I paced the seafront, going over Andrew Bennett’s notes from yesterday. The final was to be held in the main hall, a bigger audience in a bigger room (even bigger than Lodge Room 1 in Holborn, which I did without a mic).
I was feeling the pressure. A late night and an early start left me tired but unable to sleep, so by the time the contest came round, I was as wired as a meerkat with an espresso habit. The risk with getting into this sort of state is that you tense up, close down your body language and lose your train of thought, which in hindsight is exactly what happened yesterday. I’m always astonished to get through a round, and hindsight does nothing to dull the surprise.
I drew to go on fifth, which is a good position for me: people have gone on before so I can reference their points if we cover similar ground. I always try to do this: partly it doesn’t hurt to show you’ve been listening to the other speakers, which is respectful both of them and the audience. It also shows flexibility, and a sense that the event is a one-off, a conversation, not simply a performed piece with a script that cannot change. We are a group of people who are here to entertain, and by referencing others, you build that bond of trust. And lastly, if another speaker touches on one of my themes, I can capitalise on their work.
I stood in the empty gallery looking down over the audience as the first speaker began. They were warm and friendly, and generous with their laughter. And then – the nerves left. In about ten seconds I was almost normal. I went downstairs, sat at the back, and watched the next three speeches, until it was my turn to clip the mic to my lapel and do a last stretch, and then I heard my name, and applause.
I don’t think I could’ve done it better. I was loose, lucid, chatty, and got good laughs. I referenced two previous speakers – Kwame’s bit of physical business with an egg, and John’s Swiss friend’s son. The gestures were bigger to fill the stage, though I hope without being overly theatrical. I made eye contact across the room, and saw the red light (clearly this time).
I sat down, and Jacob showed me his stopwatch: 7min26sec. Five seconds from disqualification! I do like playing with fire.
So I came third (2nd – Dave McAvoy, 1st – William Dempster). Very pleased with that, because I was up against some seriously classy acts. Thinking of all the possible outcomes – disqualification yesterday, missing the contest due to the flight, not placing today – I’m pretty happy about getting a foot on the podium.
Lots of kind comments afterwards: a consensus from all who saw me twice that today was streets ahead of yesterday’s performance. I’m very happy with what I did: it is a simple story, there is no great grandstanding, and the message is there – if you want to look for it. I don’t emerge with much glory, but it does connect with people. And I like to think that it has something you can’t fake: heart.
I’m looking forward to reviewing the DVD!