments afterwards. My thanks to Grant for transport from the station and back (during the latter journey I mentioned that I have a number of additional talks to offer).

Portsmouth North Civil Service Retirement Fellowship

The following Monday afternoon I spoke about the same topic to the Portsmouth North Civil Service Retirement Fellowship in the hall of St Nicholas Church in Copnor.

There were around 17 in the audience, a very friendly group. As I was leaving, I mentioned my further talks.

Bournemouth and Beyond Discovery Group

My first October booking was about Patrick Campbell for the Bournemouth and Beyond Discovery Group at their temporary venue, Richmond Hill St Andrews Church in the centre of Bournemouth. This was my second visit to them (although they were called the Bournemouth Local Studies Group last time) and the talk went well. I made sure that the organisers were aware of my other subjects.

Elliot Lodge No. 1567 White Table Event ,Staines

I had never been the guest speaker at a masonic event before but on 6 October I spoke on My Life as a Freelance Comedy Writer for Elliot Lodge in the historic Staines Masonic Hall. My talk was followed by a superb dinner, during which one member mentioned Marx Brothers films so I mentioned to him that I actually do a talk about Groucho Marx. My thanks to the members for their hospitality at this event, which raised an impressive amount for charity, and to Steve, the human sat-nav who walked me to the venue!

Wilton Wednesday Club, Wiltshire

A fortnight ago I spoke for the second time to the Wednesday Club in the Community Centre at Wilton near Salisbury, my subject being Patrick Campbell. I was immediately booked to speak next year to another group on one of my many topics.

Newbury U3A, Berkshire

The following day found me in St Nicolas Church Hall at Newbury speaking to 77 U3A members about My Life as a Freelance Comedy Writer. A very good audience and I let them know that I have a number of different presentations.

The Probus Club of Parkstone

On my way to the talk at Wilton l I received a call asking if I could take a short-notice booking for the following Tuesday at Parkstone Probus. I had already spoken to them four times between 1998 and 2007 but I had enough new material to return with My Life as a Freelance Comedy Writer Part 2. By Monday I had developed a cough and a cold but decided that they had already had one speaker cancel so I couldn't as well. I got through the talk without a coughing fit, the audience were great, I enjoyed the conversation with the members (especially some great jokes from Mr George) the very good lunch demonstrated once again why Bournemouth's Riviera Hotel is so popular for club meetings. A very successful fifth visit and I still have at least one further topic that they could book me for...


Some years ago I was discussing a very good speaker with an organiser who had booked me for a club. 'The trouble is, they're a one-talk wonder', he said He had loved their presentation but could never book them again as they only offered a single title - not even a 'Part 2'. My own talks had also gone well - and he had booked me 3 times in 15 months!

The fact is that if you want a steady flow of bookings as a speaker then it pays to have an ever-increasing range of topics to offer - and let organisers know about them (the earlier part of this post demonstrates this. Note also that some of these were repeat visits - a fifth booking in one case). I speak all over the country at any time and at short notice but if you limit your speaking activities by area, time of day or season of the year, then it is even more important to have a decent list of presentations.

But there is another kind of 'one-speech wonder'. There are some people who have never really been public speakers but find themselves expected to deliver a one-off speech, perhaps at a wedding. They dread it but prepare, get through it and realise that it wasn't so bad after all. And then what...? In many cases, rather than building on the experience by taking on further speaking opportunities, improving and gaining in confidence, they will simply never do it again. Such a waste.

Public Speaking Tip #500: If you are a speaker for clubs and societies you will need to introduce further titles, either further instalments of your original presentation or entire new subjects. These organisations prefer to book speakers who are known quantities and you will need the repeat engagements from them to help fill your diary.

If you have been a reluctant speaker at a function, such as a wedding, but got through it then why stop now? Why not take on further speaking opportunities to increase your confidence and ability?

Whichever type of speaker you are, you should keep up the momentum; in other words: don't be a one-speech wonder!



Five years of public speaking blogging

Nick R Thomas - A Public Speaker's Blog is five years old!

Last month I celebrated my birthday and, a few weeks before that, this blog had one of its own.

When I started posting in the summer of 2007 I wanted this blog to:

"Acknowledge, advise and advertise".

