Choose your words carefully

I’ve always liked crosswords but during lockdown I’ve been doing one every day as an escape from all the bad news.

There’s a crossword setter in The Guardian called Qaos who definitely goes the extra mile, not only setting great crosswords but also making sure there’s a theme to each one, with lots of the answers fitting that theme.  As speakers we should admire this sort of attention to detail.

Recently Qaos published his 100th crossword in the paper and it didn’t seem to have a theme. There was one, I just couldn’t see it. I’m going to share it with you, and I bet you won’t see the connection either.

There was a link between all the across answers. Once you know it you’ll be amazed at the effort that has gone into making it work. 


Can you see it? A clue is that he did it to commemorate his 100th crossword.

Scroll down for the answer












With it being his 100th it revolved around the letter ‘C’, Roman numeral for 100. Every single across clue could be made into a new word with the addition of a C.


become: INSOMNIAC, COVERT, DECAF etc. I’ll leave you to work out the rest for yourself.

Kudos to Qaos!

Seven ways to help a friend at the Fringe


Somebody you know is doing a show at Edinburgh, what are you going to do about it?

You’ll congratulate them of course, and you’ll probably go and watch the show, but is there anything else you can do to support them?

Yes, there is. Lots.

1. Don’t ask for a free ticket

You might expect your best friend to give you a freebie.

Your old mate from school will get you in free, won’t they?

Surely your only child will put you on the guest list?

Don’t ask for a freebie. It costs a fortune to put on an Edinburgh show. Debut shows would be pretty empty without friends and family. Many performers will be on first name terms with half their audience.

2. Pay the full price for your ticket

I had a friend who came last year and said he’d see me at my show later, but he was off to the half-price hut to see if he could get the tickets cheaper.

He was in bargain hunting mode, not seeming to realise that it would be my pocket subsidising his cut-price seats.

3. Buy your ticket early

Most debut performers will lose money at their first Fringe. They’ll be checking every day to see how many tickets they’ve sold. You can help ease the pressure a bit by buying your ticket well in advance.

There’s a website where artists can click a link, to get a full breakdown of their ticket sales. I reckon I clicked on it four times a day before the Fringe, and then six times a day once I got to Edinburgh.

It’s obsessive behaviour but there’s always the worry that no one will come. Help your buddy out. Get your ticket way ahead of time.

4. Tell people about the show

There are over three and a half thousand different shows at the Fringe. There are not enough audience members to go round. The shows that do well are not the the best shows, they’re the ones that have a good word of mouth.

Performers can spend lots on posters, adverts and flyers, but the absolute best way to get bums on seats is word of mouth. Play your part and tell everyone you know. Don’t be shy about it, shout it from the rooftops.

5. Offer to hand out flyers

A great way to publicise a show is to handout flyers in the street. These are typically A5 leaflets about the show. It’s soul destroying work for the artists themselves. For every ten people you approach, six will stop, three will take a leaflet and maybe only one will engage in a conversation. But some of those ‘one in ten’ people will come to the show.

Offer to do some flyering for your mate. They will love you for it.

Oh, and it means you will become a flyerer. It sounds like a made up word, but it’s not.

I paid some students to flyer for me last year, and I have more lined up this time round. But, I also had great flyering from my sisters and friends.

My wife spent hours in the pouring rain last year handing out my soggy leaflets to people who didn’t really want them. I love her very much.

6. Don’t just ‘like’ posts, retweet them

Your friend or family member will be going full out to publicise the show on social media. They’ll be on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Linkedin and many other apps that only young people know about.

When they do this, they need your support.

For example, if I post about my show on Twitter, I want my friends to retweet my post. I don’t want them just to like it.

If they ‘like’ it, it doesn’t really help. It doesn’t go to any more people,

If they retweet it, it goes to all their followers. Hopefully some of them will retweet it as well. That way its scope is massively increased.

(My twitter is @Jeremy_Nicholas)

7. Remember they’re working

When you arrive in the beautiful city of Edinburgh, you are on holiday. You are visiting the largest arts festival in the world, and it’s time to party!

