Entries in speechwriting (45)


Speaking and sport

Durrington Women's Institute, Wiltshire

Because my talks often involve anecdotes about amusing incidents that have happened at other speaking engagements, audiences usually assume that at my next booking I will be telling a story about them! Now, my talks have produced hundreds of speaking tips to pass on in this blog but the percentage that result in funny stories for potential use at speaking engagements is tiny - and the number that actually work well enough after being tested to make it into my presentations on a regular basis is even smaller.

In July, following my talk on My Life as a Freelance Comedy Writer for Durrington WI I sat at the front of the room in the village hall while they had their business meeting. The talk had been a great success and the meeting afterwards produced some very funny comments of its own: numerous crossed wires and innuendos. After the first, someone said 'He'll be using that!' When, after a couple more, audience members said the same thing again, I felt obliged to get out a pen and notebook and write them down, which got a decent laugh.

I don't know if I ever will use these incidents but this business of still being on show after a talk and whether you carry on 'performing' needs to be mentioned here.

Back in 1998, when I had been a speaker for just a couple of years, I spoke at a WI Group meeting in Oxford. They were a brilliant (and, as I now know, typical Oxfordshire audience) and it was, at that time, one of the best talks I'd had. As I was clearing my props away on the stage at the venue, a VCO (now known as WI Advisors) started delivering a talk of her own, which began with asking whether any of them had considered how, for example, self-massage could lead to 'a whole new you'. All eyes were upon me still on the stage behind her and I couldn't resist reacting to this with some exaggerated facial expressions. This got a big laugh and the poor speaker realised what was happening and said 'Well, he has to get his material from somewhere!' and I got off the stage. Afterwards we chatted and she didn't mind, in fact she booked me for the Oxfordshire WI Markets Annual Lunch the next year, another great gig, but I look back on it as unprofessional behaviour by a fairly novice speaker.

But now, many years later at Durrington some continued participation was clearly expected of me and I played along but, generally speaking, when you've finished, you've finished - don't upstage the speaker who's on after you!

Public Speaking Tip #490: Your stage time at a speaking engagement starts and ends with your presentation - unless you are definitely expected to continue to contribute in some way, perhaps in a joint Q&A with other speakers, judging a competition or drawing the first raffle ticket. You should never upstage the speakers who follow you.

My thanks to Marion for running me back to Salisbury station.

Odiham District U3A

I had a double booking the next day, the morning engagement being for Odiham District U3A in Hampshire. One of the great things about travelling around doing all these talks is that sometimes I find myself speaking in some wonderful historic buildings. In this case it was the 16th century Cross Barn. It certainly beats turning up to work in an office!

My Life as a Freelance Comedy Writer got a great response and was followed by a very good Q&A session. Many thanks to their Speaker Secretary Jim for getting me back to Hook station in good time to travel on to my next gig that day.

Monks Brook U3A

My afternoon talk was at St Boniface Church Centre in Chandlers Ford for Monks Brook U3A, who I last spoke to in July 2009 but I actually got rebooked by them as a result of speaking at Shaftesbury and Gillingham U3A in August 2011. Repeat bookings sometimes come to a speaker in a roundabout sort of way!

Public Speaking Tip #491: Repeat bookings for a speaker usually come directly from an organisation itself but can sometimes occur as the result of speaking elsewhere!

My previous talk had been The Power of Humour in Everyday Life; this time it was My Life as a Freelance Comedy Writer. There can be some overlap between these two presentations as I have content that is an ideal fit for both but I do have enough tried and tested material to deliver two totally different talks - important for an audience that I had only spoken to three years earlier. The version I did on this occasion allowed me to go into extra detail about comedy writing itself.

I can remember how one of my earliest talks back in 1997 went very well at a Hampshire luncheon and led to a super testimonial letter and an invitation to return less than a couple of years later to speak some more on the same subject. At that time I was spending more time honing the material I already had  than on adding new content. This repeat booking involved a massive amount of new material, untested and added just for that day. The result was a lukewarm response, no testimonial that time and no further bookings! You have to have enough strong, honed material before you can return to an audience for a 'Part 2' presentation. It was a lesson that I have never forgotten and I still bear it in mind whenever I am asked for a 'Part 3!'