Acknowledge the friendly groups who book me and the response they give to my presentations and also thank them for their hospitality, help with transport, etc;

Advise public speakers of all kinds on speechwriting, presentation skills and even marketing themselves. I gave up teaching in the state-run adult education system many years ago because, like so many other lecturers, I no longer found it to be an environment that I wanted to be part of (and that certainly wasn't the students' fault!) I still am regularly booked by organisations and individuals for training sessions, of course, but I knew that I could help many more speakers by passing on tips in a blog;

And advertise my various speaking, writing and coaching services, both through additional pages on this site and by demonstrating my knowledge.

I also decided that every blog post would contain at least one valuable Public Speaking Tip.

Not long after I had started this blog I was earnestly advised that I should take it down! I can only try and guess what the person's agenda was for suggesting this but if I tell you that they were a rival speaker...

I am glad I ignored this advice: I would have missed out on a lot of work!

I have had some interesting experiences over these past five years. I have spoken in theatres, hotels, golf clubs, community centres, churches, village halls and even private houses. Audience sizes have ranged from just into double figures to hundreds (even more for the radio interviews). I have coached Mayors, watched a then-unknown Jessie J perform at a radio industry event and even had my picture taken by a former Pirelli calendar model who was also one of the first Page Three Girls!

I have made connections with other bloggers, in particular Lisa Braithwaite, whose excellent Speak Schmeak has just celebrated its sixth anniversary and, in the UK, Jeremy Jacobs, whose inspiring communications seminars were mentioned here. 

Many bloggers fall behind at some stage and I had to decide whether to omit some of my past engagements but decided to feature them in catch-up posts as there were so many lessons to pass on from them.

When this blog moved from the Blogware platform to Squarespace in March, all the comments posted over the years were unfortunately lost and I would love to start featuring readers' responses again (but please, none of those inane, generic 'Very interesting, keep up the good work' comments that are invariably accompanied by a link that has no relevance to public speaking - they won't appear!) 

I also do not want to receive those regular emails offering me content (sometimes relating to public speaking, often not) that the sender feels would be 'a great fit for my readers'. How insulting! I am a writer - I have been finding a fit for my readers, listeners and viewers for decades!

But I am happy to continue answering brief queries from readers about any aspect of public speaking that I can help with. Just one thing: that advice costs nothing and neither does the courtesy of a 'thank you' afterwards - you would be amazed how many people don't bother.

Over the years, it has been interesting to see what have been the most popular posts. You might think these would have been the items about controlling nerves when public speaking or even the 'Mehrabian Myth'. In fact, the posts about how to give a vote of thanks and how to pass Women's Institute speaker auditions seem to have generated the greatest interest!

Well, whichever posts have been the most popular, from the feedback I have received over the years, I can see that this blog certainly seems to help its readers because, as I mentioned earlier, every post has a Public Speaking Tip. So what can I pass on from this piece celebrating five years as a presentation skills blogger? This...

Public Speaking Tip #499: You can learn a certain amount about public speaking by enrolling in a class, joining a club, booking a personal coach, reading a book, watching a DVD, listening to a CD, attending a webinar or, of course, subscribing to a blog like this. Any of these will contain useful theory and some will also involve practising in a supportive environment, but nothing - nothing! - will teach you more about public speaking than getting out there and doing it! After nearly 17 years and some 900 speaking engagements I am still learning - and then passing on that knowledge,

Thank you for reading Nick R Thomas - A Public Speaker's Blog. Five years - and counting!

And in my next entry I will post my 500th Public Speaking Tip...



Speaking and sport

Durrington Women's Institute, Wiltshire

Because my talks often involve anecdotes about amusing incidents that have happened at other speaking engagements, audiences usually assume that at my next booking I will be telling a story about them! Now, my talks have produced hundreds of speaking tips to pass on in this blog but the percentage that result in funny stories for potential use at speaking engagements is tiny - and the number that actually work well enough after being tested to make it into my presentations on a regular basis is even smaller.

