Fiona Joseph

The Women’s Institute, Townswomen’s Guild, University of the Third Age, Rotary, Probus, Inner Wheel, Tangent, Friendship Circles … Ever wondered what it’s like to be a Guest Speaker at one of these groups?

 I am a Birmingham author and public speaker and would like to share with you all what I have learned from the experience.

Lesson 1. Say yes to water, yes to tea, and no to the biscuits

Public speaking is thirsty work. If offered a glass of water or – even better – a jug always say yes. Afterwards, you’ll be given a cup of tea (or coffee, if that’s your poison) and that’s also very welcome. I make it a blanket rule to decline the offer of biscuits or cake as politely as possible. My middle-aged spread doesn’t need any help, alas.

Lesson 2. Don’t let nerves put you off

People often say to me, “You look so calm and centred when you’re speaking. I could never do what you do.” I’ll let you into a secret. I do feel nervous before every talk. My mouth dries. My arms and legs feel weird and tingly. At times my heart thuds so violently I’m amazed no-one can hear it. And guess what? This is entirely normal! The trick is to accept the nerves, and embrace them for what they are, i.e. a sign that you care. It’s helpful to remember too that the audience is on your side – they want you to succeed.

Fiona J

    University of the Third Age Halesowen 

Lesson 3. If your talk involves the use of technology, have a Plan B (and a Plan C)

If the group provides a digital projector then I like to show a Powerpoint slideshow of photographs to accompany my talk. My first choice, Plan A, is to use my iPad and my VGA cable which plugs into the group’s projector. Some groups ask for slides on a USB memory stick, which they then load onto the group’s laptop. I call this Plan B because it’s slightly less seamless and things can go wrong, like the time when the projector was all set up but no-one knew the laptop password!

But no matter. That’s why I always have Plan C – the same slides as a set of beautifully printed photographs displayed on a table. To be honest it works just as well, if not better, as people can congregate around the table afterwards and have a closer look.

Lesson 4. Join in with whatever rituals the group has – if you can

A survey over on Twitter the other day revealed that not all W.I. meetings begin with the singing of Jerusalem, but it’s best to be prepared. Decide beforehand if you’re going to join in or not. (Ditto prayers if it’s a church group.) If you do sing, make sure you know the words to BOTH verses, or you’ll end up like me, smugly confident at first and then mumbling and a-stumbling, like Mr Bean in the Alleluia sketch.


Mr Bean sings Alleluia!

Lesson 5. Wear plenty of layers and remove as necessary

Most rooms are heated to the max. This is a good thing generally as you don’t want your audience to catch a chill. But what if you’re a peri-menopausal woman prone to feeling a bit, er, warm? Smile sweetly, give yourself a little fan with your notes, remove a layer or two and use the classic line, “Is it me or is it hot in here?” You’ll get a few sympathetic laughs, I promise.

Bonus advice: For goodness sake never wear a thermal vest as I did once. You will regret it!

Editor: If you'd like to enter a competition to win a copy of 'Beatrice' and 'Comforts for the Troops' look out for Fiona Joseph's Cadbury Quiz on OAPSchat on 1 December. Details for both these books can be found here.

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