Public Speaking Tip #492: A presentation to an organisation may go so well that they invite you back soon afterwards to speak some more about the same topic. Beware! Have you exhausted your strongest material? Was the success of the engagement due to how well the content had been honed over a long period? Is there really much you can add that is worthy of an audience's time? Returning too soon to the same audience with a substandard second instalment of a presentation can ruin the fond memories of the first and damage your reputation - which it may not be great for your confidence either! Look for new audiences and don't return to any previous one until you are really confident about your additional material.

No problems at Chandlers Ford, in fact I received this email from their Joint Speaker Secretary Ann:

"Thank you very much from Monks Brook U3A for your funny and interesting presentation to us on 4th July. It was most enjoyable and we wish you luck in your continuing work as a comedy writer and presenter".

Daryl Hall quote

Singer-songwriter Daryl Hall of Hall & Oates gave an interview in the Sunday Express. What really stood out for me was where he spoke about the passing of his fellow musician and great friend, the bassist Tom 'T-Bone' Wolk. He always used to describe him as "the ampersand in Hall & Oates".

I thought this was a beautiful way of summing up what he meant to him. This type of description would enrich any eulogy as it's almost an obituary in a single phrase. But such a tribute could also be a perfect addition to many other types of speeches.

Public Speaking Tip #493: Could you summarise your feelings about a person in one moving phrase? Think of what a terrific contribution that could make to a birthday, wedding, anniversary or retirement speech or, of course, a eulogy.

Bramley Women's Institute Birthday Meeting, Hampshire

I had one further booking in July, once again for My Life as a Freelance Comedy Writer. The audience this time were Bramley WI who meet at Bramley Village Hall. This was their birthday meeting and there were guests present from other local WIs.

Before the talk, I met Jane, their publicity officer, and, as my talk involves stories about writing and, indeed, clubs' press officers, I made occasional references to her. You have to be careful with this - I don't always feel entirely comfortable with the way that some comedians pick on audience members to make fun of them - but gentle references to personalities at a speaking engagement can help to tailor your content. Of course, there are some after dinner speaking gigs where jokes about committee members are expected - even if the speaker has never met them! And then there are wedding speeches...

But my inclusion of Jane was to emphasise my points about writing, in particular reports about speakers, and she was a good sport.

Public Speaking Tip #494: Unless you are delivering an after dinner or best man's speech where jokes about certain audience members are de rigeur, you should always keep any references to personalities present at your talk fleeting and any humour about them gentle.

Since this talk, the Hampshire County Federation of Women's Institutes Chairman Brenda Fletcher who was present that night has already recommended me to another group. My thanks to her and to the lady who drove me back to the station. I have to say, though, that I wonder how many motorists ever manage to drive in or out of Bramley - I don't think I have ever seen a level crossing that gets so much use!

Public Speaking lessons from the 2012 Olympics Opening Ceremony, media coverage, Paralympics Closing Ceremony and Olympics and Paralympics Victory Parade

I was interested to hear the speeches by Lord Coe and Jacques Rogge, President of IOC at the brilliant Olympics Opening Ceremony. Can you imagine speaking in a venue in front of around 82,000 people while being broadcast live to possibly four billion worldwide?

Lord Coe delivered a very good speech but then I would guess that his presentation in Singapore in 2005, possibly the greatest British sales pitch of the past decade, the one which secured the Games for London, may have been more nerve-wracking!

Jacques Rogge's speech in a second language was also impressive. It seemed a shame that all the positive comments about sport had to be accompanied by a warning to athletes to reject doping but when a competitor was disqualified on the very first day it was proof that this plea had been necessary. 

I wondered how both must have felt speaking to such a huge crowd in that stadium. Probably very few audience members were visible to them due to distance and lighting so they would probably have had very little visual feedback from facial expressions but would have avoiding the pressure of seeing the entire crowd!

The Olympics coverage itself produced some points to mention here. The Games started on the Saturday and on the Monday morning I watched the then Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt being interviewed on TV about ticket allocations. Then, right at the end of the interview, came a question about whether it was disappointing that Great Britain had not won any gold medals yet (remember, this was after just two days!)

With hindsight, the question seems ridiculous in view of Team GB's performance (I actually thought it to be a bit daft at the time as well) but interviewees, especially politicians, are often subject to these 'curved ball' last-minute questions, often about different topics from the ones they had agreed to be interviewed about.

