Public Speaking for Absolute Beginners

I’ve been beavering away on a couple of projects recently and am pleased to announce that one is now complete. Public Speaking for Absolute Beginners is now available on Amazon Kindle and paperback. It brings together everything I’ve learnt about addressing an audience over the last five years. Public Speaking for Absolute Beginners

Who should buy this book?

  • Anyone who has to speak in meetings (work or otherwise), on a committee or any other group scenario such as a book club or writing group.
  • Anyone who’s been asked to speak at a wedding, funeral, family party or similar occasion.
  • Anyone with something to promote. That something could be a business, a favourite charity, a political or community campaign, a sports team in need of a sponsor, a club appealing for new members or anything that needs someone to pitch for publicity.
  • Anyone who’d like to be paid for talking about their passion. (I receive a small fee when talking about writing to community groups).
  • Anyone not included in the above. Remember those times you’ve felt awkward introducing yourself at a writers’ workshop, ‘selling’ yourself at an interview or making a complaint in a shop? There are times when we all lack confidence but being able to organise our thoughts and speak calmly makes these situations much easier.

As the title suggests, Public Speaking for Absolute Beginners is aimed at those with no or very little experience of addressing an audience – that was the starting point for my journey in public speaking when I joined Sutton Coldfield Speakers Club in September 2013. The club is part of the Association of Speakers Clubs (ASC) and in 2018 I represented the Midlands in the national final of the ASC Speech Competition. Back in 2013 I had no desire at all to enter a speech competition and never expected to find myself, a few years later, speaking in a competitive situation on a stage in a packed hall at the ASC Annual Conference. It’s amazing what we can achieve with a bit of encouragement, self-belief and hard work!

But far more important than the competition, several people have commented on how much more confident I’ve become in everyday life since learning to speak in public – and I think that is the real benefit to me from the last few years. I wrote Public Speaking for Absolute Beginners to minimise the fear that we all feel when asked ‘to say a few words’.

I hope it will help you grow in confidence too.

Public Speaking for Absolute Beginners is available on Kindle and in paperback.

 

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Save a Life – Learn to Use a Defibrillator

A defibrillator has been installed in my area and I went to a session run by Community Heartbeat on how to use it. A patient’s survival rate following a cardiac arrest is much improved by the use of a defibrillator rather than just CPR (from around 7% to 28% if I remember correctly) so it’s great that increasing numbers of these machines are appearing in public spaces.

Use of Defibrillator

If Someone Collapses Follow These Instructions

The important takeaways from the session were:

  • Unless you hit them over the head with it, you can’t hurt anyone with a defibrillator – the machines are programmed to only deliver a shock when/if one is needed.
  • A defibrillator applies a current of electricity to the heart to stop it and thus allow it to reconfigure automatically. Our instructor said it was a little bit like rebooting a laptop when the screen has locked up.
  • The defibrillator gives audible instructions on what you are required to do.
  • When you dial 999 you will be told where the nearest defibrillator is and the code number to access it
  • If the nearest defibrillator is too far away and you are alone, you will be talked through performing CPR only. If you are not alone, one person will start CPR whilst the other fetches the defibrillator.
  • When the defibrillator arrives, one person should continue with CPR while the other sets everything up.
  • There are scissors and a razor in the defibrillator pack. This allows you to cut the patient’s clothing (including the bra on a woman) in order to bare the chest. The razor is for shaving a square of skin on a hairy chest. The pads through which the shock is delivered won’t stick to very hairy skin.
  • CPR must be continued in between allowing the defibrillator to monitor and possibly shock the patient. Give 30 compressions at a rate of 100-120 per minute followed by two breaths. You will need to press hard with two hands on an adult patient and you may break one of their ribs. I would prefer someone to break my rib but save my life rather than leave me to die with ribs intact.
  • The defibrillator will tell you when to stop touching the patient so that the machine can monitor the heart.
  • Do not stop CPR when you see the ambulance. The paramedics will always say, “You’re doing a great job. Keep going.” This is because they need a minute to set up and therefore need you to keep going just a little longer.
  • You may or may not find out what eventually happens to the patient. Do not be disheartened if he dies. It does not mean you did anything wrong – look again at the survival percentages at the top of this post.

