Tag Archives: stage

Is there a secret to public speaking? Lessons from Bettakultcha

26 Nov

This week I delivered a speech at Leeds University’s very first Student Engagement Showcase. It was an afternoon of presentations designed to highlight the many ways that Leeds students are engaged in university life outside their studies.

We heard from a variety of speakers with an array of interests, from volunteering in India, to music improvisation, to entrepreneurship, to rugby and medical ethics. My speech was about my passion for media and journalism, which has been burning steadily alongside my studies in English and History ever since my first work experience placement at my local paper in 2010. 1507365_292918607566928_7053378692667460006_o

On hearing ‘afternoon of presentations’ you might think that the Showcase was a long string of speeches that had the crowd’s heads lolling about their shoulders. But the speeches weren’t merely factual regurgitation- they were inspiring, entertaining and heart-warming narratives, written with the sole purpose of sharing unique and untold stories.

Prior to the event, when the showcase team had selected each speaker, we attended a training session led by artist and professional speaker Ivor Tymchak, who has been making (tidal) waves of creative impact lately in Yorkshire. Ivor is the co-founder of indie phenomenon ‘Bettakultcha’, a cultural event in Leeds, Bradford and Huddersfield that invites people to deliver presentations about their passions.

But there’s a catch- all presentations must be five minutes exactly, consisting of 20 slides lasting 15 seconds each. All slides must move automatically on a timer- and the crux of the idea is that all presentations must tell a story. Forget all your one-dimensional presentation styles like describing, explaining and listing- and start thinking more along the lines of engaging, exchanging and inspiring.

What the in-house illustrator made of my speech

What the in-house illustrator made of my speech

So what did we learn from Ivor? Listening to him bestow his public speaking wisdom took me on a journey back through all the embarrassing presentation mishaps of my past. The first thing he focussed on was that presentations are a two-way experience. Not only do you have to think about getting the bare bones of your presentation right, but you also have to remember that the audience will only relax at your discretion. “If you feel awkward and nervous, the audience will feel awkward and nervous.”

The brilliant Ivor Tymchak

The brilliant Ivor Tymchak

He also told us not to pretend to be someone we aren’t, as audiences have a natural intuition and will be able to see right through it. So rather than spend an entire evening watching Ted talks and deciding that you’re going to adopt a different accent or start using an array of fancy hand gestures, try focussing on what makes you unique, and whatever that thing is- nourish it.

Something I’d never considered before was to remember to make your presentation human. Don’t let the podium, the microphone or the spotlight go to your head and remember that you’re just like the audience. They’re much more likely to relax if you talk about relatable or humbling experiences- or even the times that you failed. 1441575_294113977447391_2743191964987906894_n

But the ultimate piece of advice was to speak from the heart. Think about why you’re passionate about your topic in the first place. Why do you care about it, why is it important, why is it pressing? Think about the many reasons why you are emotionally attached to your passion and share them.

As I thought back over the various speeches I’ve listened to in the past, this last piece of advice immediately made sense. It reminded me of sitting in the audience at World Merit Day 2014, when I was moved to tears by a speech from Hillsborough disaster campaigner, Margaret Aspinall.

Margaret lost her son James in the Hillsborough disaster of 1989 and has campaigned for truth and justice for the last 25 years. The weight of the journey she’d already endured, the enormity of the path ahead and an unwavering determination to carry on the fight were articulated loud and clear with every word she spoke.

I didn’t give her a standing ovation because I thought she was well rehearsed, because she was especially articulate, or because she used just the right amount of triplets. I gave her a standing ovation because she had moved me. I was roused from my seat because I’d forgotten I was listening to a speech at all. I wasn’t hearing a speech: I was listening to Margaret and her story.

I’ve been writing and blogging for a lot longer than I’ve been public speaking. But what Ivor helped me realise is that what unites the brilliance of the written and spoken word is very simple. As Sir Philip Sydney once said, ‘Look in thy heart and write.’ The next time I’ll be taking to the stage, I’ll remember to look to my heart for inspiration before opening my mouth. Screen Shot 2014-07-29 at 10.59.24

Southport’s Laugh Out Loud Comedy Club: Review

15 Jul

Sat in a backstage dressing room at Southport’s Atkinson Theatre, Damion Larkin, the organiser and host for Southport’s Laugh Out Loud Comedy Club sits across from me.
Thirty minutes before the show was due to begin on Saturday, I caught Damion for an interview about the club, himself, and all things comedy.
”I put on the best comedians available and make sure there’s variety between the acts.
I carefully prepare each show for weeks in advance, making sure the acts are different whether it’s where they’re from, what they look like, their material and their energy levels,” he enthused.
Determined to showcase high quality comedians, Damion explained why he gives each line-up such close attention: “Many comedy clubs only have one headliner, but I like to have two with one up-and-coming act in between.
It’s all about word of mouth and the best way to achieve that is by having a top quality show- if it’s brilliant, people will talk about it.”
Laugh Out Loud is Southport’s longest running comedy club beginning over six years ago, having run at various local venues and is now in its third month at the Atkinson.
Damion told me about how his career in comedy evolved: “I probably should have phased out the old job and phased in the comedy a bit more.
After ten years as a stockbroker I had a change of heart and decided I wanted to be a comedian.
I picked up gigs and lived off the fruit of my labour for a while- now I’ve been a comedian for eight years, six of which I’ve run the club.”
Heralded by the BBC as ‘one of the country’s top new comedians’ it’s safe to say that Damion’s career move has been successful.
Beginning the show with spontaneous wit, Damion warmed up the audience for what was a night of hearty laughter and entertainment.
We were made to feel truly part of the show with active conversation, and he had us clapping our hands, stamping our feet and giggling the whole way through.
His first guest, Mick Ferry, who has previously appeared on Michael McIntyre’s Comedy Roadshow came on stage with a mixture of prepared material and improvised banter.
Mick had us hooked from the start with hilarious anecdotes from his life as a family man and his straight-talking, dry sense of humour left us struggling to breathe amongst the laughs.
Big Lou, a comedian making waves on the comedy circuit appeared next with fast-paced and sophisticated one-liners and puns.
He truly won us over with what we thought was going to be a guitar performance, to surprise us with a charming and creative act with his guitar case.
Already impressed with the variety and quality of acts as promised by Damion, I sat back in my seat to see award-winning TV and radio regular Rob Deering take to the stage.
The highlight of the evening, Rob performed an innovative, unique and hilarious set as he fused impressive guitar skills with a loop pedal and a whole lot of cracking jokes.
Rob, who appeared to have inherently funny bones ended the show on an ultimate high and left the audience enthusing as we left the theatre.
The evening had regular intervals between each act to head to the bar and chat amongst friends. As a night-owl, I found the evening was a refreshing alternative to ‘pre-drinks’ on a Saturday night.
Having watched my first ever live comedy show I can safely say I’m glad it was at the Laugh Out Loud Comedy Club.
The only problem is, it’s set the standards pretty high as Damion, Mick, Big Lou and Rob left succeeding guests at the Atkinson with a tough act to follow.
The Comedy Club runs every first Saturday of the month with the next show on August 3 at 8.00pm.
Advance tickets are £12.50 and £15.00 on the door.
To buy tickets, call the box office on 01704 533333


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