This can sometimes happen in a Q&A at a speaking engagement as well - you can get some strangely off-topic questions (after a talk on My Life as a Freelance Comedy Writer in 2000 I was asked afterwards whether the BBC was going to broadcast the Queen Mother's 100th Birthday Celebrations!)

Public Speaking Tip #495: Always be prepared for the possibility of off-topic questions, whatever subject you have been speaking on. Unless you are a politician, it is quite acceptable for you to say you don't know the answer or even (with charm) that this is not what you are there to talk about!

A great resource for tips on handling media interviews is the free weekly Media Coach ezine from Alan Stevens. It's one of the few newsletters that I open the moment it arrives and I would urge any speaker to subscribe.

The word 'legacy' was flying around everywhere long before the Games ended. One of the most amusing interviews (or non-interviews) I saw was an early morning report about children taking up sport. A reporter had been sent along to a gym where a 9 year-old boxer was practising. The girl was obviously far more keen to carry on thumping nine bells out of a punchbag than to talk to the hapless interviewer. Every question was met with silence. 'What do you like about boxing?' No reply. In the end, the reporter was suggesting answers himself: 'Is it because...?' Still nothing. He gave up and handed back to the studio where the laughing anchor wished him luck for the rest of the day. His next report an hour later featured an older and rather more enthusiastic interviewee.

Not everyone wants to - or has to - be a public speaker. It's a great thing to learn (and more schools really should teach it) but here was a case of someone who was at a club for a particular purpose and being expected to take time away from it for a non-essential speech. I'm sure that if little Brooke's boxing career progresses then she may see the need to be interviewed at some stage but the fact that a more willing speaker was found for the later interview made me wonder why the programme ever chose to bother her in the first place. Presumably the novelty of her age.

Public Speaking Tip #496: If your organisation is asked to provide a subject for a media piece then choose the person who will enjoy it the most and give the best interview. In an ideal world, everybody would be a competent public speaker; in the real one, some are more suitable than others!

At the Paralympics Closing Ceremony, Lord Coe summarised the seismic shift that they had produced, his description made all the more effective by its use of repetition:

"I don't think people will ever see sport the same way again, I don't think they will ever see disability in the same way again".

Public Speaking Tip #497: Experienced speakers often use lists of three for maximum effect but a pairing can sometimes work very well.

I must comment on Boris Johnson's great speech at the Olympics and Paralympics Victory Parade in London last week. Three sections really stood out.

"You brought this country together in a way we never expected. You routed the doubters and you scattered the gloomsters.

That bit was great - rather poetic, in fact!

"And for the first time in living memory you caused Tube passengers to break into spontaneous conversation with their neighbours on subjects other than trod-on toes."

Humour perfectly tailored for London. The reference to spontaneous conversation drew such a laugh that it rather drowned out the bit about trod-on toes!

And then came this killer line:

"Speaking as a spectator you produced such paroxysms of tears and joy on the sofas of Britain that you probably not only inspired a generation, but helped to create one as well."

As Boris pointed out, he could get away with that!

Public Speaking Tip #498: Risque humour can often be perfectly acceptable at a celebratory event - as long as it's used sparingly and the speaker is absulutely sure of their audience.

Finally, do take a look at this post on Lisa Braithwaite's always-excellent blog Speak Schmeak where she compares the regular wasted opportunities of public speakers to be their very best with the way in which many Olympians only have a window every four years.





My Public Speaking Year 2011: August - 4 talks, quotations and being quoted!

Shaftesbury and Gillingham U3A, Dorset

My first booking for August was a morning talk for the Shaftesbury and Gillingham U3A. The venue was the Olive Bowl, in a big room for a big audience who gave me a big response!

My talk was written up by their Publicity Officer Paul Robinson in the Salisbury, Avon & Valley News:

"My Life as a Freelance Comedy Writer saw the subject of an entertaining talk by Nick R Thomas (the R distinguishes him from any other Nick Thomas) at the August meeting of S&G U3A.

It turns out that comedy is a serious business. Nick's history of breaking into comedy writing was filled with anecdotes, both humorous and poignant.

He has worked with all the greats of British comedy and brought back many amusing memories with his wealth of tales.

