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Presentation tips involving locations and lighting, theatres and a theme.

Redhill and Reigate U3A

In early February I travelled to Surrey to speak to Redhill and Reigate U3A at Reigate Park Church about My Life as a Freelance Comedy Writer.

Surrey audiences can be fantastic and these folks were brilliant. Everything went well, including the more subtle humour, which they were very quick to pick up on. There was a good question and answer session afterwards, I really enjoyed chatting to members during the refreshments and I sold out of copies of Nick R's in a Twist!

Mind you, there was a slight problem during my talk: this is a modern church with plenty of high windows and, on this very sunny afternoon, myself and large sections of the audience were shrouded in light! I realised that they would be dazzled by sunlight looking at me, the same as I was looking at them, but I could see that there was nowhere else that I could move to where it would make much difference. Afterwards I was told that this often happens and it's something they're used to, rather like the aircraft noise in Berkshire that I blogged about here.

A really great gig to look back on. My thanks to Christine for the lift from the station and to their press officer for this super write-up:

"Report of February 2012 Monthly meeting 

On a cold and sunny Friday afternoon in February, gales of laughter could be heard in Reigate Park Church. Over 160 members were being entertained by Nick Thomas giving a talk on his life as a comedy writer. He punctuated his talk about the life of a free-lance comedy writer, or comedians’ labourers as they have been called, with jokes and anecdotes delivered with impeccable timing. His talk covered his career starting with entering and sometimes winning caption competitions, through sending in jokes to the BBC radio for comedy shows, to his time as a regular writer in the long running radio show The News Huddlines. Members learnt about the precarious nature of the work, the very tight deadlines required when working on a topical comedy show and the way that a good cast of presenters can bring the material to life... The heartfelt appreciation of U3A members was made quite clear in the applause at the end of the session".

And I must also thank the couple who so kindly left a message on my voicemail the next morning about an article they had just read in the paper that day about comedy that they thought might be useful to me for future talks. Unfortunately they didn't leave a name or number but I will certainly be able to quote from it and I am very grateful.

Public Speaking Tip #461: Audience members can often contribute towards a speaker's next talks, whether by drawing your attention to useful resources, personal information or anecdotes about your subject matter or simply correcting facts or pronunciation. Never overlook this potential extra content.

The journey home wasn't great, what with long waits on a freezing platform at Clapham Junction only to find that trains were too crowded to squeeze into, then eventually boarding one where it was standing room-only all the way to Southampton - but I wouldn't have missed that talk for the world!

Camberley & District U3A, Surrey

My other booking in February was when I spoke about Patrick Campbell to Camberley and District U3A  who meet at Camberley Theatre

A talk in a theatre or large hall often involves a choice of whether to speak from up on the stage or from the floor. The stage gives high visibility and a real feeling of theatricality, the floor is closer to the audience and more intimate. When faced with these choices I always ask where the majority of their other speakers have worked from.

Public Speaking Tip #462: If you are uncertain about whereabouts in a room you should speak from, ask the organisers what has worked well with others. This is important as it what the audience is used to.

There may be some circumstances, however, where you have to speak from a certain spot, for example, because this is where electrical sockets are located or perhaps pillars block the view of you for some audience members if you stand anywhere else.

In this case, there was quite high tiered seating plus the lighting was above the stage so that is where I spoke from. One of the great advantages of working in venues like this is that you will have the assistance of the theatre's technical crew and I must thank Elgan Howells for sorting out the lighting for where I would be on stage at various points during the talk and ensuring excellent sound.

Public Speaking Tip #463: If you are speaking in a theatre, let the technicians know your requirements - this isn't a luxury that will be available in most other venues!

This talk involves letting the audience look at various props afterwards and take free leaflets. Also, as with most of my talks, there is merchandising of my booklet. The table with these items was down on the floor.

The talk went very well and it was good to deliver it in this setting. I made sure I wasn't squinting under the lights like I did during my five stand-up spots on cable TV years ago but in that studio the lights were at floor level.

