I hugely enjoy after dinner speaking. There was only one occasion I didn’t ― where a very enthusiastic MC said, “I have heard this man before, he is absolutely hilarious” (that’s a disastrous build-up right there) “and if we are very lucky, I think he might tell the story about when he was stuck on a train ― ”
He looked to me for confirmation. I just waved, but I am not sure what the wave meant.
“ ― yes, the story about how Mr Vine was stuck in a train toilet and the door opened while he was sitting there, and I know I mustn’t give the game away about what happened next.”
He turned to me. “Ladies and gentlemen, Mr Jeremy Vine!” and I was thinking, Do I have to tell the rest of that story which I wasn’t even planning to tell at all? I mean, the guy has just left me in a train toilet with the doors opening . . .
Leaving that aside, there is nothing more fun than being the host during after dinner speaking. And the key thing for a speaker is to have range. So below, for example, you see a picture of me at a charity I support in Milton Keynes called Ride High.
The charity brings a little light and love into the lives of disadvantaged kids by introducing them to horses. On my right is the amazing woman who set it up, Rachel Medill. I have been delighted to host their annual ball several times now.
The key is to tailor your speech for the event. The more messy the notes, the more tailored and up-to-the-minute the speech! (Below is an address I gave MPs at a 2015 event for the radio industry in the House of Commons).
The MPs made for a pretty compact audience. Speaking in front of a crowd of 20,000 was different – here I am on the stage at CarFest with Chris Evans (who did NOT ask me to tell the story about the train toilet). We had just watched the band Texas play. A great day, and a great moment, just being momentarily able to share hosting duties with the undisputed #1 of British DJs.
It was Bob Monkhouse who said,
Never make jokes outdoors.
That is superb advice (don’t ask me about the village fair in Sidmouth), although most events have a roof over them. By far the biggest demand these days is for a host who can present awards after dinner and speak entertainingly, either following the meal or sometimes before it. The speech might be around 20 minutes long ― one company asked for three minutes, one asked for 45 ― and then bang, into the awards we go.
The most important quality for a speaker is enthusiasm. When I presented the Social Care Awards (you can see me in the middle of the back row in the pic below) I was conscious that we were hearing not just about what the winners had done that year, but what defined the whole of their lives. So you need to really embrace the content; I have been the speaker at everything from the Heating & Ventilation Awards to gatherings of the National Bed Federation and ALUPRO, the trade body for recyclable aluminium. Every award is a story; every ceremony is an industry.
If you ask me to speak at your event, I am always keen to be briefed and hear more about it ― and I will definitely want to sit with the guests at the dinner before the evening gets underway (I am always amazed when organisers say: “We haven’t had that before. Usually the speaker wants to eat in their hotel room before they get called.”) No, being with you and your guests helps me gauge exactly what it is that makes your industry tick. It also helps hugely for my work as a journalist to understand it.
Before the night I’ll always ask you, “Who did the event last year?” and for any feedback on how they did and how the audience responded. And I will ask about the numbers and composition of the audience because they are the vital ingredient and they must enjoy the event.
Another type of presentation that people often ask for is the debate, or Q&A. Of course it is a staple of the work of an interviewer, putting politicians on the spot ― this was me with the embattled Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt in 2011:
For your event, you may want someone who engages directly with the audience. The classic format above ― interviewer and interviewee ― often leaves a live audience champing at the bit, and desperate to say something. I would be delighted to talk to you about ways of bringing the audience into a panel discussion, or even just a one-on-one interview. I do believe that audiences need to be included these days in ways that are much more proactive; they don’t like being taken for granted, and just sitting-and-listening is very old school!
To get in contact with me regarding a speaking engagement, please contact my manager Louise Fennimore.
Phone: 0207 836 3941
(and I promise I won’t tell the story about getting stuck on the train…..)