It was obvious comedy was something he loves doing, and real life often proved funnier than the sketches he was writing. He admitted it was seasonal, precarious self-employment. In spite of the dreadful weather on the day, we left the meeting smiling".

Thank you Paul for a lovely write-up although I must point out that I haven't worked with 'all' the greats! Quite a few of them though...

'Clips from a Life' by Denis Norden

Before leaving for my second talk that day I spent some time in Gillingham and discovered a branch of the excellent Superbook discount chain.

Their stock includes reduced-price copies of a number of books of potential interest to public speakers, for example individual volumes from the Prime Minister Box Set, such as Chris Wrigley's book about Churchill.

I purchased a copy of Clips from a Life by the comedy scriptwriter and TV presenter Denis Norden. It's not a typical autobiography but a collection of anecdotes which start when he left school to work as a trainee cinema manager in London. Norden's account of the British variety acts of the time makes this a nice companion volume to Much Ado About Me, Fred Allen's brilliant account of Vaudeville.

The book has been a great investment. Not only does it include his tale about appearing on TV in the 1960s with Patrick Campbell - very useful for my talk about him - but there are numerous observations about the life of a comedy scriptwriter which I may be able to refer to in my talks - always quoting my source, of course!

His anecdotes are perfectly written; there is not a word out of place. These include stories he has used in his career as an after dinner speaker and this is very useful for readers as they show the nature of the material that a speaker with a perfect understanding of his audience will choose to include as suitable for the occasion.

'Clips from a Life' has been a joy to read (I was so engrossed in it that on my way to a talk a few days later I almost missed my stop!) I cannot recommend it highly enough as an example of how funny stories should be presented for maximum effect.

Public Speaking Tip #441: Anecdotes that depend upon a single punchline need to be brief, only containing the relevant details. Longer stories need to have amusing incidents all the way through, build a sense of anticipation and reward it with a sufficiently funny pay-off at the end. But even the best longer stories may not be suitable for speaking after luncheons or dinners.

Portswood Evening TG, Southampton

My second booking that day was an evening talk on the Power of Humour in Everyday Life for the Portswood Evening Townswomen's Guild at the Highfield Church Centre in Southampton. The talk must have gone well because I was very quickly rebooked, this time for Christmas Humour in 2012.

Old Essolians, Hampshire

The last time I spoke to the retired Esso staff at Colbury in Hampshire was Tuesday 10 August 1999! The attendance at the Waterside Sports and Social Club in Holbury may be a bit smaller than in those days but they were a very good audience for the Power of Humour in Everyday Life and bought so many copies of 'Nick R's in a Twist!' that I ran out and had to send some on by post when more were printed!

A very pleasant afternoon, especially as it involved a ride back from Hythe to Southampton on the ferry.

Finding a quote for a wedding speech

I had another repeat booking in August, this time for speechwriting. The previous year I had written a speech for a client who was the Best Man at his brother's wedding. He supplied some really good information which really helped me with the writing and the speech went really well. Now he came to me as a Groom himself. Once again he gave me some really useful background which helped me to come up with plenty of ideas and now all I had to do was source a profound quotation about marriage.

Easier said than done!

I looked through all the suggestions in one of the most famous books of quotations, a huge volume. It took some time and they all seemed to be either lines from plays which would have sounded really weird if included or cynical barbs from great wits about the flaws in the institution of marriage!

In the end I turned to the internet. Often I would find a quote that seemed to fit but then notice that its source was inappropriate for the ethnicity of this audience

In the end I chose one which was apt but the whole experience confirmed to me that you really have to do some background double-checking - even when you think you have finally found the right words!

Public Speaking Tip #442: Choosing an apt saying to use in a speech isn't always as simple as picking up a book of quotations and selecting anything that looks promising! You have to consider whether it really fits the occasion and also whether the source is an appropriate person to quote at that particular event.

I was delighted when, after receiving the speech, the client emailed to say:

"It is everything you said it would be".

Alan Freeman Trust Fundraising Dinner, Upper Halliford, Surrey

My last engagement for August was an after dinner version of My Life as a Freelance Comedy Writer for the Alan Freeman Trust in Upper Halliford near Shepperton. This charity was founded in memory of a much-loved local GP and his former surgery is now the hall where they and a number of other groups in the village hold their meetings.