In July, following my talk on My Life as a Freelance Comedy Writer for Durrington WI I sat at the front of the room in the village hall while they had their business meeting. The talk had been a great success and the meeting afterwards produced some very funny comments of its own: numerous crossed wires and innuendos. After the first, someone said 'He'll be using that!' When, after a couple more, audience members said the same thing again, I felt obliged to get out a pen and notebook and write them down, which got a decent laugh.

I don't know if I ever will use these incidents but this business of still being on show after a talk and whether you carry on 'performing' needs to be mentioned here.

Back in 1998, when I had been a speaker for just a couple of years, I spoke at a WI Group meeting in Oxford. They were a brilliant (and, as I now know, typical Oxfordshire audience) and it was, at that time, one of the best talks I'd had. As I was clearing my props away on the stage at the venue, a VCO (now known as WI Advisors) started delivering a talk of her own, which began with asking whether any of them had considered how, for example, self-massage could lead to 'a whole new you'. All eyes were upon me still on the stage behind her and I couldn't resist reacting to this with some exaggerated facial expressions. This got a big laugh and the poor speaker realised what was happening and said 'Well, he has to get his material from somewhere!' and I got off the stage. Afterwards we chatted and she didn't mind, in fact she booked me for the Oxfordshire WI Markets Annual Lunch the next year, another great gig, but I look back on it as unprofessional behaviour by a fairly novice speaker.

But now, many years later at Durrington some continued participation was clearly expected of me and I played along but, generally speaking, when you've finished, you've finished - don't upstage the speaker who's on after you!

Public Speaking Tip #490: Your stage time at a speaking engagement starts and ends with your presentation - unless you are definitely expected to continue to contribute in some way, perhaps in a joint Q&A with other speakers, judging a competition or drawing the first raffle ticket. You should never upstage the speakers who follow you.

My thanks to Marion for running me back to Salisbury station.

Odiham District U3A

I had a double booking the next day, the morning engagement being for Odiham District U3A in Hampshire. One of the great things about travelling around doing all these talks is that sometimes I find myself speaking in some wonderful historic buildings. In this case it was the 16th century Cross Barn. It certainly beats turning up to work in an office!

My Life as a Freelance Comedy Writer got a great response and was followed by a very good Q&A session. Many thanks to their Speaker Secretary Jim for getting me back to Hook station in good time to travel on to my next gig that day.

Monks Brook U3A

My afternoon talk was at St Boniface Church Centre in Chandlers Ford for Monks Brook U3A, who I last spoke to in July 2009 but I actually got rebooked by them as a result of speaking at Shaftesbury and Gillingham U3A in August 2011. Repeat bookings sometimes come to a speaker in a roundabout sort of way!

Public Speaking Tip #491: Repeat bookings for a speaker usually come directly from an organisation itself but can sometimes occur as the result of speaking elsewhere!

My previous talk had been The Power of Humour in Everyday Life; this time it was My Life as a Freelance Comedy Writer. There can be some overlap between these two presentations as I have content that is an ideal fit for both but I do have enough tried and tested material to deliver two totally different talks - important for an audience that I had only spoken to three years earlier. The version I did on this occasion allowed me to go into extra detail about comedy writing itself.

I can remember how one of my earliest talks back in 1997 went very well at a Hampshire luncheon and led to a super testimonial letter and an invitation to return less than a couple of years later to speak some more on the same subject. At that time I was spending more time honing the material I already had  than on adding new content. This repeat booking involved a massive amount of new material, untested and added just for that day. The result was a lukewarm response, no testimonial that time and no further bookings! You have to have enough strong, honed material before you can return to an audience for a 'Part 2' presentation. It was a lesson that I have never forgotten and I still bear it in mind whenever I am asked for a 'Part 3!'

Public Speaking Tip #492: A presentation to an organisation may go so well that they invite you back soon afterwards to speak some more about the same topic. Beware! Have you exhausted your strongest material? Was the success of the engagement due to how well the content had been honed over a long period? Is there really much you can add that is worthy of an audience's time? Returning too soon to the same audience with a substandard second instalment of a presentation can ruin the fond memories of the first and damage your reputation - which it may not be great for your confidence either! Look for new audiences and don't return to any previous one until you are really confident about your additional material.

