This was originally published in The Quilter magazine in 2003, but I have had a number of requests to reprint the article for people who haven't read it. So here it is! Unadulterated, but still relevant.
Although this column is meant to represent my views and I’ve been given carte blanche to write whatever I like, I have been approached independently by several quilt lecturers who have asked that I discuss the experiences of a speaker. Having been a speaker myself for well over a decade, I could relate to many of their views, and feel it’s time to set the record straight.
Many quilt groups meet in the evening, say 7:30 for 8 PM. As a speaker, one feels obliged to arrive early so that slides, screens and quilt samples can be in place by the time the group assembles. Depending on where a speaker is coming from, this means leaving hours early and either depending on a map or British Rail to manoeuvre your way there. For a 7:30 start, it is not unusual to leave home at around 5:15. So, unless one has a very early dinner, this leaves little or no time for food: one thing that most groups don’t even consider is their speaker’s meal. I learned early on that it was basically “bring your own sandwich or starve.” How I appreciated those groups who realised this and made arrangements for me to have a quick bite at a member’s house before the talk, or those that provided a sandwich and cup of tea in a quiet place while they helped set up my slides. I know I gave a better talk as a result simply because my blood sugar level was on an even keel!
I have a problem driving in the dark and am hopeless with maps, so I usually took a train to my engagements. However, many of my fellow lecturers DO drive and have been in despair of ever finding their destination because of bad maps or poor directions. Once there, they’d find there was no reserved space to unload their samples and equipment…..Groups should have a standard set of maps and directions that have been checked for accuracy, and provision should always be made for their speaker’s parking needs.
Speakers often wonder why they are completely ignored once everything is set up. Is the group afraid of them? Grinning at people and hoping for some conversation is usually met with a blank stare. Groups: make an effort to welcome your guest lecturer—you wouldn’t invite someone to your home and then ignore her, would you? And speaking for most quilt lecturers, I’d say there is a certain element of nervousness before a talk—it’s only natural. Breaking the ice and talking in a casual way with your speaker will make her feel more welcome and relaxed before her talk.
The meeting commences, announcements (sometimes interminable!) are made, and then it is time for the lecture. It isn’t unusual for the Chair to simply call the speaker’s name, often mispronouncing it (it’s Soo werd, not Sea ward!). I always sent a short biography of myself hoping that I would be properly introduced, and it made such a difference when a formal introduction was made.
It’s amazing how many groups have dodgy slide projectors, or don’t have extension leads or extra bulbs. When a talk depends on slides, these are crucial to the success of the evening and should always be double-checked beforehand.
I would say that the aspect that many speakers dislike most about their job is being dropped off at a train platform at around 10:30PM and gaily waved goodbye. Then the long wait, often in the dark, for the train that sometimes arrived on time, sometimes didn’t. (How grateful I was to those groups who provided someone to wait on the platform with me until my train arrived.) And although I know that speakers are being paid, and are choosing to come to speak to a group, spare a thought for them still making their way home, either by train or car, while you are tucking yourself up in bed. A midnight return after leaving the house 7 hours earlier is not out of the ordinary—this also puts the fee into perspective! It’s amazing how infrequently a thank-you note is sent, but those that are received are very much appreciated. (I have saved every one of mine.)
I wouldn’t say that I actively resented any of the above during the years I lectured regularly, but gradually over time I realised that I wasn’t enjoying myself anymore. I loved the actual speaking, meeting the groups and seeing their work—(Show and Tell is such a wonderful and necessary part of a quilt evening—don’t give it short shrift!). But it was mainly the travelling and its associated problems and uncertainties that I didn’t relish.
I’ve heard that groups are finding it difficult to book talented speakers. As with anything in life, if you want to keep a good speaker happy and wanting to share her expertise with your group, respect her, treat her with kindness and thoughtfulness and then thank her for what she’s done. It makes all the difference.
Apologies to male guest speakers! There weren't any that I knew of in 2003, but this is, of course, relevant to everyone!