Entries in radio (21)

Wednesday
Aug212013

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.

Saturday
Jul142012

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!

 

 

Tuesday
Jun262012

My Public Speaking Year 2011: April - politics, patriotism, pub names and pop stars!

Romsey Open Gate Stroke Group

The first of my three engagements in April 2011 was a talk on Patrick Campbell for the Open Gate Stroke Club in the Church Rooms at the beautiful Romsey Abbey. A great reception from a terrific audience and afterwards, over refreshments, I very much enjoyed speaking with a nonegenarian who shared his remarkable philosophy of life.

Sadly this was the group's first meeting after having their transport funding cut.

Now, this is not a political blog and I do not support any political party, in fact I have not voted since the mid-90s as I don't believe in simply opting for the lesser of three evils; I also think it's better not to have any strong affiliations if you write topical satire - all parties should be targets if they deserve to be! But at talks the previous month I was delivering - and getting good laughs with - a topical gag about a bank getting away with paying a very low rate of tax on its massive profits and now here was I seeing what a huge difference this club was making to the members who attend it only for this to be made expensive/impossible for some by a cut in funding! Someone has their priorities wrong, to say the least.

(Actually, although only giving this blog a rating of 4, presumably because of its lack of political content, the site politics.co.uk was kind enough to say:

"This is an unusual blog - the art of public speaking is crucial to politics, and yet there's not much devoted to it specifically. This blog does, with posts combining accounts of the writer's recent engagements with some handy hints. Given some of the turgid speeches we're forced to suffer to in the Commons, more MPs could do with reading it".

Hear, hear!)

Rotary Club of Walton-on-Thames St George's Day Meeting

I was asked to include plenty of English observational humour when I spoke at the St George's Day dinner for the Rotary Club of Walton-on-Thames in the Wellington Room at Burhill Golf Club, a fascinating venue (Barnes Wallis did much of his work in an adjoining room which is now a suite named after him). 

The event was a proper Feast of St George which included the St George's Grace, an address to the Roast Beef of Ye Olde England, the Loyal Toast and further toasts to England and St George and Our English Hero William Shakespeare Esq, The event finished, of course, with the usual toast to Rotary the World Over.

My thanks to Mr Roper for transport from the station.

Hampshire North Federation of Townswomen's Guilds AGM

For someone who doesn't play golf I seemed to spend a great deal of the early part of last year at golf clubs - and I wasn't complaining! At the end of April I spoke on The Power of Humour in Everday life at the Hampshire North Federation of TGs Annual General meeting at Camberley Heath Golf Club.

It's always nice to get a real last-minute gag into a talk and on the taxi journey from Farnborough I noticed a pub name which inspired one. I'm not going to link to the establishment concerned because it seems to have garnered numerous truly appalling reviews but that joke was just one of many that got a really good response in a very successful presentation.

Public Speaking Tip #407: Although speakers are usually best advised to avoid the 'a funny thing happened to me on the way here today' cliche, your journey to the venue may just inspire a last-minute, tailored, local addition so have a good look around!

I often finish this particular talk with a version of the shortbread anecdote from the making of my 1995 BBC Radio 2 documentary 'Well Above Average: the Continuing Story of 10cc'. When I mentioned 10cc there was recognition and approval from a number of the audience. Afterwards I reflected on how, when I started giving talks the year after I wrote that programme, I would not have had the same reaction then. Many of my audiences at that time would have been in their fifties and sixties in the 1970s, the band's heyday, and probably would not have been Radio 1 listeners (although back then Radio 1 was more like today's Radio 2!) In fact, at an early talk in 1996, I had given my CV to a speaker secretary who introduced me by saying 'Nick has worked with various people we're supposed to have heard of like 10cc and Justin Hayward of the Moody Blues' - and it was pretty clear that the assembled elderly gentlemen hadn't! Now, all these years later, the average age of this particular group meant that they had grown up with rock and roll and 1960s pop and certainly were familiar with the group. It's something I'm noticing more and more.

Public Speaking Tip #408: If you are a speaker for many years, bear in mind that the passage of time may render your content more (or sometimes less) accessible to your audiences. Always consider their average ages when choosing your content and be prepared to explain references where necessary.

This talk resulted in an almost immediate rebooking for November. My thanks for the lift back to the station from a 10cc fan who had recently been to one of the touring band's gigs!


Thursday
Oct142010

Credibility in Public Speaking. Part 2: Keeping content current

(And yes, I am aware of the irony of the above title in view of my lack of blogging recently but this post is actually a further one about speech content...)

A pleasing addition to my bio - and my speeches!

