Are You The Speaker?

The reception I receive at some of the venues I visit can be varied. Sometimes, if the speaker secretary is not present there can be no one to greet you and tell you what the procedure is for the session. On occasions when this happens and no one else approaches you have to seek out someone who looks official to ask what the usual structure is and to inform them of your requirements. Usually someone is helpful and can assist you but sometimes you have to fly by the seat of your trousers.

On one occasion I attended a meeting in a very posh hotel suite at a nearby seaside resort (the location of which shall remain nameless) and just such a thing happened. I entered the room with my trolley to see around a dozen people already there. I asked if anyone was Mrs 'Speakers Secretary' and was told she was ill and would not be coming. Usually the conversation will continue with “But Mrs 'Stand In' will see to you” however this time the conversation stopped dead as this smart but slightly ignorant (my own quick assumption) lady turned back to her colleagues to continue with what was to her a very important conversation. I asked if the table at the top was for me. “No,” she snapped, just turning her head toward me this time “That's where Mrs President sits - and she's not here yet.” She paused, then, with a little grunt as if to say she knew she should say something more to appease me but didn't know what, continued with “The speaker goes on the stage”. She turned back to her conversation, feeling satisfied that she has brought our brief communication to a satisfactory conclusion. I wanted to tell her that I do not usually work from a stage as I tend to run around the audience during the fold-along but I felt, from her body language, I would be wasting my time. There was to be an audience of around seventy people that day so felt confident someone would approach with instructions. Well, I was wrong. As more and more people arrived I enquired if anyone was Mrs President but “She's not here yet” was the usual reply.

Time was getting on and I had not even started setting out my display yet and, from what I could determine, there was only ten minutes or so to go before the start of the meeting. Most sessions such as these start off with the usual notices and business first which would at least give me time to get sorted but, sometimes I am 'on' first so this set up time cannot always be guaranteed. No one had yet occupied the president's table to ask. No one had come forward to greet me. There was no obvious table for me to display my work on and, as the clock was ticking, it was time to act. I looked around for someone that seemed important and my eyes settled on a newly arrived balding grey haired portly gentlemen sporting a handlebar moustache. He was smartly dressed in a suit complete with waistcoat, pocket watch and chain. For clarity I will refer to him as Mr 'Pocket Watch'. “Excuse me” I boldly sounded as I approached him “I was just...”, “Ah yes...” he interjected “...You must be the speaker.”, “Yes, I was wondering...” “Ah, jolly good, jolly good, should be marvellous eh” he continued as he shook my hand. I returned with “I...” but his focus was back to his chums and was deep in conversation again. He was about to deliver the punchline to an awful joke. I had heard this joke several times before and thought to myself, no one will laugh. They laughed!

I was getting nowhere fast and the clock was ticking. Mrs President's table was still empty. The only information I had to go on was that “The speaker goes on the stage” as relayed to me beforehand by Mrs Indignant. I needed to do something to ensure I was ready should I be summoned first. I was starting to think I was superfluous to the agenda and would probably not be missed if I turned my trolley round and left but I have a reputation to keep so had to start thinking quick. I decided I should be safe using the front edge of the stage to set out my display as that was previously confirmed as the domain of the speaker. My props and material boxes could stay on the trolley so I could wheel it to wherever was needed at a moments notice. I moved it to the front in close proximity to the still empty Mrs President's table half expecting Mrs Indignant to come and tell me that I cannot possibly park there. I slid open the front of the models box and started to set up my display.

Most times, as models start appearing from their boxes, people come over and take a closer look, start cooing and wowing and asking questions. I thought as soon as the models go up on the stage someone will come and talk to me and I can find out what the score is. No one did! Never mind I thought, I can always go for a walk on the beach afterwards to save wasting the day totally. I completed setting up, wandered off and sat on a chair near the corner of the stage.

As the clock clicked its way towards 2.30 the room was quite full and humming with peoples various conversations. Mr Pocket Watch looked up at the clock on the wall, checked his own pocket watch on his chain and while replacing it back into its own purpose made waistcoat pocket, he and Mrs Indignant both made their way over to Mrs President's table. They both sat down. Mr Pocket Watch smacked the gavel three times on the table shouting “I say everyone, let's make a start shall we eh”. What I thought!!! HE was MR President. And Mrs Indignant was second in command! He stood up and continued “I want to introduce eh...”, pausing he looked in my direction and I could read by the look on his face that he had no idea who I was. I turned toward him and raised my hand surreptitiously pointing to my name on the breast of my shirt”...Mr Stephen Watson Origami...” he continued without even trying to conceal the fact that he was reading from my shirt. He faced the audience again “...and I am sure he is going to amaze us all with his wonderful tricks”. Oh boy.

