Sunday, 6 September 2009

Talk some more

Last week I wrote about the potential pitfalls and plusses of being interviewed on radio (and the same rules apply to television). This week I shall turn to public speaking, something else I have had some experience with.

Over the years I estimate I have delivered about fifty addresses, almost all on the subject of the origins of place names for that has been the subject of the majority of my books and that is what interests the majority of my audiences as they are nearly all groups interested in history. It is my personal choice to split my delivery on this particular subject into two parts. Each talk invariably seems to last an hour, in which case the first 20 to 25 minutes gives me the chance to explain the basics: the languages the names come from, what elements these names are comprised of, where early forms of these names are found, how we go about defining the names, and some of the more unusual examples I have discovered during my research. When the group have already advised me of any names they would like to know the meaning and/or origins of in advance, is where these questions are answered.

For the second part of the talk I throw it open to a question and answer session. This has two benefits: firstly it means I'm talking about what the audience are interested in, and secondly it gives me the opportunity to bounce off the audience's questions. My talks are not read from a script, indeed a lot of it is ad libbed, which allows a versatility and also serves to remind me of snippets of information and anecdotes which I had probably forgotten. Indeed a number of items included in the first part have come about as a result of the questioning at earlier talks.

On the downside such Q&A sessions leave me open to errors, and I have made mistakes in the past and learned from those mistakes. Having written and researched a number of books on place names (currently working on numbers 12,13,14,15 and 16) it is impossible for me to remember more than just a few meanings and easy for me to get the right meaning for the wrong place! In fact it has also led to me forgetting which county a town is in!

I have enjoyed most of the talks I have given, although there was one particularly forgettable evening! My advice would be to allow questioning at the end of the talk, but to keep it short until you become more confident working without a script, as it were. If you've grabbed the attention of the audience and you keep the time for questions to a minimum they will soon find the time to extend it, which can only be of benefit to you.

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