Entries in merchandising (17)


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.




My Public Speaking Year 2011: June - 6 talks, TV and torn trousers!

(This is one of the longest posts I've ever written but it includes 'how-to' presentations, writing tips - including speechwriting, a behind-the-scenes account of a TV appearance, a tribute to someone who helped me start out as a speaker and a little advice regarding merchandising. Oh, and 19 Public Speaking Tips...)


Gravesend Probus, Kent and Essex AV Club

June 1 was another day with two bookings, starting with a morning talk for Gravesend Probus on My Life as a Freelance Comedy Writer at St George's Church Hall. I found the venue thanks to their Speaker Secretary mr bennett sending me the most detailed directions I have ever had for a booking - including maps and colour pictures of landmarks as well! The club also publishes its own monthly magazine for members, one of the best I have seen.

A good talk and question and answer session afterwards.

It's funny, in May 2011 I had my first booking for a video-making club since the autumn of 2005 and in June 2011 I got my first engagement for an audio-visual club since...that's right: autumn 2005! The audience this time was the Essex AV Club at Rayleigh.

AV clubs produce presentations involving two projectors where slides merge creatively into each other, accompanied by a recorded soundtrack. When I wrote about speaking to the Orpington Video Makers Club I mentioned the challenges of delivering a 'how-to' presentation for an audience working in a visual medium when so much of my experience has been in radio. The challenges are even greater with an AV club because they deal in still images and the recordings are usually solo voice-overs rather than dramatised. Nevertheless, there was still plenty that I was able to draw upon, not least of all my years of caption competition successes for visual humour and, of course, public speaking and radio work in relation to those voice-overs.

Public Speaking Tip #415: Once you have delivered a 'how-to' lecture to one type of organisation you may then be able to adapt it to others - even those which appear at first to be rather different.

Given the challenges, I was very pleased to receive this email testimonial afterwards from Gordon Clarke, their Programme Secretary:

"I would just like to take this opportunity to thank you for coming to Rayleigh and giving us your lecture on 1st June. 

I personally found it very entertaining and interesting as did the club members I have spoken to, most members learnt some useful tips and got something out of the lecture. I hope you enjoyed your visit to Rayleigh as much as we appreciated your lecture". 

And thank you to Mr and Mrs Clarke, not just for the lift from the station but also for the great fish and chip supper at Kings Restaurant in Rayleigh before the lecture!


Producing a large amount of daily topical comedy material

On 7 June I was asked to write for a daily gags service. I had approached them exactly a year earlier when speaking bookings were down and now they came to me wanting me to start the very next day - when I had a 4am start and two speaking gigs!

They wanted a large amount of material - around 40 gags and observations, 5 days a week - and this would be in addition to the jokes I write for my own service. Altogether this was more than I was producing back when I was writing for two weekly BBC national radio comedy shows plus other projects.

I wrote for the service for four weeks before deciding to knock it on the head. For one thing, it wasn't easy to fit so much extra writing on a daily basis around my speaking gigs and for another, the owner and I didn't always agree on what was funny (when I write this sort of material I tend to base my ideas on my own years of live performance and also that of writing for a wide range of demographics).

Nevertheless, I was grateful for the opportunity and I wish them well. It's a long-established service (although mine has been running for longer!) and it provides some very good material.

What I gained from it - apart from a payment! - was the knowledge that even after all these years I can still come up with a great deal of original content if I need to.

Public Speaking Tip #416: When you have a speech or presentation to write you may feel that you will never come up with enough material to fill even half a page, let alone the expected duration. Just relax, take it steadily and write down any ideas you have - even if you don't think they're any good. Others will soon appear and you can cherry-pick the best.

 The important thing is to always be ready to note down an idea when it comes to you - this is just as likely to occur when you are busy with an everyday task as when you are staring at a blank screen or page!

(More about this later in this post...)


Rickmansworth 1967 Club, Herts and Crofton WI, Hampshire 30th Birthday Meeting

Wednesday 8 June found me with yet another double booking (as well as now having to come up with two lots of topical gags for afternoon deadlines).

I set off very early in the morning for Victoria (writing all the way!) and from there I travelled up to Chorleywood station where I was met by a gentleman from the 1967 Club who meet at the Bedford Arms in Chenies. I had spoken to them in November 2006 and had thought I was booked to go back the following September until it transpired that the booking had disappeared along with their old Speaker Secretary!

