The Art Of Public Speaking: Drinking And Swearing
And a little story about researching your audience ...
POSTED BY DAVID PIBWORTH ON 12/07/2016 @ 8:00AM
Ok, I shall cover both these points in one. You may think that I don't really need to cover these subjects, but they are worth considering if you're going to be doing some public speaking ...
Before you reach for the microphone, make sure what you're going to say is suitable for your audience.
copyright: antonprado / 123rf stock photo (licensee)
Regarding drinking alcohol before a presentation or speech: Don't. It's quite easy and there's no real way around it. It's one thing telling a joke or holding forth in a pub over a pint or two, but quite another when you are a guest speaker.
"Most people doing a corporate presentation or similar wouldn't even dream of it."
But you would be surprised how many people I speak to about an after dinner or wedding type speech, who think a couple of stiff drinks will make them better. Take it from me, as an ex 'heavy sipper', it doesn't.
What it does is to make you think you are better, which is terribly dangerous and potentially embarrassing. I once attended a wedding where the best man stood up and, at first, I thought that he was one of the best drunk acts I'd ever seen, but it gradually occurred to us that he was actually three sheets to the wind and totally incoherent.
He suddenly stopped mumbling and fell flat on his back. He fell slowly and there was just a thud as he hit the grass and there was a deathly silence from the guests.
I remember thinking - during the silence - that Buster Keaton or Charlie Chaplin would have fallen into a drum kit to improve the effect, but that it was pretty damn good and wondered if I should start the applause, but in true British style, the groom slowly got to his feet and said "So there we have it. Do carry on enjoying yourselves" and no one really mentioned it again.
Funny though it was to me, I guess the Bride and Groom could never quite look back at the wedding day without reference to the incident. I think no more needs to be said on alcohol consumption and on your own head be it if you do ignore this friendly bit of advice.
Now, onto swearing. No-one loves a good swear more than I, but it's to be avoided unless you absolutely know your audience. I occasionally do all male rugby club speeches where swearing is a must and I get the opportunity to wheel out old jokes that are now considered un-PC; it's huge fun.
But these are one-offs and swearing is a danger area on normal speeches to an audience you don't know. Again I'm ignoring presentations as you would just never have the need to use questionable language.
The difficulty with swearing is that really you are not going out to offend and some - not many - people are offended by even the word 'bloody' so you just need to think long and hard about using any swear words.
It's an odd area. I once put the word 'Pillock' into a panto script (as in "You great pillock") and someone said it was offensive. The word does indeed derive from 'penis' , but latterly is just someone who's not too bright.
"It stayed in the script as general opinion is that it is a funny word, but you get my drift."
There's always someone out there ready to pick up on something, and you don't want to alienate any members of your audience. This clearly doesn't apply to comedians who often do go out of their way to offend, but they are known for it and people go to see them for their style. Saying that, comedians who don't resort to swearing are held in higher regard by the public, on the whole, than those who do.
I only ever use swearing to comic effect, or if I hit my thumb with a hammer. I never use it to try to make a serious point. If you're involved in an argument/discussion and you resort to it, you're done for. You've lost the moral ground in sensible debate.
Just a tip which is nothing to do with public speaking - On Facebook, I absolutely infuriate those who disagree with me by being totally reasonable about their view even when they are ranting and swearing about mine. I get a certain amount of abuse for standing my ground on matters I believe in, and it drives my detractors up the wall and in the end they just stop swearing at me.
I don't much care for David Cameron, Jeremy Corbyn, Nigel Farage or Nicola Sturgeon as political figures, but I would never swear about them and indeed would happily have a chat with any of them as they're interesting characters who are making history one way or another. I may disagree but character assassination because you disagree with a political point is hardly the way forward.
So swearing, although unlike drinking booze, is not a hard and fast rule, just consider it very seriously before wading in.
The final tip this week, is on research on your audience. If I'm doing a corporate event, I really make sure that I find out a bit about the top people. Those who most people at the event will know.
Do they like golf, do they drive a flash car, what are their hobbies and so on. If you can personalise the speech it's great, and I will often open with a joke about the boss or similar connecting it with his or her hobby or something that has happened recently.
You really get the audience on side with that. Comedians use this ploy too. I used to write little openings for comedians who would appear at Northampton. If there are traffic lights or roadworks on Gold Street for instance, and the comic walks on and says "Hello everyone in Northampton; cor dear, that traffic coming along Gold Street was a bit tricky wasn't it?" the chances are that half the audience has been held up there as well, and suddenly the comic is a soul mate who understands how difficult it is with the roadworks. He's in and they love him for it.
Ok, Ken Dodd was driven there having a nap in the back of the car not having a clue what street is what outside of Knotty Ash, but just a little preparation goes a long way to getting the audience on side. I'd prep them on local stuff, such as who is the MP, and anything of interest that was going on there, and they could use it to their benefit if the moment arose.
"But even here you must be careful on your gossip source."
I had a friend who gave an after dinner speech where the Mayor and his wife were guests of honour. He'd nattered to those attending before he went on and was told that the Mayor's wife was a bit of a laugh and loved a drink or two and was the life and soul of the local area.
In his speech, he said "Well, great to see the Mayor here and his lovely wife. I guess many of you will have had a laugh or two, and indeed a drink or two with her over the years ..." There was a horrified silence. It turned out that not only was they Mayor's wife a pretty humourless type, but it was very well known that she was a recovering alcoholic.
Check your sources, don't have a drink and watch the swearing ... all of those things can be a real bugger and you don't want everyone to think you're a pillock, do you?
Until next time ...
More about David Pibworth ...
David is the owner of David Pibworth Productions (DPP) which provide corporate entertainment and also actors for corporate training and development.
Having worked in the Light Entertainment field for many years and produced shows for Al Murray & Joe Pasquale amongst others, David is in a position to advise on well-known comedy and musical acts. DPP also represent Ray Galton and Alan Simpson's scripts which include Hancock's Half Hour and Steptoe and Son.
He is the director of MK Theatre of Comedy who are very well known locally for their stage adaptations of classic comedy scripts such as Fawlty Towers, The Vicar of Dibley, Allo Allo and many others.
He is a long-standing member of Equity and the Directors Guild of Great Britain and has acted in, and directed, many productions over the years, mainly in Light Entertainment, but with occasional forays into Shakespeare etc. Every Christmas he is contracted as an Ugly Sister in Cinderella, currently with 'That's Entertainment' who also use him as a director.
He teaches eccentric magic for The Pauline Quirke Academy and MKTOC also run a youth drama school in Olney from the DPP offices.
David maintains his busy lifestyle is a surefire way to avoid being on any committees. He is married to Julie, and they have one daughter, Esther and live in Clifton Reynes, surrounded by dogs, cats and horses. They live so close to the church that David has instructed his daughter - when he dies and not before - to fire him over the wall from a circus cannon.