Ending 18 years of self-exile from the stage

During an end-of-year school dramatic production 18 odd years ago a 10-year-old lad stepped onto the stage and spoke before an audience of parents and teachers. Dressed in a white collar shirt with a Ramsay Blue tartan sash over one shoulder, cropped trousers with grey socks pulled up just below the knees and a sensible pair of shoes, he managed to muddle through his lines and leave the stage without ruining the production.

As you’ve probably gathered, that lad was me and until earlier this month that occasion was the last time I had done any speaking in public. You see, I’d long considered public speaking to be a domain other people inhabited; those who could tell captivating stories laced with wit, suspense and meaning; those with something interesting and intelligent to impart; those who looked as though they were *enjoying* themselves up there in front of an audience. Not for me, thank you very much. I was more than happy having the option of sinking into my seat on those odd occasion when audience members were invited to take to a stage.

That was, however, until the beginning of this year when I drew up a longlist of things that would take me out of my comfort zone, only to find that speaking in public occupied no less than three items. I waited until the very last hour before submitting a talk for CS Forum 2011 before gasping in an equal measure of delight and horror weeks later upon seeing my name and mugshot amongst some of our industry’s most informed and celebrated pracitioners. My mind rapidly turned to the question of how I was going to close that 18-year speaking gap between a school production and an international conference. No amount of quirky mock Victorian attire would be able to mask my monotonous delivery this time.

So imagine my relief when the chance arose to deliver a 5-minute lightning talk at the inaugural London Content Strategy Meetup event “Wrapping up Confab, unwrapping CS Forum”. I now had an excellent opportunity to put myself through the ordeal of speaking and see how I react under the pressure. Would every other word be an expletive? Would I start referring to myself in the third person? Would I somehow lose my trousers? Pleasingly, whilst I’ll happily admit to being a little overawed at the prospect of sharing the bill with seven excellent speakers, I felt I didn’t do too bad a job of blowing the cobwebs away.

The cake was no lie

The subject of my talk was Confab 2011 and in particular a session led by Erika Hall, co-founder of Mule Design Studio. At the time, I was in the middle of conducting my survey of today’s content strategists. So when Erika briefly took us back to the life of a content strategist during those halcyon days of the mid-to-late 1990’s my ears immediately pricked up. Such was her experience, it was was also interesting to hear Erika’s take on the recent rise in interest in content strategy and how she believes it sits alongside the other design sub-disciplines. I’d heartily recommend flicking through her slide deck.

With a few seconds left to spare I ended my talk by (energetically) paying tribute to Confab’s dedicated army of live tweeters. With the brain-to-finger speed of a court reporter and the anticipatory skills of an air traffic controller, they helped keep the #Confab hashtag competitive at a local to national level throughout the duration of the conference.

To finish, I must thank everyone who made it past the heavy police cordon to be with us that night. Thanks also to Jonathan and Elizabeth for organising, all the brave souls who spoke as well as the event sponsors for making it happen. Let’s do it again soon.

One thought on “Ending 18 years of self-exile from the stage

  1. Charlie Peverett

    Your procrastination is our gain. Love this, thanks for sharing your road to the Mermaid Theatre. I’ve trodden the boards a bit, and it hadn’t been 18 years since the last time, but I still found the experience frankly terrifying; so respect to you sir. I found myself rooted to the mic stand, clinging to my notebook and blinking into the lights.

    I like you’re approach to pounding the stage – gives a sense that the audience is privy to your private musings.