No problems at Chandlers Ford, in fact I received this email from their Joint Speaker Secretary Ann:

"Thank you very much from Monks Brook U3A for your funny and interesting presentation to us on 4th July. It was most enjoyable and we wish you luck in your continuing work as a comedy writer and presenter".

Daryl Hall quote

Singer-songwriter Daryl Hall of Hall & Oates gave an interview in the Sunday Express. What really stood out for me was where he spoke about the passing of his fellow musician and great friend, the bassist Tom 'T-Bone' Wolk. He always used to describe him as "the ampersand in Hall & Oates".

I thought this was a beautiful way of summing up what he meant to him. This type of description would enrich any eulogy as it's almost an obituary in a single phrase. But such a tribute could also be a perfect addition to many other types of speeches.

Public Speaking Tip #493: Could you summarise your feelings about a person in one moving phrase? Think of what a terrific contribution that could make to a birthday, wedding, anniversary or retirement speech or, of course, a eulogy.

Bramley Women's Institute Birthday Meeting, Hampshire

I had one further booking in July, once again for My Life as a Freelance Comedy Writer. The audience this time were Bramley WI who meet at Bramley Village Hall. This was their birthday meeting and there were guests present from other local WIs.

Before the talk, I met Jane, their publicity officer, and, as my talk involves stories about writing and, indeed, clubs' press officers, I made occasional references to her. You have to be careful with this - I don't always feel entirely comfortable with the way that some comedians pick on audience members to make fun of them - but gentle references to personalities at a speaking engagement can help to tailor your content. Of course, there are some after dinner speaking gigs where jokes about committee members are expected - even if the speaker has never met them! And then there are wedding speeches...

But my inclusion of Jane was to emphasise my points about writing, in particular reports about speakers, and she was a good sport.

Public Speaking Tip #494: Unless you are delivering an after dinner or best man's speech where jokes about certain audience members are de rigeur, you should always keep any references to personalities present at your talk fleeting and any humour about them gentle.

Since this talk, the Hampshire County Federation of Women's Institutes Chairman Brenda Fletcher who was present that night has already recommended me to another group. My thanks to her and to the lady who drove me back to the station. I have to say, though, that I wonder how many motorists ever manage to drive in or out of Bramley - I don't think I have ever seen a level crossing that gets so much use!

Public Speaking lessons from the 2012 Olympics Opening Ceremony, media coverage, Paralympics Closing Ceremony and Olympics and Paralympics Victory Parade

I was interested to hear the speeches by Lord Coe and Jacques Rogge, President of IOC at the brilliant Olympics Opening Ceremony. Can you imagine speaking in a venue in front of around 82,000 people while being broadcast live to possibly four billion worldwide?

Lord Coe delivered a very good speech but then I would guess that his presentation in Singapore in 2005, possibly the greatest British sales pitch of the past decade, the one which secured the Games for London, may have been more nerve-wracking!

Jacques Rogge's speech in a second language was also impressive. It seemed a shame that all the positive comments about sport had to be accompanied by a warning to athletes to reject doping but when a competitor was disqualified on the very first day it was proof that this plea had been necessary. 

I wondered how both must have felt speaking to such a huge crowd in that stadium. Probably very few audience members were visible to them due to distance and lighting so they would probably have had very little visual feedback from facial expressions but would have avoiding the pressure of seeing the entire crowd!

The Olympics coverage itself produced some points to mention here. The Games started on the Saturday and on the Monday morning I watched the then Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt being interviewed on TV about ticket allocations. Then, right at the end of the interview, came a question about whether it was disappointing that Great Britain had not won any gold medals yet (remember, this was after just two days!)

With hindsight, the question seems ridiculous in view of Team GB's performance (I actually thought it to be a bit daft at the time as well) but interviewees, especially politicians, are often subject to these 'curved ball' last-minute questions, often about different topics from the ones they had agreed to be interviewed about.

This can sometimes happen in a Q&A at a speaking engagement as well - you can get some strangely off-topic questions (after a talk on My Life as a Freelance Comedy Writer in 2000 I was asked afterwards whether the BBC was going to broadcast the Queen Mother's 100th Birthday Celebrations!)

Public Speaking Tip #495: Always be prepared for the possibility of off-topic questions, whatever subject you have been speaking on. Unless you are a politician, it is quite acceptable for you to say you don't know the answer or even (with charm) that this is not what you are there to talk about!

