“I could have danced all night, I could have danced all night, and still have begged for more. I could have spread my wings, and done a thousand things I’d never done before…”
Oh, my darlings. I simply had the most wonderful day!
It was, I have to say, a huge relief to be billed as the warm-up guy. Plenty of time to be forgotten about later on, if I turned out to be crap. No time to sit around stressing myself out, unable to concentrate on the rest of the proceedings. No chance of being unduly influenced in style or tone by my fellow speakers. (I am, as I’ve said before, highly prone to Zelig-style tendencies.) Instead, I just had to get up there and bloody well Do It.
I’m not an experienced public speaker. Indeed, the last time that I addressed an audience was over six years ago – and that was at a funeral, so it wasn’t what you might call a usefully analagous experience. But the thing is: once I get over the hump and make the commitment, public speaking is something which, given more regular practice, I could probably do quite well. Deep down inside, I’ve always known this. It was good to be reminded.
As K advised me the previous evening – just in the nick of time, as I was seriously sweating by then – I didn’t make the mistake of over-preparing, and instead managed to strike the right balance between comfortable familiarity with subject matter and overall structure, and the flexibility and space in which to extemporise and elaborate, wherever the fancy took me. All of which meant that – joy of joys! – people actually laughed at my quips and bons mots, which hadn’t been laboured to death in advance. (Because I did feel that laughter was probably the best way to kick-start the whole event.) Why, I even had my hands in my pockets at one stage. There’s casual!
OK, so I did grind to a shuddering halt on one occasion, about two thirds of the way through. But people don’t pick up on that sort of thing nearly as much as you think they’re going to, as I learnt from doing that short series of podcasts over the summer.
As I spoke, the front page of Troubled Diva shone proudly behind me, on a giant screen (this being one of the benefits of holding the conference in a cinema), to a degree of magnification so great that even people on the back row could read the opening paragraphs of Wednesday’s craftily constructed post, complete with its Yo Broadway! shout-out. All I had to do in addition was to hit the F11 key, for Full Screen mode – thus bringing the all-important Troubled Diva coffee mug into view, at the foot of the screen. Other speakers may have had books to plug; all I had was my merchandising tat, so plug it I was bloody well going to do.
(Before commencing my speech, I did suggest that if people got bored, then they could always read the blog, and stick their hands up when they were ready for me to Page Down. Maybe there was a sea of hands, and I didn’t spot it. I don’t like to look at audiences too closely, in case I make eye contact and weird out.)
Honestly, it felt so good. Not only that: it felt so right, so natural, so Me. (The last time I felt like this was while I was writing the Eurovision preview piece for Time Out magazine.) I’m an IT consultant, working on “legacy” software for a car manufacturer; I don’t get the chance to hang out with other writers. And from what I later gathered, many of the self-employed freelance writers attending the conference don’t get much of a chance to hang around with each other, either.
Maybe that’s partly what accounted for the disarmingly lovely atmosphere, which pervaded right throughout the day. My worst fears were availed: instead of being confronted by an intimidating crush of brittle, pushy schmoozers – all networking furiously, whilst glancing over each others’ shoulders in case someone more important passed by – I encountered nothing but openness, friendliness, supportiveness and encouragement. Who knew?
Many thanks to Jeanie Finlay for recommending me as a speaker, and to Gareth Howell (Digital Arts Forum) and Ben Afia (26) for inviting me, and for organising such a splendid and rewarding event. It was also great to see Richard J. again (we’ve been out of touch for way too long), and finally to meet Clare, who has been reading this blog almost since its inception.
Oh shit, I really did promise to post my lecture notes, didn’t I? WHY DO I SAY THESE THINGS? Sheesh. Well, soon come. Ish.
I shall now go and have a nice sit down, while I attempt to get over myself.