The village has a real sense of community so the event was really well-attended for a warm Friday night in August. After an excellent home-cooked dinner I started my talk by stressing that I was a writer not a rioter (the disturbances in various British cities had just been in the news) and followed this by mentioning the true story that in one area I had passed through on my journey the only shop which hadn't been looted was Waterstones. This was one of those news stories that didn't even need a joke about it to get a laugh.

Towards the end I even got a round of applause for a gag that stemmed from a conversation I had with the organiser's wife Mrs Ward when we were walking from her car to the venue! Now that's tailored material - it could not be used anywhere else!

I finished by saying - with total sincerity - that it had been the sort of gig that made me glad I became a public speaker.

Meeting Genius Blog interview

At the end of August the Meeting Genius Blog which is dedicated to better business meetings, training sessions and workshops published an interview with me. Over the course of just 11 questions I was able to convey many of my beliefs about my own public speaking, speechwriting and presentation skills training as well as a number of anecdotes.

You can read the interview here.


My Public Speaking Year 2011: July - 4 talks, Twitter, timings and training

Short-notice speechwriting helped by social media

On 1 Friday July I emailed a speech I had been commissioned to write at five days' notice. It was for a function celebrating a 21st birthday and the speaker was a neighbour who had been a friend of the young woman's family for many years.

The length of the required speech was only five minutes but when I write speeches for clients I always over-deliver so they have more choice over what content to include. The information I was given to work with was detailed and inspiring but I decided to see if the subject of the speech had a public profile on any social networking sites such as Twitter that might give me some more ideas. She had, and this included her ambitions, part serious, part jokey. These anabled me to write some personalised pargraphs that rounded off the speech nicely.

Public Speaking Tip #434: Profiles on social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook may help with information for personalised speechwriting. Do use some discretion though, for example, by ensuring that it's a public profile.

The speech was well-received.

Minster Probus, Wimborne, Dorset

More short-notice work the follwing week, this time a booking to speak to Minster Probus at the Hamworthy Club in Canford Magna, Dorset. My first booking for them was in November 1996 (they were only the second-ever Probus I spoke to) and a further three bookings in 2000, 2004 and 2007 meant that they had heard many of my talks but not Dorothy Parker and the Wits of the Algonquin Round Table.

I always think that after a lunch is the most challenging time of day to deliver a talk. A meal can have a soporific effect on any audience, especially in a warm room, but it's trickier at lunchtimes (after dinner speeches are often shorter) so I always prefer audiences to book my lighter, autobiographical talks like My Life as a Freelance Comedy Writer or The Power of Humour in Everyday Life for these time slots. My literary talks go very well for mid-mornings or mid-afternoons but delivering a literary lecture, even a humorous one, after a luncheon requires me to judge how long I think the audience will concentrate on it. At the same time I still want to give the organisation its money's worth. But this club had heard my other talks already so for for this emergency booking we had to go with one of my few remaining titles.

In 2008 I wrote a post here titled Lose a few minutes, keep the whole audience where I suggested that just occasionally the best option is to cut the presentation a little short. I have to say that this wasn't true here. I misjudged it and delivered a talk that was probably five to ten minutes too short for them and without questions afterwards making up the time.

Public Speaking Tip #:435: If you are asked to speak after a meal, particularly a luncheon, consider whether your topic is suitable. If it's a 'heavy' subject, for instance, a lecture with slides or readings, then you need to try and judge what is a suitable duration to keep the audience's attention.

It's tricky but the vast majority of times I get it right.

My thanks for the transport from Bournemouth and back.

Sandown Probus, Surrey and Haywards Heath & District U3A Open Meeting, West Sussex

Timings also played an important part in my next two bookings. Both involved delivering my talk on Patrick Campbell but in versions 35 and 75 minutes long respectively! But neither were after lunches and there were no problems.

The first was a return visit to the excellent Sandown Probus Club in Esher where I had last spoken just nine months earlier. Their business meeting was, as usual, a very humorous affair and then it was time for me to deliver my Patrick Campbell talk in a 35-minute slot, probably the shortest version I've ever done (the usual running time for it is 50 - 55 minutes plus questions).

But it wasn't a problem. I simply had to include the most important facts and some of the funniest stories between the introduction and conclusion.

