Interview with Gyles Brandreth
What makes a good after-dinner speaker?
Oddly enough, I think a good speaker needs to be a good listener. Oscar Wilde used to say that “listening is an art; speaking is a craft”. A good speaker needs to be acutely aware of his audience: who they are and what they are wanting and expecting from a speech.
What should event planners keep in mind when booking a speaker?
That a speaker needs to be seen and (above all) heard, and sometimes a wonderful room has a dreadful acoustic! I have spoken in some glorious settings – palaces, museums, St Paul’s Cathedral and the Royal Courts of Justice in London, the Cutler’s Hall in Sheffield – where the acoustic has meant that I have had to speak much more slowly than usual in order to be clearly heard. A good sound system and a good acoustic make for a good listening experience.
How does humour factor into your talks?
Humour features in all my talks. Sometimes I am simply giving an after-dinner speech where being entertaining is essential. That’s at the heart of what’s wanted. But humour is always important, whatever the speech or the setting. Humour is what makes us human. But I don’t necessarily mean “jokes”. I mean stories that are relevant to the subject or audience, but also raise a laugh – usually a laugh of recognition.
What types of audiences benefit most from your keynotes and why?
I am a former politician and a journalist who has interviewed and met many of the world’s leaders (Thatcher, Blair, Clinton. Cameron, Mandela, Sheikh Mohammed of Dubai etc) so when I talk about “leadership” it’s because I have observed it at close hand.
As well, as talking about my experience of leaders in politics and business and the arts, I also talk about what makes people happy. I have written a book (and a stage show) about happiness – and how it affects our lives and work. Organisations (and governments) are increasingly interested in the economic and social impact of what makes us happy and why. Business needs a happy work-force.
What is one of your favorite experiences as a keynote speaker?
I hosted the British Funerals Directors Awards recently and was invited to try out a coffin. I found lying in the silk-lined casket curiously comforting! When I talk to a particular business, I do really try to get under the skin of that business. It’s what makes the job of speaking continuously fascinating and rewarding for me.