Only once do I remember a speaker who dismayed us all. He was some sort of psychotherapist, I suspect not medically qualified at all. He didn’t name anyone, of course, but the salacious soft-porn stories of abuse, sexual hang-ups and so on that he related left us all silenced. We didn’t learn anything useful, just felt dirty. When he was near the suggested end time of his talk, he asked if he should draw to a close or carry on as he had lots more stories? The then President tactfully said that she felt it was time to finish.
Most speakers were good to great. I remember most the ones who got us doing stuff, even if it wasn’t something I really was inclined to do, such as painting or lino cuts. I have no artistic bent, but I can enthuse for an hour, even if I never go back to it. One very pleasant speaker met her match with us, though that had been no one’s intention.
She had been engaged to talk on Public Speaking. And I can’t remember much of what she said, to be truthful, but she ended with an exercise in speaking and asked for volunteers. That was her first mistake. She should have latched on to the women who didn’t want to speak and avoided her eye. But Adèle, Gill, Mandy – confident professionals, two teachers and a midwife, were among those who offered their services, not knowing what she was going to ask of them. She produced a cloth bag, which she said had a number of items in it; she’d ask each woman to take an item and then speak off the cuff for two minutes about it.
30 years ago, even, a lot of people were up for that. Of course, what she wanted was for them to hesitate, get tongue-tied and then she’d be able to explain some good techniques for when we’re out of our depth and feeling shy in front of people. What she got, however, were practised, entertaining raconteurs who could talk on any given subject at the drop of a hat.
Gill came first and she drew out a credit card. She admitted that she didn’t have a credit card herself, but then she told a very funny story about the time a friend’s credit card saved the day. I can’t remember if they sprung a lock with it or used it as a scraper; the story doesn’t matter but the telling of it was the point. Then Adèle had us all rocking with laughter at her tale, which I think was about a battery, Mandy followed on, then Kath – I can’t remember who the last person was, but everyone kept to their time, which is part of the knack too, was funny and/or informative and no one dried. The poor speaker must have been gutted, however smartly she pulled herself together. She acknowledged that those speakers had little to learn from her and just told us what they’d done right.
At that time, I didn’t have the knack, but now I do. I can talk about anything at any time to any number of people. It helps if they don’t know more about it than I do, of course. I used to find it very hard, but several years of doing extempore votes of thanks at Nadfas lectures eliminated all nerves and I worked out my own techniques.