The Eye magazine (Huddersfield) June 2012 – The joys of public speaking

Word About Town by Michelle Hodgson

June 2012

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).


Word About Town, column in The Eye, June 2012


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