I moved forward and smiled. As the applause died away I thought to myself, this is going to be one of those automatic talks. An Automatic talk is where you deliver your presentation and do not get any feedback from the audience, not even a snigger at the carefully implanted jokes, slipped in to instil a little humour into the proceedings. You just have to switch into automatic mode. It does however make it very difficult to determine how the presentation is being received. On the very rare occasions, when I get an audience without any feedback, I do not let it phase me. I do give a good and entertaining talk if I say so myself and if the audience does not appreciate it, I just resign myself to the fact that I have done my best and not to take it to heart. They do not need to book me again. It happens very rarely but it does happen sometimes and it felt like this could be one of those 'sometimes'.

That walk on the beach sounds a good idea I thought to my self as I heard my voice cut into the remaining few claps. I made my start. “My name is Stephen Watson, and it is official, I AM an origami nerd”. This is the opening line I always use and I deliver it in the same manner as a drinker would as he introduces himself at the weekly Alcoholic Anonymous meeting. It is like the starter motor on a car, an opening line to get you moving when you are undertaking a journey and not knowing how rough the road will be. Once you start you are on your way and this line gets me mentally focused on the task ahead. After the word 'nerd' I pause for a split second and smile as I draw breath to continue. What happens in this brief pause will tell me just how tough it is going to be. It is my first opportunity to gather initial feed back. I got nothing, not even a grin. “Can everyone hear me OK?”. Nothing. “If you can't hear at the back give me a wave and I will” pausing with a hint of a little wave and awkward smile “Wave back”. Nothing. As I started my third line “I am a member of the British Origami Society and ...”. I am already thinking 'oh well auto mode on' but before I get to the end of this third sentence I heard giggles. I need not have worried, it just took a little time for it to sink in that I was trying to be funny. Perhaps it was going to be alright after all.

Forty five minutes later I could safely say the talk was a hit and everyone thoroughly enjoyed it. During the folding session I picked on a few to generate laughs and this technique worked a treat. The session finished with a long and rowdy applause and the display was swamped with people wanting to find the models that 'did something' that I hinted at in the talk. Obviously and to my relief the majority of those attending were not of the same disposition as Mr Pocket Watch and Mrs Indignant. Indeed I had erroneously assumed the worst as I had mistakenly painted everyone with the same attitude.

Mr Pocket Watch gave a thank you speech and presented me with the cheque and as everyone clapped again he said to me “I say, spot on there boy, spot on eh”. I acknowledged everyone again with a hand gesture and a mouthed 'thank you' conscious that I needed to get my gear quickly packed up. I have the packing away sequence off to a fine art and find it delaying when people offer to help so I was glad to be left to my own devices. The hum of the room got quieter as people started to leave and when I turned round to go there was no one left. Even Mr Pocket Watch was gone! The only movement in the room was a member of staff who was making his way round the tables throwing the circular table cloths into a woven wheeled basket. “Wow” I said to him “Everyone dissipated fast”. “They always do” he replied without flinching from his autonomous movements. “You only get three hours parking on the sea front and that traffic warden is a little bloody Hitler. He'll be out there now, waiting to pounce on em”. He stopped in mid motion, looked up at me, “Your not parked on the front are ya?”. “No”, I said, “I was here early and got a spot in the hotel car park”. With a 'that's OK then grunt' he resumed his mechanical motions of table cloths into basket without another word.

All in all it turned out to be a success. Mrs Speakers Secretary called me that evening to apologise for not being able to be there to meet me in person and informed me that everyone had thoroughly enjoyed it and would I come back next year?

As for Mrs Indignant, well I did get some revenge. When preparing for the fold-along segment of the presentation I usually hand out the paper and the creasing sticks myself, bantering humorous lines as I weave between the tables, mingling with the audience as I seek out potential people I can safely pick on as we fold. Those with an open and smiling disposition do not object to and often enjoy the humorous jibes I throw in their direction during the hands on session. Their colleagues enjoy it even more as they see their friend being made the butt of a joke or two. I had estimated that there were over eighty people present so, after making my way round with the paper, I offered Mrs Indignant an awkward amount of creasing sticks which she automatically grasped with both hands before realising it “Be a darling and distribute these down this side of the room for me would you”. The shocked look on her face was a picture. I smiled at her and with a wink of an eye quickly turned away to hide a cheeky grin which I just could not conceal. As I was no longer in range for her to object she had to comply. I had already started distributing sticks down the opposite side of the room so ther was nothing she could do about it.

The sand was still very soft and wet as the tide had only just started to recede but that cool half hour walk along the beach before heading home was so refreshing after the heat of the hotels function room. I kicked the sand from my shoes the best I could before getting into my car knowing I would be trying to vacuum that said same sand out of the footwell carpet for weeks to come.

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