Every life is precious and deserves saving. Don’t walk by on the other side because you’re afraid of getting involved.

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Sutton Coldfield BookFest

Sutton Coldfield BookFest took place yesterday, billed as, ‘a new festival for children who love stories’. I was involved as a volunteer and found it a great learning experience.

Winnie the Witch

Korky Paul’s Prize Winning Golden Raffle Tickets

My role was to check people’s tickets as they entered one of the library areas set aside for the performances of the authors and illustrators. This meant, once everyone was inside, I was able to stand at the back and watch fantastic sessions by author/illustrator Steve Smallman, Winnie the Witch illustrator Korky Paul and animal storyteller BB Taylor. They were all a great hit with the children and I took away the following points:

  • It’s harder to face an audience of children than an audience of adults. Even when bored, adults will sit still and quiet and look at you. Children have a habit of interrupting with questions, walking around, touching things and fidgeting.
  • In front of an audience of children a speaker has to exude energy, drama and enthusiasm. Speaking half-heartedly or without animation loses audience attention.
  • Visual aids and fancy dress are a must in front of youngsters. Between them the three performers had a viking helmet with chicken accessories, a wizard’s hat and a purple wig. BB Taylor brought along live animals: an armadillo, tortoise, millipede and a parrot.
  • Audience participation should be encouraged. Ask questions of the audience, get children up to the front and have prizes – children like to take things home!

So how does this help those of us who write for adults? It made me think about what I like to see in a speaker and it’s the unusual which ignites my immediate interest. And it’s the energy and enthusiasm of a performance that maintains that interest beyond the initial few minutes. So, thanks to three great children’s entertainers, those are the points I’ll be working on in my own author talk. Thanks guys and gal!

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When you win the Booker …

When you win the Booker, and the champagne has been drunk, the interviews given and the books signed, how will you spend the £50,000 prize money?

There was an interesting piece in last week’s Sunday Times about how some previous winners have spent the money. In 1986 Kingsley Amis said he was looking forward to spending the money on, “booze, of course, and curtains.” Four years later AS Byatt spent her prize on building a swimming pool at her home. The 2018 winner, Anna Burns, is using her winnings on something far less frivolous but, hopefully, life changing. Her prize money will fund back surgery to stop the chronic pain which stops her writing.

If I was in receipt of that £50,000 cheque, I’d use it to ‘buy’ more writing time. This might mean a combination of reducing my hours at the day job and/or paying for help around the house. However, more time doesn’t always equal more writing productivity. It would be up to me and my self-discipline to use that extra time wisely rather than in procrastination or in madly tidying up the house before the cleaner arrived!

What about you? Would the £50,000 buy something pleasurable or sensible or both?

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The Museum of Brands

A few days ago I visited The Museum of Brands in London. The museum takes the visitor on a colourful stroll through the branding, advertising and consumerism of the last two hundred or so years. It’s a wonderful microcosm of British social history. Museum of Brands and Packaging

The visit left me with two thoughts. Firstly, it made me feel ancient. A large part of my childhood and the years beyond were in those glass cases. Surely I’m not old enough for my lifetime to become museum worthy! Who else out there remembers Spangles sweets, Jackie magazine, Philadelphia cheese wrapped in silver paper rather than in a plastic tub, Caramac bars (just discovered you can still buy those) and renting instead of buying a TV?

Secondly, it brought home to me how the long-lived brands had evolved over time in order to survive. Much of this evolution was done in baby steps – a change of font for the logo, moving from a metal to plastic packaging or updating the slogan. Companies like Sony have constantly innovated to ensure their products always offer the consumer something new and attractive. Unfortunately Kodak didn’t and was lost in the great tsunami of digital photography.

What has this got to with writing?

