What I learnt from the Professional Speakers Association convention



I’ve hosted lots of events over the years, but the PSA Convention must be the most nerve wracking. Nothing comperes to you, as Sinead O’Connor might have sung, if she’d been a really bad speller.
I’ve done stadium gigs I’ll have you know. Thirty five thousand at Upton Park, over seventy thousand at Cardiff and even more at Twickenham.
It was nothing to the fear I felt as MC on the opening day of the Forest of Arden convention 2008.
But I always embrace fear. The only speakers that don’t get nervous are wooden and square and have names like Kenwood or Bang and Olufsen.
My first words were to introduce motivational guru L. Vaughan Spencer. He’s the comic creation of Neil Mullarkey. I wanted to introduce him straight so as not to give the game away. So I decided not to go onstage and instead do a ‘voice of God’ announcement. This involves standing in the wings and pretending to be Morgan Freeman. In times of stress my voice, which has been breaking for over thirty years, comes out in a high pitched squeak. I willed myself down the octaves like Margaret Thatcher seeking that low pitch that signals authority.
Happily my voice emerged more Morgan Freeman than Morgan Fairchild.

L Vaughan was a triumph and so was every act on the stage that day, right through to a brilliant acoustic set from half of 10CC.

On the second day God made the heavens. Meanwhile in the Forest of Arden on Day 2 of PSA I could relax. Scottish comedian Kenny Harris was picking up the compere’s baton and running with it. As the half man/half badger strode confidently about the stage , I picked up my pen and wrote down every good joke he said. I figured I could have them translated and use the best to English speaking audiences. Maybe even both gags.
Only kidding Kenny, I thought you were terrific.

By mid Saturday morning I’d learnt a lot from speakers on the stage. You can wear a business suit and still be a rebel, and speaking in stilettos isn’t a problem. It was food for thought and I wasn’t sure what to wear for lunch.

One thing that surprises me is the number of people who sit and just listen during talks. That’s no good. You’ve got to write it down. Maybe it’s my journalistic training, but I write everything down. It also stops my mind wandering onto other matters like football or Nicole Kidman.
If you are ever speaking and see me in the audience not making notes, it either means I’ve switched off, or I’ve forgotten my pen.
Here’s some of the stuff I wrote down at PSA 2008.
*Robin Sieger set a world record in 2001 in Alaska. At minus 26 Celsius he played the coldest round of golf ever.
*Paul Du Toit told me four ways to pronounce his name. Sadly I can remember all four, but not which is correct.
*Mike Southon knows a lot about the Beatles.
*Will Kintish likes networking so much, he chats to people in the swimming pool. Even when he’s in the way of people like me who are trying to do lengths.
*John Cremer can read people. He says The Queen, Mr Bean and lots of accountants are lunar people. I’m from somewhere between Mars and Jupiter. I think it means I like war, but in a nice way.
*Sam Silverstein proved to me that Americans are just better speakers than we are. I’m sorry but I think it’s true. In my radio days, if I knew one of my guests was American I wouldn’t worry about the interview at all . I knew they’d talk for England.
Sam says if you can speak about what you love, what you are good at and what you can make money from, all at the same time, you’ve cracked it.
*Another inspirational American, Mitchell thinks if you are not speaking enough, it’s probably because you are not speaking enough.
*Derek Arden says when you negotiate your fee you should have an expensive Mont Blanc pen and point it at the person as you name your price. He makes us tell the person next to us our fee. And double it and keep a straight face. I discover mountaineer Cathy O’Dowd’s fee for a talk is much bigger than mine. I think she must do a lot of summits. Never mind the pen, she’s probably been up Mont Blanc.
*Lesley Everett reckons our personal brand is what people say about us behind our backs, or what comes to mind when we have left the stage. She’s only five foot one and a half. I think she speaks more sense per inch than anyone else I’ve seen.
*Alan Stevens comes close, but he’s so tall. Alan says we must always tell stories from our own experiences. They are better than stories about starfish, lighthouses or boiling frogs.
*Rod Sloane says I should think of one word to describe myself. The word that sums him up is ‘simple’, which seems fairly accurate.
During Rod’s talk Eilidh Milnes passes me a note that reads ‘dry’. It’s either how she sees me, or she’s a secret weather forecaster.
*Graham Jones says we shouldn’t tell potential clients that we are speakers. They don’t care. We should tell them we are experts and what value we can give to their audience.

Annoyingly the highlight of the convention comes on Kenny’s day and not mine.
Having introduced 10CC onstage I was pretty sure Kenny couldn’t top that. In fact I introduced them twice, but the first time turned out to be the guys carrying their guitars. How we laughed.
But Kenny did top it with his headline act on the Saturday night. Yet another American, Mike Rayburn is sensational. He can play two tunes on the guitar at once. He plays Duelling Banjos, the classic duet between guitar and banjo from the film Deliverance , but with an Iraqi twist. I had to watch it again on YouTube the next day, to see if it really was as good as I remembered. I still have Led Zeppelin singing Dr Seuss playing in my head now.
The evening was nearly a disaster. I had a wardrobe malfunction with my bowtie and had to borrow Ayd Instone’s back up tie. In return I had to agree to write this article for him.

On the third day, while God was making dry land and sea, I was up early to watch the repeat of ‘Match of the Day’ on TV before heading off for breakfast and more sessions.
I really enjoyed PSA 2008. Nearly all of the speeches were top notch. I thought about football and Nicole Kidman only rarely. Just once, I thought about Nicole Kidman playing football, but we won’t go into that.
I learnt loads including :
*It’s better to pull than push. That suits me, I much prefer pulling.
*If you lose your name badge you might like to have a tattoo on your chest that says ‘My name is Scott’.
*If you are a crap speaker and you write a book, you are still a crap speaker.
*Mark Baker is a lucky man. He won a free ticket for next year’s convention.
*As speakers we must make sure we get paid on time. See Graham Davies if you need a contract. (I think Graham is some sort of hired assassin.)
But I especially learnt that 10CC look a lot like their roadies. Any MC who confuses them with their roadies shouldn’t be judged harshly.
I can’t wait till next year, but I hope to point my Mont Blanc at lots of people in the meantime.