Today I have had an excellent lunch of roast lamb as a guest of the Pickering Rotary Club up here in rural North Yorkshire after which I was expected to sing for my supper, or to be more precise give them a talk about my involvement with VSO.
I had spent quite some time trying to decide what to say to them – the thought of getting on my feet in front of a room full of people doesn’t bother me at all, but usually it is in my role as an auctioneer which after 30 years comes naturally, like a second skin, and I know automatically what to say. All I normally have to do is to open my mouth and the words tumble out! Today however would be rather different. A short speech to a group of about two dozen local business men, many of whom were already known to me, and I was not sure what to say to them.
My plan was for a talk in three sections – a little bit about myself and what had led me to the point at which I was about to depart to a new life in the Gambia – that should fill up a bit of time; a middle section telling them about VSO in general terms (brief history, vision and values, funding, and that sort of thing); and then some details about my destination country and placement. I typed out half a dozen pages of notes to prompt me and wondered whether they could be spun out to 15 or 20 minutes, or if I would have to insert more padding, so armed myself with some crucial facts and figures, discovered during my recent research about the Gambia – just in case. All important information no doubt, but a bit dull. Perhaps I would know if they were finding it interesting by the lack of any obvious snoring, and if necessary I could always make up time with questions at the end, and hope they asked me about areas I had researched, so that I wouldn’t have too many “don’t know”s.
In the event the time flew by and after thirty-five minutes or so, still only halfway through my narrative, the President politely informed me we had run out of time! I had hardly glanced at my notes except for a few key points, the Rotarians still seemed awake and I had only just started the section about the Gambia. However, business was calling and it was time for many of them to go back to work so I came to an abrupt stop. Nevertheless they very generously gave me a cheque for VSO – I’m not sure whether they were grateful for my talk, or just thankful it was over, but I will no doubt find out next year when I return from West Africa as they had previously asked me to speak to them again after my placement, so it will be interesting to see if that invitation still stands twelve months hence!
How did I feel it had gone? Well I was grateful for their patience and generosity (and their excellent hospitality), and surprised to find I could fill the allotted time so easily. I had no doubt spoken too long about some things and could have easily missed out some of the less interesting bits. Next time I need to plan more carefully, and put a watch on the table in front of me, or ask a friend to give me a five-minute warning so that I can wrap up gracefully rather than have the walking stick dragging me off ignominiously into the wings.
So, to the gentlemen of Pickering Rotary Club – many thanks for good company this lunchtime, a tasty meal, and for your most generous donation to VSO.