It’s a reminder that we should always be looking where we are going with our writing careers. For example the market for womag stories is rapidly shrinking meaning those of us who used to target women’s magazines with our short stories need to find new outlets or try a different form of writing. Attracting an agent for a novel is as difficult as ever – is it time to set a limit on the number of rejections and then start investigating other routes such as the growing number of new independent digital publishers like Hera who accept unagented submissions? Or maybe it’s time to try non-fiction or a different genre?

The important thing is to stay current with what’s going on in the writing world and be proactive to avoid being left behind. Be a Sony not a Kodak! Simon Whaley has been talking about a similar topic on his blog this week.

Incidentally, whilst going through my kitchen cupboards to take the photo accompanying this post, I discovered that most of my tins and packets were supermarket own brands. I wonder what that says for branding in the future?

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Running a Creative Writing Workshop

A few years ago I did the PTLLS qualification (Preparing to Teach in the Lifelong Learning Sector) and this week I finally got around to putting it into practice by running my first creative writing workshop. It was organised by FOLIO Sutton Coldfield, held at my local library and free to participants. Planning a creative writing workshop

On the agenda was creating haiku and writing letters to magazines. I chose these two topics to give a mix of writing for pleasure and for profit plus the pieces were short enough to complete in the two and a half hours allocated to the class. And I already had a basic lesson plan for the haiku section from the ‘micro teach’ I did as part of PTLLS.

The participants were a lovely group of people. The workshop had been billed as ‘An Introduction to Creative Writing’ and most had done either none or very little writing before but they were all enthusiastic. Because we only had a couple of hours together, I chose to do a very quick, basic ice-breaker to start the session. I produced my large, bright orange (imaginary) energy ball and we each said our name as we pretended to pass it around the room and take a burst of energy from from it.

During the workshop I deliberately set most of the writing exercises to be done in pairs so that no one felt put on the spot or awkward if they were struggling to get going. We worked up to writing a haiku by looking at examples, having a pictorial prompt and jotting down ad hoc words and phrases before trying to craft them into the syllable count of a haiku. Similarly, we looked at how to analyse a magazine letters’ page including things like word count, subject matter and tone of the letters printed, before trying to craft a letter ourselves.

There were a few learning points that I took away from the workshop:

  1. Running a creative writing workshop is like an iceberg – i.e. 9/10 of the work is the invisible preparation done beforehand in creating the exercises, handouts etc.
  2. It’s very hard to construct a lesson plan with accurate timings about how long each part will take. Sometimes it’s necessary to take a cue from the class – are they still busy writing or are they staring bored into space? During the coffee break the class started asking questions about how I tackle my own writing, this meant the break ran over slightly but I decided that was OK because we were talking about the different ways authors tackle novel writing, which had some benefit to the class participants.
  3. It’s worth asking participants to complete a feedback form at the end of the session in order to find out how it went (phew! all positive comments!) and what subjects might be popular in future workshops.

After running only one workshop, I don’t profess to be an expert on teaching creative writing – however, I know someone who is! If you’re looking for further information or advice on running creative writing classes, I suggest you take a look at Start a Creative Writing Class: How to Set Up, Run and Teach a Successful Class by my writing buddy Helen Yendall.

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Some Life (and Death) Advice

I was talking to a friend about the death of her partner’s mother and how the deceased lady’s husband was coping with the loss. How to bleed a radiatorThis reminded me of some advice that a widow in my book group gave me.

She said that when meeting with a group of her friends, who’d also lost their partners, they all wished they could have their men back for just half an hour. They would spend those precious minutes asking questions like:

  • How do you bleed a radiator?
  • Where did you keep the spanner and screwdriver?
  • Where are the passwords for all the online bank accounts?
  • Where are the house insurance documents?

My book group friend was planning to watch YouTube videos to learn how to change the washer in her dripping tap because, “you can’t call a man in for every little job that needs doing”.  She advised me to watch my husband when he was doing things like bleeding radiators and to film him with my phone so that, should the worst happen, I’d have instructions to follow.

In any partnership, there is bound to be a division of labour depending on the strengths and weaknesses of each partner. But make sure that you are each aware of the basics of what the other is doing, so that the survivor is not left helpless, should one of you die.

Now, the first thing I have to learn is how to use the video facility on my phone …

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