The talk My Life as a Freelance Comedy Writer is about my experiences as a writer of humour for broadcast, publication and live performance over a period of nearly 30 years. It features numerous anecdotes and observations, plus some 'behind-the-scenes' information about TV and radio recordings and numerous examples of how real-life humour can so often be much funnier than any comedy writer's inventions. After I have delivered it, there are usually plenty of questions, including certain ones which crop up with very regularly, such as:

'Can you copyright a joke?',
'Are there any shows that are genuinely off-the-cuff?', '
'Are comedians really all miserable offstage?'
'Why do today's comics swear so much?'

I cheerfully answer these to the best of my ability based on my own observations but, until recently, there was one FAQ that I really didn't enjoy being asked:

'Do you still write for the BBC?''

Let me just explain (without giving away too much of the content of my talk!)
I spent most of the 1980s entering (and very often winning) humour-writing competitions in magazines and newspapers and on TV programmes until, in 1990, I started writing for BBC radio topical comedy shows, such as Week Ending on Radio 4 and the News Huddlines on Radio 2. These were long-running programmes that were broadcast for much of the year (41 and 21 weeks respectively) and these led me to writing for various other Radio 2 programmes (including my own hour-long documentary with and about 10cc) and items from these shows were sometimes also repeated on other channels, such as the BBC World Service, Radio 3 and BBC TV's Pebble Mill and South Today as well as being reproduced in a spin-off book and on some BBC compilations. I even got to perform a stand-up spot on Radio 2.

Gradually, as the years went on, the long-running shows ended, first Week Ending in 1998 and then the News Huddlines, abruptly at the end of 2001 (read Roy Hudd's superb autobiography for the full, disgraceful story behind the demise of this hugely popular, critically-acclaimed, award-winning show). The other programmes I had worked on were one-offs or short-lived and I found that there were now very few BBC shows with the same 'open door' policy for freelance writers like myself - they were only interested in newcomers and the opportunities were limited even for them.

My BBC involvement after 2001 consisted of having material recorded but not broadcast for some editions of one show, archive repeats from years ago on BBC7 and giving some local radio interviews. Oh, and some uncredited work as a TV extra.

It wasn't that I was no longer writing or being broadcast - far from it. In the mid-90s, long before the BBC work dried up, I had branched out into ghost-writing daily topical links for independent local (and sometimes national) radio presenters. This continues to this day, with around 1,000 items broadcast each year to a six-figure audience. Then there's the writing for fringe theatre, magazines, stand-up comics, impressionists and other cabaret acts, businesses and, of course, speakers - including myself!

But the BBC is seen as having a particular glamour and mentioning these other types of writing just didn't seem to elicit the same interest from audience members at my talks, grateful though I am for this continued work.

Then, last year, I read in a comedy forum about a topical show on BBC Radio Scotland called Watson's Wind-Up. It starred Jonathan Watson, who I had often watched on Naked Video, Brian Pettifer, who I used to watch as a teenager on Get Some In! and Julie Austin from Braveheart. I listened to an episode and noticed that the long list of writers at the end included one or two who had been around much longer than me! I was determined to get material used on this show.

I started reading Scottish newspapers and websites. It took a few attempts to get anything on but the show's producer Philip Differ sent encouraging emails. Philip is a highly-respected writer, producer and speaker (his writing credits include a play about his experiences working with my all-time favourite Scottish comic, the late. great Rikki Fulton). I wrote a topical gag with a punchline about motorways and then tweaked it to be specifically about the M8, the motorway nearest to Glasgow where the show was recorded; in other words, I tailored the material for the audience, the same as when writing a speech.

It got broadcast and it was great to hear a radio audience laugh at something of mine and then have my name read out in the credits of a national BBC radio comedy show after all those years. Then the bombshell: no sooner had I got something broadcast than it was announced that the show was being cancelled (I am assuming that these two events were in no way connected!)

Yes, markets for comedy writers are always changing, just as they are for speakers with clubs and societies often closing down. You have to make the most of what's available and then look for replacements when that disappears. I was determined to get some more material on this show before it was taken off the air so I worked really hard and, on the last edition, this really paid off: they used a number of sketch and joke items of mine.

And, of course, this has made quite a difference when audiences at my talks ask if I am still writing for the BBC. I may not be able to say that I am writing anything for them just at that moment but I can now list a much more recent credit  - and cite this as yet another example of how precarious a freelance comedy writer's existence can be!

Public Speaking Tip #360: Many speakers who deliver presentations about their careers are retired but if you are still active in the occupation you are speaking about then you may find that, whatever your past achievements, the inclusion of your most recent successes  adds a great deal to your credibility and  your confidence. A presentation may even provide an incentive to achieve new goals.

It is important that your material should be as current as possible. For example, I know of some speakers' lists where anyone giving a travel talk is asked to provide the actual date of the trip they intend to speak about!

And, speaking of credibility, some readers may just remember the story of the aromatherapist at a women's institute speakers' audition that I included towards the end of this post from 2008.
 
Friday
Oct162009

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!