Some of the best after-dinner speakers are raconteurs – those who employ the use of story-telling. In my lifetime two classic speakers of great renown were Peter Unstinov and Clement Freud. If you ever have the chance to listen to recordings of them or read what they’ve said, grab it. Being a raconteur is better caught than taught!
“Despite a successful career as journalist, actor, playwright and author, Sir Peter Ustinov was at his best telling his own stories, and revelled in the role of raconteur....His mischievous geniality and ready wit made him a welcome guest on chat shows and a popular speaker on the international dinner circuit.”
BBC website on the death of Ustinov in 2004
The world has already lamented the loss last week of the adventurer, writer and celebrated raconteur, Sir Clement Freud (in 2009).... Among his hints for social success and economy was the suggestion that you roasted a couple of coffee beans in a frying pan to release their aroma into the dining-room – while you made the instant coffee.
- to give you a flavour of the man. (Sorry!)
Note those words about Peter Ustinov: “the role of raconteur....His mischievous geniality and ready wit.... That’s what people like.
Someone once said, “To be a person is to have a story to tell.”
To be a raconteur means you have a story to be told, a story that others will find interesting and a story that has humour built into it. Often the best humour is pointing out the failure, weakness and strange experiences of the speaker by the speaker. People like self-deprecating speakers, more when it comes through in humour than in reality.
To be this sort of after dinner speaker, you need to have experience AND confidence. Without the experience you have nothing to say. Without the confidence you may suddenly wonder why you are there and wish the ground would open up:
“The human brain starts working the moment you are born and never stops until you stand up to speak in public.”
(George Jessel, 1898-1981, American actor, known in his lifetime as “Toastmaster General of the United States”)