How to make the move into After Dinner Speaking

The formation of PADS – PSA After Dinner Speakers

I’ve formed a Professional Expert Group (PEG) for After Dinner Speakers who belong to the Professional Speaking Association. This weekend, at the Hilton Hotel, Coventry I spoke at the PSA annual convention, giving a session on how to make the move into after dinner speaking and was encouraged that twenty five of the one hundred odd speakers (some of them very odd)  have signed up to say they’re interested. You can join the group here.

When I first joined PSA back in 2007 I was surprised to find lots of brilliant speakers who specialise in motivational talks, marketing, sales, every aspect of business you can think of, but very few after dinner speakers. There are some brilliant ones of course; Graham Davies, Kenny Harris, John Hotowka, Alan Stevens and the rest, but as a breed we are outnumbered.

That’s a shame, because I come across a lot of after dinner speakers outside of the PSA, and a lot of them are rubbish. I think the time has come for action. I’m fed up of choking on my chicken dinners watching ex politicians, sports stars and TV presenters, serve up the same old reheated fare. So I’m proposing to form the PADS – PSA After Dinner Speakers. This will be a PEG, something that is very popular amongst NSA speakers in the USA, which will help us connect, collaborate, and exchange ideas. I don’t have any fixed ideas on how it will work, but I think the first thing will be a LinkedIn group, which I’ll set up this week.

Will we have outside meetings? Probably not.

Will we meet up at PSA conventions? Definitely yes, probably in the sauna and swimming pool.  Maybe we could meet up at PSA chapter meetings too? I’m sure no region would mind us hijacking their meeting, as long as we all did ten minutes of entertainment each!

If you didn’t sign up, but would like to join the group please contact me. The only condition for entry is that you are an associate, member or fellow of the Professional Speaking Association. You don’t have to be an experienced after dinner speaker, just someone with an interest in moving into that area.

I look forward to sharing chicken dinners with you in the future!

Jeremy Nicholas – PSA

If you have any questions, please contact me:

07802 251530         jem@jeremynicholas.co.uk       www.JeremyNicholas.co.uk

You can join the PSA After Dinner Speakers group here

Join the Professional Speaking Association here

 A SUMMARY OF MY SESSION ON AFTER DINNER TO PSA11

What’s the difference between after dinner and keynote speeches? – After dinner doesn’t have a core message, it just has to be entertaining. (There’s no take away, unless you count a doggy bag!)

Does it have to be funny? – No, but it does have to be entertaining. Don’t be put off by the expectation that you have to be funny. It’s not stand-up comedy; it’s story telling.

What works best? – True stories from your own life. I’ve seen great talks by adventurers, vicars, war veterans. No need for a message but a running theme through the stories works well.

How long do you have to do? – Typically 30-40 minutes, but I’ve done 20, 30, 40, 45, 50 and 60 minute talks. (But even I think 60 minutes of me is too much!)

How do you write them? – My advice is to write down your ten best stories; the ones that go down best at weddings when you are telling them to the person you’ve never met before, who’s sitting beside you. I have 10 x 5 minute stories. For a 30 minute talk, I pick the 6 stories that will work best for the audience. My stories work in any order. They can all be lengthened if going well and shortened if they are getting no reaction.

What about swearing? – I never swear, but some after dinner speakers do. If in doubt, leave it out. Some speakers put a swear word into a punchline of a story to signal it’s the moment to laugh. Be warned, it usually gets a laugh, but you may be alienating a silent minority.

Should I do unpaid gigs? – Yes. Hone your material at networking groups, rotary groups, golf clubs, Ladies who Lunch etc. They won’t pay you, but you’ll get a free dinner. This will invariably be chicken. In a sense you should pay them, because they are helping you find out what bits of your routine work, and what doesn’t. You’ll know you’re doing well, the first time you are served beef.

How do I get paid gigs? – Contact groups in the Directory of British Associations. Contact local firms and organisations. They all have dinners coming up. After dinner is big in the next few months as people have Christmas parties.

What about speaker bureaus? – Forget it to start with. They’re obsessed with celebrities who’ll help get bums on seats at the event. Your best bet is to build up a reputation and get referrals from gig to gig.

Can you make a living out of it? – There are only a few people who do, but it’s a brilliant extra income stream, because it’s in the evenings and you can do other things during the day. (Like playing golf!)

Do I have to sit with them during the dinner? – You don’t have to, but I usually do. It goes down well and you’ll often pick up extra gigs, because you’ll usually be on the table with the Big Cheeses. (Tell them if you are lactose intolerant).

Won’t they keep asking me questions about my talk? – Yes that can be a problem, so you need to avoid stories that are in your upcoming act. Instead try and deflect their enquiries about your life, which will inevitably have crossover with your talk, by asking lots of questions to the people at dinner. You’ll pick up great information that you can add to the first few minutes of your talk, which will show you’ve personalised it for them. They’ll love you for it.

What about getting into the zone before speaking? – Unlike keynote speaking, there’s no hiding behind the stage until you are introduced. However I sometimes miss out the pudding course and go to the loo, just to check my tie is straight, my hair isn’t sticking up and I’ve got my notes handy.

You use notes! – Yes I have each 5 minute story on a 6×4 white index card. I have them in front of me during the talk and rarely refer to them. If I do, they’re conveniently placed next to my glass of water, so it looks like I’m having a drink. I have a terrible memory. No-one minds if you use notes but they do mind if you forget your act. And I’m not sure if I mentioned it, but I have a terrible memory.

What about the topical/local mentions? – They’re on separate blank cards which I fill in during the meal. I do sometimes hold them up to read, especially if there’s names of people in the room that I want to make sure I get right.

What if they don’t laugh or react to my stories? – If a line doesn’t get the reaction I want for three gigs in a row, I drop it. It’s three strikes and you’re out! Even if I think it’s the best line in the world, it goes. You have to be brutal.

What can I do to make them react? – Build to your punchline, then pause, pause and pause again. When you say your killer line, you have to give them permission to laugh, gasp in horror or whatever. In the end they will react, even if it’s just because you are staring at them.

Should I be jokey? – You don’t have to act funny to be funny. You’re not a clown, you are a speaker. Jack Dee is hilarious, but looks miserable. Whatever nonsense you’ve heard about presentation being all about body language, forget it. The most important bits are the words, the story and your story telling ability.

Should I wear a suit? – Yes always dress at a higher or equal level than your audience. It gives you a higher status. Lots of storytelling, particularly humorous stories work better if you are perceived as high status. You want them laughing with you, not at you. Don’t wear a Mickey Mouse tie, unless you are the CEO of Disney.

Do you stand at the table to speak? – Usually yes, but I move into the light if there is one, and I go on the stage if there is one. I’m always looking for light and height. (I’m 5 ft 8 in)

Any more tips on writing after dinner talks? – I’ve got lots and I’ll be giving a masterclass on Using Humour at the PSA Midlands Chapter in Birmingham on 8th November 2011. You can find details and book here.

I hope that’s useful, if I can be of any help in kick starting your after dinner speaking career, please contact me:

Jem: 07802 251530         jem@jeremynicholas.co.uk       www.JeremyNicholas.co.uk

 

 

 

 

 

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