Swellboy on… public speaking

Fixing a fear of speeches (with the help of an incontinent Egyptian god)

Unaccustomed as I am to public speaking, I do it just about often enough to know that I do not like it one bit. On a good day I can just about manage to keep a conversation ticking over across a dinner table, but haranguing a room is a very different matter. Nevertheless, one of the great human capacities is forgetfulness. Were it not for the passage of time and its softening effect on the memory we would only do such things as run a marathon or fall in love the once, the scorching sensation in the lungs and pain of a broken heart remaining forever intense in our library of memory.

Take the painful recollection of my speech to a small crowd in a darkened room at the end of the Masterpiece fair; the rain drumming persistently on what sounded suspiciously like a roof made of some corrugated material selected precisely for its sound-carrying, precipitation-amplifying qualities. Had this motorway pileup of a performance remained clear in my mind, I would never have stood on the business end of a lectern ever again.

Instead of which I wound up in New York, shuffling my papers and clearing my throat before addressing the assembled heads of the American watch trade at an event hosted by the Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie. I accepted for a number of reasons: I like watches; they offered a fee; and, without getting too worthy, I like the work that the Fondation does to promote the cultural aspect of watchmaking. If you are a regular reader of How To Spend It you might have noticed that I contribute the occasional article on watches (if you are kind enough to read them, thank you very much). I am fortunate enough to write about a subject that fascinates me, and it is my aim to try and convey some of that enthusiasm in what I write or, in this case, say.

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However, I did recall enough of the Masterpiece debacle to know that I needed to have some training to alter my usual method of delivery: eyes welded firmly to the closely typed pages, speech speeded up to bring the torture to an end more rapidly. So, on the recommendation of Mr Technopolis Jonathan Margolis, who pursues a lucrative parallel career as a motivational speaker in demand everywhere from Birmingham to the Bosphorus, I booked a few hours with a coach and spent a couple of afternoons with Ian Hawkins. I cannot recommend him highly enough, his method involves different coloured crayons (although at a pinch felt tips will do), a minimum point size of 16 and such handy, if drastic, tips as recording your speech on your computer (for those using Mr Gates’s Windows operating system, there is a sound recorder in the accessories folder) and then forcing yourself to listen to it.

What is more, this time I had god on my side – not the monotheist variety, but an entertaining deity from Ancient Egypt, a baboon called Thot, who invented writing and the calendar and used to urinate 12 times a day, from which it was but a short leap of the imagination to the two times 12 hours of the day. I figured that time spent listening to a speech that informs you about the urinary habits of the gods of antiquity cannot be time wasted.

It is a public-speaking pointer that I pass on to you, and will be suggesting that, along with his large print and coloured pencils, Ian add the necessity of scatological references to the ancient gods as one of his public-speaking fail-safes. If only I had had Ian and Thot alongside me on that wet and dreary afternoon at Masterpiece.

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