No such problems this time, though; after enjoying the members' conversation over a super lunch I spoke to them about The Power of Humour in Everyday Life and was then kindly given a lift back to the station. I continued writing and sent off my material by Blackberry from Euston.

I then travelled by coach down to Fareham where I was met by a husband of one of the members of Crofton Women's Institute where I was to speak on My Life as a Freelance Comedy Writer at a meeting celebrating 30 years since its foundation. The venue was the Methodist Hall in Stubbington.

I had looked up what was going on in the news that month in 1981 but couldn't find anything that inspired a suitable gag so I simply listed a few news stories in the speech anyway and linked this to the business of writing topical jokes nowadays. The vote of thanks afterwards included some appreciative comments about my looking up these historic references. (Of course, if any other speaker before me had mentioned anything about events that year then I would not have included them).

Public Speaking Tip #417: It's great to be able to include a joke about something you have researched for a speech but this may not always be possible; sometimes the mere mention of something that you have looked up is enough to draw appreciation - it still adds colour and shows that you have made an effort.

Public Speaking Tip #418: If you are speaking at a special occasion, such as a birthday or anniversary it may be wise to have a quick word with speakers who are on before you or pay particular attention to their content just to make sure that there is no duplication, for example, when it comes to mentioning historical facts. Of course, you may have a whole different take on something that has already been mentioned, in which case it may be OK to go ahead with this as long as there is no risk of overkill.

Now, there is a story that I only include in this talk if I am speaking to Women's Institutes or in Kent as it relates to a WI booking in that county. It appears in Nick R's in a Twist! as 'The Keeler Question' and I used to end it by doing a (fully-clothed) impersonation of Christine Keeler in her famous pose astride the chair. I say 'used to' because this was the last night that I did this bit of visual business. The story itself got the usual great laugh and sitting astride the chair also a got a roar of laughter which was gratifying, not least of all because it drowned out the sound of my trousers ripping!

I didn't mention this to the audience and they didn't notice (I was wearing a long jacket). As I have said, I no longer do that action with the chair; instead I tell the postscript story of the torn pants - and that gets a big laugh of its own!

Public Speaking Tip #419: Sometimes additional content for a particular part of a talk comes from something that has happened elsewhere when you delivered that same content, maybe an incident or audience response. Postscripts can add to the entertainment, information or motivation in your presentation so always consider adding them.

My thanks to the gentleman for the lift, to the ladies of Crofton for the buffet and to my partner Val and her new sewing machine for addressing the aftermath of an anecdote.


My appearance on BBC TV South Today - from 1994!

I received an email on the second Sunday of June (sadly too late for the two talks I had recently delivered for video-making and audio-visual clubs) headed 'Blast from the past'. It was from Pete Doherty - no, not the rock singer with the, er, colourful lifestyle, this one is a TV producer who, back in late 1994, filmed a piece about me for South Today, BBC One's early-evening news programme. He had just posted it on You Tube along with other favourites he had worked on. It was fascinating to see it again (I had long since lost the old video I had of it), especially as it was filmed nearly a year before I had started getting any training as a public speaker.

But all these years later, I can see that there is still plenty of advice to pass on from this early media appearance.

Here is how it all happened...

I had been advertising for scriptwriting work  in the Stage and my ad had been spotted by Mr Doherty who was filming a series of arts-related pieces under the title 'The Scene' for Wednesday editions of South Today.

I had watched South Today since I was a child and had always wanted to appear on it. It's a programme with integrity and I knew I wouldn't be 'stitched up' - often a risk with pre-recorded items.

Public Speaking Tip #420: A media appearance may seem like a fantastic opportunity - and it usually is - but try and find out a little bit about the programme first. What is its tone? Does it seem to have an agenda? Do people appearing on it get edited unfairly? This is a real danger nowadays, especially with reality shows. Sometimes you may be best advised to politely decline.