However, don’t forget your friend or loved one is working. They can’t be out late, drinking and dancing to all hours. They have a show tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that.

Last year I had friends at most shows. Typically they would come for a two or three day stay and they’d want to go out and play with me. But I was doing my show every day for 27 days in a row, plus guest spots on other shows, flyering, media interviews, podcasts and lots of networking. To be on top form for my show I had to limit my late nights.

So, don’t forget doing a one hour show may not seem like work to you, but to deliver a good one every day takes dedication.


On behalf of all performers thanks so much for your support. We couldn’t do it without our loved ones, colleagues and mates.

And if you’re looking for a show to go to, please check out my funny look at the strange business of public speaking.

Jeremy Nicholas: What Are You Talking About? 

8.25pm August 2-24 at Surgeons’ Hall.         Tickets here. 

Sir Terry Wogan

Here’s a chapter from MediaMasters, a book I co-wrote with Alan Stevens.

We interviewed 25 people from all walks of life on how to come across well in the media.

This is the interview I did with Terry Wogan, from nearly ten years ago. I republish it now as a tribute to the great man who died at the weekend.

 Terry Wogan is a natural performer, a one-off.

He crossed the water from Ireland and become a huge success in the UK,  despite claiming he had no particular plan.

I think we can learn from him that success is not just ability, but likeability.  Terry’s  presented all manner of shows on television and radio and  always with Irish eyes smiling.   He’s not the slickest presenter in the world, but you always feel you are in safe hands, and you know you’ll have a laugh with him.

Wogan didn’t plan to be a major TV and radio personality.  In fact he was selling insurance for five years, before he won a competition to be on RTE the Irish state broadcaster.  

Terry says, ‘I’ve never really been ambitious, I just make it up as I go along.’

‘People who are successful would do well to   remember it’s ninety percent luck.’

I feel like I’ve know Terry Wogan all my life. He’s the only man I let wake me up in the morning, apart from my Dad who brings me a cup of tea at Christmas and Easter.

He’s often called a national treasure, Terry not my Dad. He hosts the breakfast show on the most listened to radio station in the UK, BBC Radio 2. Terry’s the face of the annual BBC charity appeal, Children in Need. He’s large and cuddly like the official mascot, Pudsey the Bear, but without the knotted handkerchief over his poorly eye.

I met him at a Togs convention in Leicester.  Togs are his fan club. It stands for Terry’s old geezers/girls. They meet once a year in Leicester. The convention posters hint at  more exotic locations like Togs 06 L.A and Togs 07 BALI.  But like all Woganesque matters there’s a humorous undercurrent. L.A. is Leicester again and BALI is back at Leicester, innit?

Imagine hosting a breakfast show in London all week and on the Friday, when the jet lag is at its worst, hopping in a car to head a hundred miles up the motorway to meet eighty of your most ardent listeners.

But Terry is as jolly as ever, even if he’d rather be having a nap.

‘You know, I count the hours lost not visiting Leicester’

No-one escapes his wicked sense of humour, especially the loyal Togs.   He refers to them suffering senior moments. There are Togs sweatshirts for sale for charity with the slogan ‘Do I come here often?’

‘These are people of a certain age, but they don’t know it’.

‘They frighten me, as they would frighten any right thinking people’ and with that he looks nervously about before adding, ‘are there any of them around?’

It’s all in jest of course, every single one of the Togs regards him as a personal friend. He’s  been talking to them via their radios in their car, their bedroom, their shower for years.  

No matter how tired the Togmeister, as they call him, might be, he gives them all his individual attention. Every single one of them leaves with a warm glow as if wrapped in a comforting duvet. He earns the highest Tog rating.

As a TV interviewer he came across as a jolly uncle, but his skills should never be underestimated. If ever a man could sum up a situation in just a few words it’s Wogan.  

