If you follow me on facebook, twitter, even instagram, you might have seen the occasional picture of me, grinning like a maniac, in front of an audience of similarly manic, arm-waving, happy folk (although usually there’s one lone woman, sitting there , arms folded, steadfastly refusing to take part – bless her).
I take these photos perhaps once or twice a week – whenever I’m asked to entertain a Women’s Institute, or a U3A, or a Townswomen Guild, or some similar group, with tales of my writing adventures.
People sometimes ask me how I got into the public speaking lark. I blame my Dad.
Years ago, my father used to run a U3A ‘discussion group’. Each month the group would invite someone along to speak on whatever topic they liked, and then afterwards a discussion would ensue. That was the idea anyway. My Dad loves a good discussion. In reality someone would put the kettle on, a packet of biscuits would be emptied onto a plate, and twenty minutes later my Dad would be washing cups and stacking chairs in the corner, wondering why no-one had actually ‘discussed’ anything.
Dad used to try and plan his group’s programme a good year in advance, presumably in the hopes of attracting a few new members with his trove of twelve tantalising topics. But a year is a long time. Stuff happens. And every now and then a speaker would cancel on dear old Dad, and he’d be forced to do some frantic phoning around in order to find a replacement.
Which is how I got my first gig.
Out of sheer desperation Dad called me and asked if I could step in and do a talk. He’d even decided what my topic would be! Could I speak for thirty or so minutes of “how banks make their money” – thanks very much – see you Thursday – don’t be late.
Now fortunately for me, I had at this point been in credit card banking for about twenty five years, the last ten of which was as a freelance consultant. I could have spoken for several days on how my clients separated the man on the street from his hard earned wedge. But I concentrated my talk on some of the sneakier, lesser known, less ethical tricks, that go on in the banking community.
My talk was a huge success: There was almost a riot when I announced that “in a few months” the banks would be announcing the ‘end of cheques’. “How will I pay the milkman!?” exclaimed one woman – at which point, for the first time ever, a proper discussion ensued. Dad was pleased as punch.
From that moment on I became my Dad’s ‘reserve man’. Each year, for about three years, I’d get a phone call whenever a speaker cancelled and would always be told what my topic would be. For instance, I did a talk entitled “How will I pay the milkman?” – forty five minutes about, amongst other things, how the banks really wanted to get rid of cheques, but at the last moment had changed their collective minds. I promise you it was more interesting than it sounds.
But after a few years I was fed up with being the flippin’ understudy. “Dad,” I said, “I want my own slot in the programme, but more than that, I want to be able to pick my own topic!”
“What do you want to talk on?” asked Dad.
“How to do everything, and be happy,” I replied.
“Hmmm,” said my Dad. “I’m not sure anyone’s going to be interested in that.”
Several years on and I’ve given that same talk about two hundred times.
If you’d like to hear me speak, or if you’d like to invite me along to your group or society, drop me a line here, or visit my speaker’s website; PeterJonesPublicSpeaker.com