Last November I went to a wonderful conference called Wordstock organised on a Saturday in London by the writers’ group 26.
I paid £100 for a ticket, travelled up from Bournemouth on the train, heard a couple of brilliant presentations, had some good conversations, met some old acquaintances and bought a couple of books. It was one of the best days of my year.
Wordstock was a regular event for many years before the pandemic. It’s a day spent connecting with other freelance writers and listening to writers with very different backgrounds. I saw John Yorke, Richard Mullender and Phil Collins in action at 26 events and later recruited them to teach and speak at UK Speechwriters’ Guild conferences.
As I think one of the speakers said last year, writers are strange characters, but when we come together we find out that there are other people in the world just like us.
When so much time is spent working from home and sitting behind screens, some people develop social anxiety. To go to a conference where they wouldn’t necessarily know anyone would be an ordeal.
This is why learning to speak in public is so important. As a young person it’s a painful business. You have to over come nerves and then risk the embarrassment of being jeered or getting some kind of negative feedback.
But that’s what becoming an adult is about – overcoming fear and being able to explain who you are and your own perspective on the world.
Over time, the fears aren’t so inhibiting, and you begin to acquire confidence, which infuses every fibre of your being.
It’s liberating to be able to start questioning a policeman at the scene of a crime, or banter at the checkout about the cost of living crisis in the supermarket or get the most out of staff in clothing shops.
It’s also quite important for people who aspire to leadership positions in society to know something about the problems people less fortunate than themselves face. You only really get to understand by doing your own research. And that requires the ability to talk to everyone whatever their position in society.
As speechwriters we learn important language skills. Some people seem to think that to be in a leadership position is to tell people what things they should be doing. That’s not true. The way to get people to follow you is to learn about persuasion. Persuasion is a gentle art.
We’re in an era where we’re trying to use digital communication to resolve complex disputes.
As a Guild, we don’t think that’s possible. You have to sit and listen to others in the same room to fully appreciate their values and ideas.
It’s a very old-fashioned way of doing things, but at our conferences nobody is going to tell you off for what you think. We just believe that if you want to influence your society, you have to study your audience and rehearse your ideas before you do so.
Sign up for the The London Brilliant Communicators’ Conference on Friday 17 & Saturday 18 November 2023