Speaking in front of a group of people terrifies me. I blush, talk too quickly and lose the thread of what I’m saying. It’s an experience I go out of my way to avoid.But wouldn’t it be great to face an audience confidently and be relaxed about getting the message across? I am a writer not a speaker. I prefer the pen to the microphone. But being able to give talks or run workshops is an extra, marketable, skill that every writer should have. And that’s why I turned up to my first ever meeting of the Sutton Coldfield Speakers’ Club in September 2013.
Pam, the club’s president immediately made me feel welcome and gave me the programme for the evening. Then Shirley took me under her wing and explained how everything worked – from the coloured timing lights at the back of the room and the evaluations of the speeches to the ‘Topics’ section after the interval. At this point I felt relaxed. I’d come to spectate and decide whether or not Sutton Coldfield Speakers’ Club was for me – there was nothing difficult in that. The first half of the meeting was good. I enjoyed Bob and Mark’s holiday-themed prepared talks (although I did doubt that I’d ever be able to hold an audience’s attention like they did). Simon’s educational speech, ‘How to Tell a Story’, gave the writer side of me much food for thought.
There was an exodus to the bar during the break. That’s when I was ambushed and asked if I’d like to say a few words during the Topics section. My initial reaction was to shout No! But a group of faces were looking at me expectantly. I began to wish I hadn’t come. Then I realised how silly it would be to refuse to speak. I’d have to do it sometime if I really wanted to learn. Best to get it over with now, I decided – if the experience was too horrific than I needn’t turn up to anymore meetings. David, the Topics chairman, called each speaker in turn to do a short impromptu talk on a topic related to Holidays. I barely heard them – I was too busy trying to concoct my own words in my head. I was called last and launched into a sales pitch for The Cleveland Way, which I had walked earlier in the summer. Not surprisingly, I ran out of words before I my time was up – but because I was new that was OK. I returned to my seat, slightly shaky and greatly relieved that the torture was over.
But as I drove home I began to feel elated. I’d achieved something – I’d actually spoken in front of a group of strangers! I hope to find the courage to do it again and if I can do it – anyone can!
Sally Jenkins 9/10/13
Sally Jenkins’ Amazon author page can be found here.
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