I was given several days' notice (not usually the case with appearances on local news magazine programmes) so I tried to make my small study look as much like a writer's room as possible. At the time I was writing for, or in friendly contact with, a number of comedians, cabaret acts and agents and I asked them if they would like their photos to be seen in the background on my wall during an evening TV news show. They certainly did! Various publicity shots arrived through the post and one performer drove all the way from their home on the outskirts of a neighbouring town (a round trip of around 14 miles) just to put their picture through my door! The second part of the piece was intended to show me 'out and about' working with a client so I got the after dinner speaker Clive Greenaway involved. At the time the advice I was giving him was solely based on scriptwriting and what I had observed performers doing at radio recordings, comedy clubs, fringe theatre and the Edinburgh Festival; as I have said, I wasn't actually a public speaker myself yet, let alone a presentation skills trainer!

Public Speaking Tip #421: If you are fortunate enough to actually be given several days to prepare for a media appearance then make the most of it. Think about the setting, etc - it isn't just about the questions and answers!

Public Speaking Tip #422: A media appearance may be based on some activity of yours but it does no harm to give some help to others if possible.

I told the agent I had back then about the programme. He was a former stand-up comedian who had often appeared on TV and he advised me to be as 'up' as possible - something I found very difficult at that time but I did my best.

Public Speaking Tip #423: A TV appearance is a big deal. Do you know anyone who has appeared 'on the box' who can pass on some useful advice?

Pete and his very friendly and experienced cameraman Trevor arrived early - about 7am! - but they had forewarned me.

Public Speaking Tip #424: Media appearances can involve a very early start (as any film extra can testify!) You may be invited to give a live interview on a breakfast TV or radio show but even pre-recorded items may be completed early in the morning.

At this time I had just launched my daily topical comedy show prep service for radio presenters (only one client back then - he stayed with me for fifteen years at five different national and local independent stations!) and my morning's work was writing for him. This involved buying the morning's papers so I was filmed walking to the newsagent's, buying them (twice to get two different shots!) and walking home with them.

Public Speaking Tip #425: TV appearances may include you being filmed doing some mundane, everyday tasks. Try and look as natural as possible.

Writing my topical material was a little more tricky than usual that day. I hadn't had much sleep and due to the filming schedule, I had about half the length of time I usually spent on writing. Add to this the fact that it wasn't a great day for news that inspired gags plus I had the presence of a TV camera there (which meant covering up the newspaper's Page 3 girl! Is it my fault if some of the best stories are always on that page...?) The joke that got broadcast wasn't my best but it did at least illustrate the mental process of writing a topical joke so watch and learn!

Public Speaking Tip #426: When you are being filmed going about your usual work you may have very little time in which to produce a satisfactory result. You just have to do the best that you can.

At this point Pete and Trevor wanted to get something to eat so I sent them along to a nearby cafe which had just become my usual writing place (and remained so for several years). While they were gone I noticed that Pete had very helpfully left behind the list of questions he was going to ask me so of course I spent some time rehearsing my answers!

Public Speaking Tip #427: It isn't always possible but you could try and find out in advance at least some of the questions you might be asked in a media interview.

When the guys returned I faxed off my quota of material to my radio presenter client and we then travelled over to Clive's to film a segment there. Clive had already appeared on TV a few times (and has been featured numerous times since) and the filming was quite straightforward.

Now watch the piece.




The completed film has a voice-over from the presenter Jenny Hull. It opens with clips of Ronnie Barker and Dave Allen, two comics who I never actually wrote for (both actually had 'open-door' policies when it came to writers for parts of their sketch shows but the Two Ronnies and Dave Allen at Large had both finished years before I started writing professionally). Nevertheless, these are well-chosen funny examples of gags. The piece introduces me (much thinner and still with a little hair left). I talk about the papers I use, you see my notes and my wall with some of those publicity shots I mentioned.

Next we come to the newspaper-purchasing action sequence! There's a brief summary of my background and some of my credits are mentioned before a clip is shown with my own pizza gag from the News Huddlines. Now, the 'Hudds' was a Radio 2 show but on 31 March that year it had overtaken the Navy Lark as the longest-running radio comedy show (with a studio audience) and this historic live broadcast had been filmed for a piece on BBC TV's Pebble Mill the next day. One of the few extracts they included was that gag of mine, an idea I came up with right on the deadline and which Roy Hudd praised on air. It not only gave me a national TV broadcast of my material (albeit uncredited and taken from radio) but it also provided a brilliantly useful clip for South Today - especially as it was performed by other household name comedians (June Whitfield and Chris Emmett are also in the clip with Roy).

