It’s that time of year again when the clocks have gone back, the evenings are shortening and good old Hallowe’en is here.
But it’s also time for Talking Shop to issue its annual appeal to the organisers of business functions.
Please, please, keep the speeches brief and few in number. Don’t let anyone, no matter how important, drone on for half an hour.
According to Google, the average attention span of a literate human these days is 10 to 12 minutes.
And in his book, The Complete Guide to Public Speaking, Jeff Davidson says that attention spans are seven minutes, an all time low.
A little bit of humour, the sages add, can help extend the attention span but it still all has to be delivered with confidence and aplomb.
The latest ruse, of course, is to speak before the grub rather than after, which means that there is a better chance of being heard.
But this can be overdone, and rumbling stomachs can often lead the mind to wander from the most brilliant speaker to the bread roll, which is sitting temptingly on the table.
Mercifully, some function organisers have got the message and events at which there are four after-dinner speeches are now few and far between.
But brevity and topicality should be the keynotes for anyone asked to deliver a speech.
And best of all, use your platform by giving the audience something to think about.
Make a valid — if even controversial — point and give people something to chew over as they digest your words of wisdom.
The tragedy is that long speeches are boring and counter-productive, in that they take up time which could be better employed by networking.
After all, the main purpose for most people attending such functions is to catch up with business acquaintances and make new contacts.
If the formalities carry on until after 11pm — as can often be the case — then there is precious little time for the meeting and greeting.
Instead, most people spend the final half-hour nervously glancing at their watches or phoning taxi companies to put back their booking.
And as soon as the final speech finishes, watch the dash for the door as people who know they have to be at their desks at 8am the next day beat a hasty retreat to bed.
Functions should be fun, and they should be something to look forward to, but too often they turn out to be endurance tests for people who are already jaded after a busy working day.
So this winter, let’s turn over a new autumn leaf and indeed, why not start the functions a little earlier.
Much better for the digestion to have the meal at 7pm, so why not be really innovative and aim at a 6.30pm or 7pm start?
As far as anyone going straight from the office is concerned, that would be a much more convenient arrangement, and it might also mean that the business is completed by 10pm.
So as the men hunt out their dinner jackets, and the ladies their cocktail dresses, all the function organisers should have food for thought.
Chuckling all the way to Europa
TWO conferences on small to medium enterprises in Belfast will see delegates mull over teasers like the low success rate for SMEs in the UK compared to the US, a country of entrepreneurs who take heart in Samuel Beckett’s command to ‘fail better’: nothing makes a US business success more admired than having a few failures under your belt.
The Institute for Small Business and Enterpreneurship (ISBE) conference and the International Small Business Congress run at the Europa Hotel from November 4 to 6. Bringing the events here was down to the efforts of Ken O’Neill, professor of entrepreneurship at the University of Ulster, aided by the Belfast Visitor Convention Bureau.
They in turn were helped by the now defunct Chuckle Brothers. A promo on the charms of Belfast by the twinkle-eyed twosome of former First Minister Ian Paisley and Deputy FM Martin McGuinness winged its way around the world and helped Belfast beat off competition from Taiwan and other contenders. Beckett would be proud.