Fireworks

I’ve compered many events for companies over the years, but I’ve never compered a bonfire night before. Until now.

On November 4th I was at the global headquarters of Boots to run the stage at their 7th annual fireworks night.
It was for their staff, but as Boots is such a massive company, there were over four thousand there.
I was the MC on the night alongside Radio Derby’s Johnny Kinch.

A great time was had by all. Johnny has a great voice and serenaded the crowd with some great tunes. Highlight of the night was probably his duet with EMT weather man and One Show reporter Des Coleman. Both those boys can sing.
Low point was my rendition of Delilah. I’ve heard Stoke City fans sing it more tunefully than I managed, but I was trying to encourage people up onto the stage to do some karaoke. If I’d been good they wouldn’t have felt comfortable coming up. Was I any good? Let’s just say lots of people felt they could do better and we had a queue of willing participants all night.

A local band called The Fakers came up to do some songs and went down a storm. I had to keep interrupting them because we had a three year old girl who’d lost her parents. Much as I was enjoying their Brit pop covers, nothing is more important than a lost child. The biggest cheer of the night came when we found the parents. The Fakers were very good about my interruptions.

Best of all the people from Boots were happy and you can read the comments on my testimonial page above.

Jem

Splitting my trousers on stage in Johannesburg

I’m smiling in the picture above, but a few hours earlier I wasn’t feeling as comfortable. I was in Johannesburg at the Professional Speakers Association of Southern Africa’s international convention. It was held at the very swanky Emperors Palace, so swanky it doesn’t have an apostrophe. I was honoured to be the only European to be asked to speak on the main stage at the three day event, but there was a big surprise in store for me. A real ripper.

Maybe I’m getting a little too big for my boots, with lots of positive feedback recently, but as I took to the stage, I realised I’d got a little too big for my pants. As the previous speaker left the stage, I bent down to connect my laptop to the projector and felt the seat of my trousers tear open.

At that point the MC introduced me and I ran onto the stage with my trousers flapping open at the back. (see pic below, taken afterwards in my hotel room)

I decided to come clean and tell the audience what had happened, but of course they didn’t believe me. I was there to give a talk called Putting the ‘U’ in Humour, about using comedy to brighten up your speeches, so of course they all thought it was part of the act. I think some of them still do.

It took me a few minutes to regain my composure. If I seemed a little two dimensional, it was because I wanted to stay front on to the crowd of one hundred odd professional speakers. Some of them very odd. In the end I just turned round, showed them my pants, took the humiliation and moved on. At least it was an icebreaker and I received some lovely comments. Some were about my speech, but mostly of course about my pants.

The event was brilliantly organised by Michael Manley and Andy Brough, seen with me below. I’ve still got that slightly wild look in my eye, even though I’ve now changed into my dinner suit.

The previous night I was invited to dinner by my good friend Paul Du Toit along with Gustav Gouss, the President of the PSASA and many other former presidents and global presidents and some soon to be presidents. I seemed to the only one who had never stood for presidential office. I do have the box set of The West Wing, so maybe that’s why I was allowed in. (I would kill for a re-elect President Bartlett bumper sticker)

There’s always someone at these events who decides to go native. On this occasion it was NSA President Phil Van Hooser. It’s not everyone who can keep their dignity in that sort of African headgear, but I think Phil pulls it off.

I’m always amazed at how friendly speakers are. My background is in the broadcasting world, where it’s dog eat dog. The speaking world is very different, with everyone offering tips to each other and being very supportive.
At the gala dinner I sat next to Craig Ferreira who speaks about great white sharks. A few days later I found myself a guest at his home in Cape Town, enjoying a lovely meal with his family.