The carefully-covered pin-up page is seen, I talk about writing the Monty Python joke and the gags are faxed off. The presenter receiving them certainly didn't sound like the voice you hear on the end of line - he would never have got the job! Producer Pete was having a bit of fun putting a funny voice to a mini-documentary about comedy. It's a confidential service and the DJ wouldn't have wanted his real voice heard anyway - not even in a region hundreds of miles from his radio station.

Then we go over to Clive's. Pete having a bit of fun again here, filming us to look like one of the classic Smith and Jones head-to-head routines! Next is a clip of veteran comedy writer Barry Cryer, taken from his 'Two Old Farts in the Night' show with Willie Rushton (the title wasn't mentioned on this early evening broadcast; nowadays they could probably get away with it). He does a great gag of his own and, like all the other famous comics featured, has superb timing. He passes on some down-to-earth advice taken from his decades of experience and the piece concludes with another tip, this time from the relative newcomer: me. It's what I said in Public Speaking Tip #416 earlier in this post.

Looking at the piece now I obviously wish that I'd had the public speaking skills I have now. My delivery would have had so much more energy. (Clive has also come on in leaps and bounds; having worked really hard studying magic he now does a really popular Tommy Cooper tribute show). I would probably also have had a few pre-written one-liners in reserve in case it was an uninspiring day for topical gags.

Public Speaking Tip #428: A media appearance is a good opportunity to air some of your well-honed content if you have a chance to work it in as this will probably sound better than something off-the-cuff.

I might also have tried to get a little more sleep the night before. But I did the best I could at the time and I'm delighted to be on YouTube. Sadly I look rather different nowadays. 

There was a fair amount of lead time - about a month - before the piece was shown. Its broadcast was seen by around 400,000 viewers and it immediately brought in a number of enquiries about writing work and the BBC in Southampton were very good about passing these on to me (remember, hardly anyone had a website back then). Even at the low rates I was charging in those days (and incidentally the £9 for 20 gags mentioned actually referred to a pre-written sheet sold by mail order, not exclusive tailored material!) I still obtained a few hundred pounds' worth of work, ranging from speechwriting for the National President of a service organisation to writing spoof letters for one of Viz Comic's many imitators. And remember: all this was before I had had any form of public speaking training! There were additional enquiries; these included the odd timewaster but also some which nowadays I could more easily convert into commissions.

Public Speaking Tip #429: There is no guarantee that a TV or radio piece will bring in extra work but then the same can be said of paid advertising - and that doesn't give you an impressive 'as featured on...' credit to use forever.

I immediately informed my local paper, the Bournemouth Echo about the programme. That led to them writing a full-page article about me which appeared two days later and contained a phrase about me which I found useful to include in my publicity for some time afterwards. So now I had a good local TV credit, useful experience, a decent-sized newspaper feature, a catchy quote to pull from it and the extra work it brought in.

Public Speaking Tip #430: If you have enough notice, you should inform your local press if you are making a TV or radio appearance as this may lead to further, useful publicity for you.

When I eventually became a public speaker, I included the tale of my South Today appearance in both My Life as a Freelance Comedy Writer and also in some public speaking classes.

Public Speaking Tip #431: It's rare that a media appearance doesn't produce some useful extra material for a speaker!

This experience made me keen to add to my television credits and the following April I agreed to appear as a mystery contestant for Roy Hudd and June Whitfield on Thames TV's 'What's My Line?' That show had a large studio audience and I got terribly nervous (not least of all because, unlike South Today, I didn't know what I might be asked). I froze in front of the cameras but that made me join a public speaking class which led to me becoming a speaker and later a presentation skills trainer (you can read the full story in 'Nick R's in a Twist!')

It's funny how one thing led to another. Thank you so much Pete Doherty for posting the video - it's brought back a lot of memories and, I hope, provided some useful tips for my readers.


Southampton Health Service Retirement Fellowship

On 16 June I had a morning talk on My Life as a Freelance Comedy Writer for the Southampton Health Service Retirement Fellowship at the St James Road Methodist Hall in Shirley. There were about 60 in attendance despite some really heavy rain that day. 

Public Speaking Tip #432: When it comes to attendances for talks, unless snow is involved, fine weather seems to have more of a detrimental effect on audience numbers than rain!

And a very good audience they were too.