I remember watching open mouthed as one guest, David Icke made some outrageous statements about being the ‘son of god’. The studio audience started to laugh. Icke, a former BBC sports presenter, seemed to take this a sign that the interview was going well.  It wasn’t. It was car crash TV. Something had to be said and Terry said it.  ‘They’re laughing at you, they’re not laughing with you.’

What tips does Terry have for anyone appearing on TV or radio?

‘It’s not life or death, it’s showbusiness’.

Something we could all do well to remember. The number of times I’ve been chatting to   witty, charming, lively people in the build up to an interview. Once the cameras roll, they go into ‘rabbit in the headlights’ mode.  All personality goes out of the window.  

Not Terry, he’s just the same in real life.

If you want to see Terry really earning his money, watch his interview with Anne Bancroft on YouTube.   The Hollywood star of films like the Graduate hates live TV. So provocative and confident as Mrs Robinson, Bancroft completely clammed up, with the shortest of yes/no answers. ‘You don’t want to be here, do you?’ says Terry.  ‘No’, says Anne.

Being jolly, witty and irreverent for a living inevitably means sometimes upsetting people.

Terry’s charm is that people don’t stay mad at him for long.  It didn’t go down too well in Denmark, when he referred to their rather odd Eurovision presenters as ‘Dr Death and the Tooth Fairy’, but he survived.  In fact his irreverent Eurovision commentary is the only reason most Brits tune in to the TV and many countries opted for years to use the BBC coverage instead of mounting their own.

During a TV show to pick the UK entry for Eurovision, Terry had a senior moment himself. The programme reached a dramatic conclusion with the announcing of the winning act, but Terry announced the wrong name. He had to be corrected by his co-host.

But he’s not one to dwell on mistakes like that, or to blame anyone else.

‘Nobody died. It’s a TV programme. It wasn’t the general election. People got a bit confused’

In a poll in the early nineties he was voted the most popular person in Britain, and simultaneously the least popular. That’s what I call a media master.

I think his secret is not taking life too seriously. In his genial Irish way he gently takes the mick out of everyone, and especially himself.  What do you expect from a boy from Limerick?  Like the Irish city,  famous for its five line poems, you know with Terry, you’ll always be laughing at the end.

Hilary Benn’s speech

Hilary Benn’s speech in favour of air strikes on Syria is, in my view, one of the best parliamentary speeches in years. Here’s my assessment of why I think it is brilliant.

(Disclaimer – I’m not endorsing the view on air strikes, I am admiring the rhetoric. I coach speakers from all the main political parties, and I find it helpful to keep my views to myself, in order to continue that work)

It’s an attention grabbing opening, where he acknowledges that he will vote a different way to his party leader, Jeremy Corbyn, but is still proud to speak from the same despatch box as him. He chastises David Cameron for calling people voting against the strikes, terrorist sympathisers.

He references the Paris attacks, personalising it to his audience by saying it could just as easily have been London, Leeds, Glasgow or Birmingham. Mr Benn is now in full flow and as if by magic a shopkeeper appears. It turns out to be Jeremy Corbyn, who doesn’t look best pleased.

Having addressed the legality of strikes Hilary Benn then turns to the atrocities committed by IS or Daish. He cranks up the pace, raises his voice and shows the sort of charisma his party leader can only dream of.

Then he slows down as he asks, what if we do nothing?

He tackles the question that air strikes are not helpful, refuting that argument and backing it up with evidence from a Kurdish representative in London. Every aspect of the speech answers a question. He targets his audience with precision.

His closing is phenomenal, appealing to Labour’s tradition of internationalism.

The applause from all sides of the house is genuine, with shouts of outstanding and brilliant. Whichever side of the argument you support, you have to admire his speech.

TV show with Katie Bulmer Cooke

Jeremy appeared on a new TV show with Katie Bulmer-Cooke from the The Apprentice. It showed him trying to get fit to take the pressure off his after-dinner suit, which has seen rather too many dinners.

The show aired on Sky Channel 117 in the North East in January 5th 2015.

WHAT should the emcee/compere say when introducing you to speak at an event?

