Word About Town by Michelle Hodgson
The other day I was checking the venue address for a talk I was about to give when I realised I had misread the organiser’s email. With 20 minutes to go, I discovered that I was to speak not for 15 minutes but for an hour and 15 minutes.
The talk was on Creative Writing for the Women’s Institute group ‘Tea & Tarts’ and around 50 women were already heading to the Vajrapani Centre in Huddersfield.
After breathing into a paper bag for a couple of minutes, I decided I had three options: a) invent an ailing relative, b) develop a rare 24-hour virus affecting my vocal chords or c) turn up and extemporise – commonly known as winging it. Of course I chose c. I usually have too much to say for myself anyway, and it helps when you’re passionate about your subject.
Public speaking can be terrifying. Most people would rather volunteer for a bout of E. coli than the chance to stand up in front of an audience and make a fool of themselves. Recently, I attended a talk where the speaker – a well-known entrepreneur – said that whenever he gave a speech, he presumed 25% of the audience would think he was an idiot. Actually, he didn’t say idiot, but you get the idea.
“Unaccustomed as I am to public speaking” may be a cliché, but it’s true that many people only give speeches at family events such as weddings. And we’ve probably all got stories of a speech that went horribly wrong. I remember a ‘You’ve Been Framed’ clip of a groom who wanted to thank the bridesmaids but in his eagerness, swapped “thank” for “spank”. I’m sure the bride forgave him. Eventually.
When I was younger, I would never have imagined volunteering to speak in public. While the other girls at my comp seemed to ooze teenage confidence and knew exactly what to do with make-up, I was into sport, studying and science fiction. A total geek. Yet in the past month, I’ve given four speeches and presented a couple of author events in front of an audience – and enjoyed every one.
In the end it all went swimmingly, so if you have to give a speech, perhaps winging it is better than months of careful preparation. Just don’t go offering to spank the bridesmaids.
This column appeared in the June issue of The Eye (Huddersfield).
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