Mr Tom Hall

Someone who I had mentioned many times over the years in this blog, Mr Tom Hall died on 21 June 2011. I knew he had been ill but I did not learn of his passing until many months later.

Mr Hall belonged to Southbourne Literary Society, in fact he had been a member since the first meeting in 1946 and he served at various times as its President, Secretary and Treasurer. He also booked their speakers - including myself, in fact my first-ever paid talk was for the Southbourne Literary Society. That was in January 1996 and over the years Mr Hall booked me a further six times, and also asked me to help out when two visiting speakers delivered a talk about the Wolverhampton author with Bournemouth connections, Ellen Thorneycroft-Fowler. Several club members along with myself and Sue, one of my LAMDA certificate public speaking students, read dramatised extracts from the novels. Mr Hall was also most welcoming when I attended as a visitor or brought my students along for a field trip. Over the years I heard him deliver his own lectures about Roy Campbell and the history of the Southbourne Literary Society, one of which I wrote about here.

He was often in the audience at other clubs where I spoke as he was a life member of Boscombe and Southbourne Probus Club (I understand that they provided an impressive Guard of Honour at his funeral), Bournemouth Local Studies Group and SARA (Southbourne Active Retirement Association).

RIP Mr Hall and thank you for helping me start out as a speaker.


Spelthorne U3A

My last talk in a busy month for speaking and writing was for Spelthorne U3A who meet at the Salvation Army Citadel in Ashford near Staines.

Their meetings are very well-attended and even though it was one of the hottest days of the year and I was competing with Andy Murray at Wimbledon on television, there were still around 150 there.

Despite the heat the audience were most attentive and My Life as a Freelance Comedy Writer went really well.

One point about merchandising after presentations in certain venues. Some organisations will not allow selling on their premises, as with this Salvation Army Citadel and another where I spoke a few months later. It doesn't appear to apply to all of them but bear in mind that merchandising isn't always appropriate. I always ask if it's OK to sell booklets afterwards - whoever I am speaking to.

Public Speaking Tip #433: Some organisations may not allow merchandising on their premises so it is always advisable (and courteous) to find out first. If it is not permitted then you need to consider whether the booking is still viable - and, if possible, drop the odd couple of sentences into your presentation about how to obtain your books, etc.

As I said, a long post - but then it was quite a month!




My Public Speaking Year 2011: March - 8 talks, changes and charity!

Eli Lilly and Company Retired Employees Association, Basingstoke, Hampshire

March was a busy month, starting with a talk for retired Eli Lilly and Company staff, the booking that I picked up immediately after speaking to Old Basing U3A. The venue was their new HQ, not the iconic building where my late step-grandfather worked for them. Before speaking about My Life as a Freelance Comedy Writer I mentioned this family connection with their firm.

Public Speaking Tip #404: A family connection with an audience is an obvious, tailored ice-breaker!

Many thanks for the lunch and transport back to the station.

Amesbury Stroke Club, Wiltshire

Three talks the following week. The first was a return visit to the Amesbury Stroke Club where I delivered very well-received talks in 2003 and 2004. My subject this time was The Power of Humour in Everyday Life and it was good to see Moggie and her appreciative club members again, this time meeting at the Melor Hall.

Fordingbridge and District U3A, Hampshire

The next day I spoke at Fordingbridge Town Hall to about 80 members of the town's U3A on My Life as a Freelance Comedy Writer. A bit of a barnstormer if I do say so myself!

Underestimating an audience!

On the few occasions when I have chosen not to mention an audience by name in this blog it has usually been because of some negative aspect of their behaviour, such as in this post from a couple of years ago. But this was not the case with my third talk that week...

I spoke to a lovely group of ladies but decided beforehand that they would not appreciate My Life as a Freelance Comedy Writer in its usual form and so I made some last-minute changes to its content and structure. It took very little time for me to realise that I had totally underestimated them and certainly should not have 'dumbed down'. I then had to make more changes 'on the hoof', trying to work the omitted material back in as I went along. I got away with it but I was kicking myself afterwards.

I thought back to the 1990s when I was advertising my comedy writing services in the Stage and one day took a call from a rather loud, unpleasant traditional London comedian who worked East End pubs. He told me that he wasn't interested in topical comedy as that was for 'anoraks'. 'My audiences are fick', he said. 'Really fick!' I remember thinking that no, it probably wasn't them who were thick...