I’d like to start with a short introduction.

“Our blogger today is a keynote speaker AND a compere. So he’s ideally placed to tell us what makes a good introduction at an event. With thirty years as a broadcaster he knows how to hold an audience’s attention, please welcome Jeremy Nicholas.”

(Applause as your blogger enters)

What do you mean you haven’t got a laminated introduction?
OK we’re going to have to go right back to basics.

You need a standard introduction and you need to insist that the emcee reads it exactly as you’ve written it. Lots of emcees like to ad-lib, which is great if they are good.
They often aren’t good. They are often awful. So that’s why your introduction needs to be short. The shorter it is, the less they can mess it up.

When you are on the stage you are in the shop window. You are laying out your wares, in this case your expertise and your credibility.
Who can sell your wares best? You of course! So get on that stage as soon as you can and don’t leave it in the hands of someone who might not be great at selling you.
(I should point out that there are some brilliant comperes in the world. I like to think that I’m one of them. But why risk it?


The big mistake people make is giving the emcee a biography. This is far too detailed and to be honest, no use at all. A biography is fine for the website or brochure for the event, but not for the spoken introduction.
The introduction should be short and to the point and crucially it should be written by you in a language that anyone can easily read out loud. That means short sentences and no words that are hard to pronounce.

If you name is tricky to pronounce, spell it out phonetically.
‘Please welcome: John Hot-Ow-Ka’
This is especially effective if motivational speaker John Hotowka is the next on!


There are four sentences in the ideal introduction.


The first line should say who you are. It should make clear to every single person in the room, exactly who you are.
They should hear this one sentence and without any specialist or prior knowledge, know exactly who you are. That’s really important. You don’t want anyone to feel left out, because they aren’t as clued up as everyone else.

For example, I’ve introduced Sir Geoff Hurst many times at sporting dinners. He’s a legend and just about everyone in the room will know who he is.
But supposing there’s someone in the room who’s from overseas and doesn’t follow football? What about them? Do they want to spend the first half of his talk wondering who he is?
So I might say: ‘Our speaker is the only footballer to have scored a hat-trick in a World Cup Final.’

But even that supposes a level of knowledge about the game of football. So I’d say: “Our speaker is the only footballer to have scored a hat-trick (pause) three goals in a World Cup Final.”
Most people will assume the pause is me weighing up the enormity of scoring three goals in a World Cup Final. But the American baseball fan on table seven will be quietly grateful that I explained what a hat-trick is.

I once introduced Tony Blair at an event. Just about everyone in the audience will have known him.
But I still said: ‘Our special guest today is the Prime Minister…”
You might think that odd, but not only is it inclusive for the audience, but it also gives a build-up. For those that are only half-listening, it prepares them for the important bit of information that’s on the way. So when I finally say ‘please welcome Tony Blair’, they are ready with their cheers (or boos!).


The second thing you need in your intro is what you are going to talk about. If you can’t get the meaning of your talk into one line, then it’s not a very good talk. That line should be focussed towards what the audience are going to take away from your talk.

So a good second line would be ‘he’s going to teach us how to write really good short introductions.’

It’s all about the audience and what value they are going to get from your talk. They don’t care about who you are. They only care about what they are going to get from you.

Sorry to be blunt, but that’s the way it is. So tear up that intro you’ve been using for the past few years and write a short, simple one that will appeal to the audience and not your ego.


The third line should tell them WHY they should listen. It should establish your credibility. If you are going to show-off this is the sentence to do it in.

What is the thing about you that impresses people most? I know I said it’s not about your ego, but that was in sentence two. With sentence three it’s all about the ego.

A good third sentence would be: ‘he’s the voice of the announcer on the global best selling video game FIFA 16′
That’s me by the way. I’m also the voice of FIFA 15, 14, 13, 12,11 …right back to FIFA 06.
I did mention that the third sentence is about showing off, didn’t I?


