As Max Bygraves used to say, “I’m going to tell you a story”. One night my wife and I were watching one of those documentaries where experts advise people on how to improve their finances. They were telling their case-study families,
“Don’t just think about cutting your spending. Think about ways you can earn extra money, by servicing your neighbour’s car or taking in ironing.” I said to Janet “I know what I’d do. I’d give talks to local clubs.”
Years later Janet came home and told me her friend’s branch of The Women’s Club needed speakers. “They meet every week, with a speaker every fortnight, and they’re scraping the bottom of the barrel – so will you give them a talk?”
How could I refuse such a charming invitation! My speaking career was underway.
It’s great fun giving talks because I’m meeting new people all the time.
I enjoy speaking about my Am Dram hobby. And I do a Miscellany of Christmas Readings which now books up fast every November and December. Like Slade, Wham and Bing Crosby, I’m always heard a lot at Christmastime.
I also have two more talks which aim to prove that cricket and politics can actually be made interesting and entertaining.
Now I’m retired I have lots of time to do more talks, for WIs, U3As, Probus and many other groups. I list all my talks in a notebook, detailing where, when and to whom, and I asterisk them if they have gone especially well.
Not that I convince everyone with what I’m saying. In my talk about Prime Ministers, I start by saying that we should respect those who go into public life. Leaving after one such talk I was told by one of my audience, “I’d shoot the lot of ‘em!”
Successful speaking is about more than what you say. It’s about engaging with your audience, including eye contact.
Every audience is important, and every audience is different. As I stand to deliver, I look out at a sea of faces; anything from an estuary of ten to an ocean of 130.
I see different expressions on those faces. Some are smiling encouragement. Others show concentration, curiosity, or anxiety in case I’m going to fail. My first duty is to relieve them of that anxiety.
And it’s important not to be put off if someone looks uninterested. One lady frowned all through my talk, and then came and chatted afterwards, turning out to be quite the life and soul of the party. As with most things in life, it takes all sorts.
I’ll finish by quoting another late comedian. Because my main aim is to entertain, and my talks are educational only in the Ken Dodd sense of the word. “People go out saying ‘That’s taught me a lesson!’”