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A title, a talk and a toad in the hole

Another talk for Hythe and District Probus

Repeat bookings can sometimes be for very soon after a speaker's last visit and on 6 March I was back at Hythe Probus near Southampton. My talk just before Christmas had been for the members and their partners but this one was for the men only. 

I have slightly altered the title of the talk I delivered. I used to call it The Wits of the Algonquin Round Table but found that some people thought that the 'Round Table' part referred to King Arthur's Knights while others thought it was something to do with the hard-drinking, charity fund-raising group which goes by that name! I have also decided to include Dorothy Parker's name, not only to make this talk more appealing to women's groups but also because, as perhaps the most famous female wit of the 20th century, hers is a name that more people will have heard of so the subject seems less obscure;the title of this presentation is therefore now Dorothy Parker and the Algonquin Wits. 

Nevertheless, when Clive Young, the Speaker Secretary, suggested this talk to the Committee at Hythe Probus, I understand that he met with some resistance as some of them had never heard of Mrs Parker! It got booked all the same and the classic one-liners soon had the 25 or so in attendance laughing.

I am happy with this title now as this is a talk which organisations book for a second, third, fourth (or more!) visit from me. They know me by then and are confident that any presentation I give will be humorous. The only people who book it for my first engagement with them tend to be literary and historical societies who are well aware of what it will be about anyway.

Titles require a bit of thought, whatever your topic. Doesn't Why Garden Organically? sound more interesting than just Organic Gardening?

Public Speaking Tip #171: Some organisations may book you on the strength of recommendations but there may be others you might wish to approach directly and the title of your presentation will be at least as much of a selling point as your CV. Give careful thought to whether you need to make it:

intriguing (but not too obscure!)
challenge a perceived notion
or promise the audience practical advice.

It can be useful to use a subtitle, as I do with I Must Write That Down! (A Commonplace Book).

I added a few new historical facts to this version of the talk. Having now delivered it about half a dozen times, I can see certain points where I can modify my existing script, for example, by changing the order of some items.

This is how I hone a presentation over time. It may be going well at each engagement but, every so often, the script will nag me to make further alterations so that it just keeps improving as the years go on. I am still making occasional small refinements to My Life as a Freelance Comedy Writer after 12 years!

Public Speaking Tip #172: With a presentation that you deliver on a regular basis, however long you have been doing it and however successfully, you will still keep spotting opportunities to improve it even further. This also keeps it interesting for you as well as your audience.

The lunch afterwards was unusual. The Dibden Golf Centre  has a new chef and instead of telling the Club what the set menu for their meeting will be, he lets them suggest a dish so Joe, the Treasurer, chose toad in the hole! I can honestly say that I have never had this at a Probus before but it was very good and made a real change!

As well as the food, another perk of speaking at lunches and dinners for mature audiences is the fascinating conversation with well-travelled people. On this occasion, this ranged from collective reminiscences about interesting characters members had encountered in the Netherlands, Germany and the Far East to a man Joe had once noticed shouting aggressively at no-one in particular on a crowded train in this country. He turned out to be the comedy actor Derek Deadman  rehearsing a part to himself (oh, to be that uninhibited!)

Clive and Joe gave me a lift back to the station afterwards. As I have now spoken at this Club three times in under two years, it may be a while before they book me again - but you never know in this game.

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