And then comes the last bit, which is ‘please welcome XXXXXXXX XXXXXXX’
(Don’t forget to fill your name in. Unless your name is XXXXXXXX XXXXXXXXX!)

A good fourth sentence would be: ‘Please welcome JEREMY NICHOLAS.’
I always write my name in block capitals, to make it easy for the emcee to find. Not because I’m shouting!


So that’s it. A simple four point formula, but it works every time.

1.Who you are, (without saying your name).
2.What you are going to talk about
3. Why you are THE person to listen to on this subject.
4. Please welcome ……your name.

And then go and laminate it. Use a different colour of paper to white, so it’s easy for the emcee to find on a clipboard.

Thanks for listening, If you’ve enjoyed my blog I’ve been Jeremy Nicholas.
If you haven’t I’m XXXXXXXX XXXXXXXX.

Jeremy Nicholas is a writer and broadcaster who’s also a Fellow of the Professional Speaking Association and in 2015 was awarded the Professional Speaking Award of Excellence (PSAE). He’s the only person to have three times hosted the main stage at the Professional Speaking Association’s annual convention. 

He’s on a mission to make the world’s speakers more entertaining and engaging.

Take your  speaking to the next level by joining Jeremy for a Talking Toolbox Masterclass  (In 2016 in London, Dubai, Manchester, Leeds, Stockholm, Oslo, Amsterdam and Riyadh)

Are you a boring speaker?


Have you ever spoken at an event and been met with stony silence?
Why do other speakers get applause and laughter and sometimes standing ovations, but you don’t?
It’s a dreadful question to ask, but might YOU BE BORING when you speak in public?

I’ve worked as a professional speaker for twenty years, alongside my ‘proper job’ as a broadcaster.
In that time I’ve seen more than my fair share of dreadfully dull talks. The sad thing is that most of them don’t need to be dull. They just need help.

About ten years ago, I was emceeing a corporate event and the Chief Executive took to the stage. He followed two charismatic speakers.

The audience were happy and the Chief Exec spent an hour and a quarter spoiling that. Trevor, let’s call him Trevor, was dull. The most interesting thing was that he was called Trevor and I’ve just made that up.


*They write their talks for reading, not for speaking
*They use whole sentences, which is not how we talk.
*When they say something funny, they don’t pause for laughter. So nobody laughs.
*They hide behind the lectern and don’t move for an hour.
*They don’t make eye contact with anyone in the audience.
*They use loads of facts, but don’t illustrate them with stories.
*They have more slides than Alton Towers.
*They use in-house references that no sense to any newcomers or outsiders.
*They skate round the subject like Torvill and Dean, when they could have made the point in half the time.
*They go on a ramble and leave us to pick out the important bits of their talk.
*They overrun their time, when people are dying for a coffee and a wee; not necessarily in that order.

Trevor (with the dull talk and the made up name) committed all of these crimes. He completely killed the atmosphere in the room, destroying the feel-good factor generated by the previous two speakers.
That was not just my view. It was the view of everyone. The organiser said to me in a quiet aside that he had the same effect every year. Yet everyone was congratulating this guy on his great speech. Of course they were! They were thinking about their bonus and their promotion prospects.

Eventbrite - Talking Toolbox Masterclass with Jeremy Nicholas

I’m not sure what made me do it, but I decided to tell him that he was boring. Or at least his talk was.
This was obviously not a great plan, because I was being well paid to be the emcee and there had been hints that it could become a regular gig.

But I told him anyway. Not at the event, but via email.
And I didn’t say he was dull, I asked him if he wanted to make his talk twice as good and get some guaranteed laughs and applause.

It turns out that he did. He wanted that very much and he was very grateful to me for mentioning it.
So a week later we met in a quiet corner of my club and I pulled Trevor’s talk to bits and then suggested how he could put it back together, but better than before. He was amazed at my almost photographic memory. I saw no reason to tell him about the recording that I’d made; something I always do when I’m emceeing, just to assess my own performance.

