by Brian Charlton

You are busy demonstrating one afternoon at a local craft fair and you hear those dreaded words “Do you give talks?”. This is usually followed by “I have been so interested I was wondering if you could give our club a little talk?” (Why is it usually a little talk, as they would feel cheated if you only gave them 10 minutes.) Further conversation then reveals that the enquirer has been let down by their booked speaker and they want you the day after next and the venue is the other end of the next county. You have never given a talk on marquetry before so you take a big breath and grace­fully decline and try to pass it on to someone else.

Luckily this is an extreme case and most enquiries give plenty of notice and are usually local. But what of your feelings about standing up in front of an audience? Do you feel you have it in you to give an interesting talk to about 30 or more people and hold their attention for 45 minutes? The thought can be daunting but with some planning the main fear can be reduced and with practise it can be turned into an interesting and exciting occasion. It is an excellent way of advertising the craft, your group and the Marquetry Society and also meeting people. So think about it, as most marquetarians are very talkative about their craft.

I was lucky enough to be taught public speaking at school by a dedicated English master who had us speaking in front of our peers for five to ten minutes on a subject of his choice. Many people have had no teaching, no encouragement and no need to speak in front of an audience but still have a lot of interesting information to give. So how do you start?

First of all if you are new to this speaking game do not be rushed into accepting a date as that puts pressure on you. It is essential that you have time to plan your talk, make your notes and get together your examples. If you go in before you have done this you could be heading for disaster.

The first thing to do is ask the person engaging you what is required in the way of length of time to be speaking, how many in the audience and what will be the make up of that audience. Also make sure that you have a contact number and that a map will be sent to you giving clear details of the hall location so that you are not lost on the night. Having a map does not guarantee that you will easily find the hall, as my wife and I found out on a cold foggy winter’s night some time ago. We went up and down the village street a number of times without success and finally in desperation went into the local to ask directions, and found that we had been very close to the hidden venue all the time.

Usually you will be asked to speak for 40 to 45 minutes. It is surprising how long 45 minutes can seem before you actually speak, but once you start you will find, without a little planning, that your 45 minutes is up and you are only three quarters of the way through your talk.

One of the major parts of the craft of marquetry is the visual part, so make sure you have a good number of examples of the craft to illustrate various sections of the talk. There is nothing worse than to have a speaker who does not keep the interest level up by not doing or showing you anything. I once went to a talk and the speaker kept the same slide on the screen for over ten minutes, and that is guaranteed to put an audience to sleep. If you yourself do not have enough items to illustrate the different aspects of your talk, then ask other members of your group if they will help out help out by letting you show some of their pieces of work. This has an advantage in that it does get different styles of marquetry displayed and other members do feel that they are included in promoting the group.

Break your talk into easily identified parts. For example, greeting everyone, introduction to the subject and what you plan to tell the audience. The craft itself easily divides into different aspects such as materials used, history and methods.

The question of how much detail should be included is a difficult one. Most groups who ask you to speak, for example, the WI, are not woodwork orientated and therefore are looking for a general overview of the craft and to be entertained. If you are asked to speak to a wood turning group they will expect far more detail about how you go about the craft. Our group was asked to give such a presentation and it stretched over the whole day with five of our members giving detailed talks on different aspects of the craft, such as cutting, polishing etc. If booked by a specialised group, ask them what they are looking for and then, if necessary, gear your talk to that information.

Always talk to your strengths. By that I mean if your choice of marquetry is, for example, to decorate boxes, then make sure that this is a prominent part of your talk. If you do not know much about the history of the craft do not delve into it too deeply. This way you avoid many pitfalls due to lack of knowledge. If you get a question on an aspect about which you do not know a great deal, then admit it and offer to find out about it and let the questioner know at a later date.

Remember the audience is on your side. They volunteered to come to hear you and to enjoy the talk. Problems with the audience are rare, they will not heckle or be rude and, usually, will laugh at the right time at any humour you have introduced into the talk. Occasionally someone might fall asleep but don’t take this personally as some people, with the best will in the world, can not help it. If you have a restful voice then they will succumb and you can do nothing except quietly ignore it. It is not the done thing to shout in a Jimmy Edwards voice “Wake up at the back there will you.” Loud conversation while you are in the middle of your talk is a different matter and I am glad to say is rare. The answer is to stop speaking and look directly at the people involved. This usually stops them and they don’t do it again.

It is advisable to stick to your planned talk as you will feel confident and the audience will know where you are going, but occasionally the wheels do come off, so to speak. On my very first talk I was going to define marquetry by using two dictionary definitions as part of my introduction but I was upstaged and had to do a rapid adjustment to the start of the talk. The President of this non-marquetry group introduced me and then proceeded to say that she did not know what marquetry was so she had looked it up in the dictionary. She then read out the definitions and completely took my introduction away. When I made a gentle joke about it I found that she did not have a sense of humour either!

What do you do if you yourself are the architect of your own problem? I was asked to speak at a large WI group and was told that they were very friendly and very much looking forward to the talk. So after the introduction by the President I stood up and launched into my talk by saying, “ Good evening ladies and gentlemen...” That is when you appreciate a friendly audience. I sat down amid loud laughter and immediately got up again saying, “ I’ll start that again. Good evening ladies.” The evening was a great success.

The only way to counter small problems such as these is to use humour and treat them as a laugh and if you do, the audience will be even more with you.

It is always best to say right at the start when you will take questions. Some presenters can take questions at any time and still retain the flow and position within the talk while others like to complete the speaking and then have a question and answer session at the end. This is, probably, the best way when you are doing your first sessions and also, if you are asking the audience to come up later to have a closer look at the work on show, but stick to what you feel comfortable with and make sure the audience is aware of what you intend to do.

In order to give the greatest impact to our picture examples we cover the tables in front of us with a soft cloth and turn the pictures face down before we start. This means that when we show them to the audience they have the maximum impact. It also means that you do not get members of the audience gathering round to look when you are setting up.

The big dilemma is what fee to charge. Organisations expect to be charged to be entertained and tend to think something is not up to standard if a fee is not required. Some speakers are reluctant to charge anything for doing something that they enjoy while others feel that some sort of fee is appropriate. My own feelings are that a fee should be charged together with travelling expenses but that you should be prepared to be flexible and take a reduction if you are speaking at the meeting, for example, of a small registered charity. Another way round the fee problem is to ask the organisers to donate the fee to a recognised charity or good cause.

In this time of falling membership, going out and giving a talk about a favourite hobby can lead to an occasional new member, but the main purpose is to keep people aware of the craft of marquetry. Frequently when giving demonstrations at a show someone will say “You came and gave us a talk a while ago and we were fascinated”, so word does get around.

The main thing about giving a talk is that the enjoyment can far outweigh the apprehension so give it a go and see if we can get a few more members.

Good luck.

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