Gary Bailey is South Africa’s equivalent of Gary Lineker. He fronts the football on the SuperSport channel. UK football fans will remember him as the white haired South African who played in goal for Manchester United in the eighties and won some England caps before injury ended his career early. He went back to SA and played for the Kaizer Chiefs, the team not the band and then moved into TV.
He now does a lot of professional speaking, and does a great job in promoting the benefits of the World Cup to the people of South Africa and the world. He was inducted into the speakers hall of fame at the event, along with Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

I loved the South Africa event. I saw some brilliant speakers like Steff Du Plessis, Billy Selekane and Anton van der Post. Paul Du Toit made the compering look easy with his relaxed yet authoritative style.

I’ve been invited to speak at various events as a result of my trip and I hope to get back to South Africa later in the year to fulfill some of those. I’ve cancelled plans to attend the World Cup itself as it was going to be so expensive, but I’ll be cheering on Bafana Bafana along with England, and blowing my vuvuzela, which has already had a trip to the hallowed turf of the Boleyn Ground, Upton Park.

Jem – back from South Africa 10th May 2010

Get back on the stage

You’re brilliant. You should be on the stage. And there’s another one leaving in fifteen minutes.

This is an old joke from the days of the Wild West, as told by members of the National Speakers Association of Dodge City.

Of course, stage coaches are long since gone. They would have been gone a lot quicker if their wheels hadn’t gone backwards in the old films. Something to do with motion capture and frames per second.

But the point remains. If you are good, you should be on the stage. If you speak for a living, get on that stage. If you have to speak at events because of your expertise, get on that stage. If you are invited to a venue, to speak to an audience and there is a stage at the front of that audience…..stand on it. Do not get off it. No matter how much the room starts spinning, plant your feet firmly and command that stage.

If you get off that stage and start walking about in the audience, you have stopped being a speaker and you have become a trainer.  Not that there’s anything wrong with trainers. I own several pairs. They are very comfortable and supportive and make me feel like running.

Of course when times are hard, like most speakers, I do my fair share of training. But I keep it quiet. The training page of my website has a WordPress widget which is an animated librarian who makes a Shush noise.

No of course it doesn’t, but here comes the point of this article. (It’s a bit like the L’Oreal advert where you have to sit through a lot of hair flicking, before you come to the science bit.)

I compere events, where there are many speakers across the day. I watch in horror as speaker after speaker, leaves the stage to wander among the audience. They’ve probably been to some session on presentation skills, where they are told it makes them appear more human, if they connect with the audience. Let me tell you, this is nonsense.  If you are on the stage people can see you better because you are in the light and you are raised up. They can hear you better because that’s where the microphone works best, without feeding back on the speakers.  Besides who wants to be human? No-one pays to hear a mere human speak, they want a guru.

The other week I was at an event, where six  out of eight speakers left the stage during their talk.  It meant the people in the front were having to crane their necks round to see them. The camera operators were struggling to find them in the dark. The shorter speakers might as well have been in a hole, for all we could see of them. (Yes I admit it, I’m only5’8″, that’s why I like the stage.)

You don’t have to stay on the podium or behind the lectern. It’s OK to move about, whatever Toastmasters tell you. But it’s not OK to get off the stage. It just isn’t. Not unless you are luminous, tall and have a very loud voice.

God invented stages so we could stand on them.   OK maybe it wasn’t actually God, but Jesus was a carpenter and he probably built a few stages for the Nazareth Speakers Association in his time.  When he was talking to his followers he probably couldn’t afford a stage, so he would stand on a hill. We’ve all heard of the Sermon on the Mount. Well we wouldn’t have heard of it, if it had been the Sermon in the Hollow, because no-one would have been able to see or hear Jesus.

So the next time you are onstage talking to an audience and you are tempted to go amongst the people, please don’t. It’s not big and it’s not clever.

I would have given individual feedback to all the so called speakers, who wandered off the stage in search of the common touch, but they wouldn’t have thanked me for it. I’m not Simon Cowell.  Besides, they all had more than enough feedback on the day, because they wandered too close to the loudspeakers!

Jeremy Nicholas  – 19th May 2010 – David Lloyd, Hampton, Middlesex, UK

(If all the world’s a stage, where are the audience going to sit?)