There were lots of positives about this guy. He looked the part and had a pleasant voice. He was also clearly popular with colleagues, so it was nothing to do with him as a person.
It was purely down to him not knowing a few simple rules about speaking in public.
Amazingly this is incredibly common in business. It gets worse the higher up the chain you go. Chief Executives spend their lives telling people what to do and they’re often not very good at being told when they are wrong.

After three sessions with Trevor he was getting laughs and even the odd bit of applause. Crucially he was holding his audience’s attention for the full hour.
These people need help. I’m on a mission to stop Britain’s business speakers from being boring. I want to make a difference to the quality of talks we are served up at conferences. I want to help make those chairs feel a little more comfortable.

Jeremy Nicholas set up Talking Toolbox Ltd to rid Britain from boring speakers. (There’s still a lot of work to be done.)

Eventbrite - Talking Toolbox Masterclass with Jeremy Nicholas

Join Jeremy for the next Talking Toolbox Masterclass on October 17th 2014 in Central London.
For more details and to book a place please visit  Eventbrite.

How to make the move into After Dinner Speaking

The formation of PADS – PSA After Dinner Speakers

I’ve formed a Professional Expert Group (PEG) for After Dinner Speakers who belong to the Professional Speaking Association. This weekend, at the Hilton Hotel, Coventry I spoke at the PSA annual convention, giving a session on how to make the move into after dinner speaking and was encouraged that twenty five of the one hundred odd speakers (some of them very odd)  have signed up to say they’re interested. You can join the group here.

When I first joined PSA back in 2007 I was surprised to find lots of brilliant speakers who specialise in motivational talks, marketing, sales, every aspect of business you can think of, but very few after dinner speakers. There are some brilliant ones of course; Graham Davies, Kenny Harris, John Hotowka, Alan Stevens and the rest, but as a breed we are outnumbered.

That’s a shame, because I come across a lot of after dinner speakers outside of the PSA, and a lot of them are rubbish. I think the time has come for action. I’m fed up of choking on my chicken dinners watching ex politicians, sports stars and TV presenters, serve up the same old reheated fare. So I’m proposing to form the PADS – PSA After Dinner Speakers. This will be a PEG, something that is very popular amongst NSA speakers in the USA, which will help us connect, collaborate, and exchange ideas. I don’t have any fixed ideas on how it will work, but I think the first thing will be a LinkedIn group, which I’ll set up this week.

Will we have outside meetings? Probably not.

Will we meet up at PSA conventions? Definitely yes, probably in the sauna and swimming pool.  Maybe we could meet up at PSA chapter meetings too? I’m sure no region would mind us hijacking their meeting, as long as we all did ten minutes of entertainment each!

If you didn’t sign up, but would like to join the group please contact me. The only condition for entry is that you are an associate, member or fellow of the Professional Speaking Association. You don’t have to be an experienced after dinner speaker, just someone with an interest in moving into that area.

I look forward to sharing chicken dinners with you in the future!

Jeremy Nicholas – PSA

If you have any questions, please contact me:

07802 251530

You can join the PSA After Dinner Speakers group here

Join the Professional Speaking Association here


What’s the difference between after dinner and keynote speeches? – After dinner doesn’t have a core message, it just has to be entertaining. (There’s no take away, unless you count a doggy bag!)

Does it have to be funny? – No, but it does have to be entertaining. Don’t be put off by the expectation that you have to be funny. It’s not stand-up comedy; it’s story telling.

What works best? – True stories from your own life. I’ve seen great talks by adventurers, vicars, war veterans. No need for a message but a running theme through the stories works well.

How long do you have to do? – Typically 30-40 minutes, but I’ve done 20, 30, 40, 45, 50 and 60 minute talks. (But even I think 60 minutes of me is too much!)

How do you write them? – My advice is to write down your ten best stories; the ones that go down best at weddings when you are telling them to the person you’ve never met before, who’s sitting beside you. I have 10 x 5 minute stories. For a 30 minute talk, I pick the 6 stories that will work best for the audience. My stories work in any order. They can all be lengthened if going well and shortened if they are getting no reaction.

