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The best-laid public speaking plans can actually work very well!

Salisbury U3A

On 4 January I spoke about Patrick 'Call My Bluff' Campbell for the Salisbury and District U3A at the city's Salavation Army Hall. Around 150 members attended and their very good response got my speaking year off to a flying start.

Haslemere U3A

The following Monday I delivered the same talk at an afternoon engagement for Haslemere U3A at a lovely old venue, Haslemere Hall. My talk was well-received and the turnout was very good - but an even bigger crowd was expected for their meeting a couple of months later when they had a talk by the Speakers of both Houses of Parliament!

My thanks for the lift from Haslemere station.

Bramshott Place Village Lunch Club, Hampshire

A week later I had a short-notice booking to speak on My Life as a Freelance Comedy Writer to the monthly lunch club in the Clubhouse at Bramshott Place Village near Liphook in Hampshire. 

The train was delayed at Bournemouth station which meant some rearranging of my lift in from Liphook (many thanks to the gentleman who collected me) but I managed to arrive in time to enjoy an excellent lunch.

When it was time to begin my talk, I couldn't resist opening by telling them that I was waiting to set off from Bournemouth...and waiting...and waiting...when an announcement came over the tannoy that the delay was due to 'a fault that cannot be rectified. Yes, I said: it's called South West Trains.

The talk went down well and afterwards I was given a guided tour of the very attractive village before being driven back to Liphook.

Christchurch and New Forest National Trust Association

I had been reluctant to accept an afternoon booking for 25 January because I had an evening talk in Oxfordshire and had to arrive there in time to change into black tie but Christchurch and New Forest National Trust Association very much wanted me for that date and so they went out of their way to ensure that everything went smoothly by arranging and advertising an early start to their meeting at Highcliffe Methodist Hall and providing transport to Brockenhurst station straight afterwards.

Public Speaking Tip #458: If an organisation is very keen to book a public speaker for a particular date - perhaps because they need one at short notice - they will often go out of their way to overcome any logistical problems.

It all worked out perfectly and I must thank the appropriately-named Mr Ride for getting me to Brockenhurst in very good time.

So how did the talk go? Well, this was the report in the New Milton Advertiser and Lymington Times:

"The Christchurch and New Forest National Trust Association's first talk of the year after the Christmas festivities drew well over 100 members to the Methodist Hall, Highcliffe, to be entertained by Nick Thomas telling tales of his life as a comedy writer. In fact most of the stories were of amusing real life events during his career.

Nick had been writing for BBC radio programmes such as 'Huddlines' and he explained that the cast would ad-lib and change the script as the show progressed. Then the journey from Bournemouth to London became tedious with the crowded trains and once with a coach ride where a wheel fell off on the motorway , and these trifles made Nick think about working from home and perhaps a change of direction.

He advertised in 'The Stage' and was commissioned to write for a wide variety of artistes including a ventriloquist, a mind-reading goose and a teenage girl who bent iron bars and tore up telephone directories. Then came the opportunity to train as a public speaker and Nick soon realised that telling anecdotes about comedy writing was fine but that the incidents that occurred at his talks were far more entertaining.

He revealed he spends a lot of time scanning the papers and magazines for amusing misprints and how embarrassing incidents can become funny stories when told in the right way. He certainly had plenty to tell. He tested the audience for the type of stories that would gain the response he wanted without causing offence. The members of the association responded well and had a really good laugh. It was a talk to lighten a dreary winter's afternoon and is to be recommended to other organisations looking for speakers. What he did not say was whether this meeting had provided materail for future lectures".

(The answer is no; only a very small percentage of bookings provide anecdotes for my talks - but I was very happy to repeat here the story of a most enjoyable afternoon with a super audience)

Inner Wheel of Banbury and Rotary Club of Banbury Cherwell Burns Night Charity Dinner, Oxfordshire

From Brockenhurst I caught a train through to Banbury for what was not only my first black tie engagement for quite some time (I had actually purchased a new suit - just as well as another formal dress gig came in a few weeks later) but also my first-ever Burns Night engagement, a charity dinner for 90 organised by the Inner Wheel Club of Banbury and the Rotary Club of Banbury Cherwell, with guests from the Rotary Club of Banbury and held at the Whateley Hall Hotel, who very kindly provided a room where I could change.

I was met at the station by the Inner Wheel President Carole Humphris, a brilliant and energetic organiser. The evening began with the haggis being piped in by the very impressive  Richard Jasper and then the traditional address to the haggis was delivered by toastmaster Bob Kellock. Then the meal started and I have to say that haggis tasted wonderful!

After various graces and toasts it was my turn to speak. Despite the many activities involved, I was still able to begin speaking well before 10pm so this was a well-organised dinner!

The introduction to me even included some quotes from this blog!

The talk was My Life as a Freelance Comedy Writer and I had spent some time wondering how to link these to Robert Burns, even buying books about the man and these types of gatherings. But this was an event in England with very few Scottish people among the audience of 90 and I am a speaker from England with no great knowledge of Burns. I therefore decided to do the usual version of my talk but with a couple of references to him worked in. The evening had featured many other touches, right down to the 'hint of tartan' dress code, and I was mainly there to entertain so I chose my strongest material rather than trying out much that was new. If it had been a Burns Supper in Scotland it would have been a different matter - but then a Scottish speaker would probably have been booked!

Public Speaking Tip #459: Sometimes you may be booked as a guest speaker for a themed event, perhaps despite having little knowledge of the topic. A balance has to struck between acknowledging the theme and being informative/entertaining

It worked very well and afterwards Carole gave me a very warm and sincere vote of thanks.

Then Phil Page, President of the Rotary Club of Banbury Cherwell, gave a vote of thanks for the whole event and I have to say it was superb - one of the best short speeches of this type that I have ever heard.

The picture shows Carole, myself and Phil Page.

There was no way that I would ever have caught the (relatively early) last train home after the event so Carole and her husband Martin had offered in advance to put me up overnight at their lovely home. In a blog post years ago I wrote about how an unfortunate experience with accommodation after I spoke at a festival had put me off the idea of ever staying anywhere other than a hotel after an engagement. Carole and Martin's hospitality certainly laid that ghost to rest and my thanks go to them.  

Public Speaking Tip #460: It is worth bearing in mind that an event, such as a Burns Supper, which involves a number of ceremonies and speeches can run until quite late so it may be necessary to arrange accommodation as there may be no trains still running afterwards, or to avoid a late drive home.                                    

Photos and a write-up about the dinner appeared in the Four Shires magazine. My thanks to Carole for sending me a copy and also an email saying:

"Great feedback from the Burns and speaker evening. £1,262 made from the evening and divided equally between two charities".

This was great to hear. The charities are the Berks/Oxon/Bucks Air Ambulance and Seesaw (Grief Support for Children and Young Adults in Oxfordshire)

One of the most famous Robert Burns quotes is:“The best laid schemes o' mice an' men gang aft agley.” I can only say that this event was extremely well-planned  and very successful. Congratulations, Carole.  

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