Public Speaking Tip #464: If you are speaking in a TV studio or theatre, try and get used to the glare of the bright lights so you're not squinting!

The room was certainly warm; at one point the audience asked for the heating to be turned down but it still felt hot. Afterwards, despite the success of the talk, merchandising was almost non-existent and I could see that there were a number of reasons for this. Firstly, the room had been so warm that the audience wanted to get away! Secondly, there were two exits: one leading back through to the main entrance to the venue , the other leading directly out onto the street. Many of the audience did not have to pass my table on the way out and I took me a little while to get down to it from the stage anyway.

But I believe the main reason - and, amazingly, this was something that I had never thought about too much before - was that the audience had their coffees, etc, before the meeting. A great deal of my sales are made after my talks as refreshments are served.

Public Speaking Tip #465: Many factors will affect your merchandising and time spent mixing with your audience after a presentation: the location of the exits in relation to your table, whether the room has been uncomfortable and if refreshments have been taken before you spoke. These matters may often be beyond your control.

Nevertheless, an enjoyable gig for me.

Solent (Fareham) U3A and Highcliffe on Sea Probus

I spoke again in March to the Solent (Fareham) U3A in Hampshire. My previous bookings were in April 2006 and September 2008. Each time has involved a different venue as they keep adding to their membership and they now meet at Wallington Village Hall in Broadcut. The talk on Patrick Campbell was very well received by the 100-or-so present. My thanks for the transport from the station.

The following week I gave a talk to Highcliffe on Sea Probus who have also changed their meeting place since I last spoke to them, this time to a venue that I have often blogged about as so many clubs use it, the Hoburne Naish Holiday Park. This was my fourth booking for them but the first since 2007 and my topic was Groucho Marx. It went well and I enjoyed the very good lunch and conversation with the members.

New Forest Players Club Night

My last engagement in March was to speak about Patrick Campbell at a Club Night for the long-established and respected New Forest Players. Amateur dramatics societies hold these events as an entertainment for themselves and guests. Typically they might involve a speaker and then a short drama production. I have spoken at these Club Nights for this society in March 2000 and May 2003 and this is another group that has moved to a different venue, this time the excellent small theatre at New Milton's Ballard School.

There were around 60 present and they looked after me very well in terms of lighting, table space, etc, although this time I was not speaking from a raised stage.

It was good to see Gillian Pitt again. Gill is a speech and drama coach and over the years I have met and worked with some of her students, either as a performer or writer. She had directed the production that was to follow my talk and told the audience that the evening had a theme. I was intrigued!

I enjoyed delivering the talk; speaking in front of so many people involved in acting encouraged me to give some extra 'welly' to some of the more animated parts of the presentation. It went very well.

After the break, Gill introduced the play One Season's King by the late George MacEwan Green, who once said of his work: "In my plays I am mainly pre-occupied with attempting to explore certain moments when ritualised structure breaks down and there is an escape of pent up humanity resulting sometimes in enlightenment - sometimes in tragedy".

The piece is a four-hander about three men of different social standing all wooing the same woman. One character was upper-class, had a stammer and became a TV celebrity on a show with David Frost so apart from the wooing bit and the fact that he was English, he was plainly based on Patrick Campbell! The actor playing him actually used a perfect impression of another TV personality of the same era, Derek Nimmo. 

I learned afterwards that they had had remarkably few rehearsals. Some cast members had memorised their lines, others were reading, but the quality of the writing and of each performance was so high that after a while I barely noticed the scripts. Besides, I spent years attending BBC radio recordings of shows I had written for where the cast were always working from scripts and making a fantastic job of it after just one sight-reading and one rehearsal.

From a public speaking perspective, these actors were a great example of how much performance value can be injected while reading from a script.

Public Speaking Tip #466: It is possible to read a speech or lecture and still inject some personality, drama, comic timing, etc. Go to a recording of - or listen to - a radio programme, or attend a rehearsed reading of a play and you will see what I mean. 

I had a really enjoyable evening and I must thank one of the cast for getting me back to New Milton station in time to hop on a train back to Bournemouth.



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