We’re all into ‘top tips’ these days and I don’t want to be left out.

Confidence is such an important thing but it can be ephemeral. So even people whom everyone thinks of as supremely confident sometimes need a ‘booster’, to borrow Covid terminology.

So here are five stories, or tips if you will. I didn’t originate them: they are all stories I’ve found or that happened to me. I was thinking about wedding speeches at the time, because I was doing research for a book. But maybe some of these tips could find application elsewhere than for wedding speeches, or elsewhere than for public speaking in general? You decide.

1. I was on a train journey (from Bristol to Nottingham, changing at Cheltenham, since you asked), and I got talking to a most interesting bloke; a chemistry professor. He had recently spoken at his daughter’s wedding and I was about to fulfil the same responsibility. He told me some great advice he’d been given by a friend.

His friend’s tip: “While people are finding their places for the meal, wander round the room, glad-handing the people you know.”

That was great advice: as he was the bride’s father, there’d be lots of people there that he knew. Simply shaking hands with those people and exchanging a few pleasantries would help to settle the nerves.

2. Winston Churchill (OK, I admit it, I never met him) was once making an important speech and as he walked away from the platform he dropped a piece of paper which he’d had on the lectern with him. An aide picked it up and brought it back, saying: ‘you dropped your notes, Prime Minister.’

The great man’s reply: ‘Oh, that’s just a shopping list. But I always carry it to give the audience confidence.’

Obviously this is only of value to someone who likes to speak without notes, either by having a photographic memory or being a great improviser. But I loved the idea anyway: even if you don’t need notes, carry some anyway.

3. One of my nephews was about to give a Best Man speech. Despite being a musician and an experienced performer, he was very nervous (and I always say that’s normal and it’s helpful). One of his other friends told him: ‘it’s a home crowd.’

Although Paul is not a particularly sport-loving person, this sporting metaphor was not lost on him: everyone in the audience was rooting for him and wanted him to succeed.

4. A couple of hours before my daughter’s wedding, we were about to get on to one of the buses that took us from the hotel to the venue. An acquaintance from the night before – an affable Irishman called George – greeted me: ‘How are you today?’ I replied ‘fine; but a bit nervous because I’ve got to speak in a hour or two.’

His reply: Ah, you’ll be fine; you’re a showman.’

Am I a showman? Most of the time, no. I’m a mix of extrovert and introvert, as many of us are. But George’s remark reminded me to get into showman mode. It wasn’t just what he said or even how he said it: crucially, his timing was perfect. (The speech went fine, by the way. Thank you, George!)

5. A few years ago, I coached my good friend Steve for his daughter’s wedding speech; and recently he told me he’d delivered the eulogy at his mother’s funeral. He told me that he hadn’t needed my input when writing it, ‘although I felt you looking over my shoulder the whole time.’ Then he added: ‘And I remembered that Maya Angelou quote.’

What was the quote? It was:‘I’ve learned that people will forget what you say. They’ll forget what you did. But they’ll never forget how you made them feel.’

OK, I never met Maya Angelou, the author of that quotation. But she might as well have said it to me personally. I’ve always liked it; I quote in my wedding speech book; and I’ve often passed it on, as I clearly had to my friend Steve.

That episode confirmed to me the power of a good quote. Why are they helpful? Because they can say a lot in a few words.

I’m about to publish a book of quotes / epigrams / mottos; and my author friend John Lynch who’s written the foreword, makes exactly the same point. ‘Multum in parvo,’ as he writes. And to reinforce the point, here’s the working title of my book: ‘Brevity Is The Soul Of Wit.’

Watch this space, as they say, for details of my book launch in April 2022.

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