Public Speaking: A Life on the Road
For anyone new to public speaking, I thought a “Month in the Life” article might give you a flavour of life on the road. On average, I give between 8 to 10 talks each week. My car becomes my second home.
The winter months are always eventful in terms of weather I had talks cancelled due to snow, one cancelled due to flooding. I also cancelled a couple myself due to “woman flu” but definitely not coronavirus!
For a life on the road visiting venues in a number of counties; in both town and rural settings, you need to be prepared – in my car I always have at least one blanket, a kagool and a pair of boots. Phone charger is absolutely vital too.
Important to make sure you have refreshments; lemon squash and mint imperials are my mainstay…there’s probably a chunk of chocolate hiding somewhere in the car too (don’t tell the hubby though!) “Grazing” on the journey is an occupational hazard I find!
The logistics of life on the road
Apart from a few traffic jams, flooded roads and night-time road closures, my latest journeys haven’t been too bad.
Last year around the same time, I hit a huge pothole in a dark lane deep in the Cheshire countryside. My tyre was shredded not just punctured!
Fortunately, I had a mobile phone signal to call for help. Unfortunately, it took the help 1 hour and 45 minutes to get to me, despite my emphasising I was a woman on my own in the middle of nowhere at 10 o’clock at night!
At this point I didn’t have a phone charger in my car and my battery was running low; in-car charger purchased the next day.
I use my phone as a Sat Nav; what a blessing “live traffic” is! I admire the folks who valiantly continue using roadmaps to find their way around but when you’re setting off home after 10pm on a winter night in the middle of nowhere… why give yourself the extra headache of memorising a route?
To be quite frank, navigating yourself through strange towns is an equal nightmare; in daytime as well as darkness. Having a sat nav that kindly tells you exactly which lane you should be in as you approach a busy roundabout is a true blessing!
Live traffic predicts your arrival time to the minute but also offers alternative routes when the inevitable hold-ups occur on your route. Enabling me to warn groups if I am likely to be a little late is something which is very important to me; I hate to be late!
During the last month, the bulk of my work has been in my home county of Staffordshire and that has been entirely by design.
With the winter weather conditions, I tend to favour more local bookings. Nevertheless, I have given talks in Cheshire, Shropshire, Leicestershire, Warwickshire, Greater Manchester and the West Midlands. Just over 75% of recent talks have been in town locations.
This month I gave talks in posh hotels, numerous village halls/community centres, churches/church halls, libraries, a museum, care homes and retirement villages.
I had an entertaining time with one group who meet in their local primary school – their meeting was during half term and we arrived to find the school gates locked, bolted and barred! We then decamped to a member’s front room. Be prepared to be adaptable!
Be prepared too in terms of equipment. You may well have been assured of excellent facilities available on the premises but years of experience have again taught me to “be prepared”!
You arrive to find that the cable to connect to the TV for your presentation can’t be found, the bulb has blown on the projector, the white wall you can project on to has been decorated with floral wallpaper or the projector screen has been borrowed by the vicar!
I always have all of my own equipment in the car – laptop, projector, screen and stand. I generally ask only for a good-sized table and access to electricity.
I know many speakers don’t have their own equipment but I do feel that if you are offering a professional service you should be equipped to do the job!
I don’t have my own PA system as, for the vast majority of groups, I find that I don’t need amplification. I do feel that if groups are sufficiently large or meet in a venue with poor acoustics, then they should take responsibility for the sound. You may disagree but personally I’m not keen to carry any more “stuff”!
Consider your audience
Think about your audience too. My audiences are generally from the senior age group but then they are my target group for my living memory, social history-themed talks!
There are so many groups out there – WI’s and TWG’s, Garden Guilds, History Societies, U3As, National Trust groups, Probus clubs, Rotary and Inner Wheel, Faith groups, Carers clubs…the list is endless.
I am constantly surprised by the number of groups “new” to me which continue to pop up. This week alone I will be speaking to four groups completely new to me. Some groups I visit every month, some once a year.
The month did, however, see me talking to sixty 6-year olds in a local primary school – complete change of style clearly required but curiously both age groups seem equally entertained by things lavatorial!!!
I give lots of talks to groups of people whose different abilities and disabilities bring them together. Stroke Clubs and Parkinson’s Groups are some of my most frequently visited.
My talks are interactive so they bring opportunities for people who are coping with changes in their life to interact in a safe environment.
I also work with dementia groups where again delivery is adapted to suit client needs. I especially love working with people with visual impairments; so many challenges to delivery and the opportunity to practice a little audio description!
Generally, my audiences are mainly female, especially in the care and retirement settings but also in the community.
Women are more likely to be drawn towards talks and similar social interactions. Men’s groups often present a challenge I find; generally, they are not as comfortable with joining in, sharing and sometimes just responding to what is being said.
However, without exception, they are effusive with their thanks and expressions of enjoyment at the end!
Seek new opportunities
Going forward, we speakers face the challenges of some of the traditional groups (WI’s and TWG’s) struggling to keep going but being replaced by increasing numbers of Probus, U3A’s and friendship clubs – not to mention the wonderful retirement villages!
We also face the challenges of the transport infrastructure, impacts of climate change on the weather and external factors beyond our control, such as coronavirus.
However, there are so many exciting opportunities out there and hopefully being part of the Mirthy database will give us all a route into these new audiences.
Author: Kath Reynolds
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