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.
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.