I’ll get this out the way first. I’m unusual. I mean nothing too weird, but I do like politicians. I studied politics at university and it annoys me when members of the public say politicians are in it for an expenses tab. People who say that shouldn’t be allowed vote. Hang on, I’ve gone off-piste. I’ve just remembered that this blog post is meant to be about after dinner speakers. Ah yes, after dinner speakers! I’ve been booking after dinner speakers at JLA for 5 years and I’m going to continue my passionate yet rambling defence of the men and women who represent us by telling you why they make the best after dinner speakers. Let’s first discuss the key tenets of good after dinner speakers.
A wise, chain smoking old man in the speaker bureau industry once told me they should be able to “tell an audience something they don’t know about something or someone they do”. Nice line, right? So essentially, dropping secrets about another famous person to a room full of people you’ve never met before – not easy.
This might sound basic, but after dinner speakers must be sociable and able to “work a room”. Yes, they’re booked to deliver a speech, but if your turn for the night is cowering in the corner, checking their twitter feed during the champagne reception, it’s going to look a little odd.
Finally, after dinner speakers must be able to poke fun at themselves. We love taking the mickey out of each other down the pub and a corporate event is no different. If an after dinner speaker references one of their own public misdemeanors, it will be a sure fire hit.
As far as I’m concerned, politicians come top of the list on all 3 of these qualities. Let me expand.
Dropping secrets – Over the years, I’ve heard about the moment John Prescott told Blair about a now infamous altercation with a voter – (think gruff Yorkshire accent) “Tony, I’ve just thumped someone”. David Blunkett describing one of Gordon Brown’s anger moments before they were public knowledge and Paddy Ashdown talking about the personal warmth between Clegg and Cameron shortly before their rose garden moment. There are nuggets you wouldn’t get on Newsnight or the Today programme and precisely why I’m convinced of the value of after dinner speakers
Being sociable – let’s be honest, politicians don’t say it, but would you like going to rotary club dinners 3 times a week, speaking to the WI or opening an out of town branch of Maplin all in the name of winning votes? Me neither. It’s a tough gig, but this experience means a corporate dinner on Park Lane is a dream for our intrepid politician and explains why they genuinely want to speak to everyone in the room and are very good at doing so.
Poking fun – this is where politicians really come into their own as after dinner speakers. Sometimes through their own mistakes, but often not (think Ed Miliband/bacon sandwich or William Hague/baseball cap) they are made to look silly in public. A lot. Far from shying away from these moments, politicians embrace them.
In his after dinner speech, Michael Portillo references the moment he lost his seat at the 1997 General Election – a devastating moment that essentially ended his life long dream of leading the Conservative party – by saying “Oh well, Channel 4 rated is as number 3 in their top TV moments of the 20th century”. A brilliant line that endears you to him immediately. Paddy Ashdown tells audiences about the time he was stopped by a member of the public at Paddington Station, perhaps expecting to sign an autograph, before being asked “Didn’t you used to be Paddy Ashdown?”.
I really have just touched the tip of the iceberg here, but I hope my expertly argued thesis will a) make you consider a politician as an after dinner speaker for your next event and b) convince you that our elected representatives really are – to quote a lonely hearts column – interesting and likeable with a GSOH.