Public Speaking Tip #436:  If you are asked to deliver a shorter-than-usual version of a long presentation then approach it in this way:

-Edit material rather than trying to deliver the same amount by speaking rapidly!;

-If you have a strong introduction and conclusion then leave these alone unless you can see a way to cut them down without affecting their impact;

-Choose the most important facts but trim some of the background/additional detail;

-Cut down any lists where possible;

-Leave in at least some of the humorous content - and allow time for laughter!;

-Retain some audience participation as you still need to keep your audience involved in this shorter version.

It fitted the time and got the usual great response from the members. Afterwards I was once again their guest for lunch at Imber Court Sports Club. My thanks also for the lift from station.

Two days later I was the guest speaker at a quarterly Open Meeting of the Haywards Heath and District U3a in West Sussex. The talk for this well-attended event (around 120 seated theatre-style in the Clair Hall) needed to be around 75 minutes plus questions and divided into two parts.

This enabled me to add some extra content which usually has to be omitted and to really ramp up the humorous stories.

Public Speaking Tip #437: If you are asked to deliver a longer-than-usual version of a presentation this obviously gives you the chance to include plenty of extra material and detail but any new additions must be as worthy of your audience's attention as your usual content. You cannot just pad out a talk with filler - there must be a sound reason for any new item's inclusion.

Delivering a talk in two parts really involves some planning concerning the interval. This should come at a logical point - and leave the audience wanting to come back for the second half!

With two-part versions of My Life as a Freelance Comedy Writer I often finish the first section by playing a recording of a comedy sketch I wrote about a frequently-inebriated public figure. It involves lots of wonderful sounds of clinking bottles and it's a nice joke to tell the audience that they can now go to the bar. Even if they're just breaking for tea and biscuits it still works!

With Patrick Campbell I chose a crucial point in his life story.

Public Speaking Tip #438: If you are considering how to divide a presentation into two parts then the break needs careful planning:

-Humour helps. Is there a joke or funny story that leads smoothly into an interval?;

-For a biographical lecture you might end the first half at a life-changing moment in your subject's story, thus keeping the audience in suspense!;

-With a 'how-to' talk you obviously need to complete a particular piece of instruction before the break; you will probably also need to do a (very brief) recap afterwards;

-When planning where to break off, remember that this still has to fit in with the timing of the event. You  might have a brilliantly apt way to finish the first part of your presentation but if you deliver it at 15.00  and the refreshments aren't due to be served until 15.15 then the organisers probably won't thank you for it - especially if the second half overruns!

My material again fitted the time. One interesting point: an additional story I included featured the Irish place name Dún Laoghaire and I pronounced this as an English person would! Afterwards a lady (very politely) put me right: it's pronounced 'Dunleary'. I shall know from now on - and will probably impress any Irish audience members (rather as I did with the Romsey-born 41 Club member by pronouncing the name of that Hampshire town correctly!)

Public Speaking Tip #439: Knowledgeable audience members will sometimes correct your errors, for example, where pronunciation of names is concerned. Listen and learn!

A great audience and some decent sales for 'Nick R's in a Twist!'

Mudeford Ladies Club, Christchurch

My last talk for July was on My Life as a Freelance Comedy Writer for the well-attended, hospitable and very appreciative Mudeford Ladies Club in Stanpit Village Hall.

Coaching an over-correcting Councillor!

My success in coaching a Mayor-Elect a few weeks earlier led to a fellow councillor wanting some training from me.

One thing I noticed very quickly when they delivered a short sample speech for me was their tendency to over-correct: they would keep going back and correcting what they had just said - even if something was only slightly wrong. Perfectionism is fine - but not at the expense of your audience. Constant restarting of sentences is distracting and annoying.

There are times when you will definitely need to correct yourself, such as when you have made a glaring factual error. (Sometimes this even happens with content you have delivered many times in the past if your concentration lapses). It is possible to correct yourself with the minimum of distracting fuss, perhaps by now stating the correct version of that part of the sentence and then just adding the word '...rather' afterwards.

Occasionally you may only realise several sentences later that you have stated something incorrectly. It is sometimes possible to bring that phrase back into your content, this time stating it correctly - don't harp back to your earlier mistake, keep moving forward.

