The power of public speaking

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I wasn’t expecting to be mesmerised by the Wetherby Speakers Club, writes columnist Caroline Green.

It promised to be a completely new experience for me, as I knew nothing about public speaking, having successfully skirted around the subject all my life, hoping to muddle through. There comes a time when one has to confront one’s inadequacies and this was it.

You might wonder why I was visiting the Wetherby Speakers Club at all. Let me explain. Peter Wilson, a member, current Secretary and Past President had invited me as a guest. The Wetherby Speakers Club is 40 years old this year.

We met in Linton Memorial Hall and a warm welcome awaited me. Very soon, the meeting got underway, on time. Little did I realise that ‘time’ is the essence of any Speakers Club event. Chris Clissitt, the President and Chairman, opened the meeting to the sound of his gavel striking the table, and then explained in detail what was to happen during the evening. Nothing was left to chance; everything was explained, with no room for misunderstanding.

Each speaker, there were two, took the chair beside the Chairman, was introduced and stepped up to the lectern to speak; timing is a system of lights which the speaker follows. Niki Boersma then delivered an impeccable education session on the important first ten seconds of any speech.

When it came to my turn, I realised just how little I had retained, but tried hard to remember. Smiling, openness, pace and engagement with your audience is what I took away from the experience. Later I wished for two things; one was that I had discovered the Speakers Club years ago, and the other, that I needed go back and do it all again.

The break would be followed by a Topic session when each member would be invited to speak for 2-3 minutes on a subject chosen by the Topic Chairman, John Holian; evaluation of the Topic by another member would follow; then evaluation of the evening as a whole. I didn’t realise until the evening was drawing to a close that everyone in the room had a job, or rather several jobs. Each member would be called upon as speaker, evaluator, educator, time keeper or Chairman. Everyone, including me, was on their mettle all evening; if not speaking they would be listening hard, making notes or time keeping.

Enthusiastic applause greeted each member following their stint at the lectern.

The evaluations throughout the evening were, for me, a complete revelation. Evaluation serves two purposes. Firstly, the role of any evaluator, be it speeches, topics or the evening as a whole is to address, again from the lectern, what was good about each element; secondly, the evaluator details what can be improved and suggests developmental opportunities for the future. These opportunities might be suggestions about improving body language, gestures, content or audience engagement. Peter explained to me that the Wetherby Club belongs to the Association of Speakers Clubs, and all the Clubs in the Association work through the Association Guide, gaining skills throughout their time with the Club, always building on what they have achieved so far. On a personal level, the desire to improve is immediate, spurred on by watching, listening and learning all evening. I will never underestimate the power of positive feedback.

The structure of the evening, the courtesy and encouragement of the members, the obvious skills and confidence gained through being a member of this great organisation are available to anyone.

I was full of admiration for what the members of the Wetherby Speakers Club achieve – just chatting to individuals after the meeting was evidence enough of how people had overcome their own difficulties of speaking in a public setting, and how opportunities provided by membership of the Speakers Club had enabled them to conquer those fears and learn new skills.

The Speakers Club meet on alternate Thursdays at Linton Memorial Hall, 7.45 for 8pm. Dates at: www.wetherbyspeakersclub.co.uk/ or phone Peter Wilson on 01937 584597 if you wish to visit for a taster session.