Saturday, 29 March 2014

Speaking to the Speakers

If anyone had ever told me, some years ago, that one day I'd be giving after dinner speeches, and actually enjoying the experience, I wouldn't have believed them. Until I was in my mid twenties, when work caused me to become an advocate, I had a deep-rooted antipathy to public speaking. And while advocacy involves public speaking, I always saw it as a contest, and handled it that way, focusing on trying to achieve success for my clients. Speaking to an audience is very different, and (for me) more difficult. I used to give quite a few lectures on legal topics, but tended to find it something of an ordeal, despite being familiar with my subject.

Things changed when I started talking about writing, and crime fiction. I still didn't find it easy, but I didn't shrink from it as much. Eventually, I more or less gave up legal lectures, and it's now years since I've given one. I once discussed the paradox with a colleague who is a very good and seemingly nerveless speaker, and his diagnosis was that, when I was talking about something I really loved, rather than merely something I had some knowledge about, it made a huge difference to my mental approach. I think he was right.

All this is by way of preamble to mention that on Thursday night, I delivered the second after dinner speech of my life. The first was on the subject of Sherlock Holmes, but this time I'd been invited to speak at, of all things, the annual banquet of a Cheshire club for after dinner speakers. So it was a bit daunting to be faced with a group who get together solely to develop their speaking skills.

However, all was all right on the night, and the audience and fellow speakers were kind to me, which definitely helped. One particular pleasure was to meet someone who had known my mother, and I found what she had to say about her very poignant and moving. It all made for quite a memorable evening. And, who knows, I may give another after dinner speech one of these days....

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