Of course, there are also those times when you will say something quite innocently that turns out to be an unfortunate innuendo - in which case the audience's laughter will soon let you know! Under these comic circumstances you can correct yourself very obviously and the audience won't mind - you might even be able to ad-lib about the double-meaning!

Public Speaking Tip #440: Don't correct yourself during a speech unless it's absolutely necessary; constant fussing over tiny errors distracts and alienates an audience who may not have noticed them anyway. Regular rehearsal of your material - whether it's new or very familiar - will lessen the risk of mistakes. And if you do have to restate something correctly then do so with the minimum of fuss.

I have mentioned here before about how even top West End actors make mistakes on stage but simply restate the line correctly then carry on as if nothing has happened.

I have also mentioned that public speaking is not about being perfect - it's about being the best you can be on the day.



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: May - 6 talks, movie-makers and Mayor-making

Bear Cross Townswomen's Guild, Bournemouth

My first talk in quite a busy May was a third visit to the Bear Cross TG at the Bearwood Community Centre. I spoke about The Power of Humour in Everyday Life and got an excellent response.

Many clubs and societies ask guest speakers to sign a beautifully-produced Visitors' Book and it's always fascinating to read these (speakers often write in the title of their talk as well as the date and sometimes there's a space for some nice comments about the club as well).

I have a pretty good memory of when I did most of my talks (and quite a collection of old diaries to help me as well!) but I was surprised to read that my last visit to them was in March 2005 and that my first was in September 2002.

Public Speaking Tip #409: Take the opportunity to glance through a club or society's Visitors' Book after you have signed it. Not only does it bring back some happy memories of past bookings, it's also a reminder of what a constant these organisations represent in their community.

Wimborne Probus Club, Dorset

Two days later I spoke about the same subject after a very good lunch with the Wimborne Probus Club at the Cobham Sports and Social Club in Merley, my fourth visit to them. My talk on Life as a Freelance Comedy Writer Part 2 went very well; my thanks for the lift back to Wimborne.

Bournemouth and District Group of Advanced Motorists

I had a second booking that day, this time an evening talk on My Life As A Freelance Comedy Writer for the Bournemouth and District IAM at Kinson Community Centre. This was an emergency booking taken at 24 hours' notice. I had actually delivered this talk for them back in July 2001 but the content and their membership had changed a bit since then (and a decade had passed!) so I was able to speak without feeling that everyone had heard it all before!

With this being a Bournemouth group I included plenty of local anecdotes. There were less than 20 in the audience but they were fantastically receeptive and a very decent percentage bought copies of 'Nick R's in a Twist!' afterwards.

SARA, Bournemouth

I had yet another repeat booking the following Tuesday morning, this time for SARA, the Southbourne Active Retirement Association, although since the demolition of their old venue the Grange, this is another group which now meets in Boscombe at the Liston Hotel. My subject this time: Patrick Campbell. I last spoke to them in June 2004 and it was pleasing to see that this club is still well-attended.

Coaching a local government employee

The following afternoon I spent a couple of hours coaching a lady whose work involves delivering presentations for audiences ranging widely in number for a council department.

As is so often the case, more than anything else it was a detailed look at the structure and content of her presentations that gave her a different approach and increased her confidence.

Public Speaking Tip #410: You may think that you are struggling with your public speaking because there is something wrong with your delivery. This may be the case but are you sure the main problem isn't your material? Focus on both for the best results!


Regular readers will know that I love speaking in Kent and for my last two engagements in May I was fortunate enough to have two bookings in that county on the same day!

The first was an afternoon talk about My Life as a Freelance Comedy Writer for the Barming Active Retirement Association at Fant Hall. A very well-attended meeting (these clubs always are!) and the usual brilliant Kent response.

They were also kind enough to write this about my talk in their Newsletter:

"Last month our Speaker was Nick Thomas who regaled us with stories about his life as a comedy scriptwriter. Nick's overriding premise was that observing real life provides much more comedy material than that of imagination. Nick spent many years as scriptwriter for the "Huddlines" and told many stories about the stars including meeting Julian Clary in make-up. Nick speaks at many WI and ARA-type meetings and always remembers Enoch Powell's maxim. "When given a time limit for your speech, always start with a full bladder as this gives you a sense of urgency". We listened to an excerpt of the Boris Yeltsin sketch and to the story of the plumber Barry Ballcock and the Space Station. This, and stories about John Wayne Bobbit and Willington Court, ended a very enjoyable time listening to him".