Needless to say, I didn't write for him but here I was, 16 years later, guilty of the same kind of misjudgement! It's not a mistake I will make again.

Public Speaking Tip #405: When it comes to following and appreciating a public speaker's content,audiences tend to raise their game. Don't lower yours. Don't underestimate them. Don't dumb down. 

As I have said before, however long you have been a public speaker, you never stop learning!

Watford Park U3A, the Rotary Club of Camberley and the Haven Club, Mudeford

And three more talks the following week, starting with two on Tuesday 22nd. In the afternoon I spoke on My Life as a Freelance Comedy Writer for Watford Park U3A. The talk was much appreciated by the large audience in St Luke's Church Hall and resulted in a rapid rebooking. Then I travelled down to the Hampshire/Surrey border and gave the same talk after a dinner at the local cricket club for Camberley Rotary. My thanks for the lifts from the stations and back.

Two days later I was back at the Brendoncare Haven Club at All Saints Church Hall, Mudeford, Christchurch where I spoke in March 2009. My topic this time was Patrick Campbell and they were once again a very good audience.

The Rotary Club of Maidenhead Thames, Berkshire

My final talk of the month was another Rotary after dinner version of My Life as a Freelance Comedy Writer, this time for one of the two clubs in Maidenhead at the Holiday Inn.

A good response and, as with my two previous Rotary bookings, I donated part of the proceeds of sales of Nick R's In A Twist! to their causes. Doing this does not necessarily guarantee greater sales but it does give me, a non-Rotarian guest speaker, a chance to get additionally involved. Over those three Rotary bookings I was able to add a little to the funds raised for their End Polio Now and Japanese Earthquake appeals.

Public Speaking Tip #406: If you can afford to do so, donating part of the proceeds of your merchandising at an engagement with a charitable aspect gives you an additional involvement in the event after you have spoken.

Thanks for the lift from Maidenhead station and back.



'Second choice' presentations needn't mean second best!

It's become a cliche for bloggers to apologise to their readers for not updating for a while (and as a public speaker and writer I try to avoid over-reliance on cliches) so I have no intention of giving you a long list of excuses but... As I posted some 355 free Public Speaking Tips here between August 2007 and March this year perhaps you will forgive me if I use one well-known expression to account for my absence: 'time off for good behaviour!'

I have a huge backlog of past speaking engagements and observations about public speaking to write about so I'd better get started...

Eversley WI and Trowbridge WI

Regular readers will know that I have a large number of different presentations. There's My Life as a Freelance Comedy Writer and my other talk with personal anecdotes, The Power of Humour in Everyday Life and its corporate version, The Power of Humour in Business. Then there are my 'how-to' presentations and workshops: Public Speaking: My Triumph of Technique Over Terror! and Write Funny! which is aimed at writers' circles and film-making clubs. Then there are my literary/historical talks in the 'third person': The Life, Literature and Laughter of Patrick "Call My Bluff" Campbell, The One, the Only...Groucho!, Dorothy Parker and the Algonquin Wits, I Must Write That Down! (A Commonplace Book) and The Great Comedy Quiz.

I prefer giving talks about my own experiences. This isn't just about ego; I have been delivering these since my very first booking in January 1996 so they are really well-honed (although obviously they are always evolving) and I think that many speakers favour speaking in the first person (I have certainly noticed this with my public speaking students). Don't get me wrong, I enjoy speaking about the other topics but, as a writer, I relish the challenge of making my own observations and experiences amusing and informative for audiences. Plus, my booklet Nick R's in a Twist! relates to these talks so I expect to sell more copies than I would with my other presentations. The other topics were introduced for repeat bookings for organisations that had already heard my anecdotal talks and also to attract interest from specialist markets such as historical societies.

But sometimes I am asked to deliver one of these literary/historical talks on a first visit to a group that I would normally expect to book My Life as a Freelance Comedy Writer or The Power of Humour in Everyday Life. This may happen, for example, after a recommendation from someone who has not heard my 'own' talks but has enjoyed hearing about, say, Patrick Campbell.