A great resource for tips on handling media interviews is the free weekly Media Coach ezine from Alan Stevens. It's one of the few newsletters that I open the moment it arrives and I would urge any speaker to subscribe.

The word 'legacy' was flying around everywhere long before the Games ended. One of the most amusing interviews (or non-interviews) I saw was an early morning report about children taking up sport. A reporter had been sent along to a gym where a 9 year-old boxer was practising. The girl was obviously far more keen to carry on thumping nine bells out of a punchbag than to talk to the hapless interviewer. Every question was met with silence. 'What do you like about boxing?' No reply. In the end, the reporter was suggesting answers himself: 'Is it because...?' Still nothing. He gave up and handed back to the studio where the laughing anchor wished him luck for the rest of the day. His next report an hour later featured an older and rather more enthusiastic interviewee.

Not everyone wants to - or has to - be a public speaker. It's a great thing to learn (and more schools really should teach it) but here was a case of someone who was at a club for a particular purpose and being expected to take time away from it for a non-essential speech. I'm sure that if little Brooke's boxing career progresses then she may see the need to be interviewed at some stage but the fact that a more willing speaker was found for the later interview made me wonder why the programme ever chose to bother her in the first place. Presumably the novelty of her age.

Public Speaking Tip #496: If your organisation is asked to provide a subject for a media piece then choose the person who will enjoy it the most and give the best interview. In an ideal world, everybody would be a competent public speaker; in the real one, some are more suitable than others!

At the Paralympics Closing Ceremony, Lord Coe summarised the seismic shift that they had produced, his description made all the more effective by its use of repetition:

"I don't think people will ever see sport the same way again, I don't think they will ever see disability in the same way again".

Public Speaking Tip #497: Experienced speakers often use lists of three for maximum effect but a pairing can sometimes work very well.

I must comment on Boris Johnson's great speech at the Olympics and Paralympics Victory Parade in London last week. Three sections really stood out.

"You brought this country together in a way we never expected. You routed the doubters and you scattered the gloomsters.

That bit was great - rather poetic, in fact!

"And for the first time in living memory you caused Tube passengers to break into spontaneous conversation with their neighbours on subjects other than trod-on toes."

Humour perfectly tailored for London. The reference to spontaneous conversation drew such a laugh that it rather drowned out the bit about trod-on toes!

And then came this killer line:

"Speaking as a spectator you produced such paroxysms of tears and joy on the sofas of Britain that you probably not only inspired a generation, but helped to create one as well."

As Boris pointed out, he could get away with that!

Public Speaking Tip #498: Risque humour can often be perfectly acceptable at a celebratory event - as long as it's used sparingly and the speaker is absulutely sure of their audience.

Finally, do take a look at this post on Lisa Braithwaite's always-excellent blog Speak Schmeak where she compares the regular wasted opportunities of public speakers to be their very best with the way in which many Olympians only have a window every four years.





Public speaking: acrimony, royalty, charity, Spinetti, simplicity

Speaking after an acrimonious meeting!

I had been a public speaker for almost a decade before I encountered a group having a really heated business meeting just before I was due to speak to them. It was a men's luncheon club and it took me by surprise. That evening I had another booking, this time for a women's institute, and their discussions also turned out to be very argumentative!

In both cases my talks to them afterwards went well, perhaps because they offered some light relief, but it was certainly an interesting day. The hundreds of gigs since then have been at groups where the vast majority of members have appeared to get on well with each other and I wasn't expecting my first talk in June to be any different, especially as I had spoken to this particular group twice before many years earlier and on both occasions I had really enjoyed the humour at their business meetings.

Back then they had nearly two hundred attending. The numbers have dropped over the years but there were still around 90 present that morning. The business meeting started and there was plenty of humour flying around once again until they started discussing a change in the group's name and membership criteria in a bid to prevent their numbers dropping further. This led to a number of objections from the floor and the sort of heated disagreements that I had not seen since that day in 2005. I was sitting listening to this and thinking 'I have to follow this soon and make them laugh'. My talk was The Power of Humour in Everyday Life and its credibility was certainly going to be tested! Actually, I was confident but it certainly wasn't an ideal warm-up for me!

