Speak out and learn to be brave
A group of public speakers are urging Wiganers to ditch their fear of standing at a microphone in front of a room full of people.
Wigan and District Speakers Club has spent the last decade coming to the aid of residents who find themselves reduced to a cold sweat by the thought of giving a speech in public.
The group has around 20 members who regularly meet to discuss the finer points of oratory and help those looking to brush up their skills with a series of speaking tasks.
The club is now looking to assist more Wiganers discover their hidden eloquence at a lectern as research suggests some people think it is one of the most terrifying ordeals they will have to face in life.
Wigan and District Speakers Club founder Gwyneth Millard said: “I saw a survey which said people have public speaking as their greatest fear and are more afraid of public speaking than death.
“It sounds a bit ridiculous to me but that’s what it shows.
“People don’t really know what they’re afraid of but don’t like the idea of speaking in public.
“They can come here and learn not to be a bad speaker, and even people who think there’s no point them coming because they won’t be able to do it tend to get very good very quickly.”
Gwyneth set up the borough’s club, which was founded in Standish but now meets at Sunshine House in Scholes, after attending a group in Frodsham but becoming tired of the regular long drives to Cheshire and back.
The Wigan group is affiliated to the national Association of Speakers Clubs, which produces a range of fun exercises allowing people to develop their basic oratory skills.
Members learn the tricks of the trade including successfully using humour and gestures from the stage and speaking with and without notes and also practice their ability to give speeches off the cuff with impromptu exercises.
Gwyneth emphasises the sessions are enjoyable rather than intensely serious and says people from all walks of life attend the Wigan group, which is renowned among local speaking clubs for its diverse age range.
She said: “When I started most people who came were from golf clubs and becoming chairmen, but now most people at work have to do presentations and for many it’s a big dread.
“People often say they are a very confident public speaker but you watch them and they have annoying habits such as what I call the Michael McIntyre style of walking up and down the stage. Some people think it’s fantastic but we would point it out.
“People join for all sorts of reasons. One lady recently joined because she had written a book and needed to be able to go out there and promote it.
“We had two men who worked for a company and had to do presentations, so they would bring them along and we would watch and evaluate how they did, telling them how they could improve.”
Gwyneth has also been passing on her skills outside the club, running training courses for employees at Wigan Council and other public services where managers from all departments learning how to pass on messages to their teams and helping Wigan Youth Parliament representatives.
Her involvement with the Rotary Club has also allowed her to become involved in its Youth Speaks and Junior Speaks competitions where secondary and primary school pupils respectively learn formal debating.
There is also a social side to the organisation, with the Wigan club hosting a dinner and similarly glamorous evenings being put on at a regional and national level.
Gwyneth says her time on the national organisation’s committee gave her a few memorable experiences at high-profile events.
She said: “I’ve spoken at the House of Commons and at the national dinners we’ve had Esther Rantzen, the Archbishop of York and other guests as speakers.
“When I was national president I wanted to get Sir Ian McKellen and hold the event in Wigan but it didn’t happen.
“The Wigan club has had several members on district, area and national committees and the current national president likes Wigan, he really enjoys the atmosphere because we don’t operate as formally as some groups.”
Wigan and District Speakers Club meets at Sunshine House Community Hub in Scholes on the first and third Thursday in each month. Participants should arrive at 7.30pm for a 7.45pm start.
To find out more, visit www.standishwigan speakers.org.uk