I try to see this as an opportunity. I have been delivering these other talks for many years now, I know they go very well and, if I deliver them with enthusiasm, there is an excellent chance being booked for one of my more personal presentations on my next visit. And sometimes the merchandising can still be surprisingly good. It's flattering to be have been recommended too, and there could well also be further recommendations and testimonials. And I still get paid!

Public Speaking Tip #356:  If you offer a number of different presentations, it is possible that an organisation may want to book one which would not be your own first choice. Don't let this dampen your enthusiasm; as long as it will still be appropriate/informative/entertaining for them, it could lead to repeat bookings,  recommendations and other benefits.

This happened with two consecutive bookings last autumn for Women's Institutes that I had never spoken to before. Both chose my talk about the great Irish humorist Patrick Campbell. The first was at Eversley in Hampshire. This one went very well - once I got there!

This engagement was the result of a recommendation after I had spoken to Yateley and District U3A. and, as with that booking, there was a problem with rail transport. I got as far as Basingstoke on schedule that evening but then a passenger was taken ill on the train and there was a long delay while the paramedics tended to them. No-one's fault, of course, but I did begin to wonder if I would ever again have a journey to Fleet station that would run smoothly! Luckily a very patient WI member named Carmen was still waiting there for me and she drove me to the village hall in time for the end of the business part of the meeting. The 45 ladies there enjoyed my talk and I must thank one of their husbands, Trevor, for running me back to Fleet afterwards.

The other booking was an afternoon talk for Trowbridge WI in Wiltshire for an audience of around 35 in the town's Cricket Club (the list of different types of venues where I am booked to speak just keeps growing!) I got a very good response and a very good tea afterwards. My thanks for the transport from the station and back.

Although there were no problems with the punctuality of the trains that day, I must mention something that happened on the Bournemouth to Southampton leg of the outward journey. A young couple were sitting in the seats in front of me. On morning journeys to speaking engagements I am usually researching news stories for the topical gags I write for radio. I turned over a page of a newspaper and the woman turned and shot a filthy look back at me through the gap between the seats. Apparently this excessive noise was disturbing her! Another (very quiet) rustle had her insisting to her partner that they should get up and move back several seats away from me! Can you imagine her trying to cope with all the noises we public speakers have to contend with (buzzing lights, traffic outside the venue, sounds from neighbouring rooms, latecomers, coughs, mobiles, whistling hearing aids, even, occasionally, the odd snore?)

There was a third sound from my seat shortly afterwards: that of me chuckling to myself as a foreign student who obviously had no inhibitions about speaking in public positioned himself next to where they had relocated to and started bellowing into his mobile phone!


An audience worthy of Mengham!

Mengham Women's Institute, Hayling Island

I gave an evening talk on 8 July to Mengham Women's Institute on Hayling Island. Although technically in Hampshire, they are actually part of the West Sussex Federation.

I had only been to the island once before and that was later at night so it was fascinating to see the place in daylight. The WI meet in the hall of the South Hayling United Reformed Church in Mengham village.

There were about 35 ladies there and my talk on My Life as a Freelance Comedy Writer got a great reception. Over on my Freelance Comedy Writer blog I have written about the joy of receiving applause for your original humour. Although this article relates to radio, I can tell you that it's the same with public speaking.

Public Speaking Tip #337: Many speakers just use humour in the form of jokes, observations and anecdotes simply lifted from other sources (and not always credited to them!) These can work but if you can use original humour, it will set you apart and you will experience the pleasure of a great audience response to something funny which none of them have heard before - and you thought of it!

Now this doesn't mean that you suddenly have to become a great comedian or comedy writer but simply that you should look for good observations and  brief, amusing personal anecdotes relevant to your content. They won't all be successful; some ideas which seem funny to us just don't work with live audiences or only seem to be amusing to certain groups or may have to be reworded several times before you arrive at the best version so it's best not to try out too many in any one presentation. But original, relevant humour can make most presentations more effective and their message more memorable. Add some apt humorous quotations (citing their sources, of course!) and you will be amazed at how the response can increase your confidence.

I think some measure of the success of my talk to these ladies was the fact that about 50% of them purchased my booklet Nick R's in a Twist! afterwards. It was a very enjoyable evening with this WI and my thanks to one one of their husbands, Peter, for the lift from Havant station and back again and for answering so many of my questions about Hayling Island.

Within a week, this WI had recommended me for a Group meeting in Hampshire so many thanks for that as well!