Part Five: Delivery

Introduction To Delivery

Well, this is it. Delivery is where everything that was previously just an idea becomes real.

It’s where you discover that speaking never goes quite as planned, but the planning was incredibly useful.

A bit like sailing a boat, and knowing exactly where you’re going – only to find that the wind has changed direction. You’ll still get there eventually but you may need to put on waterproofs, or sun cream, if you see what I mean.

The point is: you’ll be fine.

On this page you can hear, essentially, that same reassuring thought from other people. Mostly, that reassurance is delivered in video conversations I recorded with them.

Some of the videos are short, but one lasts for more than an hour. I don’t particularly recommend that you watch them all at once. It may be more useful to watch one, make some notes, go away and come back for the next one.

First witness: Steve Chapman, with whom I trained in theatrical improvisation. (We were taught by the great Keith Johnstone, author of Impro.)

Here we are together. I’m in the lilac shirt, facing away from the camera:

(JPF, centre, in lilac shirt) doing impro with others on Keith Johnstone's London course 2012

A couple of years later, Steve published a book and decided to launch it to the world by busking on London’s South Bank.

“I wanted to do a book launch that was completely different,” Steve told me at the time. “To practice what I preach in the book – which is to do scary stuff, and see if it’s as scary as you think it’s going to be.”

He brought a pile of copies of his book, Can Scorpions Smoke?, along with a guitar and a harmonica. His plan: to improvise songs about the book that might lure passers by to take a copy. I went along with my camera to film this bold venture. It was the least I could do.

I’m sharing it here so that next time you see someone standing on some kind of soap box – even a virtual soap box, on Zoom – you have a better sense of what they may be going through.

You’ll need to turn up the volume.

In less than an hour, Steve had got rid of all his books, and made a lot of people smile. “I’m pleased,” he said, before bursting into a few bars of paradoxically cheerful blues.

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Video: A Tip From Saint Augustine

I know the word “preaching” is off-putting. But that’s precisely what drew me to read Ron Boyd-Macmillan’s book, Explosive Preaching. I was curious to know how anybody could make it appealing.

In this 3 min highlight from a longer conversation, Ron shares an insight from Saint Augustine that could benefit anybody: read your audience.

If you’re allergic to talk about God, etc, take an antihistamine and watch to the end, where he brings it all back to worldly matters.

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Heather Says: Invite, Don’t Push

And now, back to impro, because it’s so totally relevant to Delivery. Heather Urquhart teaches impro. In fact, she teaches singing impro, in which people deliver songs they don’t even know – not till the words come out of their mouths.

For many participants, the idea of public singing is a lot more frightening than public speaking. So it’s a small miracle that Heather gets them to do it.

To be completely clear, I’m not interested, for now, in the plight of the frightened participants. I’m inviting you to think about Heather – about her teaching as a specimen of “public speaking”.

As you recall from Part 1: Arrangement, every speaker wants to change the audience. A sales person wants to make the audience part with cash. A politician wants your vote. What does Heather want? To get people to do things that can’t possibly seem “important” – not as important, anyway, as a new vacuum cleaner or a new government.

How does she pull it off?

In this short highlight from a longer conversation, Heather reveals the incredible, seemingly paradoxical power of not being pushy.

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“Bore Them A Little Bit”

One of the most surprising lessons I learned from Keith was deliberately to try to bore my audience a little.

This helps to remove the performer’s neediness. It can also give you a rather compelling air of mystery, as we found when we tried it.

(I made this sketch at the time, one of dozens, to serve as a reminder of all I was learning.)

Brightly coloured illustration of couple sitting on sofa, seemingly on a stage, with dialogue in speech bubbles

It should probably go without saying that the aim is to bore the audience “a little bit” – not to tears.

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“Do It All Wrong, And Still Be Good”

For a different point of view, I’d like to introduce you to Helen Bagnall. Helen has seen and heard zillions of speakers, many of them at the events she runs. So she has a particular insight into the converging interests of speaker / organiser / audience.

In this conversation, Helen offers the tremendously reassuring idea that you can do everything “wrong”, and still be good.

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And Finally… A Special Guest

The first time I ran this Modest, Adequate speaking course, I invited Steve Chapman to pop in to talk about a TEDx he delivered – not just any old TEDx but one that very quickly went viral.

He agreed to watch it with us – for the first time in a long while, so that it was fresh to him, too. Afterwards, he answered questions and comments.

This session overran (by general consent). Additionally, you can watch a few minutes in which I talked to Steve after everybody left.

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Thank You, And Goodbye (For Now)

If you haven’t already done so, please do think about booking a time to join me during Office Hours. I like to meet people on the course, and it helps me to improve it. Plus: like Steve, you may benefit from the experience of putting yourself “out there”.

Join me or not, I hope you found the course helpful. I’d be delighted to hear from you when you put it into practice.

Thanks for being here. Good luck.