Public Speaking always on probation

DAILY PROMPT: Witness Protection! When you do something scary or stressful — bungee jumping, public speaking, etc. — do you prefer to be surrounded by friends or by strangers? Why?

I never go bungee jumping or white water rafting such adrenalin rushes are not for me. But I can relate to public speaking having done a lot of this over the years. I have always viewed public speaking as a bit of a performance. You have to be interesting to capture the audience and to keep them with you. I think you have to be interested yourself in what you are saying. I try to do this by doing final preparations close to the event. I want to create the adrenalin rush I abhor in bungee jumping but which gets me through a speech. By planning near to the delivery time of the event means that there is a creative tension right up to the delivery. I have done this most of my career and can only think of one occasion where this approach let me down and I failed to deliver to my own satisfaction.

I often do talks in front of people I know. The world I work in is relatively small so it is always likely to include colleagues and acquaintances in the audience. I find this comforting and many will give me feedback which is important too. Last June I gave a speech at the University of Cambridge in celebration of the late Bill McWilliams and this was the 16th Annual Memorial Lecture. The you tube link to the talk can b found here. The theme was the privatisation of probation and not only did I feel strongly about it, from a personal point of view I regarded it as the pinnacle of my career. I was so pleased to be asked and delighted that some close friends and my daughter came to see me. I thus was performing to a new audience and took me back to the only other occasion when personal invites had been prominent which was my inaugural professorial lecture in 1999 I think.

This speech mattered for so many reasons. The threat to probation was real and menacing and remains so to this day. I felt strongly about what the government were doing and continue to do and do not think that is any evidence to support this change. Secondly my career has always been either in probation or working with probation and as the first ever Professor of Probation Studies you could say that probation has been my working life. Indeed the carton below illustrates this perfectly.

But the third reason was performing well in front of my friends and my daughter. This mattered as much and I raised my game. I thought of little else for weeks beforehand and I have continued to speak on this topic throughout the last ten months, drawing on but developing the themes of that day. Having family and friends there increased the adrenalin flow and I worked on it right upto leaving the hotel an hour or so before the event.

Others will tell you whether I succeeded but I enjoyed it and think I did alright in front of my peers.

(Cartoon reprinted by kind permission from my friend Philip Proctor.)


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