What about swearing? – I never swear, but some after dinner speakers do. If in doubt, leave it out. Some speakers put a swear word into a punchline of a story to signal it’s the moment to laugh. Be warned, it usually gets a laugh, but you may be alienating a silent minority.

Should I do unpaid gigs? – Yes. Hone your material at networking groups, rotary groups, golf clubs, Ladies who Lunch etc. They won’t pay you, but you’ll get a free dinner. This will invariably be chicken. In a sense you should pay them, because they are helping you find out what bits of your routine work, and what doesn’t. You’ll know you’re doing well, the first time you are served beef.

How do I get paid gigs? – Contact groups in the Directory of British Associations. Contact local firms and organisations. They all have dinners coming up. After dinner is big in the next few months as people have Christmas parties.

What about speaker bureaus? – Forget it to start with. They’re obsessed with celebrities who’ll help get bums on seats at the event. Your best bet is to build up a reputation and get referrals from gig to gig.

Can you make a living out of it? – There are only a few people who do, but it’s a brilliant extra income stream, because it’s in the evenings and you can do other things during the day. (Like playing golf!)

Do I have to sit with them during the dinner? – You don’t have to, but I usually do. It goes down well and you’ll often pick up extra gigs, because you’ll usually be on the table with the Big Cheeses. (Tell them if you are lactose intolerant).

Won’t they keep asking me questions about my talk? – Yes that can be a problem, so you need to avoid stories that are in your upcoming act. Instead try and deflect their enquiries about your life, which will inevitably have crossover with your talk, by asking lots of questions to the people at dinner. You’ll pick up great information that you can add to the first few minutes of your talk, which will show you’ve personalised it for them. They’ll love you for it.

What about getting into the zone before speaking? – Unlike keynote speaking, there’s no hiding behind the stage until you are introduced. However I sometimes miss out the pudding course and go to the loo, just to check my tie is straight, my hair isn’t sticking up and I’ve got my notes handy.

You use notes! – Yes I have each 5 minute story on a 6×4 white index card. I have them in front of me during the talk and rarely refer to them. If I do, they’re conveniently placed next to my glass of water, so it looks like I’m having a drink. I have a terrible memory. No-one minds if you use notes but they do mind if you forget your act. And I’m not sure if I mentioned it, but I have a terrible memory.

What about the topical/local mentions? – They’re on separate blank cards which I fill in during the meal. I do sometimes hold them up to read, especially if there’s names of people in the room that I want to make sure I get right.

What if they don’t laugh or react to my stories? – If a line doesn’t get the reaction I want for three gigs in a row, I drop it. It’s three strikes and you’re out! Even if I think it’s the best line in the world, it goes. You have to be brutal.

What can I do to make them react? – Build to your punchline, then pause, pause and pause again. When you say your killer line, you have to give them permission to laugh, gasp in horror or whatever. In the end they will react, even if it’s just because you are staring at them.

Should I be jokey? – You don’t have to act funny to be funny. You’re not a clown, you are a speaker. Jack Dee is hilarious, but looks miserable. Whatever nonsense you’ve heard about presentation being all about body language, forget it. The most important bits are the words, the story and your story telling ability.

Should I wear a suit? – Yes always dress at a higher or equal level than your audience. It gives you a higher status. Lots of storytelling, particularly humorous stories work better if you are perceived as high status. You want them laughing with you, not at you. Don’t wear a Mickey Mouse tie, unless you are the CEO of Disney.

Do you stand at the table to speak? – Usually yes, but I move into the light if there is one, and I go on the stage if there is one. I’m always looking for light and height. (I’m 5 ft 8 in)

Any more tips on writing after dinner talks? – I’ve got lots and I’ll be giving a masterclass on Using Humour at the PSA Midlands Chapter in Birmingham on 8th November 2011. You can find details and book here.

I hope that’s useful, if I can be of any help in kick starting your after dinner speaking career, please contact me:

Jem: 07802 251530