Monday, September 01, 2008

Telling Stories in Public

Michael Simkins, a London-based actor and author, speaks about his experience of telling stories and concludes that it is harder than it looks, so, it is better to leave it to the professionals:

…The problem is there are so many factors beyond your control: the venue, the acoustics, whether your audience want to hear what you’ve got to tell them: even (and here I speak from bitter personal experience), which person has preceded you on the platform.

The occasion in question was a big charity fund-raising dinner at which I was asked to speak earlier this year. I went fully prepared with notes, gags, anecdotes: even with a touching personal homily to end with. And as I was the only speaker, it seemed I couldn’t fail.

With my big moment fast approaching, the Master of Ceremonies ambled over to have a word. “I’ll just do a couple of minutes to warm them through, and then introduce you,” he assured me.

In fact, his two-minute introduction turned out to be 10 of the funniest minutes of live comedy I’ve ever heard. It transpired he was one of the country’s most skilful toastmasters and raconteurs, and within seconds of taking the microphone he had the audience rocking with laughter.

His material may have been politically incorrect, and was undoubtedly plagiarised…but the gags came at a rate dizzying enough to have had Seinfeld himself reaching for the smelling salts.

He finished to a standing ovation. “And now, please welcome our guest for tonight and a very funny man…” I weaved my way between the chairs like a man on his way to the scaffold. I was reminded of the old music hall line: “There’s something running down my leg, I hope it’s sweat.”

Twelve of the longest minutes of my life later, I wandered back to my now-congealing dinner to a ripple of polite applause. By contrast with my predecessor, I’d hardly raised a titter. Never mind, at least I could enjoy my meal; except it had been cleared away while I had been speaking. I ended up getting a kebab from a nearby takeaway. Greasy meat skewered on a wooden stake: it seemed a fitting metaphor for my experience.

Source and to read the rest of the article:
Michael Simkins, Advice from a Professional on Public Speaking: Don’t, The National, 31 August 2008.

Dr Geoff Pound

Image: “Greasy meat skewered on a wooden stake: it seemed a fitting metaphor for my experience.”