But I needn't have worried. Large organisations often have reports from the smaller groups within them (theatre trips, bowling, etc) and the next speaker was a gentleman from their walks section. I wondered if his report would seem trivial to everybody following the row about the changes to their constitution but with his laid-back style and some gentle humour he quickly got everyone laughing. I was very impressed.

I then delivered my talk and it went brilliantly. There was a part where I had planned to include a story about the last time I spoke there and this did involve mentioning the higher audience numbers back then. I decided to press on with it  but dealing with that detail in as few words as possible, certainly without referring back to the content of their meeting, and the anecdote itself got a big laugh. 

I received this testimonial after my talk:

"Thanks for your talk on 1st June. Your humour was very well received".

Public Speaking Tip #485: You may find yourself as a guest speaker at a meeting that turns out to be acrimonious. You are not a member of their organisation and the audience will sympathise with the situation you find yourself in. Take their minds off their earlier arguments with a decent presentation and they will certainly thank you for it.

 The Queen's Diamond Jubilee Concert

When I watched the Queen's Diamond Jubilee Concert on TV I thought the comedians who performed there had a near-impossible task. The performers, who ranged from the brilliant Lee Mack to others who, as far as I was concerned, fell into the categories of tolerable, OK-but-fast-becoming-overexposed and never-could-stand-them, were delivering comedy to a huge audience that was mostly there for the music, stretching out for a massive distance in front of them and in the open air! They had to perform very short pieces with no time to build, and with the added pressure of appearing on live TV with phenomenal worldwide viewing figures. In the circumstances I think they did very well. I later read that they had all been supporting each other backstage, offering advice on material, etc, which must have taken some of them back to their earliest days starting out in comedy clubs.

As far as the musical acts were concerned, as a speaker who is constantly blogging about tailoring content, it was interesting for me to see who chose to perform material that was actually appropriate. I was rather baffled by the stabbing theme with Mack The Knife and Delilah and by the young singer-songwriter who thought a song about a girl with a drug habit was the most fitting! On the other hand, Shirley Bassey's Diamonds Are Forever was the perfect choice and Stevie Wonder's rewriting of some his lyrics to be about the occasion was a breath of fresh air.

Public Speaking Tip #486: Just as tailored material makes a big impact, totally inappropriate content can stand out like a sore thumb!

One other thing about the singers. In July 2008 I blogged about attending the Arqiva Commercial Radio Awards and about the terrific performance there by a then-unsigned new singer-songwriter simply called Jessie. Four years later, it was interesting to see her performing at this event, her name now one letter longer, her audience about one billion bigger!

Spirit of Wyke Women's Institute, Dorset

My next booking was to speak on The Power of Humour in Everyday Life to the Spirit of Wyke WI in Weymouth. In recent years, a huge number of 'new generation' WIs (or WI-lites as they are sometimes known) have started up, greatly boosting the organisation's national membership and replacing the many institutes that have closed down or been forced to merge. They tend to have a lower average age than more traditional WIs and, it must be said, have in some cases attracted negative publicity due to their rather tacky talks and theme nights and I have been rather wary of them overall but the ladies of Wyke were a lovely group to visit and the only real difference I noticed was that they are slightly less formal and meet in a pub, the Smugglers, rather than at a hall.

Before my talk they heard from speakers representing Julia's House, the Dorset Children's Hospice, and watched a moving video presented by Martin Clunes, one of a large number of Dorset-based celebrities who support it.

Speaking after this was less of a challenge than speaking after the acrimonious meeting at my previous talk that month. The main concern was to avoid any material that might seem inappropriate so a quick review of my content was called for.

Public Speaking Tip #487: A speaker sometimes has to follow a sad announcement or charity appeal. Sticking to your prepared material - especially humour - can lift the mood but do check that there is no content which could come across as an insensitive gaffe.

The talk went very well. My thanks for the transport from the station and this testimonial:

"Just to say thank you very much for a delightful and funny evening, it was welcome after the sad video we had just seen. We didn't organise it that way but as it turned out it was good to have you follow on. Perhaps we will meet again at a future meeting, I've had good feedback from our members".