And I had a very enjoyable time visiting you, BARMARA!

(Incidentally, the Willington Court story, included in 'Nick R's in a Twist!', is a tale about something that happened following a WI talk in Kent and is one that I always include when speaking there. You can see from its mention in the above testimonial how this tailoring of material was appreciated).

My thanks for the lifts from the station and back.

Orpington Video and Film Makers, Kent

The second booking that day was for a presentation I hadn't delivered since November 2005! It was the version of my instructional scriptwriting talk 'Write Funny' that I give to video and audio visual clubs.

The organisation was the long-established and very respected OVFM who meet in the Barnard Room at St Augustine's Church in Petts Wood.

The main challenge with this version of the talk is that I have written far more for radio than I have for visual media such as television, corporate video or fringe theatre and cabaret. But I draw on the experiences I have had with those and fully exploit them, for example by including useful behind-the-scenes anecdotes from my own TV appearances. I also include tips from my radio scriptwriting (both comedy and documentary work) that can also apply to film-makers, adapting them where necessary.

Public Speaking Tip #411: If you are asked to deliver a 'how-to' presentation relating to a field that seems slightly different from your own then make the most of any relevant experiences you have had and take useful information from your own sphere and adapt it to apply to the audience.

And it must work because three years after that last talk for Wimborne Minster Cine and Video Club I met one of their members who told me that they were still saying complimentary things about it!

I arrived early in Petts Wood and went for a meal at a nice Mexican diner. I used the time I was in there to add final touches to my talk and then made my way back to the station to meet their Secretary Freddy Beard.

Public Speaking Tip #412: You may feel that your presentation is ready to deliver but you could still make use of any spare time before you're due to speak for last-minute editing/mental rehearsals.

I was introduced to Chris Coulson, the very welcoming Chairman of this really friendly club and any concerns about relevance of material were soon forgotten, in fact, allowing time for questions, I had more than enough to fill a talk that was over an hour long!

Afterwards, a member commenting on their site's Club Matters section said:

"I thought that Nick Thomas’s talk was interesting and good fun to listen to".

And Freddy sent me this lovely email:

"...what members wrote in our magazine –

'The Nick Thomas evening was very entertaining and full of fun anecdotes. …… people said that they’d been inspired with an idea for a film …'

'Short, sharp gags …good for our general objective of making shorter rather than longer films…'

All in all, everyone had good things to say so we thank you very much for visiting us".

Coaching another Mayor-elect 

In 2010 I helped the Mayor-elect of a town prepare for their Mayor-making ceremony speech and the same council wanted me to do the same for their successor.

This Mayor wanted their speech to include a certain amount of information about what various council departments and committees were doing (a ceremony like this is, after all, a council meeting open to the public).

This involved rehearsing some long and detailed sections. It was not always possible to edit these but we could at least work on breaking them up with pauses in certain places.

Public Speaking Tip #413: If you have some complicated essential content in your speech which cannot be reworded then at least try and make it more palatable for your listeners, for example, by breaking up long sentences into shorter sections where possible and including pauses.

We worked together over a number of sessions and I attended the ceremony and then sent feedback to the Mayor who had worried about speeding up on the day but actually delivered a perfectly-paced speech.

This was no small achievement; I think it is fair to say that, with the exception of a new Mayor's family and friends, the audiences at these events are not exactly the warmest! They include former Mayors and councillors, some political opponents and members of the public who are obsessive about very close followers of local politics!

Public Speaking Tip #414: As speakers we would all love to bring the house down every time but sometimes we need to be realistic about certain types of audiences. Once we accept how challenging they may be we can at least work on exceeding their expectations.

And that is what happened here. Despite becoming immediately busy with the first of hundreds of engagements, the new Mayor sent me this email testimonial:

"Hello Nick, Thank you again for your help and input with my speech, I must say the result was very pleasant, I have had very positive feedback, things like “ You were better than I thought you would be” and the Chief Executive said “It was just the right length and content”. So thanks again. I felt so confident after our sessions. I am pleased it went so well, and that you enjoyed listening to its final version. Thank you again for sharing your expertise with me".

My pleasure!