Shrewton Women's Institute, Wiltshire

Two nights later I had another WI talk from a recommendation, this time on Patrick 'Call My Bluff' Campbell for Shrewton WI in Wiltshire. They meet at the Methodist Hall and were a great audience, picking up on all the nuances in the humour.

There have some terr sificpeakers among their members, including a lady in her nineties who has given nearly 1,000 talks and, as the meeting followed the Jubilee celbrations, another lady who gave a funny impromptu talk about meeting the Queen on two separate occasions.

My thanks to Jo for the transport from Salisbury station and back again.

Test Valley Retired Staff Association, Romsey

When a group only has 4 meetings a year - and only 2 of those feature speakers - you feel fortunate to be booked by them, especially when they turn out to be a great audience. This was certainly the case when I spoke to the Test Valley Retired Staff Association at the Crosfield Hall in Romsey about My Life as a Freelance Comedy Writer and I really must thank them for the buffet afterwards, the lift to the station and one of the most, er, unusual raffle prizes I have ever won at a talk!

The passing of a great raconteur

I was saddened to learn of the death of one of Britain's greatest raconteurs, Victor Spinetti. My partner Val and I were lucky enough to catch his one man show at the Nuffield Theatre in Southampton in 2001.

I remember the energy of the performance he gave in a theatre maybe only half-full on that Sunday evening.

I remember how he conjured up the images of the people he had met, for example, Salvador Dali. He drew an imaginary moustache extending several inches above either side of his upper lip and we could picture it there for the rest of the anecdote.

And I particularly remember how, when he came out on stage, he had a big stack of showbusiness biographies and he mentioned how he was a footnote in them because of his associations with stars like Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor and, of course, the Beatles. Later in the show, he poured himself a drink and managed to spill it over the books. He gave a mock cry of anguish 'Oh no, the books!', a stage hand came on and wiped up, he asked for a round of applause for him and then, with total professionalism, continued as if nothing had happened.

Public Speaking Tip #488: If something goes amusingly wrong during a presentation, have a bit of fun with it - and then get back down to business.

He was in demand for his storytelling right until the end of his life, in fact, on the day that his death was announced, he could be heard on a BBC Radio 2 documentary reminiscing about London's clubland.

His obituary appeared in all the broadsheets. Here is the one from the Daily Telegraph.

Overton U3A, Hampshire

I had a double booking the next day, first of all to speak on My Life as a Freelance Comedy Writer for Overton U3A in St Mary's Hall. I got a great response and I was hugely grateful to their Speaker Co-ordinator Lesley for running me all the way back to Basingstoke which made it so much easier to get to my next booking in good time. 

She also sent me this lovely email:

"We have had a lot of positive feedback on your talk today! It was lovely to meet you and hear about your life in comedy writing. I have been smiling all day and spent ages telling my husband all about you".

Woodley and Crampmoor Friendship Club, Hampshire

I was then met at Romsey station and driven to Woodley Village Hall ready to speak to  Woodley and Crampmoor Friendship Club on the same topic. I met the lady who formed this club 25 years ago and she rightly proud that it is still going strong. An enjoyable afternoon. My thanks for the transport.

Clive James quote

Suzanne Moore in the Mail on Sunday on 24 June drew attention to a quote from Clive James, who said of Addenbrooke's Hospital: "It may not be as beautiful, perhaps, as the Taj Mahal, but it can save a life. It has been quietly busy saving mine". She wrote; "Yes, it's his brilliance in being able to say so much, so simply, that means we don't want him to go quiet yet".

Saying a great deal in very few words can be very effective on paper but it can also make a great impact in a speech. I can remember speaking at a lunch in Dorset in 1997. This was just a few weeks after the funeral of Princess Diana in 1997 and the subject came up in conversation after my talk. Earl Spencer's eulogy had been the headline-grabber but one of the members of the club told me that he had been so struck by the very short poem by Henry Van Dyke, 'For Katrina's Sun Dial', read by the Princess's sister Lady Jane Fellowes, that he had immediately felt moved to write it down.

Public Speaking Tip #489: Public speaking may often seem rather wordy compared to everyday conversation but sometimes a short, simple paragraph can be remarkably effective.